Saturday, September 26, 2015

From The Tail

We like to talk about tribes, and homogeneity, as if there are these wonderful little bubbles of happiness where everyone agrees with us. Where the rules are clear and everyone knows exactly how people will react when they do something. At the same time, the closest thing to our bubble are the people who share our DNA. Yet, if you want to find the thing that drives most people the most nuts, it's family. Both the family we choose, and the family we are given. The people closest to us are effectively mirrors shining our strengths, and weakness back at us with slight variations of flavour.

Something I work very hard on is being self-reflexive. We are incredibly good at seeing the things that irritate us in other people. One of the least pleasant, but most useful, lessons my mother taught me was that if someone is really aggravating you, it is probably a personality trait you share. The say the opposite of love isn't hate, it is ambivalence. If some gets your blood boiling, it is because you share something you care about. This often happens when people talk about their family members and what bothers them. The listener has to refrain from giggling at the irony. No one likes to be giggled at when they are moaning though.

Scott Alexander wrote an amazing essay on how people think it is okay to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher (Ding Dong), but feel deeply uncomfortable about celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. Our lack of tolerance for outgroups is humbling. Humbling in that it is very difficult to even moan about without doing the same thing. My own view is that we have to identify with all opinions we hear as 'our opinions'. If someone believes something, so do you. That causes us to own all the crazy opinions in the world. It does make for awkward writing though if it sounds like we are the Queen

The other issues with claiming allegiance to tribes is history. Its awkward. Family infighting is not new. Groups have always been fluid and fractured. The groups we now think have history are rather young. The idea of borders and countries is very young. Jan van Riebeeck and the  'Dutch Settlers' arrived in Cape Town in 1652. 363 years ago. Today is the celebration of 200 years since the birth of the 'Kingdom of the Netherlands' (See the Google Doodle). It is 199 years since the birth of the 'Kingdom of the Zulus'. Another interesting little connection between two remarkably similar groups of people. Both farmers. Both migrants from North. Both very family orientated. Both with a distaste for English (Anglo-Boer, Anglo-Zulu).

1652 - The Year the Dutch 'arrived' or the scoreline against the All Blacks in 2003  

Reading the history of the two Kingdoms is fascinating. It really never seemed to be a disinterested attempt at improving the lives of the citizens. It was a bunch of scared people seeing who had the bigger weapons to impose their right to rule over others. David Graeber makes the point that 'Majority Rules' was really just a pragmatic way of seeing who would win if it came down to a fight. If someone had weapons (i.e. a propertied man), they got a vote. Most of the proper fighting ended up happening at home. Killing of brothers. Killing of friends. I have often talked of the idea of building a bigger tribe. Perhaps that is the wrong metaphor. It seems tribes are dodgy. It seems we treat the people we should care about the most, the worst.

On the positive side, when you realise something isn't working. You can fix it. Otherwise you just eat yourself from the tail.

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