A few weeks ago Bernie Mitchell invited me, Colin Newlyn and Anne McCrossan to speak about tribes. I hope Anne, Colin and Bernie will correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s fair to say they view the notion of tribes somewhat differently to me. I’m very uncomfortable with what the notion of a tribe conjures up in my head, and I’m also keen to experiment with things that make me feel uncomfortable so I agreed to give it a go.

Prior to the event I hopped onto Facebook to ask my friends what tribes means to them. Lots of people contributed – and I think it’s worth you taking a quick look  here at what people had to say.

I got it into my head that it might be fun to spark a debate by telling a short poem first. I’d not tried this before, here’s what I wrote and recited:

Tribes – by Doug Shaw

I do not subscribe
To the concept of a tribe
When positioned as division
Is it more about religion
I’m an atheist you see
God has no meaning to me

I do not subscribe
To the concept of a tribe
I just don’t understand
I think I’d rather join a band
A band of brothers, lovers, mothers
No I want to hang with others
A rock band
Punk band
Same old junk band
Sports cars
Cash bars
Trips to Mars

I do not subscribe
To the concept of a tribe
I can make it on my own
At least until my budget’s blown

As far as poetry goes I think you’ll agree Keats et al have very little to worry about, however my approach seemed to work at some level as it got everyone talking.

I feel drawn to community rather than tribe, I think the former is more about where you are as well as who and what you are – and ideally at least, it feels more inclusive to me. We debated this and other points, including whether or not Tribes is just a marketing vehicle for Mr Godin, and whether or not the positive feelings of unity and being part of something together are outweighed by the more negative feelings of defending a patch, stifling different opinions etc. Eventually I departed feeling mostly happy, and willing to take away and ponder newly observed facets of tribes. Absolutes are rarely the answer – mixed feelings are the stuff of life.


In case it helps, here are the notes I made prior to writing the poem and giving the talk:

Seth Godin

All animals are equal, and some animals are more equal than others. Animal Farm.

Mary Parker Follett 1868 1933 – adviser to Theodore Roosevelt, first woman to address London School of Economics.  She believed in the need to integrate the difference without losing it. Power with v power over. Coercive power is the curse of the universe; coactive power, the enrichment and advancement of every human soul.We should never allow ourselves to be bullied by “either-or.” There is often the possibility of something better than either of two given alternatives. Her approach to conflict was to embrace it as a mechanism of diversity. A genuine interweaving or interpenetrating by changing both sides creates new situations.

Fearlessness – love. Fear – tribe

FDR – ‘So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’

Authority is something to be avoided.

1977 lyrics. Punk – a movement. Came and went. Blitzkrieg Bop

Don’t just question authority – explore the nature of it, what does it mean to be free?

There’s a truth in the attack, and no tenderness or humanity in fanaticism

If this land is your land, and this world is your world, then what the fuck do you need a tribe for?

“And so now I’d like to say – people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks – I am one of them. But we’ve all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything – this is something that I’m beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That’s because they’ve been dehumanised. It’s time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain’t going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you’re nothing. That’s my spiel.”

Joe Strummer – Without People, You’re Nothing


As you can see from the feedback on Facebook – opinions and feelings about tribes are many and divided. I’m tempted to wrap this blog and the Facebook stuff up into a Scribd document and see if that invites any further discussion. Before doing so – if you’ve anything to add on the subject please feel free to join in here. Thanks.