We need tribe. We need to belong. This is hard-wired into us. And in modern life, there is a disconnect.

We live in little fenced-in square shelters, not only isolated from the collective shadow -- the murderers and rapists, but also the desirable parts of community -- the sense of tribe, belonging and a collective purpose. The more docile among us attempt to satiate this need to belong by staying in and locking our houses and communing with our television alone, watching episodes of Seinfeld and Friends. Or maybe we keep up with the latest Hollywood love trysts as if Angelinia Jolie is our B.F.F.

I'm finding that many of us have been on a long quest to find and co-create a deep community -- a tribe -- somewhere to belong. 

 The modern experience tends toward isolation and loneliness. Alone in offices, we peer through windows of pixels to connect to one another via Facebook. We drop our kids off at daycare to drive to work alone in a metal box. Then we work in that cubicle for eight to ten hours a day, come home, flop on the couch and crank the volume on the TV. We glean meaning from sitcoms and myth systems from film. We are desperate for meaning -- and tribe.

Our desire for tribe has been hijacked by Hollywood and I've often wondered if we would be less apathetic and more involved with local community if TV had never been invented.

Worse than that isolation, perhaps, are the generations born into this isolation, latchkey kids so desperate to feel alive, and to fill that essential need for rights of passage and belonging to tribe, that they join violent gangs and act out their projected rage upon one another and the neighborhoods where they live..

Many primordial languages in the Americas had no words for guilt or shame.

  For example, the Apaches say those words were developed by white men to control one another. Actions that we think of as unforgivable actions were considered by many native cultures as mistakes which created opportunities to discover more about themselves and growth toward deeper wisdom.

Anthropologist Rupert Ross said that primordial languages often center on the use of verbs rather than nouns. Native Americans for example, tend not to label individuals, but look at people as a process rather than a static thing. Ross says, "When we apply such labels to real people, however, they tend to stick. And when they stick, they cause us to start denying the complexity and wholeness of the human beings we are speaking of."

The belief that we create our lives (as masters of our own fate) rather than being the victims of events which happen to us involves overcoming guilt and shame and speaking our own truth. The meaning, and therefore our reality, created by us through our actions fills us with a sense of purpose and self-actualization. But creating reality from within a framework of shame or guilt stunts growth. Shame combined with lack of opportunity can lead to social apathy at best and violence at worst. We are social, story-telling organisms, propelled by an archetypal drive to create tribes and community.

Tribes are bonded through a sense of meaning.

When living close to nature, everything is in a constant flux of change. Nothing stays good or bad forever. Judgment and expectation get us in trouble. They become shorthand for a dead-end label that some thing or some one is good or bad.

Each of us individually struggles with the paradox of good and evil within, but a tribe creates a container that holds these disparate elements.

Tribalism is a perennial archetype that re-emerges whenever it is absent in the dominant culture. In our decidedly non-tribal culture, the archetype may appear as belonging to a gang, being a Dead-Head, or talking about what Jerry Seinfeld did in last night's episode with the coworker in the next cubicle. In all these cases, the tribe creates a feeling of belonging through unified meaning. This meaning, implicit or explicit, becomes the group's mission statement and raison d'etre. And the mission statement can be anywhere along a spectrum of possibilities. They can be syntropic, healthy, and positive or destructive, dystopic and entropic.

In creating meaning, and thus reality, our internal compass of morality guides our choices, rather than an externally imposed didactic moral code.

To clarify this internal morality, we need to experience our edges. We need to be pushed in experiences and mirrored in that journey.

This is why rites of passage like the sweat lodge or peyote vision quest are essential to realigning the compass of those who have lost their way -- whether in gang life, addiction, or just on the day-to-day journey of life in American culture.

For ex-con Joshua, participating in sweat lodges, exploring rites of passage facilitated by a medicine man fills his need to belong to something with a higher purpose. He told me later that the sense of belonging he feels in the sweat lodge tribe creates a container for him to explore honesty, vulnerability, and personal responsibility.

As with tribes, rites of passage must be activated by a sense of meaning, and that meaning travels along a spectrum of possibilities. Childbirth and prison tattoos seem to have no similarities, but both are rites of passage. Getting jumped into a gang, peyote vision quests, running a marathon, Bar Mitzvahs -- these are all archetypal rites of passage. One primary rite of passage is the boy's journey into manhood. A medicine woman once explained it to me this way:

A woman's vision quest is always childbirth... there is no other vision quest for men or women as powerful as childbirth. But for men, it is different. The vision quest is the sacred sweat lodge. Vision quest is suffering. It brings you to your knees. No more lies. I don't care how old you are. You are not a man until you go on your vision quest.

The remaining essential factor in creating and sustaining a functional tribe is mirroring by elders.

Without the witness of someone who has been on the path, the meaning and the importance of ritual are lost. The psyche acts out the rite of passage in endless repetition until it is witnessed. For example, in the rave, participants seek ritual ecstasy through ingesting "X" (Ecstasy or MDMA), which produces a cathartic merging and sense of belonging. This emulates a rite of passage, but often the meaning is lost when the psychedelic pilgrim sobers up because no shaman witnessed, digested and reflected the meaning for the seeker. The same is true for gangs. Drive-by shootings, hazings, school yard bullying -- all these acts are repeated and escalated until someone takes notice. Elders and mentors are essential to de-escalating violence. For troubled youth one of the most important ways through which to receive that guidance and wisdom is a caring and capable adult. Many kids just need someone to guide their journey toward responsible manhood and illuminate them to the fact that each of them has a unique gift to give the world.

