The Tribal Imagination by Robin Fox:

A couple of years ago I read with great pleasure The Tribal Imagination.  I discussed it briefly on this site.  A few weeks ago Amazon books invited me to do a review, so here it is, rather shorter than my original article (about 400 words as opposed to about 700). I thought it might be worth bringing the book to your attention again. 

For America in the 21st century the defining issue has been the relationship between societies in which sympathy and trust are confined to family, kin and a very exclusive tribe and societies in which one is expected to offer trust and accept trust from strangers.  That has also been the defining issue for all those other countries and all those other centuries touched by history.

The two mental sets are not symmetrical.  One was hammered out over two or three million years of hominid evolution.  The other was cobbled together by a relatively small group of men and women over two or three hundred years and has yet to prove its durability politically, environmentally, economically, psychologically or demographically; if one of those cards is removed the house falls. 

The opportunity for extended trust was always there, but the exclusive mode was dominant for evolutionary time.  Evolution’s verdict seems to be: mate out but not too far out; don’t marry a childhood playmate; if you are male bond with males and nurture women, if female subvert male bonds and nurture children; only trust or help family; there are rules.  From such beginnings the inclusive societies somehow evolved; the study of such evolution also involved.  Neither process has been without its snags. 

Across such great chasms societies gaze with mutual incomprehension and precious little self understanding, unwilling to compromise and all too willing to use deadly force.  Regrettable things happen. 

Robin Fox explains that beneath the smooth and undeniably wealth producing surface of our inclusive societies throb the ancient drumbeats of the default mode, of the exclusive social model.  He analyses both sides of the issue with profound sympathy for both and diligent scholarship.  The complexities that immediately arise are amazing.  This is a book to be read twice.  Fox proposes that there may be a synthesis of the two mental sets.

The book is rich in detail delivered with wry, imperturbable good humor.  It is fun to read, which is not to say it is easy to read; the intellectual bandwidth is very demanding.  But you should feel right at home.  It was in the context of dealing with exactly these issues that your brain evolved in the first place. 

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