Find Your Tribal War

“Find your tribe.”

This is advice commonly given to new mothers. It used to be the tagline for Mothering magazine’s online forums (they’ve changed it to Connect With Other Moms, maybe indicating that mom tribes are on the way out – but members still organize themselves by the tribe system). Babywearing tribe? Breastfeeding tribe? Atheist/agnostic tribe? Choose one to find a group of “like minded mamas” where you will feel at home.

Mothers have gotten a lot of flack in recent years for participating in Mommy Wars, but the truth is EVERYONE does this. It’s human nature to carve the world up into little boxes and then find one that fits you. As every fifteen year old rebel knows, even nonconformists and iconoclasts come to resemble each other in the little corners they find for themselves.

Even though most people claim to prefer diversity, they tend to organize themselves into homogenous enclaves. It’s unsettling to realize that I managed to move to one of the reddest states in the nation and still wind up surrounding myself with mostly lefty types. While I certainly did not set foot in Nebraska waving a sign that said “WILL ONLY BEFRIEND POLITICALLY LIBERAL PEOPLE” that’s basically how I ended up.

Now, certainly there’s an obvious logic to being drawn to people who like the same things you like, who have a similar sensibility. But the danger comes in when you let yourself parse your worldview into ever more narrow requirements for orthodoxy. When I was growing up in a series of churches – some formal legal entities and some loose groups of people meeting in living rooms – I saw how that dogmatic level of tribalism became a seemingly endless war for purity. This one was shunned for letting ego mix with worship, that one fled because they rejected tenets of original sin. It was impossible for cohesion to take hold in a relentless drilling down toward perfect agreement.

Other than mothers, the most common scapegoat for people’s sense of isolation in modern times is technology. The internet. What place could be easier for narrowing your circle down to “like minded people?” You can whittle any social media platform down to the subgroups you fit best. Join forums, create forums. I’ve done this many times in many ways. The funny thing is, every time I’ve set foot into an online group or subculture thinking I could relax into a warm bath of My People, I almost immediately realize the group itself is beleaguered by schisms and infighting. There was a time when I was a member of a dog forum. People who love dogs. What could they have to bitterly divide over, other than food, training methods, whether or not dogs are like wolves, and everything else under the sun. No group is small enough to provide total purity – unless you form a Facebook group with just yourself in it.

And sometimes you end up feeling that way. Dinner reservations, party of one. No one REALLY understands me but me.

But again, this is not the fault of technology, technology just makes it easier to do from your seat on the couch. Used to be you had to go out of the house to feel alienated from everyone around you. Not everyone is so extreme, of course – some do more social whittling than others. I don’t really know why – if I did maybe I’d write a best selling self-help book about it. Some people say it comes from insecurity in one’s own choices, and I suppose that’s likely. I think also there is a weird thrill that comes from finding Someone Is Wrong On The Internet (or IRL) and that itself can get its hooks in you so much that you end up becoming dogmatic about things just so you can argue them into the ground.

I am aware of my temptations in this direction. I am aware that I can come off as opinionated on my blog, and that makes me feel awkward around people when I see them in person, knowing they read my blog, and I kind of want to suddenly shout-whisper I promise I am not judging you! I think that I am a little defensive about some of my choices and opinions that are outside the mainstream, because I feel the weight of the mainstream view leaning on me. I’m worried that it will squish me so I try to puff myself up like a – well, like a scared little pufferfish.  I do mostly have a live-and-let-live attitude toward those who disagree with me, but I’m sure I could stand to actually consider the other points of view a little more often (as most people could). I could stand to be a little less preachy in my writing (always working on that but preaching feels good sometimes!).

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