October 6th, 2010 // 4:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
NEARLY ALL OF THE WEAKNESSES I listed here are found in many traditional tribal cultures.
In our day new kinds of tribes are emerging with huge potential influence, power and popularity.
Indeed, the 21st Century may be the era where tribes become the most influential institutions in the world.
The trends are already in play, and nearly every major institution, nation and civilization is now made up of many tribes.
In fact, more people may be more loyal to their closest tribes now than to any other entity.
There are many types of tribes in the history of the world. A generic overview will obviously have its flaw and limitations—as will any inductive study, from personality typing to weather forecasting.
But with the necessary disclaimers and apologies, we can still learn much from the generalizations as we seek lessons to apply to ourselves.
There are several significant types of tribes in history, including:
- Foraging Tribes
- Nomadic Tribes
- Horticultural Tribes
- Agrarian Tribes (communities)
- Industrial Tribes
- Informational Tribes
Each is very different, and it is helpful to understand both the similarities and unique features of these types of tribes.
Note that the fundamental connecting factor which kept these tribes together was their means of production and their definition of wealth.
Families usually sacrificed to benefit the means of production. On a spiritual/emotional level, one way to define a tribe is a group of people who are invested in each other and help each other on an ongoing basis.
All these types of tribes meet this definition.
Level One Tribes: Everyone Knows Everyone
First, Foraging Tribes were usually established by family ties—sometimes, small family groupings and in other cases, larger groups with more extended family members. In marriage a person often left the tribe to join a new tribe.
Foraging tribes lived by gathering and hunting together. Their central means of production were legs: the ability to go out and find food for the family.
Children were the greatest source of wealth because they grew and provided more legs to the tribe.
These tribes were often female-centric, and their gods were fertility goddesses and earth goddesses who provided bounty of food.
Nomadic Tribes hunted and gathered, but also pillaged in order to survive and prosper. They traveled, some within a set area and a few more widely ranging.
They were nearly all herding societies, using animals to enhance their ability to hunt, gather and pillage. Their means of production was their speed, provided by great runners or herd animals.
They usually traveled in larger groups than Foragers, and intermarried within the tribe or from spouses taken during raids. Marriage meant joining the tribe of your spouse.
Nomadic Tribes were usually dominated by males and often practiced plural marriages. Herds were the central measure of wealth.
Third, Horticultural Tribes planted with sticks, hoes or hands, and tended crops to supplement food obtained by hunting.
Because hoes and sticks can be wielded equally by men and women, these tribes were often female-centric. Men hunted and women planted and harvested, bringing an equality to production.
Hands were the central means of production, used either in hunting or planting. Children were a measure of wealth, and deity was often a goddess of bounty.
These first three types of tribes make up the first level of tribal cultures, where nearly all tribe members worked each day to feed themselves and the tribe.
In the second level, specialization created free time for many to work on matters that have little to do with sustenance—from education to technology to arts and craftsmanship, and even extending into higher thinking of mathematics, logic and philosophy.
Level 2 Tribes
Agrarian Tribes began, as Ken Wilber describes it, when we stopped planting with sticks and hoes and turned to plows drawn by beasts of burden.
The change is significant in at least two major ways: First, pregnant women can plant, tend and harvest with sticks and hoes, but often not with plows, cattle and horses. That is, in the latter many pregnant women were in greater danger of miscarriage.
In short, in Agrarian society farming became man’s work. This changed nearly everything, since men now had a monopoly on food production and women became valued mostly for reproduction.
This was further influenced by the second major change to the Agrarian Age, which was that plows and animal power produced enough surplus that not everyone had to work to eat.
As a result, tradesmen, artists and scholars arose, as did professional tax-collectors, politicians (tax-spenders), clergymen and warriors.
Before the Agrarian Revolution, clergy and politicians and warriors had nearly all been the citizen-farmers-hunters themselves.
With this change came class systems, lords and ladies, kings and feudal rulers, and larger communities, city-states and nations.
The store of wealth and central means of production was land, and instead of using whatever land was needed, the system changed to professional surveys, deeds, licenses and other government controls.
Family traditions were also altered, as farmers found that food was scarce after lords and kings took their share.
Men were allowed one wife, though the wealthy often kept as many mistresses as their status allowed. Families had fewer children in order to give more land, titles and opportunity to the eldest.
Traditions of Agrarian Tribes, Communities and Nations are surprisingly similar in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and many colonies around the world.
While small Agrarian communities and locales often followed basic tribal traditions, larger cities and nations became truly National rather than tribal.
The fundamental difference between the two is that in tribes nearly all the individuals work together frequently on the same goals and build tight bonds of love and care for each other, while in nations there is much shared history and common goals but few people know each other or work together regularly.
As society nationalized, most people still lived and loved in tribal-sized communities.
Whether the ethnic communities of European cities, the farming villages of the frontier, church units of a few hundred who worshiped but also bonded together throughout the week, or so many other examples, most people during the Agrarian Age were loyal to national government but much more closely bonded with members of a local community.
When life brought difficulties or challenges, it was these community tribal members that could be counted on to help, comfort, commiserate, or just roll up their sleeves and go to work fixing their neighbors’ problems.
Community was also where people turned for fun and entertainment.
For example, one great study compared the way people in mid-century Chicago watched baseball games, attended cookouts and nearly always went bowling in groups, to the 1990s where most Americans were more likely to watch a game on TV, grill alone and go bowling alone or with a non-family friend.
Level 3 Tribes
Indeed, by the 1990s America was deeply into the Industrial Age.
Industrial tribes (no longer really Tribes, but rather tribes, small “t”) were built around career. People left the farms, and the communities which connected them, for economic opportunities in the cities and suburbs.
