I like Stephen Young’s work. He writes clearly and has a sense of history. However, his piece on tribalism (“The global triumph of tribalism,” July 12) was not as illuminating as it might have been. He starts with a supposed distinction between would-be explanatory concepts: ideology and tribalism. These are the recent causes of conflict, he says. Historically, ideology arose from the industrial revolution, capitalism vs. the state (or maybe vs. the workers; the state was mostly on the side of the capitalists until Teddy Roosevelt came around). Now, in the “postindustrial age,” globalization has somehow brought about tribalism. I disagree; globalization is simply the label we give to the spread of industrialization and, of course, information.
Young believes that people with full bellies are looking to satisfy needs beyond their immediate ones. This has led to the “politics of identity,” and, therefore, to a new tribalism. This is a non sequitur. Tribalism tends to co-opt the individual. It’s the tribe that matters. People will die for the tribe.
Young goes on to remind us, correctly, that tribalism has always been with us. Yet he wants us to believe that he has explained something new going on. He empties tribalism as an explanatory concept when he applies it to just about every conflict in the world these days. He starts by mentioning ideology as a contrasting concept and then starts pigeonholing everything into tribalism. It is a neat formula, but not a very helpful one as an explanatory device. The fact that jihadists have managed to get a lot of money and American weapons helps to explain things. The tribalism was already there; nothing new about that. The China-against-the-world concept is misleading, as are a number of other examples that Young uses in trying to explain current conflicts in terms of tribalism. I am surprised that Young did not say right at the beginning that ideology is nothing but the intellectual sublimation of tribalism.
I think the anthropologists, evolutionary psychologists and other scientists are in a better position to explain these things, but of course that is a long process and not suitable to a short Sunday article.
Burke Hilden, Maplewood
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Whatever Young’s article on tribalism contributes to better understanding about what is happening globally — an outstanding contribution in its own right — it prompts me to reflect on two personal questions:
First, to what extent do I arbitrarily attribute certain viewpoints to individuals in any of a host of various “tribes” — political, religious, geographic, ethnic or otherwise? Instead, should I not first regard everyone as neighbors, without assuming in advance anything about their views?
Second, what is more important to me, the tribe or tribes to which I personally belong or my common identity with humanity, at the neighborhood, city, metro, state, national and global levels?
Paul Gilje, Burnsville
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Contrary to Young’s assertions, it’s quite natural for humans to be tribal, that is, to associate themselves with people they feel they have things in common with. Another word for this is friendship. It’s also natural for humans to cooperate with one another, more often than not, in creating a more just, equitable and sustainable world. If this weren’t true, we’d be shooting at each other everywhere, 24/7.
Of course, conflicts exist, and the root causes of these run much deeper than Young’s shallow analysis. Missing from his screed is the role that colonialism, imperialism and rapacious capitalism have played in creating these conflicts to begin with. Also missing is the possibility that the people he labels “progressives” might actually be motivated by a belief in justice and fairness, not “tribalism.”
I believe the real problem here is that Young lives in a world of fear. If he would only get involved in one of the many social-justice movements that are inspiring the youths of today, such as Black Lives Matter, the living-wage movement or the fight for the rights of undocumented workers, he just might transform his fear into love.
Kurt Seaberg, Minneapolis
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Like the farmer taking his livestock to market in the Arab folk tale, Young forgets to count the donkey he is sitting on. Having labored to define the tribes he can see from the penthouse, he neglects to tell us about himself and the circle of wealthy “moral capitalists” at his table. If we’re enumerating tribes, the oligarchy now consolidating industry and deregulating trade in the U.S. and around the world should certainly be counted.
Anne Holzman, Bloomington
VETERANS’ HEALTH CARE
One way to help? Bring them home from never-ending war
The “A battle with pain” article, the first of two parts, in the July 12 Star Tribune was disturbing. The Department of Veterans Affairs and its hospitals seem to be overwhelmed with the wounded from our never-ending war in southwest Asia. Could this be a result of Saddam Hussein’s warning that the American invaders would face “the mother of all battles”? A warning that those leaders who opted for a “war of choice” and some who today want to lead our nation arrogantly dismissed. It seems to me that disengaging from our war over there would yield positive results for the VA and the veterans they serve. Bring our troops home!
Bruce Fisher, St. Louis Park
1985-86 HORMEL STRIKE
Unbalanced history feature could have used company’s view
Curt Brown’s “Minnesota History” feature (July 12), focusing on the Hormel strike, concentrated only on the labor side of the issue. As a resident of the community at the time, I saw and experienced another side.
The P-9 union hired an outside agitator, Ray Rogers, to come into the community to carry out his perceived military tactics (cutting off supply lines) to bring the company to its knees. When that didn’t work, he encouraged the people who hired him to issue death threats, some of which arrived at my door. Those threats extended to our young children and to the slashing of the inside of the tires of my car. Yes, that did work — I had a blowout on the freeway while traveling to Minneapolis for a meeting. As a result, we had to live in our home with 24-hour electronic alarms and surveillance.
Much of that occurred because the local police department was also organized by the same P-9 union that had a grip on the company. That was not mentioned in the article.
Brown’s recounting quotes only union members and union sympathizers, which makes the story completely one-sided. Had he wanted to gain a truer perspective, he could have simply gone to the Minnesota History Center to go through the boxes of papers I donated that present a much fairer perspective of the issue.
William L. Connelly, Bloomington
The writer was president and CEO of the First Bank in Austin, Minn., from 1980 through 1985.