Are nations tribes?

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Zamfir
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Sep 23, 2011 9:21 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Zamfir wrote:Huh? Who lives in tribes nowadays? People clearly do live in countries, probably as close a social structure as we have to a tribe. And it's pretty obvious why you might want to be a citizen of a country.
Consider, say, the Satmar Hasidic Jews who live in places like Kiryas Joel.

I think I understand what you mean. We might be having a language issue here though. Dutch has a fairly direct translation of tribe, 'stam', but I would never use it for a community like that. I cannot determine to what extent you are using 'tribe' in a peculiar sense, and to what extent its English usage is just subtly different from 'stam'.

As a real difference, Dutch (like German) regularly uses the word 'volk', meaning people. As in "we the people", or "let my people go", but it is also means something like ethnic group, nation in the "Cherokee nation" sense, and unlike English 'people' it easily becomes a plural. Hutus and Tutsis are two volken in Rwanda. It also means "common people", "non-elite people".

So in your original question about nations, I just can't read "tribe". A group with that many people is automatically a volk, no matter how tribal it might be. Then the question basically parses as something like "Is the American nation the American people?"

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby omgryebread » Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:22 pm UTC

Tribes are certainly not groups which have the degree of trust that Vaniver is describing. "tribal" societies are very loosely kinship based societies, with many segments. Both the originally quoted article and Vaniver seem to think of only two categories: "tribe" and "other." Maybe you can think of the world like that, but using tribe in that sense is misleading, since no tribal societies worked like that.

Tribes consisted of many separate groups. Group 1 might consist of subgroups A, B, and C, and group 2 of D, E, and F. At any point, subgroups A and B might fight over land rights or anything like that. But, if subgroup A and subgroup D have a fight, then all of group 1 would fight all of group 2.

(Me against my brother, my brother and me against my cousin, my cousin and me against the stranger.)


Nations are states, which are above tribes. States have stratified societies with division of labors and a bureaucracy. States are not as bound up with kinship as tribes and bands are.

What is really being missed though is that the argument is "libertarians don't think we have to help people outside our arbitrarily defined tribe! These others want us to because they are arbitrarily defining a larger tribe." The counter-argument is two-fold. One is that the grouping is not arbitrary. Every State is a group that has evolved over thousands of years. Secondly is that it's not merely a moral obligation to help others within your group. It's actually a necessity of that group.

To take it way back, bands of chimpanzees help each other out. If all the male chimps in a band decided to let all the others defend themselves, and refused to participate in raids, then the band would fall apart. If two male chimps had a fight and refused to submit to arbitration from the alpha or another trusted member, this is bad for the band as a whole.

Tribe level is the same thing. If C decided not to help when D invaded A in my above example, then Group 1 falls apart. Yet the libertarian in C would still say they have no obligation to help A?

States are so complex that it's hard to see that helping other citizens in a state is a requirement of being a State at all. Strict libertarianism tends to argue for the end of the state without realizing they are.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:49 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:So in your original question about nations, I just can't read "tribe". A group with that many people is automatically a volk, no matter how tribal it might be. Then the question basically parses as something like "Is the American nation the American people?"
Unfortunately, I don't have a precise way of articulating the divide in question. Maybe one way to think about it is "are other Americans like distant cousins, or do they just follow the same laws?", though I don't know if "distant cousins" will capture the right ideas that I want to. Neighbors? Coreligionists? Many people don't seem to have this experience anymore, and so it's hard to talk about clearly.

omgryebread wrote:Maybe you can think of the world like that, but using tribe in that sense is misleading, since no tribal societies worked like that.
omgryebread wrote:Me against my brother, my brother and me against my cousin, my cousin and me against the stranger.
Emphasis mine. A high level of trust and mutual responsibility does not mean there are no conflicts between members of a tribe.

omgryebread wrote:Every State is a group that has evolved over thousands of years.
Huh? Even the most charitable reading of this- that the idea of nationalism is thousands of years old- seems flawed at best. The literal reading- that every state has had an enduring core group for thousands of years- is laughable.

omgryebread wrote:Secondly is that it's not merely a moral obligation to help others within your group. It's actually a necessity of that group.
But surely there's a limit to the amount members of a group will or should help other members. As well, there must be a way to distinguish members of the group from outsiders. What we're discussing here is not that humans feel sympathy towards members of their in-group, but how much sympathy should be expected, and towards what individuals.

