By Jay Kirell
This has been quite the week for tribalism.
Working our way around the world, President Obama traveled to Japan and South Korea, where he assured them he loves them both equally (but slightly more than China). Russia continued to treat Ukraine like a certain Nevada cattle rancher treats federal land. Afghanistan has started thawing out from its annual hibernation to explode in violence. In Nigeria over 200 girls were abducted from a school. If you haven’t heard about it, look again at where it happened.
And back in the good old USA, we had the ongoing saga that is the Cliven Bundy federal land dispute take an unexpected (for those who supported him, anyway) turn when Mr. Bundy started wondering about black people. Not to let the week end on that uplifting note, Los Angeles Clippers owner and noted cheapskate Donald Sterling made headlines when he was accidentally caught telling his girlfriend how he really feels about…you guessed it…black people.
While Sterling’s comments broke in the news too late in the week to garner much discussion outside of social media, where the backlash has been swift and fierce in its condemnation, Bundy’s comments had most of the week to settle and fester in the national consciousness.
Some of Bundy’s supporters continued to stand behind him even after his unique take on slavery became well-known. However, many previous boosters and hangers-on jumped ship, finding out the hard way that being a partisan conservative means you can stand next to anti-federalist cattle ranchers who encourage armed insurrection as long as they keep their views on race on the DL.
In other words, the anti-government tribe doesn’t need the white supremacist tribe giving them bad PR.
Which brings me to Game of Thrones.
I don’t know if you watch this show, but if you don’t, you should. It perfectly encapsulates not only the nature of politics in the 21st century, but the tribalism inherent in the system.
There’s a lot, and I mean a LOT of houses and characters on Game of Thrones, but for the sake of this argument you’ll only need to know about one – the Lannisters. The Lannisters are the ruling family in the story and the wealthiest and most dangerous family in the fictional universe.
They got that way through doing literally anything they had to do to attain and expand their power and wealth. They broke every rule in the book and all the while had one singular mantra – family first.
The brilliance of Game of Thrones is that it takes a family like the Lannisters and makes them relatable, even if everything they do on the show is so beyond the realm of decency.
They are relatable, because of all the characters on Game of Thrones, all the houses with all their proud traditions, the families who value honor and justice, those who do whatever it takes to survive strike a cord within all of us.
Because in one form or another, we’re all Lannisters. We all value family, maybe not always in the biological sense, but an expanded sense of what we see in ourselves.
If we view ourselves through the prism of our race, gender, religion, or occupation, we find it easier to side with our “family” and defend other members of the family from attack.
It’s why Cliven Bundy still has some supporters, even those who say he’s not racist for what he said. His “family” of anti-government zealots believe he fights for them. It’s why Donald Sterling has been able to own an NBA team for decades (in this case his “family” being other NBA owners too cowardly to kick him out of their club) even though he’s been an embarrassment to the league.
In politics, our “family” all comes down to what we consider ourselves.
If we see ourselves as conservatives, our “family” is the Republican party, and to a lesser extent, gun-rights supporters, pro-life advocates or anti-tax crusaders. If we see ourselves as liberals, our “family” is the Democratic party, and to a lesser extent, civil-rights organizations, environmental groups or social safety net protectors.
Those are our houses, our families, our tribes. Politically, it’s how we define ourselves and who are allies and enemies are.
It gives us a sense of comfort to be in such a large family. It gives us people to talk to, to hang out with, to champion our causes with and oppose our enemies with.
And based on who you listen to, our enemies are everywhere:
They’re just over the border, waiting to sneak in and take our jobs.
They’re holed up in their board rooms, waiting to ship overseas all our jobs.
They’re spreading the wealth among the moochers.
They’re concentrating wealth among the very few.
They’re trying to disarm all law-abiding citizens.
They’re letting the rich buy our democracy.
They’re turning this country into a Socialist paradise.
They’re turning this country into an Oligarchy.
They’re trying to give minorities special rights.
They’re trying to strip away minorities’ civil rights.
They hate job creators.
They hate working people.
They hate me.
They hate you.
We have to fight them.
We have to destroy them.
We will win because our side is just. Our side has the truth.
Some day, the rest will wake up and realize.
We’re all Lannisters now.