the bigoted nature of identitarianism makes me want to find a "tribe"

What is bigotry?

Let's start with a common definition of bigot.

a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.
We typically think of bigotry as prejudice which is acted upon. Prejudice means pre-judging an individual, usually according to membership in a group. When an individual is judged according to the standards associated with a group instead of being judged according to who he is, that is prejudice. When he is treated with intolerance (and say, discriminated against) that is bigotry.

But doesn't that go to the definition of identity politics? Judging or measuring an individual according to how he or she aligns with the group standard, and excluding him (making him an un-person) if he does not? Are not the members of the group who do this "obstinately or intolerantly devoted to [their] own opinions and prejudices," and are they not treating the non-conforming members of the group (along with those in the excluded group generally) with hatred and intolerance?

Other than the alleged "power imbalances" between dominant culture and minority group statuses, I see very little difference between that form of bigotry and the one it is supposedly intended to combat. In many ways it is more intolerant, because the shunned and excluded individual may find himself as an outcast who does not fit in anywhere. (One of the most tragic examples of this is a former Israeli Arab I know who worked as a tracker for the Israeli Army; he was considered a "spy" by his supposed cultural tribal group, yet he never felt that he was fully trusted by the Israeli group, so he emigrated to America which he loves because he says no one cares!)

Which is why I like (as I explained earlier) what Andrew Breitbart is doing.

I find it fascinating that in the despicable attack John Dean launched against him (quoted earlier), he mentions the word "tribe":

...conservatives like Breitbart will not play nicely merely because they have been taken to court. These authoritarian personalities, and those who share their thinking, go ballistic when confronted with legal actions. They resist being held accountable, and feel particularly threatened by legal actions. What Breitbart will do if Sherrod files a lawsuit against him is to quickly create a legal defense fund, with the support and financing of like-thinking conservatives, and he will hire as nasty an attorney as is available in his tribe.
I didn't know that Breitbart belonged to a "tribe," but hey, John Dean says so! And now that I'm on the subject, I can remember that Glenn Greenwald (one of John Dean's more enthusiastic supporters in the leftosphere) attacked Glenn Reynolds as the root cause of "bigoted tribalism." No seriously, he did, and I had a lot of fun with the idea of how to be a bigoted cultural tribalist:
It's simple, really. To activate the process, you have only to disagree with Glenn Greenwald.
Now, while they love accusing people who disagree with them of "tribalism," I suspect this might stem from the fact that people like Glenn Greenwald and John Dean are actually bigoted cultural tribalists themselves. So they naturally assume that those who disagree with them are enemies -- people from another "tribe."

Does tribalism necessarily have to beget tribalism? In the United States? What if you're just an American? I wouldn't go so far as to call that membership in a "tribe" because I like to think I am living in a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, free country where I don't have to see myself as a member of any tribe. But even if we assume that American citizenship has its tribal aspects, what if you're just an American who doesn't want to belong to an additional tribe? I would submit that if people like Andrew Breitbart belong to a "tribe," it is one which has largely been aided, and abetted and created by tribal warfare started by people who consider themselves a rival "tribe."

This sucks, bigtime.

Identity politics is tribalism. And if it isn't outright bigotry (but instead is mere prejudice plus discrimination), it's damned close. So close as to be within a "racist hair."

I hate to repeat myself to longtime readers, but here I go.

I think that what we call bigotry goes to a basic, possibly universal problem with the human mind. Hmm... perhaps "problem" is a problematic word. Humans have a need to simplify and categorize things and other people, and the more complicated things get, the more this need tends to express itself.

While politics lends itself perfectly to this (because of its unfortunate tendency to "tribalism"), it also tends to cloud any analysis, so if I gave modern American political examples, people would take issue with me. It's a shame, because when I was a kid, there were conservatives and liberals, but they agreed they were Americans, and not only did they generally get along with each other, they were allowed to be friends. The way things have gotten, conservatives with liberal friends or liberals with conservative friends run the risk of having their label credentials revoked.

