“Modern” vs. “Tribal” Societies

Can modern 21st century democracies coexist with tribal societies? We are certainly obsessed with our tribal global neighbors. I consider Afghanistan a tribal nation and Iran, and Iraq and most of the Arab nations. I believe that most countries freed from the Communist Bloc have reverted to some very ancient tribal rivalries despite their current form of government. And I consider many African nations to be somewhat tribal in nature with some being very tribal in nature.

There is definitely a clash of cultures between modern democracies and societies which are basically tribal. First of all, in the latter there is no tradition of strong central government and cooperation among tribal groups. Often, in fact, there are ancient and difficult-to-resolve animosities between tribal groups. These tribal cultures tend to be very patriarchal. Women do not play any political role and are often used as emotional “chips” in power struggles between tribes. They are defiled in ways that degrade a tribal group and are pawns as men try to punish and destroy one another. These acts of defilement undermine tribal and family unity, turn tribal groups into refugees and crush whole tribes for generations. Even in less extreme situations woman cannot take on the same roles they have in most “modern” societies.

Religious differences are very prominent in tribal wars and hostilities. Groups are assigned to a sort of hierarchical caste system, in which a group traditionally “dumps” on the groups that are lower down in the hierarchy.

Even though a country like America could be described metaphorically as tribal, the groups in America are, for the most part, too assimilated to be described as actual tribes. Most of Western Europe also does not fit the tribal model, nor does much of South America. India is perhaps still somewhat tribal, with some Asian countries qualifying as tribal and some not.

We are having a very hard time coexisting with countries where the actual political structures are tribal. We want to change these countries. They are anti-modern, in other words, they are antiques, seemingly supporting political relationships which are no longer appropriate in a world which values equality of opportunity, which values women equally with men, and which, purportedly, values all religions equally. It is difficult when there is not one leader to deal with or when the leader does not represent all of the people. Old techniques like “rattling your saber” or using “bluster” to scare the rest of the world to death do not go over well because we have to take them seriously and respond, perhaps even militarily.

There is no room for petty prejudices. There is no room to hold on to past hostilities. We expect everyone to mend their fences and extend their courtesies to each other and get on with the business of business, producing and consuming and tolerating as good 21st century global citizens should. But we might be dreaming. Can we coexist with tribal societies? For now, I think, we must, but they will try to dominate and we probably will be called upon to defend our hegemony from time to time.

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