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Global Tribalism

September 12, 1988

William Pfaff graced your Op-Ed Page (Sept. 1) with a brilliant global tour of the ethnic clashes that mar the peace in various places. This was to remind us, he says, that there are other, more primal, causes of war that our preoccupation with ideology might tend to make us overlook.

The point is well taken. At the conclusion of the article, however, he defines ideology as the "debasement" of ideas to suit the primal urge to belong to a tribe and to hate those who do not belong.

Ideas unattached to a group seem to get Pfaff's approval, but as soon as a group adopts one, or as soon as a group forms around a set of them, he seems to think debasement has inevitably set in.

There are a considerable number of people who share this idea, this unfavorable judgment, about ideology. Does this mean that the idea has been debased? Would it be a better idea if only Pfaff alone held it so that it did not get contaminated by being more widely believed?

People who deplore ideology generally seem to be deluded that they, themselves, are doing so without any ideological basis.

Pfaff correctly says that ideology is a phenomenon of civilization. One might even say that certain ideologies have played an important role in creating civilizations: ethical monotheism, for example.

He goes on to say that ideology is of interest chiefly to intellectuals and cites the ferocious and intolerant war of neo-conservatives with liberals in the United States as a demonstration.

Surely he would prefer to have our neo-conservatives and liberals make war ideologically than otherwise? Killing your enemy because he is of tribe or gang "X" is worse than killing your enemy because s/he is trying to install racism. Anti-racism, or anti-tribalism is, after all, part of an ideology, isn't it?



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