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Beating the Drums

Taking a Gander: A Tribal Mentality



"There, there, child; sleep well and pleasant dreams."

Maybe we didn't actually say those words, but, by lazy abdication, Americans have largely tucked-in their brains for the night. Between conspiracy theories, idiotic legislators, rabid so-called "Christian" zealots, reverence for the "Lie" and a remarkedly-stubborn, almost-suicidal dedication to move our country backwards 100 years or more, it appears that the America we thought we knew and loved is really screwed.

We seem to prefer pizza-gate stories to fact, and there are many who embrace what can only be described as the "utterly ridiculous."

I'm not typically a cynic, but one doesn't have to be any type of expert to know we are definitely bogged-down in a pervasive tribal pattern—one that, if not dealt with, has the power to end the U.S. tenure as a leader in the free world. How can anyone look to America for leadership when it's in such a fractured state?

In a very real sense, America is immersed in a civil war, and it seems that almost everyone has joined one of the two major, warring tribes. While that's something that happens continually in world regions where poverty, ignorance and ethnicity issues abound, it's not where our supposedly evolved country should be today.

As irrational as it may be, tribal affiliation now embraces every conceivable subject. Health, economics, moral decisions, environmental concerns—they've all become pawns of politics. Who'd have believed, a few short years ago, that attitudes on COVID vaccines and fossil fuels would be defined by our political parties? It seems that being part of a group has become more important than using our brains.

How did we arrive at this low point? An obvious culprit—though not the sole perpetrator—is the ex-president who spent an entire four years (and since) trying to fracture our democracy and create division. His claims of "fake news" were certainly a part of it, creating a huge line of demarcation between those who hoped they could rely on mainstream media for their information, and those who were so impressionable that they could embrace Trump's endless justifications of how black was white, and wrong was right.

While some of the smart ones could succeed in ferreting out the truth, many Americans lost faith in traditional news sources. Rather than working hard at it, we allowed untrustworthy media personalities to define our beliefs.

Mankind has a natural inclination to group together for common goals and it was, simply, a lot easier to be a joiner than to engage the brain.

How did we slip into such a miserable state? And, more importantly, is there any way to regain a respectable international status, and any way to assure other countries that we haven't permanently reverted to the mentality of warring clans and a complete forfeiture of intelligent thought?

There are no easy answers here. Between social media, massive disinformation programs and man's natural inclination to band together with like-thinking comrades, I feel a temporary hopelessness that Americans can reunify for the common good.

Sure, every region and nation has its unpleasant, problematic events and conditions to deal with. But has it ever been this bad before? We are up to our eyeballs in difficult-to-resolve conundrums, and lots of Americans are concerned: Will we ever emerge from this current mess?

And yet, we're not without hope—that is, if we can learn anew how to fix things as a team. The traditional, time-proven method for problem-solving is putting our heads together and hammering-out solutions. But today's America is stuck—stuck in a death spiral that must end.

Cooperation for the mutual benefit of Americans is, at least for now, a lost art. We've been hijacked by our worst instincts and, particularly, the natural tendency of societies to form groups, factions and parties in which members are ideologically aligned. It seems that there are far too many frozen brains in America today.

Had there ever been any sense of morality, rationality, or cooperation in politics, somehow it seems to have all escaped us. Certainly, there has been heated debate over issues and policies from our country's very inception, but the concept of mutual benefit has virtually disappeared. The problems of third-world countries, wherein blind nationalism, tribal conflict and ethnic cleansing have displaced any intelligent positions, have become our own. We may be a superpower, but we're living the reality of a broken system and the consequent plunge into what could become another dark age.

The worlds of politics and commerce are both heavily influenced by the art of advertising and public relations. Though the ads of yesteryear were fairly simple, they have now evolved into carefully-researched psychological tools—designed by professional behaviorists and verified through a complex structure of polling routines performed by professional statisticians. These people know what they're doing; their interest is to dismantle the normally cautious decision-making centers of the brain.

They understand the average person better than we do, and they have a keen understanding of the human mind and the keys to motivating the consumers and voters. It seems that the science of blind persuasion works amazingly well.

Sadly, those who are served by dividing America are wizards in cultivating its divides. This is nothing new; the snake-oil salesmen have always been there. It's time for Americans to pull their heads out of their butts and re-engage the marvels of a brain.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist, and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He lives in Riverton, Utah with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.