Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
By now it’s pretty obvious that our politics are marked in this era by rampant tribalism. That’s why I wanted to read Amy Chua’s important book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations.
Chua aptly identifies the tribalism that’s currently ripping America to shreds, though her conclusion that all we need to do is really talk to each other and really, like, listen, isn’t a viable option to my mind. When you have half the country denying that the ocean is full of saltwater, it’s hard to listen to those people and not break down in tears. They believe conspiracy theories that have zero chance of being true, but the bottom line is that believing these theories is the signal (to one another) that you’re in the Trump Tribe. It’s like a hand stamp that lets you back inside the disco.
Where this book comes through most powerfully is in Chua’s analysis of our military escapades over the past fifty years, from Vietnam to Iraq, and if our leaders would acknowledge her observations and promise to do better from now on, we’d be in much better shape as a country.
Because what she’s landed on is that we have failed to notice or understand the tribalism that existed in all the targets of our military adventures, and consequently, we pretty much lost those wars.
In Vietnam, we didn’t see, or we ignored, the fact that native Vietnamese despised the ethnic Chinese, partly because Vietnam has been at war with China for a thousand years but also because the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam were the wealthy class and owned almost everything worth owning. Contrary to our beliefs, Vietnam was not allying with China to spread communism in Asia. But we rolled in there thinking we were going to bestow democracy and capitalism on them, when all they wanted to do was kick out the Chinese and have a nation of ethnic Vietnamese people under Ho’s socialist model.
In Afghanistan we totally overlooked the historical conflict between the majority Pashtuns who had been oppressed and marginalized by tribal minorities (the Taliban is mostly a Pashtun movement). We also didn’t seem to understand the role of Pakistan in manipulating the dynamics there. And after 1980, all we could think about was how to stick it to the U.S.S.R. by supporting the rebels, i.e., the future Taliban. Talk about going in blindfolded.
And perhaps worst of all, we bullheadedly thought we could overcome the longstanding hostility between the Sunni and Shia sects, which had been aggravated for decades by the cruelty of the Sunni Baathist party (that is, Saddam Hussein), which we supported for years to stick it to Iran. Saddam fought Shiite Iran for eight years just after the Iranian Revolution. We were like, “You’re our boy, Saddam!” But the Shia in Iraq, and the Kurds—they remembered, so they hated our guts when we went in back in ’03, thinking we’d lay a little democracy on them (and profit from their oil).
The rest is history.
We’ve also screwed up Venezuela, as Chua points out, and we’re probably screwing up China, India, and possibly even Europe because we’re so goddamn dumb or cocky. Likely both.
Political tribes govern more human interaction than we want to admit, but after this book, at least we can’t plead ignorance anymore. Now it’s a matter of willful aversion to reality.