omgryebread wrote:To take it way back, bands of chimpanzees help each other out. If all the male chimps in a band decided to let all the others defend themselves, and refused to participate in raids, then the band would fall apart. If two male chimps had a fight and refused to submit to arbitration from the alpha or another trusted member, this is bad for the band as a whole.
This sounds a lot like Wynne-Edwards Group Selection, which is dismissed by biologists as not being plausible. A chimp submits not for the good of the group, but for his own personal well-being: the group may decide to expel those who do not submit, for example, depriving him of mating opportunities.

omgryebread wrote:States are so complex that it's hard to see that helping other citizens in a state is a requirement of being a State at all. Strict libertarianism tends to argue for the end of the state without realizing they are.
Nation-states have existed successfully with far less in the way of mutual responsibilities between citizens. Again, the question is not "should there be a rule of law?" but "should rule of law extend to feeding the hungry?" and/or "should every individual have a personal responsibility to all other individuals in the nation?".
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby omgryebread » Fri Sep 23, 2011 11:32 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
omgryebread wrote:Every State is a group that has evolved over thousands of years.
Huh? Even the most charitable reading of this- that the idea of nationalism is thousands of years old- seems flawed at best. The literal reading- that every state has had an enduring core group for thousands of years- is laughable.
It's not either of those? It's that every state is based on groups that are not arbitrary. Not perfect, certainly, and certainly not anything like an enduring core group, but not arbitrary.


omgryebread wrote:To take it way back, bands of chimpanzees help each other out. If all the male chimps in a band decided to let all the others defend themselves, and refused to participate in raids, then the band would fall apart. If two male chimps had a fight and refused to submit to arbitration from the alpha or another trusted member, this is bad for the band as a whole.
This sounds a lot like Wynne-Edwards Group Selection, which is dismissed by biologists as not being plausible. A chimp submits not for the good of the group, but for his own personal well-being: the group may decide to expel those who do not submit, for example, depriving him of mating opportunities.
No. It's kin selection, not group selection. Altruism occurs because the relatedness times the benefit to the recipient exceed the cost to the actor. (Hamilton's Rule. If you don't believe me, believe a prominent critic of group selection.

omgryebread wrote:States are so complex that it's hard to see that helping other citizens in a state is a requirement of being a State at all. Strict libertarianism tends to argue for the end of the state without realizing they are.
Nation-states have existed successfully with far less in the way of mutual responsibilities between citizens. Again, the question is not "should there be a rule of law?" but "should rule of law extend to feeding the hungry?" and/or "should every individual have a personal responsibility to all other individuals in the nation?".[/quote]Yes, states with less mutual responsibilities have existed. My argument is that states which extend the responsibility are better off for the inhabitants. For example, states that provide health care to its citizens are better states than ones that don't. So not a "personal responsibility" but states by definition require citizens to have a responsibility to the state, and therefore, an indirect responsibility to everyone else.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what you're arguing? That we should not support other citizens in our country any more than we support people outside it? Or that we should support everyone in the nation less than we support our own family? Because I don't quarrel with either of these things, and neither of them exclude the nation from being our "tribe." They are merely a higher level group I have less bonds with. That doesn't mean I have NO responsibilities to that group.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Deep_Thought » Mon Sep 26, 2011 8:33 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:
Vaniver wrote:
omgryebread wrote:Every State is a group that has evolved over thousands of years.
Huh? Even the most charitable reading of this- that the idea of nationalism is thousands of years old- seems flawed at best. The literal reading- that every state has had an enduring core group for thousands of years- is laughable.
It's not either of those? It's that every state is based on groups that are not arbitrary. Not perfect, certainly, and certainly not anything like an enduring core group, but not arbitrary.

I suspect that Vaniver was more getting at the fact that "Nation States" in any modern sense of the term have existed for maybe a thousand years, give or take a few hundred years. Most modern nations have only existed for a couple of hundred years. For instance, you can kind of trace England's laws all the way back to Magna Carta or the Domesday book, but this thing we call "England" only really came into existence during the reign of Elizabeth I, when we all teamed up to kick Spanish behind.