Some ethnicities, churches and even gangs maintained community-type tribes, but most people joined a different kind of tribe: in the workplace.
The means of production and measure of wealth in Industrial tribes was capital. The more capital you could get invested, the better your tribe fared (at least for a while) versus other tribes.
Competition was the name of the game. Higher capital investment meant better paychecks and perks, more job security, and a brighter future—or so the theory went.
While it lasted, this system was good for those who turned professional education into a lucrative career.
With level three came new rules of tribe membership. For example, individuals in industrial societies were able and even encouraged to join multiple tribes.
Where this had been possible in Agrarian communities, nearly everyone still enjoyed a central or main community connection.
But in the Industrial era, everyone joined long lists of tribes. In addition to your work colleagues, Industrial professionals also had alma-maters, lunch clubs like the Kiwanis or Rotarians, professional associations like the AMA or ABA or one of the many others, and so on.
With your kids in soccer, you became part of a tribe with other team parents; same with the boy scouts and girls clubs.
Your tribes probably included a community fundraiser club, donors to the post office Christmas food drive, PTA or home school co-op (or both), church committees, car pool group, racquetball partners, biking team, local theatre, the kids’ choir, lunch with your friends, Cubs or Yankees fans, and the list goes on and on and on.
In level three, the more tribes the better!
The two major tribes that nearly everybody joined in Industrial society were work tribes and tribes of friends.
Between these two, little time was left for much besides work and entertainment.
But make no mistake, the guiding force in such a society, the central tribe which all the others were required to give way for, was making the paycheck.
Families moved, children’s lives conformed, marriages sacrificed, and friends changed if one’s work demanded it. It was not always so, and this morality defined Industrial Age culture.
One big downside to Paycheck Tribes is that they cared about your work but not so much about you. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons why Industrial tribes weren’t really even tribes.
The other major reason is that you had only a few close friends and most people didn’t truly count on any non-family group or neighborhood or community to really be there for you when you needed it.
That’s why this is called National society, because it’s not really a tribal community of bonded, connected people who truly love you and will take a stand for you.
Of course, there are some who build and maintain fabulous agrarian-type relationships, friendships and communities during Industrial eras.
It is just harder and less naturally occurring than in the other types of tribal periods and places. The main reason for this may be simply that capital is less naturally connective than legs, hands, family, church or a caring neighborhood.
This is not to say that companies can’t care, love and connect. In fact, I think that is exactly what they’ll have to do to truly succeed in the Information Age.
However, during Industrial Ages connecting and caring and building relationships is less valued by many. Those who put family, friends and other vital relationships first find much happiness and community connection during any period of history.
Fortunately, we live in a time when the new e-tribes are growing and increasingly available.
Level 4 Tribes
The sixth type of tribe is the Information-Age Tribe.
We are all still struggling for the perfect name. The term “e-tribe” is too narrow, since many of the new relationships are not online.
I’ll settle for calling them the New Tribes, and let the future show us exactly how they turn out.
The New Tribes appear to be a whole new (fourth) level of tribe, for a number of reasons.
To begin with, people are joining many of them like during Industrial times, but also limiting them somewhat to reflect what is truly important to them.
For example, where in levels one and two people belonged almost exclusively to one tribe and in level 3 they joined dozens of tribes, now most New Tribers are active members of a few, important tribes, usually at least four per person.
In addition, many members of New Tribes want to be leaders in tribes, and many leaders of New Tribes want the members to all lead. That’s a huge improvement on levels 1-3.
Also, members of New Tribes seem to care about each other much more than Industrial tribes but also even more than many ancient-style and agrarian tribes.
I think this is because people had little say about who their tribal and community members and neighbors were down through history, but in the New Tribes you can make your very best friends your daily confidantes.
The interaction is powerful, and it can and does create deep bonds of friendship and caring.
The Future of New Tribes
Few people realize how widespread the New Tribe revolution has become.
The many examples of online New Tribes show how rapidly this trend is growing. But there is even more to it than that.
One cycle of business growth says that all new things go through four levels:
- They are ignored.
- They are laughed at.
- They are opposed.
- They are accepted as obvious.
The growth of New Tribes is at the Obvious stage.
For example, tribal currency is now the most widely used money in the world. That may surprise some people who believe that the dollar or the yen or some other national currency is most used.
But try this experiment. Pull out your wallet or planner, and see how much money you have in government-printed currency.
Then see how much you have available in private bank currency (checks or debit cards).
While it is true that these private currencies exchange into government money, the truth is that your credit account is most likely a niche or tribal account rather than a government account.
And I dare say that more than a few readers are befuddled by this example, as they transact very few purchases by pulling out their wallet, with the actual plastic in hand; they most often buy over the phone or online—further making the point.
The significance of this is huge. How much wealth are you carrying in sky miles, for example? Or hotel or travel points?
The reason companies issue loyalty cards is to get you to stop being in the traveler niche and instead join the Delta or British Airways tribe.
While you still have your wallet or purse out, look through it to see how many tribal membership cards you carry. Costco? Sam’s Club? Trader Joe’s? An automobile club? What else? Do you carry a church card, or a school card?
The point of all this is that New Tribes are here to stay, and indeed that before the 21st Century ends they may well take over many roles that were traditionally governmental.
For example, the phrase “I’ll fedex it” has replaced “I’ll mail it” in many corporate circles, and toll roads are becoming more popular around the world.
Just like government railways were phased out by private airlines, look for the rise of many more tribally-led industries and services in the years and decades ahead.
For New Tribes to fully achieve their positive potential, it is helpful and perhaps essential for them to learn from the best lessons of the tribes throughout history.
Both leaders and participants of tribes gain much wisdom by studying the best practices and traditions of the world’s tribes.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.