14-0 Individuality and Type: Family and Tribalism

At first glance, a sense of “belonging” may appear to be a very positive thing, but the more strongly you feel the bond of belonging to your own group, the more hostile or even violent your feelings may become toward Outsiders.



Commentary Blog

Chapter 14
Individuality And Type
(Family and Tribalism)

POF 14-0
[1] THE view that the human being is capable of becoming an independent, free individuality seems to be contradicted by the fact that he appears as a part within a natural whole (race, tribe, folk, family, gender), and acts from within a social whole (state, church, etc.). He carries the general characteristics of the group to which he belongs, and gives a content to his actions that is determined by the position he holds within the larger group.

[2] Given all this, is individuality possible at all? Can we consider a human being as a whole in himself, if he grows out of a natural whole and integrates himself into another?

Self-determination is opposed by various other determinants that compel group conformity such as race, tribe, folk, family, gender, state, and church. Lets look at family and tribalism.

Family and Marriage

Marriage is a social union between people that creates kinship. The best available evidence suggests that marriage is about 4,350 years old. For thousands of years before that, most anthropologists believe, families consisted of loosely organized groups of as many as 30 people, with several male leaders, multiple women shared by them, and children.

As hunter-gatherers settled down into agrarian civilizations, society had a need for more stable arrangements. The first recorded evidence of marriage ceremonies uniting one woman and one man dates from about 2350 B.C., in Mesopotamia. Marriage’s primary purpose then was to bind women to men, and thus guarantee that a man’s children were truly his biological heirs.

The earliest form of social groups is the family-orientated band, which is a small group of interrelated households. Hunting, gathering, fishing, and foraging provided basic subsistence. No one person has more power or material resources than any other person. Social status and economic ties are kin-based. The social order is maintained through gossip, ridicule and avoidance.

A tribe is a larger group tied together by family bonds. Unlike bands they have evolved domestication practices of plants and animals. They develop ways to redistribute food and organize community services to improve survival and increase prosperity. Tradition provides the key guide to behavior for tribal peoples.

Tribalism tries to keep individuals committed to the group, even when personal relations may fray. This keeps individuals from wandering off or joining other groups. It also leads to bullying when a tribal member is unwilling to conform to the politics of the collective.

For a tribal society to exist its members must possess a strong feeling of tribal identity. A strong cultural or ethnic identity separates one member of a group from the members of another group.

Many tribes refer to themselves as "the true people," or "the real people," dehumanizing others or simply considering them inferior. Members view their own group as somehow special and superior to others, and discourage social intercourse with others outside the group. The Other (or Stranger) was recognized as dangerous and threatening, to be either avoided or destroyed.

In the early stages of human development, these essentially tribal drives served to sustain and protect the group. This is why, even today, tribal feelings make us feel good. But feeling good within one's own group and demanding special privileges based on tribal membership while building walls to keep surrounding groups out is a revival of obsolete forms of tribalism that hinder human development in the 21st century.

Key features of tribalism:

  • Tendency to recognize, judge and reward people according to their group identity, rather than their characteristics as individuals.
  • A supposed common ancestry.
  • Oral tradition or mythology based belief of group ownership of a particular land.
  • Culturally reinforced memory of having been exploited throughout history by neighboring Others.
  • A set of sacred beliefs identifying the groups members as uniquely gifted or chosen by history or the gods.
  • A deeply ingrained sense of belonging to the group.

If we go far enough back in time, we have our origins in one human race and are the results of the same evolutionary process. As individuals, we have only been here a short time and have our own history. At first glance, a sense of “belonging” may appear to be a very positive thing, but the more strongly you feel the bond of belonging to your own group, the more hostile or even violent your feelings may become toward Outsiders.

In many ways we are all prone to tribalism. It is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and biological heritage. People tend to automatically and subconsciously view tribalism as the correct, obvious normal way of doing things. One can observe tribalizing behavior all the way up through the present. By becoming conscious of our own ingrained tribal behavior and choosing to think and act independently instead, it will loose its power over us.

A regression to tribalism in an attempt to solve social problems or increase prosperity holds dire consequences. The news is full of never-ending tribal wars in the Middle East, Africa, Iraq, Pakistan etc. and impending 
global economic collapse the result of financial tribalism that only enriches the network of those on the inside. Our instinctive tribal urges to conform to the group and never trust the Other were important during the childhood of human development, but now suppress individuality and are dangerously counter-productive.

