I’ve been following a story for a while now about a group of well-to-do, middle aged men in the Southern California town of Palos Verdes who’ve become a surf gang of sorts. Seriously, what 50 year-old belongs to a gang called the Lunada Bay Boys? It sounds like a skinny jean wearing boy band from the 80’s. Unfortunately they’re violent and prevent anyone who’s not a local from surfing there. The conflict is heating up and now a federal class-action lawsuit has been filed against them. Way back in the day I spent more time surfing than I did going to high school (no, that didn’t work out so well for me kids) so I’m very familiar with the locals-only mentality. Back then you needed to know the rules of each break if you wanted to avoid your car getting keyed. Some places were short boards only. Some didn’t allow leashes. Others only allowed all black wetsuits. Pretty silly in retrospect, but violate the rules and something bad was sure to happen. You’d see some non-local kook come traipsing down the beach in a neon green wetsuit and just know it wasn’t going to end well.
Meanwhile, back in the batcave, I just watched a TED talk from one of my favorite writers, Anand Girdharadas. I’d highly encourage you to watch it when you have a moment. Powerful and motivating, it made me feel bad about myself and how judgmental and shallow I can be at times. He talks about inclusion and the American dream. And then he said something that really jumped out at me – that our tribal separations are the great moral challenge of our generation.
He’s right. But he’s also wrong. At the end of the day we are all tribes. We are not accepting of people who don’t fit into our tribe. I don’t think that’s right or wrong, it’s just human nature and has been from the beginning of time. A black kid with long dreads, saggy pants, and walking with the gangsta strut in a middle to upper class suburban neighborhood is going to get a very chilly reception at best, if he’s not first greeted by 5-0. But put some white dude wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase in the middle of Watts and he will be relieved of his Apple iWatch, Fitbit, and Starbucks rewards card in a jiffy. Two tribes, neither are tolerant of others that don’t fit in.
This will be true anywhere on this planet. It’s a myth that America is this great melting pot and somehow now we’re becoming less tolerant. We’ve always been tolerant – as long as you embrace the collective tribe that is the American culture AND you do your best to fit in with whatever local culture and tribe you’ve chosen to locate next to. If you continue to cling to your old tribe, the new tribe will remain a bit frosty. That doesn’t make it right and it certainly doesn’t justify some of the behaviors you’ll find in the news – but it is the human condition. We are all members of “our” tribe.
Intellectually, we’d like to think we can rise above our tribal loyalties. The reality is that it takes very little discomfort for us to revert back to our own groups. The solution is not for politicians to admonish us to “rise above” or “this is not who we are” at the slightest hint of opinion differences. It is who we are. We do not easily accept tribes that don’t look like us. It makes no difference if those tribes are political, religious, economic, racial, dress, or music. The dude will abide when it comes to the norms of my tribe. The answer is the economy. Generally the further down the economic ladder you are, the more you’ll cling to your tribe. A prosperous middle class will be tolerant of anything. Want to get rid of tribal unrest in this country? Make sure you elect a political representative with a viable plan to spawn a new middle class economy. (hint, it’s probably none of the current meat puppets)
Meanwhile, I’m going to go figure out how to fit in with the mountain biking, climbing, fishing, craft beer drinking tribes. And stay away from that Taylor Swift tribe. They’re pretty damn scary.