So I think a better example for the purposes of illustration is the ridiculous Burakumin class of Japan. While they are racially indistinguishable from other Japanese, because their ancestors once worked with hides, they face discrimination and prejudice, even today:

The burakumin (village people) of Japan are tainted by their association with death, the impurity of killing and being near carcasses, and leather work. Also known as: hisabetsu buraku (discriminated communities), eta (abundant pollution or leather workers), binin (nonhuman), kokonotsu (nine-one less than ten and, therefore, imperfect), the burakumin have existed for centuries as the untouchable caste of Japan. During the feudal era, burakumin were the most despised and untouchable group in Japan. They struggle with the myths and hatred associated with the occupations of their ancestors. In a nation that prides itself on a modern way of life Japan's hidden people still fight to gain equality.

Burakumin During the Feudal Era

In feudal times, burakumin gained their reputation by holding jobs disdained despite their necessity. Working as gravediggers, tanners, entertainers, executioners, and undertakers, they became associated with death, impurity, and lower living standards. Discrimination came from Buddhist mores against killing and Shinto disdain of pollution. The impurity of burakumin was deemed hereditary. Society scorned them as naturally as evil and filled with a contagious impurity. Burakumin were an incurable social disease that would be ravish anyone who had contact with them.

There was no refuge for the burakumin-from their identity or the cruelty it elicited. Until recently, koseki (family registration) tied burakumin to the addresses of the ancestors, which made it impossible for them to hide their identity or ever escape from it. Like prisoners in a concentration camp, they were shunned into staying in their villages. Being discovered as a burakumin in regular social circles served as an acceptable reason for every rejection (a marriage cancellation or being fired from a job). The burakumin existed on the periphery of society, awaiting the daily the daily massacre of every dream they held dear.

Another example of bigotry which hits closer to home for many Americans is the implacable hatred between racially indistinguishable people in Ireland, who claim to believe in the same god. When I ran a nightclub, one of my favorite employees was an immigrant from Northern Ireland who told me he had been raised in a militantly "Orange" household, and he actually had been one of the drummer boys who marched each year through the Catholic neighborhoods. You know, the guys with the bowler hats and orange sashes?


Cute, in a way. And like the Arab Israeli guy, my bartender also was happy to come to America because it was a place where no one cared. And while as an American he really didn't care about Catholicism or any of that stuff, I got him to loosen up a couple of times when no one was around to listen, because I really wanted to know, like, what is going on with such stuff? One night (after he'd had too much to drink) he confided in me that he "still hate[d] the bloody Catholics" (in Ireland, to be sure, but not here, where they're OK). So, when I pressed him to explain how he could even tell who they were, he said this:

"I can tell them by the way they walk."

He meant it, too, and while I took him at his word, I have never forgotten it because it was so baffling. Even today I am baffled.

Can anyone tell me how a Catholic walks? I'm all ears, believe me.

Moving from distant Ireland to the closer and more emotional Hollywood, it's fascinating to look at the history of bigotry in the movies. Back in the old days, blacks were presented as at first evil subhumans (in the Woodrow Wilson-endorsed Birth of a Nation), then later as eyeball-rolling, foot-shuffling inferior beings who said "yassuh," and eventually that stopped, because Hollywood wasn't supposed to be prejudiced anymore. Sure, enemies were always portrayed in a prejudiced manner, but then, prejudice against foreign enemies who are actively trying to kill you is just not the same thing as prejudice against fellow countrymen.

But I can remember when Arabs were fair game in Hollywood. Hollywood Arab stereotyping seemed to come to a grinding halt right about the time we were attacked -- by Arabs. Which, whether it's right or wrong is counterintuitive. Now the bad guys tend to be evil WASP businessmen, malevolent American military members, or dim-witted but evil "redneck" hicks. It's still considered "safe" to be bigoted against members of the so-called dominant oppressor classes, because it isn't considered bigotry.

But there are growing tribal undercurrents to all of this. I often feel as if I might be some sort of traitor to my tribe, except I don't know what my tribe is supposed to be. Am I because of my elite background, education, world travel, and cultural experience, supposed to be a member of the ruling class? I don't rule anyone and I don't want to. Besides, the ruling class to which I don't belong is under savage populist assault (often led, so it seems, by people who are also sophisticated, intelligent and well-educated). Why would I want to belong to such a class?

