Modern Man In Search of a Tribe

I’m no anthropologist but I’d say pretty much all “primitive” people live in tribes. Our distant ancestors lived in tribes. We all know that.

A tribe is sort of an extended family. I’m part Native American, and Native Americans live/lived in tribes. We all know that too. In many areas of the world, like Afghanistan for instance, people are more tribal than national. In parts of the Middle East and Africa people still identify more with their tribe than their nation. A friend of mine from Nigeria refers to herself as an Ibo.

Though I’m only 1/16th, at times I’d prefer to call myself an Ojibwa than a ‘mercan. My tribal homeland is in Northern Wisconsin.

And it seems fairly apparent that in the past living in the extended family of a tribe was highly preferable to going it alone when it came to surviving the exigencies of an often hostile mother nature.

My hunch is that the impulse to live in an extended family/tribe is genetically programmed into us. And one wonders: What about the exigencies and stresses of modern life?

The eminent Harvard political-scientist (and PCHS fellow alumni) Robert Putnam wrote a book a few years ago called Bowling Alone. It profiled the death of fellowship and fraternal organizations in this country. People used to bowl on teams (tribes) and in leagues (bigger tribes), but now they bowl alone. And only old people belong to the Moose, Elks or Shriners

Bowling Alone is about the breakdown of traditional tribes in our society. We live in a peripatetic nation. It seems hardly anybody lives where they grew up. I’ve lived in Florida for over 40-years–but before Florida I lived in Ohio, New Mexico and Illinois. I know a few native Floridians–but far more of my friends originated somewhere else.

Putnam’s most recent book is Our Kids. It’s about the little Ohio town we grew up in. His conclusion: our kids ain’t our kids anymore. There’s the haves and the have nots and the natives versus the new rich who want to live on the lake and commute to jobs in Toledo or Cleveland.

My maternal grandmother was one of ten children. She was born near the Chippewa (Ojibwa) Reservation in Wisconsin on the shores of Gitche Gumee, Lake Superior. Her half Chippewa mother married a man named Murphy who left his starving tribe in Ireland to come to America for a better life.

When I was a kid it seemed as though I was part of a major tribe because every year the Murphy’s had a big family reunion—40 or more people stuffing themselves on fried chicken and casseroles and slamming down beer and blended whiskies.  Even the more dour Scotch and German side of my family had family reunions.

Today, what’s left of those tribes have moved all over the country and I wouldn’t recognize any of my third-cousins if I passed them on the sidewalk. I have a couple cousins left up in Ohio and my stepson’s family out in California. The big tribe extended family of mine is kaput.

Currently, nearly half of all kids are now born out of wedlock and grow up in single parent homes. Among black Americans that figure climbs to over 70%. It’s also very high among Native Americans.

Some old friends used to do missionary work among the Aborigines of Australia. They were dealing with problems like alcoholism and mental illness due to the disintegration of their traditional tribal culture—not unlike the problems of Native Americans.

Emigrants live in families and tribes for a while until they become “Americanized” and then move away.

Is it any wonder that as the traditional two parent nuclear family and tribal society has fractured that addictions, mental illness, suicide, random violence and political division has risen. There are hardly even the traditional tribes of Repubs and Dems any longer. Now we have Tea Partiers, Progressives, Socialists, Libertarians, etc.

Even the traditional mainstream churches are becoming extinct. Putnam wrote a book about that too, American Grace. Who would want to be a Presbyterian, Lutheran or Methodist when they could go to a nondenominational urban megachurch–or perhaps an emergent church or an organic church? Actually, Putnam’s book is more about how religion dis-unites us.

Behold: I give you a new paradigm. Instead of churches and temples we have Crips and Bloods and motorcycle tribes. A friend of mine spends most Sundays cruising around central Florida going to biker bars and motorcycle rallies—hanging with other folks playing dress-up in silver and black.

I attend a 12-step group called Celebrate Recovery (CR). I go more for the fellowship and sense of belonging than to work on any of my issues.  CR started about 25-yrs ago at Rick Warren’s church, Saddleback, out in California and has now spread to thousands of churches worldwide. I think CR as well as other 12-step groups are fed by the desire to connect with other folks at a deeper level–and CR at its best becomes a family.

I used to say that AA was the world’s biggest fellowship. You could go to almost any town in America and find a meeting of folks battling similar demons. It was far more unifying than most churches and denominations.  AA is spiritual and its dogma is simple and unifying instead of divisive. As a friend of mine says about the first three steps: (1) You can’t (2) God can (3) So why don’t you let Him. Pretty simple. CR is even more spiritual in that it’s totally Jesus-centered.

And then there is social media. Is it any wonder that folks have gravitated so strongly to the new tribe of Facebook?  Maybe the tribes are reforming again under “likes”.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

the falcon cannot hear the falconer;

things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;

mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

Yeats wrote “The Second Coming” in 1919. And now 97 years later it’s plain to see his vision of chaos has come to pass.


About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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