Before that the biggest unit of civilisation was probably the City State, which is why it was the Roman Empire and not the Italian Empire.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby IcedT » Mon Sep 26, 2011 5:58 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:Before that the biggest unit of civilisation was probably the City State, which is why it was the Roman Empire and not the Italian Empire.
Historical nitpick, but it was the Roman Empire because the Romans weren't the only Italian culture. See Etruscans, Samnites, Gauls in the north and Greeks in the south, etc. The Roman culture was the one to unify Italy, and eventually all Italians became citizens, but the Italians as a unified people didn't really exist.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Mon Sep 26, 2011 9:58 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:No. It's kin selection, not group selection.
And kin selection is relevant to nation-states because? Indeed, it's worth noting that nation-states originated in Europe, where the Catholic Church had been trying to stamp out cousin marriage for centuries.

omgryebread wrote:My argument is that states which extend the responsibility are better off for the inhabitants.
All extensions make all inhabitants better off?

omgryebread wrote:So not a "personal responsibility" but states by definition require citizens to have a responsibility to the state, and therefore, an indirect responsibility to everyone else.
Are you quibbling with content or presentation here?

omgryebread wrote:Beyond that, I'm not sure what you're arguing?
I'm describing a viewpoint, not trying to convince anyone of its correctness. This may be a superior way to model other people, and I put it out for public consumption.

IcedT wrote:Historical nitpick, but it was the Roman Empire because the Romans weren't the only Italian culture. See Etruscans, Samnites, Gauls in the north and Greeks in the south, etc. The Roman culture was the one to unify Italy, and eventually all Italians became citizens, but the Italians as a unified people didn't really exist.
That's not a nitpick, that's a longer explanation of his point.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby IcedT » Mon Sep 26, 2011 11:04 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
IcedT wrote:Historical nitpick, but it was the Roman Empire because the Romans weren't the only Italian culture. See Etruscans, Samnites, Gauls in the north and Greeks in the south, etc. The Roman culture was the one to unify Italy, and eventually all Italians became citizens, but the Italians as a unified people didn't really exist.
That's not a nitpick, that's a longer explanation of his point.
I don't see how that supports the assertion that the city state was the largest unit of political organization in pre-modern times (there's about a million counterexamples). I was clarifying that it wasn't "the Italian Empire" because at that time, "Italy" was not a very meaningful concept, whereas Roman culture and law was clearly defined.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby omgryebread » Mon Sep 26, 2011 11:17 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:And kin selection is relevant to nation-states because? Indeed, it's worth noting that nation-states originated in Europe, where the Catholic Church had been trying to stamp out cousin marriage for centuries.
Selfish interests are not the reason animals, including humans, form bands. Kin-selection is far removed from the reasons states form, but your assertion that chimps submit to bands purely for their own self-benefit doesn't stand up. If people don't join bands for narrow self-interest, then surely that's not why states form.

All extensions make all inhabitants better off?
No.

omgryebread wrote:So not a "personal responsibility" but states by definition require citizens to have a responsibility to the state, and therefore, an indirect responsibility to everyone else.
Are you quibbling with content or presentation here?[/quote]I'm not sure. I think presentation, but it distorts content. If you had a personal responsibility to me, I'd consider you obligated to buy me food if I'm starving. I don't think you have a personal responsibility to me, but I do think you have a responsibility to pay taxes to the state, which are then used to buy me food.

I'm describing a viewpoint, not trying to convince anyone of its correctness. This may be a superior way to model other people, and I put it out for public consumption.
Okay.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Deep_Thought » Tue Sep 27, 2011 9:09 am UTC

IcedT wrote:
Vaniver wrote:
IcedT wrote:Historical nitpick, but it was the Roman Empire because the Romans weren't the only Italian culture. See Etruscans, Samnites, Gauls in the north and Greeks in the south, etc. The Roman culture was the one to unify Italy, and eventually all Italians became citizens, but the Italians as a unified people didn't really exist.
That's not a nitpick, that's a longer explanation of his point.
I don't see how that supports the assertion that the city state was the largest unit of political organization in pre-modern times (there's about a million counterexamples). I was clarifying that it wasn't "the Italian Empire" because at that time, "Italy" was not a very meaningful concept, whereas Roman culture and law was clearly defined.