Creating intentional tribes and rites of passage can restore a sense of purpose, belonging, respect, and morality. Regardless of the method, the ultimate success depends on whether the tribal morality can inspire. Then it may be assimilated and accommodated into the psyche, to emanate from within to create a lasting frame of relevance for the individual's gifts. The tribal morality must be able to allow and integrate the intrinsic diversity of personalities and how they react to the stages and challenges of the life journey.

[Sunny Strasburg]
'Violence and the Need for Tribalism', Reality Sandwich

In a pre-modern culture, creators would create as part of a tradition bigger than themselves. So a storyteller will tell a story that’s part of their culture; or if you’re a religious teacher, you’ve got a big tradition that you’re working in.

We’re people with no tradition, because that’s what modernity has done. It’s made us all into little individuals. So the story we tell, we have to come up with ourselves. 

And then we’re endlessly in pain, because we’re always driven to try and work everything out. Because we’re not supported by ancestry, we’re not supported by a culture. The bargain of modernity is we have no tradition to hold us back, but we also have no tradition to support us. So all the storytellers have to come up with their own vision which is why writers end up shooting themselves, or drinking themselves to death…

[Paul Kingsnorth]
'Earth does not speak in prose'

Modern individualism regards all social structures and obligations, even those created by family, as impediments to self-realisation, and therefore as forms of oppression. 

[James Goldsmith]
The Trap, p. 60-1

The breakdown of traditional values to some extent implies the breakdown of the bonds that hold together traditional small-scale social groups. 

The disintegration of small-scale social groups is also promoted by the fact that modern conditions often require or tempt individuals to move to new locations, separating themselves from their communities. 

Beyond that, a technological society HAS TO weaken family ties and local communities if it is to function efficiently. In modern society an individual’s loyalty must be first to the system and only secondarily to a small-scale community, because if the internal loyalties of small-scale communities were stronger than loyalty to the system, such communities would pursue their own advantage at the expense of the system.

[Ted Kaczynski]
Industrial Society and its Future, 51

Anticulture is the consequence of a regime of standardizing law replacing widely observed informal norms that come to be discarded as forms of oppression; and it is the simultaneous consequence of a universal and homogenous market, resulting in a monoculture that, like its agricultural analogue, colonizes and destroys actual cultures rooted in experience, history, and place.

These two visages of the liberal anticulture thus free us from other specific people and embedded relationships, replacing custom with abstract and depersonalized law, liberating us from personal obligations and debts, replacing what have come to be perceived as burdens on our individual autonomous freedom with pervasive legal threat and generalized financial indebtedness.

In the effort to secure the radical autonomy of individuals, liberal law and the liberal market replace actual culture with an encompassing anticulture.

Evidence of our anticulture surrounds us yet is pervasively denied. Liberalism extends itself by inhabiting spaces abandoned by local cultures and traditions, leading either to their discarding or suppression or, far more often, to their contentless redefinition.

Rather than produce our own cultures, grounded in local places, embedded in time, and usually developed from an inheritance from relatives, neighbors, and community - music, art, storytelling, food - we are more likely to consume prepackaged, market-tested, mass-marketed consumables, often branded in commercialized symbolism that masks that culture's evisceration.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.66, 88

Condemnation of Southern backwardness, in a liberal weekly, might have been expected. More surprising was that a series conceived as an exploration of diversity so often ended by holding up a uniform standard of cultural progress, one measured by great works of art and notable achievements in science and technology.

None of the contributors asked whether a new order in the South would not have to rest on traditions indigenous to the region. None showed much interest in the requirements for a vigorous civic life, as opposed to the number of orchestras, art galleries, libraries, and universities. The implication was that "civilization," if it was ever to come to the South, would have to come from outside. The only hope for Mississippi, according to Beulah Amidon Ratliff, was an invasion of “missionaries" from the North.

William Allen White described Kansas as a “Puritan survival.” […] Kansas had produced “no great poet, no great painter, no great musician, no great writer or philosopher,” […]

The equation of civic culture with progress and enlightenment made it difficult to see anything but arrested development even in a state like New York, depicted by Charles F. Wood as a benighted region dominated by “fear and suspicion” of the modern world. The “backwoods” element, Wood said, had a “throttle-hold upon the state.”

“Resistance to change is their most sacred principle. Modern conveniences appear as signs of degeneracy to them; and the boy who leaves home to go to the city is still their most popular theme of tragedy." It did not occur to Wood that a wholehearted celebration of rural depopulation was not the best index of a flourishing civilization or that a reluctance "to accept the automobile," in communities threatened with outward migration, did not necessarily indicate the idiocy of rural life.

“[…] Sentimental critics of technology lamented the “despoiling of Niagara Falls,” but the discovery by scientists that Niagara can be enslaved is producing a dream of human freedom which is mightily affecting New York State today." Niagara was doomed; "but on the other side of the ledger millions of people are breaking from the past."

The authors of “These United States" assumed […] that “breaking from the past” was the precondition of cultural and political advance […] As they understood it, democracy meant progress, intellectual emancipation, and personal freedom, not popular self-government. Self-government, it appeared, was incompatible with progress.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.418-21

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