New tribalists

From Academic Kids

New tribalists are proponents of the New Tribal Revolution outlined in the Ishmael series by Daniel Quinn. New tribalists believe that the tribe fulfills an important role in human life, and that the dissolution of tribalism with the spread of civilization has come to threaten the very survival of the species. New tribalists seek to mimic indigenous peoples by organizing their own "tribes" based on underlying principles gleaned from ethnology and anthropological fieldwork.

Quinn argues that civilization is not working, and if we are to find a way of life that does work, we should draw our basic principles from human societies that are working. Quinn points to indigenous peoples and tribal societies as such examples, and advocates a social revolution--the New Tribal Revolution--to reform society using principles gleaned from the operation of such cultures.


"Takers" & "Leavers"

Quinn's work is specifically amoral, eschewing concepts of "right" or "wrong," and instead dealing only with whether or not a given culture is sustainable. Quinn divides cultures into one of two camps, based on a proposed challenge from our civilization to "take it or leave it." Thus, "Takers" are civilized peoples, while "Leavers" are uncivilized. Quinn chose these terms specifically to speak of the differences without language loaded with moral judgment. "Taker" should not be used as a synonym for "bad," nor "Leaver" for "good." However, many naive new tribalists have done precisely this. More sophisticated new tribalists have also cautioned strongly against the self-appelation of the term, "Leaver," as acculturation makes any complete transition nearly impossible. Instead, they advocate the creation of a third category entirely. However, many naive new tribalists have ignored this, as well, and persist in referring to themselves as "Leavers."

"Mother Culture"

Quinn proposes an emergent, self-preserving mechanism of human cultures which he anthropomorphizes as "Mother Culture," in contrast to "Mother Nature." According to Quinn, every culture has a "Mother Culture," which can be thought of as the whole of internalized acculturation and "conscience," which pressures people to conform to the norms of their culture. As a consequence of the concerns raised in Quinn's work, the term is used almost exclusively to refer to the "Mother Culture" of "Taker" societies. This has led many naive new tribalists to conflate the term "Mother Culture" with "Taker" culture itself. In fact, Quinn supposes every culture to have a "Mother Culture," serving much the same evolutionary role as tribalism in the usual, perjorative sense.


From Indigenous Groups

Critics of this movement, including some indigenous peoples, may regard new tribalists as interlopers or pirates of native culture, or seeking to dilute native sovereignty or threaten regard for native culture in general. Quinn condemned just such piracy in his online parable, "The Crystals of Rapanah (," but the ambiguity of this relationship cannot be so easily dismissed. In one sense, the conscious syncretism of new tribalists is an outright piracy of native culture. In another sense, the new tribalist emphasis on learning not from specific cultures but from cross-cultural principles suggests that this is not the case.

Malthusianism & Misanthropy

Many point to Quinn's critique of civilization as being essentially Malthusian. Critics also point to Quinn's criticism of civilization and advocacy of small populations as being misanthropic, particularly in that Quinn's solution may require a drastically smaller population than currently exists. While Quinn advocates a gradual decrease in human population rather than the massive die-off predicted by other primitivist writers, Quinn's willingness to accept wide-spread starvation to end the "Food Race" is seen as diametrically opposed to humanity's interests.

The critique of new tribalists as being essentially Malthusian is not entirely inaccurate, but requires a significant amendment to Malthus' theories. Malthus, like most demographers, held human population growth as an independent variable. Quinn proposes that humans, like all other animals, are in fact bound by their food supply; that is, that human population is a function of human food supply. Thus, new tribalists do not expect a Malthusian catastrophe in the usual sense, since in their model it is impossible for a population to grow larger than its food supply. Instead, new tribalists foresee the ever-increasing dynamic of food supply and population--Quinn's "Food Race"--leading eventually to an ecological catastrophe which may result in human extinction. Because of this, the charge of misanthropy can only be upheld outside of the new tribalists' own mindset. If Quinn's arguments are accepted, then such wide-spread starvation is, in fact, the most humanitarian alternative. Quinn compared sending food to a starving population to throwing gas to put out a fire. However, Quinn's understanding of the relationship between food supply and human evolution is not accepted by all biologists or demographers.

Reviving the "Noble Savage"

Other critics believe that new tribalists are not mimicking indigenous peoples but rather mimicking their own fantasies or modern memories of them. In this, new tribalists are charged with reviving the myth of the "Noble Savage." Critics say that new tribalists' views of tribalism are naive. The ultimate origins of new tribalist thought in Romanticism is undeniable, but many new tribalists are very vocal in their condemnation of the "Noble Savage" myth. Like Rousseau, new tribalists do not see the benefits of tribalism as an inherent racial characteristic of indigenous peoples, but as a systemic result of their way of life. This is, in fact, the basis of new tribalism; if the "Noble Savage" myth is true, then new tribalism is futile, as the benefits of tribalism are inherent racial qualities unattainable except by birth. Only if these benefits are the systemic result of a particular way of life can they be enjoyed by non-indigenous peoples.

However, the influence of Romanticism remains strong and undeniable among new tribalists, despite their heavy grounding in anthropology and ethnography, and despite their protests otherwise.


Some criticize the degree to which new tribalists exploit modern technologies. Much of the current activity in the New Tribal Revolution takes the form of online discussion, and most new tribalists live in the First World and benefit greatly from modern technology and civilization. This is seen as hypocritical by many critics.

New tribalists often point out that their essential problem is with an unsustainable vision of constant growth underlying civilization, rather than technology per se. Thus, new tribalists seek to differentiate themselves from Luddism. For these new tribalists, such a hypocrisy is impossible, as they have never taken a position against technology. This can be difficult to disentangle, as new tribalists agree on many issues with many other groups who are Luddite to one degree or another.

Among Historians and Anthropologists

Historians and anthropologists who study Nearctic and Neotropic peoples are divided. Almost all are very sympathetic to the situation of indigenous peoples, and admire their cultures to varying degrees. Many of these scholars, in the Rousseauian tradition, prefer these societies to European societies of the same period. Some speculate this may be due to the self-selection of these same historians, New tribalists contend that this is because of a deep need for social support beyond the family, and that experts' respect for native cultures reinforces their convictions.


An important expression of this movement is the trend towards modern eco-villages. Ecoregional Democracy and peace movement advocates are also often new tribalists as well, as the groups share common ideals.

See also

External links


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