Economics, Culture

The Digital Tribe

No man is an island, even conceptually.

We see ourselves enmeshed in multple layers reality:

  1. Family
  2. City
  3. Nation
  4. Sport teams
  5. Religious groups
  6. The physical world
  7. Etc

There are certainly more elements to this and many of our social selves instantiate precisely to fit into these groups. So we behave differently at work than at home, in a forrest than at church, at a restaurant than at a friend’s house, etc.

Our bodies have an entire reflect system to help us navigate all of these communities. For instance, you may value your job and your family, but you feel more guilty about leaving your family for a slightly bigger paycheck then you feel about doing w/out the money.

Our emotions, far from being mere spontaneous reactions are deeply social and party rational, insofar as they respond to things we deeply value, either innately or through choice. You might call your family, friends, and religious group a tribe.

Your emotions respond to your perception of your tribe’s approval. This helps you survive. The word being valuing your tribe and the opinions of your tribal members is loyalty or even faith. They are the people you trust and entrust yourself to.

Now, in more ancient times, people were necessarily localist, and so outlier tribe members had two options: leave the tribe or find a niche therein. If they could not, too bad. Leaving meant facing hostile groups or the environment without support.

In the age of the Internet, it is far easier to find a tribe if your family is boring, hostile, or uninvolved. This can be good. So much of our culture is complete bullshit these days, that finding a real, local tribe to fit into is almost impossible in some regions. For instance, I live in a city w/no gym and probably a 90% obesity rate. Almost everybody who goes outside wears sweatpants and sports-team shirts. I do not hate these people, I just cannot fit in with them. Thankfully, I live near a large city with more like-minded people. But if I didn’t, the Internet could provide me with access to experts in weight-lifting, forums of weight lifters offering guidance, support, and encouragement, and all of this would be to my choosing. And this happens for people in many domains: gaming, religion, humor, dating, etc.

What’s my point? That the Internet offers replacement tribes and therefore creates a set of emotional commitments. So while people might feel lonely because they have very little close fellowship with like-minded friends, they also find themselves highly influenced by distant individuals with no skin-in-the-game for their well-being. For instance, an individual with gender dysphoria whose behavior might have been taboo 30 years ago, might have been pressured into therapeutic intervention or into having a private life of cross-dressing and public life that looked much different. Now, such an individual can go to Twitter and find what appears to be millions and millions of supportive cheerleaders, feel really good about a permanently life-altering series of surgeries, and have not one conservation with a dissenting voice that is genuinely concerned. This happens with divorces, religious conversions, abortions, and so-on.

Why? Our tribes are digital.

2 Comments on “The Digital Tribe

  1. Ben Sasse’s new book, “Them,” proscribe’s *more* (real) tribes as the antidote to tribalism… i.e. crossing paths and having more conversations with more (in real life) people.

    1. Proscribes or prescribes?

      I’m totally for tribes, as I see the desire to be a part of an innate survival mechanism. But a lot of capitalists proscribe tribes because of the damage tribes do to sales (who needs more stuff when you have friends, family, and a mission?).

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