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Transforming the Tribal Mentality of Man

Meditations (Spirituality) - From Martin LeFevre in California

Transforming the Tribal Mentality of Man

The most important thing is wholeness. When people lived in more or less isolated groups, the tribe or clan represented wholeness for each people. But the old ways are gone or going fast, and nothing is replacing them.

The wholeness of culturally and linguistically distinct tribes or clans was limited to membership in the group. Belonging to particular groups has always been the cornerstone of human social organization. But that basic pattern has become dysfunctional in the global society.

Belonging to particular groups is the essence of the tribal mentality. It still holds sway, whether with a few hundred people living in the African bush, or with a few hundred million people living on the North American continent.

Nationalism is glorified tribalism, writ large. The tribe is inherently separative, and the tribal mentality has become the single greatest factor in the fragmentation of humanity and the earth.

The primary identification with particular groups is the root of human division, conflict, and fragmentation. Tribal identification is not just what remains of tribes in the poorer corners of the world; it is the mentality behind ‘my family,’ ‘my people,’ and ‘my nation.’

These are different forms of the self. In the West, the tribal mentality has largely devolved to individualism, the smallest possible unit of identification—that of ‘me, myself, and I.’

The old ways are being wiped away everywhere in the world by the global economy, by the sheer numbers of humanity, by instant communications, and by the overwhelming march toward individualism.

The fact is that in both the developed and developing world, the modern/post modern and the indigenous worlds are collapsing and eroding apace.

The notion that the tribe provides security, much less that it is akin to the essence of life, is absurd. The tribal mentality has produced untold thousands of wars, both before and after the beginning of so-called civilization.

War is the only thing that has ‘evolved,’ not the human being. We have gone from spears and arrows to nuclear bombs; from tribal conflict to state-sanctioned murder; from civil war to ‘stateless actors’ willing to commit mass murder in the name of their global caliphate.

The ‘us vs. them’ orientation is as old as man, and as deeply rooted in our mental and emotional life. Invoking it, national leaders rally their people to war, even when there is no actual war, just a botched police action called ‘the global war on terror.’

Many people, including progressives and activists, set out a false choice—either the State or some other agency brings about a new society, or traditionalists must fill the vacuum. That is a Hobson’s choice—it is not a real alternative.

The romantic notion that the indigenous or tribal way of life will re-emerge and re-invent itself to bring about a new civilization is wishful thinking of the highest order. Indigenous ways of thinking and organizing human life, while they should be respected and sustained where given groups of people want to maintain them, cannot survive without radical change anymore than modern states can.

Is it the State’s responsibility to put forth a new society that takes the place of the dying traditions and tribal ways? The State is at best an institution responsive to the will of the people. At worst (and far more often the case in human history), it is an oppressive and corrupt institution favoring the few.

Empty ideas such as pan-Americanism or pan-Africanism or pan-Europeanism have been tried and failed. But if neither the tribe, in its most elemental form, nor the State, with all its powers of propaganda and technology, are the regenerative factor in human evolution, then what will bring about a new human being and a new society?

Clearly, the individual must radically change and bring about a new society, where there is equality, justice, fairness, and a decreasing rather than increasing gap between rich and poor.

Like the planet itself, man is dying at man’s hands. The 100,000-year-old human experiment is coming to a head. A new human being, with a genuinely global (that is, whole) consciousness, can and must emerge.

Radical change begins with the individual human being—which is a totally different premise than individualism. A hundred true and transforming individuals, questioning together, can transform the world.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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