Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tribalism is the new Black

Last night I was waiting for the Esplanade bus and noticed a trio of baby dyke young womyn, all in their very early 20’s. They had extremely cool eyewear, short boy haircuts and one of them was wearing a black t-shirt that proudly proclaimed “Cunts” in silver writing. I loved how happy and at ease they were; two of them were unashamedly holding hands and the other was bouncing up and down with excitement, jabbering at her friends with lots of hand gestures and smiles and laughter.

I wanted to ask them where they were going but figure it’s none of my business, and also why would they care if some old lady thought they were as cool as shit? I also think it’s amazing that young women can casually wear t-shirts that say “Cunts”. Back when I was in my early 20’s I would have died of embarrassment rather than wear something like that. Hell, it took me until my late 20’s to be able to wear the Nirvana t-shirt that says “Fudge-packin’ crack smokin’ satan worshippin’ motherfuckers” on the back. And then my mother was appalled. My 13 year old daughter, on the other hand, swears like a blue streak and wears black eyeliner and band t-shirts already. So I guess it’s a matter of what A) passes for fashion in your zeitgeist and B) how comfortable you are with anything.

But what watching this young trio of baby dykes reminded me of was how you can pick out members of your own tribe – and I don’t mean the indigenous nation of your birth – but the tribe with which you identify. For me, it has always been urban bohemian music freaks, the wider tribe of which encompasses musicians, punks, Goths, metalheads, artists, photographers, skaters, writers, computer geeks, bike couriers, radical fairies, djs, music store nerds, comic book artists, web heads, crazy cat people, designers, coffee junkies, yoga instructors, latter-day hippies, eco-freaks, labour activists, social justice advocates, graduate students, potheads and psychedelic experimenters, science fiction nerds, and other fringe dwellers. You can spot ‘em a mile away. And feel comfortable around them.

Tribalism is one of those things that is as old as our species. It’s a survival technique and the way humans have lived for much of our existence. Families organize into clans which organize into tribes which organize into nations. And I don’t mean “nation state”; my definition means the tribal organization which believes in its own sovereignty and allies itself with other nations to form confederacies – can’t help what I already know!

Most people in modern Western culture have no experience living in a tribal organization. We all know what colonization did to the vast majority of tribes here on Turtle Island, where the settlers saw us as competitors for the land resources and an evolving capitalist marketplace saw our collective communism as impediment to a free market economy. The surviving people, my own included, are a pale shadow of the powerful and healthy tribes we once were. Even as I hate to admit that, it’s true. We are nothing like we once were.

But we still feel the pull, the need, the essential ability to form and be in a tribe. Being in a tribe means you have a primary loyalty to a group that really cares about your personal survival and your future success, because that in turn strengthens all of the tribe.

Most of my non-indigenous friends don’t have anything like a tribe. They come from nuclear families that are weakened by economics that force movement and mobility away from each other, a very weak extended family – I can’t count how many of my friends say they envy me knowing and loving most of the members of my vast and sprawling Iroquoian family – a social circle that is more about proximity and shared interests than loyalty, and then – what? Loyalty to a hockey team? A corporation? A rock band? A country? I guess that’s what passes for tribal living for non-indigenous people. But how do you find comfort in those structures in a world as chaotic and as harsh as modern environments can be? Who do you go to for that wider sense of security and a sense of loyalty and belonging?

I think we should all build our own tribes. Tribes based not on blood but on networks that extend to other families and worthy people… A group of people that you are loyal to and who are steadfastly loyal to you. Isn’t that what we all want from life?

I should start gathering one around me, I could be the tribal matriarch. Two winters ago I was convinced that the environmental apocalypse was at hand and I was totally ready to start getting all Road Warrior with a group of people. Maybe I should revive my plans.

P.S. The picture is a recent photo of part of my extended family, taken last summer.