Tribes are on the way out


Surendra casts a critical eye at the behaviour, rules and norms of tribes and families and their enslavement of the individual. He states, “The tribe is the collective version of ego.”

Modern tribes

Yes, the tribe is disappearing. The family is disappearing, marriage is disappearing, friendship is disappearing. So far, so good – because it leaves you alone to be yourself.

My sense of tribal belonging seemed weak even in my childhood. I was uncomfortable with being a card-carrying member of my family and squirmed at being called ‘son’. In fact, I felt uncomfortable being a member of anything. Clubs and societies never appealed and I staged a massive resistance against wearing a school uniform, which was eventually successful. I avoided participating in team sports and never became a supporter of any football club.

The only football match I watched in our neighbourhood stadium ended in disaster and embarrassment, at least, for me. With my father, I was positioned in a front row to the side of one of the goals. A near miss came flying in my direction. It hit me on the forehead and knocked me flat. I was about eight at the time. Back home, I saw an imprint in the mirror of dry mud above my eyebrows, complete with white channels where the seams in the ball had failed to touch my skin. After that, all efforts to interest me in the local football team were doomed to fail. My most macho uncle crying when his favourite team lost a key game left me in a state of astonishment.

In the early nineteen seventies, I participated and trained as a therapist in what was termed the human potential movement. The accompanying values championed the rights and uniqueness of the individual. Although, to a greater or lesser extent, we were all in the powerful grip of social conditioning, we were doing our best to wriggle out of it. There were various streams of therapy such as gestalt, bioenergetics, encounter. Some participants adhered exclusively to one. Many moved freely between the different techniques and became eclectic. For a whole generation, barriers and restrictions were breaking down. The old traditions and institutions became suspect. Anything, or anyone, new and exotic were welcomed with open arms. We might have had a collective sense of being social pioneers but as far as I can see, most of our associations were fluid, often fleeting and did not retain the hallmark of a tribe.

What do we mean by a tribe? The binary mode of the tribe is inclusion and exclusion. If we are in, we get support. If we are out, we do not. In fact, we will create suspicion if we do not belong and can even be seen as an enemy. Once designated an enemy, the tribe may be entitled to do anything it likes with us. It can take our possessions, force us to become slaves, or, in the extreme, kill us. Looking at some of the global news we can see vivid accounts of all these behaviours and they are clearly linked to tribal values and identities.

We stay ‘in’ by following the tribal rules and norms. Disobedience is punished. Tribes have no respect for the individual. The individual is only valued for any contribution it makes to the tribe. The tribe is not interested in the planet as a whole, either. It is only interested in using any resources the earth may provide for its particular, exclusive group. The tribe is the collective version of ego. It is primarily interested in its own survival and its own ends. What we often fail to notice or remember is that the behaviour of all groups in our current complex, modern societies is very similar to what goes on in small, indigenous groups living in remote lands. Tribal attitudes still form the backbone of nearly all human interaction.

In the so-called modern world, the building blocks of the tribe are provided by the family. It is the primary agent of conditioning and imparts the first layer of tribal values. Although the family usually nurtures and ensures physical survival, it destroys individuality. Families do not raise individuals. They do not like individuals. Individuals are troublesome and inconvenient. Individuals must be conditioned to fit in and conform. Then all is well. They become family members. Degraded individuals give their support to the family tribe and in turn, are supported. At least, that is how it is all supposed to work.

We know the family process never runs smoothly. In a way, that does not matter to the forces of conditioning. Petty squabbles keep us occupied and prevent any faraway memories of individuality from rising up again. Strong individuals are likely to question the whole programme.

Who (or what) am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? What do I really want? Why should I be part of this? These vital questions hardly ever get asked. If they ever do, ready-made tribal answers or diversions are available, whether from within the family, through education, or by religions. In fact, even before they get a chance to arise, our questions have already been destroyed.

Religions condemn me, that I am conditioning people; I am simply deconditioning people. The conditioning, they have done: they have already filled your mind with all kinds of answers. I am simply destroying those answers so you can find your question. They have covered the question completely, so completely that you have forgotten that you had any question.

In the meantime, the planet runs as a madhouse divided by peculiar tribal values and idiosyncratic behaviour. Mostly, these imperatives do not stand up to even a tiny bit of scrutiny. Why do some of us have to wear certain clothes, utter certain mumbo jumbos called prayers, or, in a very similar vein, pledge allegiance to a scrap of cloth called a flag? Not only that, we have been so utterly conditioned that we can be ready to fight and even die for such nonsense. Tribes tend to go to war over the slightest provocation, or rather, their leaders do and drag the whole group with them.

Tribes prefer the pyramid as their organisational model. There is a big chief, a bunch of elders or experts and layers of those with lesser skills, knowledge or power. Tribes never have egalitarian structures, a few always profit at the expense of the many. Many groups and subcultures exist within most nations. Together, they form tribal conglomerates known as sovereign states. National sovereignty, depicted as a global benefit, gives the hideous right of a government to do whatever it wants within its own borders. Sovereign states can and do get away with murder – check the news any single day and you will find the evidence somewhere on the globe. Leaders of all countries, including America, China, India, Japan, North Korea, Russia, and the UK behave like thugs, maniacs, or both. The only differences are in the levels of cunning and sophistication that comprise their tactics.

It is perhaps easy to condemn the conditioned minds that prompt the abhorrent actions of suicide bombers, of those who practice female circumcision or of the leaders of nations around the world. It can be much harder for us to recognise the tribal behaviour and the tribal affiliations that we play a part in. Within the sannyas movement, there appears to be many factions. Some of these simply and freely hold different and changing views, others are in fixed oppositions or even legal combat.

To what extent is each one of us still being influenced by our unconscious conditioning? Are we identifying with one biased set of values? For example, are national identities still operating under the surface? Do we really believe that one awful nation is better than another: India better than America, or vice versa? Both are basically bigoted, tribal entities as, without exception, are all nations around the world. Any kind of tribalism, including nationalism, is a threat to humanity and the planet as a whole. Without exception, all human atrocities are a result of conflicting tribal rules and values.

Unless we come back to the differentiation that sustains our individuality and turn away from the superficial similarities that bond us as tribes, there is not much hope for the world of sannyas or the world in general. Why not strengthen ourselves as the wonderful, differentiated individuals that we are and were meant to be? Why glue together in a clan arising out of opposition to some other group? Are we afraid to stand on our own feet? We can laugh, love and celebrate fully and freely, either alone, or as a collection of unique individuals. We do not need any tribal identity to help us with that.

That is the only relationship, the only friendship, the only thing that is the cementing force in a commune: that we respect each other’s individuality, independence. The other’s way of life, his style of life is absolutely accepted, respected.
The only condition is that nobody is allowed to interfere with anybody else in any sense.
So it is good that all this dead past is disappearing, and freeing us to create a new man, a new humanity, a new world.

Quotes by Osho
From Personality to Individuality, Ch 1

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