Tribal or Universal Society
The concept of an open society was first used by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. One source, according to Bergson, is tribal and leads to a closed society whose members feel affinity for each other but fear or are hostile toward others. The other source is universal, leading to an open society guided by universal human rights that protects and promotes the freedom of the individual.

Marriage in USA
Things dramatically changed when women won the right to vote. Suddenly, each marriage consisted of two full citizens. Rather than a woman being the property of the man, now a woman felt entitled to consider a man as her property as well. The idea that marriage is a private relationship for the fulfillment of two free individuals is really very new. Since the 1960's, a more open-minded approach has led to experiments with the recognition that marriage is not determined by society, but something to be created by the couple.

Family Gossip, Ridicule and Avoidance

Family values are political and social beliefs that hold the nuclear family to be the essential ethical and moral unit of society. It is most often associated with social and religious conservatives who claim that the world has seen a decline in family values and advocate a return to past traditions. A return to past traditions always means a retreat from gains in individual freedom, such as rolling back the gains made by women.

Much of our current judging mind was induced in childhood through family values. Reflect on your childhood and consider the consequences on you of the judgments that were supported by your family. What were the prejudices on money, class, race, gender, intelligence, etc.? How did these judgments condition your view of the world today? Are you able to question the assumptions you have formed from the conditioned way you think of yourself and others?


For centuries, the US has attracted people in search of a share of "the American dream" from all corners of the world. US history is one of immigrants seeking greater self-determination. America is a "tossed salad" society that encourages newcomers to assimilate into the land of individualization. Immigrants come and change America and are changed by America.

Marriage in Iran
Marriage arrangements in villages and among the lower and traditional middle classes of urban areas tend to follow traditional patterns. When a young man is judged ready for marriage, his parents will visit the parents of a girl whom they believe to be a suitable match. In many cases, the man will have already expressed an interest in the girl and have asked his parents to begin these formalities. Once the two families have agreed to the marriage, the prospective bride and groom are considered engaged. The courtship period now commences and may extend for a year or more, although generally the engagement lasts less than twelve months.

Family Gossip, Ridicule and Avoidance

In Iran, men are not allowed to wear shorts. Women, including tourists, must cover up their hair to follow the law. This requires women to a tie scarf around your head. The body should be covered with a loose shirt and arms should be covered and legs need to be covered all the way down to the ankle. The feet can be bare and sandals may be worn when going out.


The rise of civil society in Iran has been an explosion of democratic thought and action in favor of a more tolerant, pluralistic and democratic order in Iran. Two years ago, the masses of Iran re-ignited the spark of revolution. Gradually gaining support in the fight for democracy, students and young people took to the streets of Tehran to protest countless human rights violations by a reactionary regime.

The Green Movement remains the most promising indigenous democracy movement in the history of Iran. A new generation of Iranians has been taking to the streets of Tehran and other cities of Iran clamoring for change and making themselves heard. One should not forget that in today's Iran, two out of three people are under 30 and they make up one-third of eligible voters in presidential elections.

It is true that the widespread protests of the year 2009 have faded because of the brutality and cruelty of the Iranian government, but there is no shadow of doubt that the Green Movement will shape the future of Iran.

Marriage in Israel
There is no meaningful equality in Israel between men and women when it comes to matters relating to marriage and family relationships, according to a new UN report.

The report was compiled by a panel of experts overseeing implementation of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The panel submitted its conclusions to Israeli authorities in February of 2011. The panel, which includes representatives from several countries, receives reports on gender issues every four years. These reports are based on each country's official statistics, as well as reports by non-governmental organizations, and interviews of state officials conducted by the panel members.

There's a huge gap between rights that are formally granted, and the lack of implementation and enforcement of the laws. This was the first time that a UN committee had so clearly stated that Israel must allow civil marriage and do all it can to end the discrimination against women in family law.

The committee also stated that domestic violence and violence against women were still widespread in Israel. The panel also expressed concern over the scope of trafficking in women and the wide income gaps between men and women.

The report included a section on violence and harassment of women in the Palestinian-controlled areas, citing violence from Israeli soldiers, "non-state" elements, such as settlers, and the abuse they are subject to in their communities. -Source: Haaretz

Family Gossip, Ridicule and Avoidance
New Family is the first organization in Israel dedicated to advancing family rights and the rights of individuals within families. It is a human rights organization working to attain legal recognition of every family unit in Israel to ensure equal rights for every type of family.

