Ah, tribalism. Where would we be without it?
It’s tribalism, of course, that makes us socialize ourselves and others to live according to certain accepted values. It’s so we can tell who’s US and who’s THEM.
These things are usually so engrained, so deep down, that we don’t notice them consciously. We generally notice them when we have reason to fight against them. For example, I’m told that serial killers don’t generally believe that they’re bad people; they believe that they’re doing a good thing, in whatever way. They tell themselves whatever story they need to, in order to have that be their reality, rather than the one we see, because they had to fight against the norms our tribe imposed upon them, and they could only go so far with that. They generally can’t accept “I’m a bad person” – but they can accept a twisted version of what they’re doing.
To accomplish this socializing of THEM and US, however, society relies on mores that get engrained in us without question, and turn into things we can elicit shame with.
When we don’t live up to these mores, we then feel inadequate – the whole of consumerism, naturally, preys upon this: “You aren’t happy enough with life? Buy this thing, and you will be!” Because it’s so convenient for companies trying to sell us things to use this tactic, we constantly get conflicting messages about what we should do to be happy – we should be thin, we should have a bit of meat on our bones, we shouldn’t care about size; we should be married, we should be single; we should have children, we should not have children; and so on. We can’t win, no matter what we do, so we end up feeling constantly inadequate if we don’t armor ourselves from this onslaught.
All of that is well known, and not really what I’m here to write about. We went to see Michael Palin recently – he’s a famous world traveler, as well as a comedy writer and actor. He did a little Q&A from the audience, and someone asked him if he keeps in touch with the people he’s met on his travels.
This question almost always pops up when someone talks about their travels, no matter how large or small the audience, in my limited experience. Nevermind that Michael Palin has traveled extensively and so keeping up with the people he met along the way would be several full time jobs on its own. I’m always boggled and annoyed by this question, and as I let it roll around my head over the next few days, I realized what I think is going on more deeply.
Leftover from Imperialism, there is an expectation of going abroad and improving the lot of the natives. There’s definitely the knowledge that Imperialism was filled with nasty effects and side effects, so this isn’t at all obvious, but I think what’s happened is that the attitude has shifted from the government going out to improve the world to individuals and charities improving the world.
We have one man in town who spends his days taking supplies to Bosnia – he comes home to Glossop, gathers clothes, medicine, all sorts, and drives his Land Rover over to war-torn Bosnia to deliver it. He sleeps sitting up in his vehicle to cut down on expenses. We have another couple who, I think single-handedly, is supporting a school in Kenya – including paper, pencils, food, money to pay the teachers, uniforms for the kids, etc. And there’s the Winnie Mabaso Foundation, which was started by Winnie Mabaso in South Africa (though not as a foundation), and took off from the work of one Glossop woman, mostly (now there are more people involved). Certainly improving life abroad by individuals and charities is a much-lauded, often-done thing in this society.
So, I think the expectation that the traveler improve the lot of the people they’re visiting became one of those deeply entrenched expectations — so deep as to be unconscious. One way to be seen to do this is to keep in touch with them, so as to try to do something (send them supplies, perhaps) once home in Britain.
I challenge my British readers to not dismiss this out of hand – think about it. I could be wrong, but if I’m right, it’s something so unconscious you won’t necessarily see it at first. That is the way with many tribal things. Not all are as obvious as “Thou shalt not kill.”