It Is Probably Not Possible to “Build” a Tribe

“Back in the day, you were stuck with the tribe you were born with. Now, with the Internet, you can build a tribe (!) of people who share your values and beliefs!”

I’ve liked this idea for a long time. I still like this idea. I have partially played out this idea. But it’s in experiencing the potential – and the limits – of building a new “tribe” from scratch that I’ve decided it’s probably not possible.

Yes, you can make great new acquaintances over the internet. You can even move into the same geographical locations with those people. You can get great circles of podcasters, history buffs, lacrosse players, left-wing liberals, or nudists, but you would not have “tribes” of those groups.

A true tribe is emergent, not constructed. Several of the most important characteristics of tribes has several characteristics which can’t simply be constructed:

  • Shared survival – You work on a regular basis with your tribe. You eat with your tribe, live with your tribe, etc. There is a real stake to your cooperation.
  • Shared family– You are born into a real tribe, and you have kids in a real tribe. Your blood ties mean something a heck of a lot more than your agreement with somebody’s beliefs or shared hobbies.
  • Shared memories – In a real tribe, your fellows share memories with you (or about you) going back to birth. You can’t just invent formative experiences and memories with somebody you met online.
  • Shared customs – Shared ideas aren’t enough. You should share more than just a few customs if you really want the closeness of a tribe. How you eat, how you dress, and how you act generally really matters to cohesion.

There are few real tribes left in our world today, and God bless the ones that are holding on to their identities. But for anyone blessed with an extended family or a strong religious/ethnic community (or yes, really dedicated philosophers in common), it is possible to experience some of the closeness and cooperation of the tribe. We shouldn’t stop reaching out to people of different backgrounds who share common values, but we also should not neglect those ties which are carelessly called “accidents of birth.”

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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