I am indeed arguing in roughly the same direction as you. Yes, the biggest reason it wasn't "the Italian Empire" was because "Italy" didn't exist at the time. My history is a little fuzzy, but as I understand it Rome mainly bothered conquering the other great cities of the period (In particular Carthage) rather than policing their own countryside, as the economic payoff was much higher. Anyway, my main point was simply that Nations in the modern sense really aren't that old. I should have said "main" unit rather than "biggest", because obviously the Roman empire as a whole was much larger than Rome itself (oops).

What would your counter-examples to the City-State "unit" be? I don't know much Indian pre-modern history but I'll admit "China" seems to have existed as a concept for a lot longer than Western countries, even if it has changed significantly many times.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Sep 27, 2011 10:36 am UTC

I think the Roman empire itself is problematic for your thesis.There was a time where it really consisted of the city and its surroundings as cohesive unit, and allies/conquered states that saw themself as non-Roman in cultural terms. But the Italians had already fought for and gained full citizenship before imperial times, when that still meant voting power. After that Italy (excluding the gauls) was growing to a fairly cohesive region over time, with Rome seen its capital at least as much as its overlord. Just pick some "typically Roman" historical figure from after 1 AD, let alone 100 AD, and odds are you'll find they have a family history from somewhere else in Italy.

In the rest of the empire people (outside of elites) never got that level of complete identification with Rome, but they did have identification with the empire at least. They did gain citizenship at some point, though at that time citizenship didn't come with much power anymore. And note how the Byzantines called themselves Romans, even they had only been subordinated to Rome for a century or so.

So I´d say that imperial age Italy is in itself an example of a cultural and organizational unit far larger than city-state, even if it was clearly different from a modern nation state (but then again, how strongly is modern Italy really a cohesive nation-state?). While the empire morphed into something that was somewhat independent from Rome itself, with definite levels of cultural identification with the empire over a large part of it. It's of course hard to tell how deep that identification ranged among the non-elites of which we know little, but there was clearly some identification,

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Deep_Thought » Tue Sep 27, 2011 11:02 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:Just pick some "typically Roman" historical figure from after 1 AD, let alone 100 AD, and odds are you'll find they have a family history from somewhere else in Italy.

True, but the Punic wars against Carthage are a bit before that. Even so, there's still a dependance on Rome itself, and the most important places in the Empire outside of Rome weren't the various provinces in what is now Italy, but other far-flung rich cities such as Carthage, Alexandria, and Constantinople. At least that's what reading Asterix as a kid taught me.

I tend to think that the City is a fairly fundamental unit to human civilisation of all ages, even today. It's far from the be-all and end-all, but the inhabitants of any major city tend to develop an identity that is separate from their surroundings.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Tue Sep 27, 2011 2:00 pm UTC

omgryebread wrote:Selfish interests are not the reason animals, including humans, form bands. Kin-selection is far removed from the reasons states form, but your assertion that chimps submit to bands purely for their own self-benefit doesn't stand up. If people don't join bands for narrow self-interest, then surely that's not why states form.
Are you trying to define 'narrow self-interest' such that it excludes kin selection? Then, sure, narrow self interest isn't enough to explain biology or history, you need inclusive fitness. You put forward the contention that kin selection explains groupings on the level of nation-states, which I find ludicrous.

That is, I find it ludicrous that someone altruistic on the level of nation-states increases their inclusive genetic fitness. (They might be increasing inclusive memetic fitness, but I'm not sure about that.) I suspect that nation-states progressed as much as they did because humans need experiences to learn who their family members are, and nation-states (and a wildly different family structure from earlier environments) managed to hijack the relative-detection apparatus and turn it towards the state (at least when discussing policy).

omgryebread wrote:No.
At what level should one stop, then?

omgryebread wrote:I'm not sure. I think presentation, but it distorts content. If you had a personal responsibility to me, I'd consider you obligated to buy me food if I'm starving. I don't think you have a personal responsibility to me, but I do think you have a responsibility to pay taxes to the state, which are then used to buy me food.
Is the state merely an agent, fulfilling my responsibility to you more effectively than I could if I tried to do it myself? Does the state have the power to create new responsibilities between us? If so, what standard should we use to judge those new responsibilities?

As for Rome: I don't know enough about the history to determine how ancient Roman perceptions of "Roman-ness" differed from, say, modern German perceptions of "German-ness." It seems to me, though, that the Empire had only limited success in getting the lower and middle classes to care about the state, and the history of the Roman upper class tends to be about familial rather than ideological connections.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Sep 27, 2011 2:35 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:hijack

Isn't that a pretty weird word in the context? It's not if states are somehow unique in this respect, literally every form of human living contains groups far larger than people's family with which they identify.