And even my dog, Coco, because of her breed, is increasingly under attack. Many cities have banned pit bulls, and if I lived in them they would destroy her, not because of anything she has done or ever will do, but only because she belongs to the wrong group. I hate that. So would Coco, if she understood.


I sometimes suspect that the reason people enjoy resorting to bigotry against breeds of dogs is because it's become so taboo with humans that dogs are one of the few targets people have left for the unfortunate human tendency I have tried in vain to define all these years. A pity, really, because in my heart I know that there are some very nice people who would nonetheless want to kill my dog. Hell, owning Coco would prevent me from joining the military. Such officially-implemented bigotry not only discriminates against these dogs, it is a slap in the face to members of the military who own them and love them. Nevertheless, the policy is being praised in many editorials as an appropriate policy for governments to implement:

While the Texas attorney general decides on the constitutionality of breed-specific legislation, U.S. Army officials, following the lead of Fort Hood, have decided on their own that breed-specific rules are a sensible way to address breed-specific problems. Fort Hood banned pit bulls from all on-base housing two months ago. Now, according to this story in the Killeen Daily Herald the U.S. Army has expanded the pit bull ban to other bases -- specifically for American Staffordshire bull terriers and English Staffordshire bull terriers -- and gone one step better by adding Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, chows, wolf hybrids and any others that display a dominant or aggressive behavior.

What I like about this rule is that it will not require existing owners to give up their dogs. All it says is that new residents will be barred from bringing those dogs into base housing, nor will existing residents be allowed to bring new pets from these breeds onto bases. If there's any question about whether a mixed-breed dog falls into one of these categories, the base veterinarian will make the call.

This rule doesn't just look at dogs that bite, it distinguishes between those that bite and those that maim because, when they attack, their bite is so powerful that it often leads to severe maiming or death. Of course, military bases are governed by federal law, not state law. But it's nice to know that officials at the federal level see this problem for what it is. I hope the attorney general takes note.

In other words, if you have a dog that might be efficient at doing its job of defending you, you can't have the dog. Nice. Parenthetically, Fort Hood's ban on allegedly-hard-biting-canines was implemented several months before that deranged Islamist psychiatrist went on a shooting rampage there against our defenseless disarmed soldiers. I'm almost tempted to point out that had one of that Ford Hood shooter's victims had a dog like Coco who wanted to defend her master, the nutcase might have been bitten in the ass and possibly distracted long enough to be subdued. But I'm too old to be in the military, so it just isn't my issue.

Still, Coco feels threatened by this rising tide of canine identitarian politics and she has a question which I'll pose for her.

If soldiers shouldn't be discriminated against for loving the humans they love, then why should they be discriminated against for owning the dogs they love?

I don't think I'll ever find a tribe.

(Much less quit one.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: It sometimes feels to me that my argument is with human nature itself. Except that is not right, because not all humans are that way, and to claim that they are is just another form of bigotry.

And what could be more bigoted than to be bigoted against human nature?

I should learn to be more tolerant.

posted by Eric on 08.01.10 at 11:44 AM


Beautiful Doggie Eric,

bobnormal   ·  August 1, 2010 2:27 PM
Can anyone tell me how a Catholic walks?

Hesitantly, from darkness into light, hopefully in a state of grace.

I'm not sure it's visible, though.

Pious Agnostic   ·  August 1, 2010 7:58 PM

When I lived in West Africa for a few years around 1980, many adults still carried tribal marks on their faces: patterns of scars inflicted in childhood that indicated which tribe they belonged to. You could recognize these scars from 10-12 feet away on most people.

I suggest a similar approach for America: a big "L" scar on the foreheads of leftists/ liberals.

What's that you say? "L" on the forehead has another meaning also? So be it.

notaclue   ·  August 1, 2010 8:02 PM
M. Simon   ·  August 1, 2010 9:39 PM

+1 on the dog, from a doberman owner. no one knows the big baby i have...but lawyers will salivate at the word doberman, and ignore the poodle.

Bill Johnson   ·  August 1, 2010 11:35 PM

Coco is lovely.

I supposed I am bigoted and prejudiced in another way disliking most small dogs as I do. Certainly I have the size advantage, but unlike almost all large dogs I've met, almost all the small ones exhibit an intense desire to do me harm.

Donna B.   ·  August 2, 2010 8:37 AM

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