Designer essay other tribalism

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Sign Up. Romantic primitivism has two faces, and its romantic face is by far the prettier. This is the one that gave the world a whole collection of colorful and eccentric Englishmen who liked to dress up as Arabs, jump onto camels, and ride about over the sands of the Middle East. What the camels made of it is anyone's guess—but it was harmless stuff on the whole, and Lawrence of Arabia was only the most famous of his countrymen to enjoy the masquerade.

The primitivist face is more problematic. Not long ago, in , actress and ex-model Lauren Hutton ventured into tourist-anthropology among the Masai in Africa. Taking her two little boys along with her, she visited a witch doctor, tasted his potions, saw a cow slaughtered, and watched red-robed Masai warriors drinking blood from the carcass—the whole episode accompanied by maternal yelps of "wow! But there weren't many wows from her boys.

In fact they barely cracked a smile, and one of them burst into tears. Watching their reactions it was impossible not to think of the Hans Andersen tale about the emperor who had no clothes. Both of the Hutton children clearly wanted to tell their gushy mum that no matter how hard they looked at those warriors, and no matter how much she enthused about the wonders of Africa, Masai culture "had no clothes"—in other words, it didn't match the romantic idealization she seemed to have fixed in her mind.

Despite lots of prompting, they were still not convinced that the life of the Masai was better than the life they knew, or that hot blood straight from the beast tasted better than Coke. But that was the lesson Ms. Hutton wanted her children to learn. That was the enlightenment their African visit was meant to achieve. The missionary purpose of this Turner Productions show was to convert its audience to the view that Masai culture is just as good as Western civilization, if not better.

On top of this, the Culture Cult goes still further. It claims that primitive cultures have a uniqueness which should be seen as sacred, and that to assimilate them to modern ways would be a crime. Indeed, today, for many people of religous temperament, the salvation of primitive cultures has replaced the salvation of souls.

What is Tribalism?

There are a number of problems with this new philosophy however. Romantic primitivism—the idealizing of social simplicity and the world of the "noble savage"—has been around for a long time.

About Roger Sandall

You can find it in classical Greece 2, years ago: the Cynics and the Stoics are examples. And no doubt you could find it earlier, too. Chances are, even in Nineveh, soon after the invention of the wheel, loud calls were heard for reinstating the holy pedestrianism of the past. In the words of two scholars who looked closely at the subject from its first appearance in classical times, primitivism represents "the unending revolt of the civilized against civilization. This revolt has one invariable feature. This attempt to throw everything into reverse was to start in Britain.

Each association would be a group of from to people where everyone would live in communal housing amiably together. How his people were going to spend their working days was rather less clear. Turning violently against the world he knew, he embraced a vision of rural life—and farming was something he knew nothing about at all. Countless people imagine alternative lifestyles pictorially, nicely colored and composed like tourist brochures; it was as if Owen himself had fallen in love with a painting of trees and fields, or a pastoral poem of Arcadian reverie. But there was no connection between his pictured images of old-style rural life and the very real practical problems of personnel and incentives and organization he faced on the ground.


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This soon became clear when he got to America. He spoke vaguely about cultivating the land in common. Communal land would be an essential moral step away from selfishness. But he had no idea what it meant. According to the diary of his son William Owen, he told his associates only four days before signing the purchase papers for the land. Mr Clark wished to know what become of their present property. The historian A. Bestor comments that however incredible it may seem, Owen was about to sink his fortune in an experiment without any notion as to whether the recruits who had flocked to New Harmony were to be employees, or almsmen, or partners, or tenants.

How Tribalism Overrules Reason, and Makes Risky Times More Dangerous

And whatever they were, who was going to till the soil? The membership was top-heavy with wordy thinkers who knew a good idea when they heard one, but had never so much as seen a plow.


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Only after a committee had met, and more than once, were some farm implements put into the fields. Those good old days down on the farm…. There are people today who think life was better in the past. They argue that there was not only a simplicity, tranquility, sociability and spirituality about life in the distant past that has been lost, but a virtue too. This rose-tinted nostalgia, please note, is generally confined to the wealthy.

It is easier to wax elegiac about the life of a peasant when you do not have to use a long-drop toilet. Imagine that it is , somewhere in Western Europe or eastern North America. The family is gathering around the hearth in the simple timber-framed house. Father reads aloud from the Bible while mother prepares to dish out a stew of beef and onions. The baby boy is being comforted by one of his sisters and the eldest lad is pouring water from a pitcher into the earthenware mugs on the table. His elder sister is feeding the horse in the stable. All is tranquil; a bird sings outside the window.

He is lucky: life expectancy even in England was less than 40 in The baby will die of the smallpox that is now causing him to cry; his sister will soon be the chattel of a drunken husband.

The water the son is pouring tastes of the cows that drink from the brook. Toothache tortures the mother. The stew is grey and gristly yet meat is a rare change from gruel; there is no fruit or salad at this season. It is eaten with a wooden spoon from a wooden bowl. Candles cost too much, so firelight is all there is to see by.

Nobody in the family has ever seen a play, painted a picture or heard a piano. School is a few years of dull Latin taught by a bigoted martinet at the vicarage. Each daughter owns two wool dresses, two linen shirts and one pair of shoes. The children sleep two to a bed on straw mattresses on the floor. What I call Designer Tribalism has limitless faith that the right rules will produce the right results. If the setting is rural, and communal ownership is ordained, then once private ownership is abolished the remaining problems should look after themselves.

See a Problem?

The habits of respect are missing. Rational authority needs enough like-minded folk to agree on laws, not an anarchy of opinionated talkers. Charismatic authority demands the ever-present dominating force of an inspiring leader—and time and again this is the primitive solution to problems of authority and governance which communes end up with.

Charismatic leadership can certainly hold things together for a while, and perhaps New Harmony might have lasted a bit longer if Owen had stayed. He sailed away back to England, and in May , less than two years after it began, the whole enterprise fell in a heap.

On one estimate nine-tenths of the membership was useless. But could better people have saved New Harmony?

Cult culture designer essay other tribalism

With so much being handed out free, what motive did anyone have for working? Or was there a much deeper fault than the quality of the recruits — a flaw in the communal dream itself? But after private property had been abolished who would care for the communal property, and what incentives would ensure that work got done?