Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 06:27:28 AM EST
It’s becoming clear to me that the psychology of the majority of the Anglo-American ruling class is incredibly tribal, rather like the power dynamic that is often cited in African countries where a leader will promote the interests of his own clan or tribe ahead of the members of any other.
The ruling Tribe is English speaking, mostly white, predominantly male and ruthlessly dedicated to preserving its own power over the other tribes in order to preserve the status of the tribal members. I’m beginning to believe that it is this dynamic that explains the twisted nonsense being spouted by even the most intelligent and well-educated members in the face of the evidence and the facts. Tribal members derive status from being members of the tribe, even if more senior members derive most of the material benefits. It is this dynamic that explains the support of middle class writers for policies that can’t possibly benefit them personally and their rantings against policies that would be to their personal benefit.
My mental model of human behaviour assumes that we all have needs which we attempt to satisfy in a round-robin fashion, basically those of the Maslow hierarchy but without the belief in either an inbuilt hierarchy or any universal weighting of the needs: sometimes the need for belonging or advancing the interests of your in-group overcomes the needs below them in Maslow’s hierarchy. We tend to advance needs according to our personal weighting of them and the level to which each is satisfied: most people focus on food when they’re starving and worry about self-image when they’re not but some will start spending resources on status displays when others would still be concerned with securing their access to food supplies. Given that most people in Europe and the US have access to sufficient food and shelter, we are concerned mainly with things like status, access to mates, membership of an in-group, self-esteem and such things. The Tribe is all about feeding the self-esteem of its members by their membership of such a powerful and wonderful group. Self-esteem and personal status is not about how other people perceive you but about how you believe other people perceive you.
The Tribe has its own mythology which must be accepted in order to maintain membership: might is right, free-markets solve everything, only we have legitimate interests, truth is what we say it is and dead or dying non-members don’t matter.
Projection is one of their identifying traits: take Philips Stephens in the FT today accusing Putin of
Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a diminished power that craves to recover superpower status. The Russian president wants to expunge the perceived humiliations of the 1990s and to deploy Russia’s energy wealth to restore at least the illusion of superpower parity with the US.
We can speculate as to his motives. Mr Putin’s place in history no doubt looms large in the calculated rekindling of Russian nationalism. So too, more immediately, does his anxiety to retain a power base if, as presently announced, he relinquishes the presidency next year. Mr Putin is not the sort of leader to slip quietly into gilded retirement; and Russia anyway is not the sort of place where that is likely to be a safe option.
Is this an accurate description of Putin’s motives? Maybe in part but it is, I believe, an accurate portrait of Philips’s: he is concerned with preserving the power and prestige of the “Western” Tribe that he identifies with and from which he derives much of his status and fulfils his requirements for self-esteem.
In this context, rational self-interest is, ironically, not an important concern for the Tribe: competition is. It doesn't matter that the Western Tribe is rich and comfortable if it's not much richer, more comfortable and more powerful than the others. What's the use of being a member of a tribe that's only as powerful, as rich and as comfortable as the others? How does that support a vulnerable ego? Thus the worry that the Chinese and Indians might catch up or that the Russians might have some say in global affairs.