Increasing Tribalism in America

As I mentioned before, the last two days I was sitting in a conference on parks and park management out in California.  Most everyone was pretty respectful in the room, and discussions about race and ethnicity that could have degenerated into political finger-pointing generally did not.

But there was one exception I thought really odd.  A gentleman (can't remember his name), who is apparently the marketing director for Delaware North Company's extensive concession operations in Yellowstone, began his talk by expressing how crazy he thought Conservative Republicans are.  I thought this was a lead in for some kind of joke, but actually he just seemed to want to make sure that though he was currently living in Wyoming, no one should mistake him for a Conservative.  My guess at the time was that this man was transferred to this post after growing up back East, and is constantly embarrassed to think his tribe of liberal Easterners might think he was part of that flyover country Republican tribe.  Otherwise, I can't figure out why he would feel the need to make us understand this -- it certainly had nothing to do with his pitch and it seemed like a terrible marketing practice, particularly given the likely demographics of his current customer base.**

In fact, in a bit of irony I see repeated fairly often, he used this as an intro to his speech on a day where the main topic was inclusiveness (for those in the parks world, we ritualistically beat ourselves up at every opportunity for not attracting enough young people, urbanites, and people of color to rural public parks).  In theory, "inclusiveness" and "diversity" are supposed to mean that we are trying to get rid of the whole in-group / out-group thing altogether, but I often suspect that in practice, many folks are using them as code words for just shifting the out-group tag from one set of people to another.


** PS-  which should not be taken to mean that I necesarily would disagree with him if we discussed the details, just that it seemed a pointless and even self-defeating observation to make in this context.


  1. Evan Þ.:

    Here's a very interesting article expanding on your last paragraph: "If you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe."

  2. todd:

    Thanks, enjoy your blog. Take a look at
    In line with what you said.therefore perhaps your friend was exhibiting a dominant behavior-passing in all the corners to stake out his territory.

  3. Sam L.:

    You got the impression that he was from "back East", probably by accent, odd pronunciations of a few words, and yes, likely as todd said, he was signalling his membership in that Eastern lib/prog group. Doing his in-group dog-whistle, saying code words and giving the secret recognition signs to show he hadn't gone over the "the other side". They are just so insecure.

  4. Lorenzo from Oz:

    I can also recommend the Scott Alexander post that Evan P linked to. Also Arnold Kling's "Three Languages of Politics", available as cheap e-book.

  5. Dave Boz:

    The corollary to this is the large number of heinous things that people will excuse in their own tribe, but condemn vociferously if done by The Other Tribe. I meet very, very few people who have actual principles that they are willing to apply evenly.

  6. HenryBowman419:

    I find the increasing political dichotomy in the U.S. somewhat distressing. The Dims [i.e., the leftists] are truly committed to what one may kindly describe as totalitarianism. To most arguments against their positions, many of them simply yell STFU! Not a good way to start a dialogue, for sure. This fellow, who I assume is a committed socialist, seems much the same.

    There have been more times in U.S. history when people were divided: the lead-up to the so-called Civil War is a good example. But, times are bad for politics these days.

  7. stevewfromford:

    Ah tribalism! Wonder where that could possibly come from? It's almost like there is a major political party that takes every possible opportunity to divide Americans by race, religion, net worth, ethnicity or sex in order to gain votes isn't it? If one party did, that would be,like,bad for the country now wouldn't it? Glad we don't have to worry about that sort of nonsense but it is a puzzle where that "increasing tribalism" could possibly be coming from!

  8. Don:

    I personally find it strange that people assume because you're in the same business as them or share some physical or social characteristic, you share their values, ideals, and political inclinations. I've had people who believe that because I'm in IT and circulate in the hacker culture in my area, that I'm a progressive. They'll tell me things, and share jokes that they wouldn't dare say or share with the public at-large because of the nature of the comments are amazingly offensive, but forgiven in their tribe because the target is the other tribe. Like wise, I get people making jokes and comments they'd never say about race, religion, etc. they'd never say in public.

    I generally tolerate it as simple bad taste, if for no other reason than to find out what they really think going forward, but sometimes it's hard not to just walk away in disgust.

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