What Is The Problem? The Israeli establishment fails to recognize and tolerate many types of family units. Israeli law contains no definition of “family.” As a result, the state recognizes only the “traditional” family, but 42% of families in Israel fall outside the consensus.

Here is a list of nontraditional families not recognized in Israel:

Single parent families
Common-law couples who live together without being legally married
Families in which each marriage partner has a different religion or ethnicity (“mixed couples”).
Families without a recognized religion or nationality, or with double religion or nationality
Moslem, Christian and Druze families
Single sex families
Families of foreign workers

All suffer from discrimination, lack of recognition of their family status and deprivation of basic rights. New Family assists individuals in Israel to realize their basic right to establish a family, and to attain governmental recognition of their family status and rights.


Glenn Greenwald tries to understand why many Jewish progressives vigorously support progressive values such as “Fairness and Equal Rights for All”, but then turn a blind eye towards Israel.

“It will never cease to be mystifying (at least to me) that they never question why they suddenly view the world so differently when it comes to Israel.  They never wonder to themselves: 

I had it continuously drummed into my head from the time I was a small child, from every direction, that Israel was special and was to be cherished, that it's fundamentally good but persecuted and victimized by Evil Arab forces surrounding it, that I am a part of that group and should see the world accordingly.  Is this tribal identity which was pummeled into me from childhood -- rather than some independent, dispassionate analysis -- the reason I find myself perpetually sympathizing with and defending Israel?”

This is not always the case. Jews around the world are renouncing their automatic right to obtain Israeli citizenship simply because they are Jewish.  The Law of Return was passed in 1950 to carry out the principle of the re-establishment of Israel as a Jewish State.  It creates an ethnically exclusive citizenship. Anyone who can claim a Jewish grandparent has this automatic right to 'return' to this land while Palestinians who were dispossessed of that land, in 1948 and 1967 and most recently in East Jerusalem, can't have that same right.

We are Jews from the United States, who, like Jewish people throughout the world, have an automatic right to Israeli citizenship under Israel’s “law of return.”

Today there are more than seven million Palestinian refugees around the world. Israel denies their right to return to their homes and land—a right recognized and undisputed by UN Resolution 194, the Geneva Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Meanwhile, we are invited to live on that same land simply because we are Jewish.

We renounce this “right” to “return” offered to us by Israeli law. It is not right that we may “return” to a state that is not ours while Palestinians are excluded and continuously dispossessed.

In 1947-49, Zionist militias destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages and made more than 800,000 Palestinian people refugees in order to create a Jewish state on land where the majority was not Jewish. It is Palestinians who have the right to return to their own land.

Now in Gaza, where more than three quarters of the people are refugees, the State of Israel not only denies the population its right of return, but also incarcerates the entire Gaza Strip under illegal and inhumane siege conditions.

We reject the notion that Israel is a “safe haven” from anti-Semitism for Jews. No one is truly safe when the price of that “security” is oppression, inequality, and occupation of another people.

Today there is a growing transnational movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, called for by Palestinian civil society and supported by activists, artists, and academics around the world, including an increasing number of conscientious Israelis. As part of this campaign, we pledge to boycott the “law of return.” As an act of political and ideological divestment, we repudiate the claims the State of Israel makes on us as potential citizens.

We protest Israel’s colonial policies and discriminatory laws toward the Palestinian people, as well as the U.S. government’s political and financial support of these policies.

We hereby renounce Israel’s “law of return” and refuse to lend the state our support, resources, or passports.

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Treating those outside the tribe as people of less value —undeserving of equal rights— will naturally provoke hostility toward the tribe.

George Soros puts it this way,
"In other words, I don't think that you can ever overcome anti-Semitism if you behave as a tribe…

Norman Finkelstein explains,
"if Israeli policies, and widespread Jewish support for them, evoke hostility toward Jews, it means that Israel and its Jewish supporters might themselves be causing anti-Semitism. the only way you can overcome it is if you give up the tribalness."

Tariq Ali writes that the campaign against
"the supposed new 'anti-semitism' in modern Europe is a "cynical ploy on the part of the Israeli Government to seal off the Zionist state from any criticism of its regular and consistent brutality against the Palestinians.... Criticism of Israel can not and should not be equated with anti-semitism."