“You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Two years and more ago, I wrote a series of pieces titled “Tension And Habitat” that explored, among other things, the phenomenon of tribes and the influences that can form them, strengthen them, weaken them, and destroy them. The one that drew the most attention, and caused the most controversy, included this passage:
Even after nation-states have formalized their legal systems and all that goes with them, whatever tribes they have subsumed will still exhibit tribal characteristics, at least for a while. In particular, members of a subsumed tribe will continue to prefer one another to the members of other subsumed tribes. In historical studies, this is often called sectionalism, but the geographical connotations of that word should not be allowed to lead us astray. After subsumption by a nation-state, the members of a tribe will often undergo some degree of internal dispersion. Yet they will continue to maintain tribal preferences as they disperse, until interpenetration and the slow process of binding to their new locales have had time to weaken them. Consider the resistance of various religious groups to exogamy as an illustration.
Should political incentives arise that reinforce tribal distinctions and preferences, havoc will ensue. A nation-state cannot endure under conditions of internal inter-tribal strife; as Abraham Lincoln put it, a house divided cannot stand. There must ultimately be either a convulsive reduction of the tribes to political passivity, for example by warfare, or a parting of the ways that dissolves the nation-state into two or more separate units, as happened after the British relinquished the rule of India.
A subsumed tribe reluctant to weaken its cohesion and its preferences, but unwilling to risk open conflict with the enveloping polity or with other subsumed tribes, will sometimes "go underground." That is: it will attempt to pull its distinctive characteristics and its methods for preferring members to non-members out of public view. This isn't always possible; when possible, it isn't necessarily easy. But it does occur, for example in the case of the Amish, the Mennonites, and similarly insular groups in American history.
Most fascinating of all, interior conflicts brought about by political forces can actually germinate new tribes within the nation-state. Those conflicts, and the nascent tribes they elicit, can arise from:
- Legal privileges granted to some persons but not others;
- National policies that have regionally, racially, sexually, ethnically, occupationally, religiously, or otherwise discriminatory effects;
- De facto infringements or abridgements of the rights of recognizable groups.
What has occurred in Ferguson, Missouri over the death of Michael Brown, and is occurring in New York City over the death of Eric Garner, demonstrates that at least one political force in the United States appreciates the potential power of tribes. Indeed, the Left has done everything in its power to collectivize American Negroes into a unified, anti-American tribe – i.e., a cohesive bloc whose sole allegiance is to the tribe itself. In doing so, they have loosed an avalanche whose terminus even they cannot foresee. The overarching political problem is that Americans who find the consequences revolting are largely incapable – intellectually incapable – of dealing with it.
The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups. – Henry Hazlitt
It is normal and natural for persons to prefer others like themselves: socially, economically, politically, religiously, and in whatever other ways might exist. This has long been evident in matters of race.
The century from the Emancipation Proclamation to the first Civil Rights Act saw a great many changes, but sociologically none more significant than the weakening of racial animosity and distrust among both Caucasian and Negro Americans. The Civil Rights Act itself was evidence of that: though its intended beneficiaries were negroes, the Act was the product of Caucasians, passed by Caucasians, enforced by Caucasians, and near-universally approved by Caucasians. The tribal preference commonly mislabeled racism had weakened sufficiently to make the Act possible.
Unfortunately, the Act contained provisions that opened the door to retribalization. Its enforcement proved racially divisive in ways few men of good will had foreseen. The reasons are as illuminating as anything in American history.
Post-World-War-II American government had become almost wholly bureaucratic: i.e., its operation had been entrusted to large departments of Civil Service employees who were essentially beyond any need to account for themselves or their actions to the electorate. Bureaucracies of that sort are dedicated to growth and exceedingly difficult to restrain. The bureaucracy that formed in response to the Civil Rights Act joined forces with the New Frontier and Great Society welfare bureaucracies in their efforts to increase their size, their budgets, and the scope of their operations.
The intentions of the “field agents” of these bureaucracies included (but were not limited to) the promotion of the bureaucracies themselves and their benevolence toward their intended clients. They naturally sought out the demographic most likely to respond approvingly to what they had to offer. As American Negroes, particularly those concentrated in urban areas, were economically still well behind American Caucasians in material well-being and security, that demographic received by far the greatest share of the new bureaucracies’ attention.
The incentives thus introduced began the retribalization process – of Negroes and Caucasians both.
The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it. – Rob Norton
“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” – Originator unknown
It is wrong to confer legal privileges on some that are denied to others. The consequences have been devastating wherever and whenever that error has occurred.
When a legal privilege, especially one that can be exploited to yield economic gain or political elevation, is conferred upon a recognizable group, it will be exploited by a steadily increasing fraction of the group, to the detriment of persons outside the group. Over time, it can come to define the group in outsiders’ minds, turning the group into an aristocracy of sorts. This will often occur even if the privilege is not exploited – indeed, is viewed with distaste – by the great majority of the group. The existence of such differential levels of privilege inherently engenders resentment...even when the privilege was conferred out of a desire to remedy prior injustices and assuage the resentment they generated.
The legal framework produced by the Civil Rights Act led, de facto though surely not by design, to racial hiring quotas and a guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude toward employers among the Act’s enforcers. Over time, the damage spread to other walks of American life, such as real estate marketing and sales. The dynamic was exacerbated by racial hucksters who agitated ceaselessly for more and larger government programs targeting urban Negroes, often with threats of mass violence should they not get their way. Politicians eager to gain the votes of that demographic hastened to comply.
No counterforce has arisen to offset or reduce the effects of the CRA / welfare dynamic. In consequence, we have crippled the ordinary processes of American businesses, have produced huge numbers of “permanent welfare class” citizens, and have institutionalized racial demagoguery as an ineradicable component of the national discourse.
That’s not all. American Caucasians are being retribalized as well. Their sense of having been abused has grown to the point where it overwhelms the largely artificial “white guilt” syndrome the racial hucksters have exploited. We’re seeing the gradual coalescence of “white nationalist” groups and communities formed, sotto voce, around that premise. Interracial tension is at heights never before seen in these United States. Efforts by the well meaning to dampen those tensions and restore an acceptable degree of interracial amity are unequal to the power of the tribal dynamic.
This is a formula for disaster. The reactions to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner incidents should make clear how destructive are the forces those well intended but racially discriminatory laws and programs have unleashed. The natural processes by which persons choose to congregate and associate with one another, whether geographically, socially, economically, or in any other way, should never have been warped by law. That they had previously been warped by “Jim Crow” laws ought to have taught us how ugly the results can be.
The beneficiaries – bureaucrats, racial demagogues, smarmy politicians, and others whose prosperity and prestige depend on exacerbating the situation – would prefer that you not know that. It threatens to upset their scheme. That the tribes they’ve built, intentionally or otherwise, are on the verge of open warfare with one another is merely one of those pesky unintended consequences...the sort in which the Left disbelieves and from which it refuses to learn.