It's not must of a stretch to say that people need social and cultural groups to belong to, and in which they want their children to be born into as well. Not "need" in a Hobbesean sense as a compromise to protect against the evil world, but in a physiological sense that people have trouble operating, go slowly mad, without such identities.

States clearly build on such feelings, but hijacking would indicate that this is an unintended, wrong use of them, and that there is some proper use for them instead. As if eating cheese hijacks our sense of taste for improper goals.

If we look at the wide range of observed ways how people live, from the way societies are organized to what they eat, it's not as if some form clearly jumps out as the right or natural one. By our best knowledge, people of our kind have always lived in a cultural world, shaped by the somewhat arbitrary patterns our ancestors made, and that we unavoidably make for our children.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Deep_Thought » Tue Sep 27, 2011 3:55 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:If we look at the wide range of observed ways how people live, from the way societies are organized to what they eat, it's not as if some form clearly jumps out as the right or natural one. By our best knowledge, people of our kind have always lived in a cultural world, shaped by the somewhat arbitrary patterns our ancestors made, and that we unavoidably make for our children.

While I agree with this, I think in part it's because there's not actually that much of a difference between most cultures on this Earth. Sure there are extremes, and I certainly don't want to trade my comfy Western life for one, in say, an African dictatorship, but right now I can travel to many different Nations on this planet and be presented with roughly the same kind of guy checking my passport at the airport, the same kind of person serving me tea in a restaurant, and sit watching the same kind of traffic pass me by in the street. Most 'cultural' traditions boil down to, as Zamfir says, these hugely arbitrary patterns our ancestors got into that really don't mean anything special.

Although having said that the probability of getting a decent cup of tea outside the UK is vanishingly small. Damn coffee drinkers. All I want is fresh leaves in boiling water. Why can't you foreigners get even that right? ;)

As if eating cheese hijacks our sense of taste for improper goals.

Of course it does! It hijacks my sense of taste for the improper goal of making me fat. Om nom nom.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby IcedT » Tue Sep 27, 2011 9:23 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:I am indeed arguing in roughly the same direction as you. Yes, the biggest reason it wasn't "the Italian Empire" was because "Italy" didn't exist at the time. My history is a little fuzzy, but as I understand it Rome mainly bothered conquering the other great cities of the period (In particular Carthage) rather than policing their own countryside, as the economic payoff was much higher. Anyway, my main point was simply that Nations in the modern sense really aren't that old. I should have said "main" unit rather than "biggest", because obviously the Roman empire as a whole was much larger than Rome itself (oops).
I agree with the general point that nation-states aren't that old, which is why I admitted I was being nitpicky. But, keep in mind, they didn't just conquer Carthage and Alexandria and Corinth, they also conquered huge swathes of agrarian land in Africa and Europe. During the Punic Wars, Rome and Carthage were both city-states in that they were unitary governments centered around a single city that dominated the state economically, socially and demographically, but by the time Rome became an empire it had a genuine imperial administration of provincial governors, provincial armies, and an essentially federal power structure delegating authority away from the capitol and towards local officeholders. There's really no better example than the establishment of Constantinople (originally a minor Greek port city) as a second capitol in order to give the Greek-speaking East its own administrative center.

Deep_Thought wrote:What would your counter-examples to the City-State "unit" be? I don't know much Indian pre-modern history but I'll admit "China" seems to have existed as a concept for a lot longer than Western countries, even if it has changed significantly many times.
City-states seem to have mainly been an intermediate step in urbanization, and in most cases they were replaced by either imperial or feudal models as they expanded or were absorbed. Cases where they continued to exist past antiquity were mostly in situations where they were protected from aggression by a stronger power (cities like Bremen, Oldenburg and the Hansa under the Holy Roman Empire, Danzig under the protection of Poland and briefly Prussia), or where geography made them secure against their neighbors (notably, Venice). Really since the end of the Punic Wars, city states have been the exception and larger states, transitioning from feudal to bureaucratic, have been the norm.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Deep_Thought » Wed Sep 28, 2011 4:30 pm UTC

That all sounds reasonable to me :)


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