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The Tribal Imagination

The Tribal Imagination: civilization and the savage mind

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Tribal Imagination
    Book Description:

    Fox traces our ongoing struggle to maintain open societies in the face of profoundly tribal human needs that, paradoxically, hold the key to our survival. This latest book ranges from incest and arranged marriage to poetry and myth, from human rights and vengeance to pop icons such as Seinfeld.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06094-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-X)
  3. Prologue: The Miracle and the Drumbeats
    (pp. 1-15)

    The best poets go straight to the heart of things. C. Day Lewis celebrates the struggle between the demands of the unalterable past and those of the future yet to be created:

    In me two worlds at war

    Trample the patient flesh,

    This lighted ring of sense where clinch

    Heir and ancestor.

    In the same spirit of confronting the power of the past on the present in the fabrication of the future, this book examines a fairly simple observation about mind and society. What we observe is that human nature is fundamentally tribal. The rules of chess are finite and...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Time out of Mind Tribal Tempo and Civilized Temporality
    (pp. 16-40)

    I was going to start by quoting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in his Venetian Epigrams says, “O, wie beseliget uns Menschen ein falscher Begriff.” Wise friends told me it is not a good idea to start with an untranslated quote in a foreign language, but I like the gritty sound of Goethe, so there it is. What the old master is saying is that we—we humans—tend to be powerfully attracted to false concepts. We have a fatal attraction to wrong ideas. We are happiest when enthralled by delusion. So that is my cue to say that we...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Human in Human Rights Tribal Needs and Civilized Ideals
    (pp. 41-54)

    Whenever we make claims based on what is “human,” we are treading on shaky ground. As our first chapter established, what we regard as human, and hence humane, may be so recent in our history that we have not even yet established its viability. There is a humanity that shapes our ends, perhaps, but it could be a humanity that is in deep conflict with what the Miracle established. Or it could not. Perhaps we are indeed acting out a basic nature that only a weight of tyranny keeps from flourishing. This was the view of the Enlightenment, and we...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Kindness of Strangers Tribalism and the Trials of Democracy
    (pp. 55-82)

    The mistake we make with the “human” in “human rights” is bound up with our insistence on “individual rights” as the only basis for a truly free and acceptable society. But this is one of those wholly new ideas in the world’s history, dating in effect from about 450 BC in Athens, and having a shaky history since then. We in America have now moved from adopting it as the foundation of our own open society to wanting the world to adopt it in turn, on the basis that it is the natural state of humanity and that only wicked...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Sects and Evolution Tribal Splits and Creedal Schisms
    (pp. 83-113)

    Some years ago I went to a conference, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, of the Shakespeare-Oxford Society, because I am interested in the authorship question and one cannot get a sensible discussion of it in orthodox academic circles, where the issue is considered closed. I found that it was a joint meeting run with the Shakespeare Fellowship, a separate organization. As far as I could see, the aims and objects of the two societies were identical, and even the membership overlapped. But they had two councils and sets of officers, produced two newsletters, and had separate annual general meetings at the...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Which Ten Commandments? Tribal Taboo and Priestly Morality
    (pp. 114-127)

    When we think of the move from tribe to civilization, it is usually the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic we think of. But across large areas of North Africa and the Middle East, the domestication of animals—cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and camels—had an independent life. Those were the lands of the pastoral nomads, wandering with their herds in the hills and deserts. Even in large areas of East Africa where they settled down, their economy was primarily pastoral, their lives dominated by the success of their cattle and by the incessant raiding of other herds that provided a...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Incest and In-Laws Tribal Norms and Civilized Narratives
    (pp. 128-164)

    The drums beat in closely related cross rhythms. Can the beat that produces our desire for vengeance and the favoring of kin be a variant of the beat that urges the marriage of close cousins, itself a cousin of the beat that drives us to sectarian fragmentation? And is there behind it all the oldest beat of all, the beat that warns us not to mate with those most readily available? If this is a truly ancient Drumbeat, what happens to it when the noise of civilization gains in crescendo? Let us ask our storytellers—our poets, dramatists, and novelists...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Forbidden Partners Ancient Themes in Modern Literature
    (pp. 165-195)

    Sometimes the drums beat softly. Sometimes our faith in our ability to escape the beat (or at least more or less to ignore it) is high. The first part of the eighteenth century, with its elevation of Reason to the head of the list of the passions, did not abolish either the unease about, or the fascination with, incest, but it did produce its own attitude to it, which is instructive. This was the period where we in the West took a kind of cultural deep breath before the onslaught of the industrial revolution.

    In England the Glorious Revolution of...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT In the Company of Men Tribal Bonds in Warrior Epics
    (pp. 196-225)

    From Gilgamesh and Enkidu, through David and Jonathan, up to Holmes and Watson, the three sergeants in Gunga Din, Aubrey and Maturin, or Butch and Sundance, the Drumbeat of the male bond has been celebrated in literature, song, and drama. The combative male group from Jason and the Argonauts through the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, to the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven exercises a constant fascination. This holds whether the male group is noble in its purpose, like Hawkeye and his Mohicans, or downright nasty (but ultimately redeemable), like the...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Playing by the Rules Savage Rhythms and Civilized Rhymes
    (pp. 226-259)

    We never lose anything in evolution. In its saga of growth and control, the brain continually added new structures and incorporated and reconnected the old: all those that had helped it adapt as a sea creature, an amphibian, a reptile, a mammal, a primate, an ape, a hominid, and then, and for now, a human being.

    The brain began as an organizing blob on the front end of sea creatures with primitive central nervous systems. With the earliest reptiles its most simple elements, the brain stem (pons, medulla) and cerebellum, which remain essential to our functioning, were in place. Without...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Seafood and Civilization From Tribal to Complex Society
    (pp. 260-281)

    Among the miracles in the ascent of humanity was the decisive shift from hunting and gathering to the domestication of animals and plants: the Neolithic revolution. We encountered it in the “Neolithic Paradox” in Chapter 1. It was the beginning of what we choose to call civilization, which literally means living in cities. We saw how the Israelites struggled with this in their later stage of the transition, once bronze and iron had been introduced. They moved from being primarily pastoral nomads to being cultivators and town dwellers, and their labor pains in this rebirth, and the role of religion...

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Route to Civilization From Tribal to Political Society
    (pp. 282-318)

    If we are to understand the meaning of the tribes and the tribal, the nature of the Drumbeat and its contribution to, or undermining of, the world of the Miracle, then we should have a science that studies that meaning. Anthropology began life in the nineteenth century with a firm mandate to look at the primitive peoples of the world, the “simpler societies” as they were often called, in order to understand better how mankind had managed to “rise” to the level of civilization. To this end the extant tribes had to be seen as in some way representing the...

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE Open Societies and Closed Minds Tribalism versus Civilization
    (pp. 319-340)

    At the London School of Economics (LSE) in the early 1950s, in the building that housed the student bar (The Three Tuns) and the student newspaper (Beaver), there was tucked away a small but delightful tearoom run by Mrs. Popper. She was no relation to the great philosopher, but the coincidence was too good to overlook. Karl Popper’s devotees (of whom I was one) gathered there for tea and crumpets and strawberry jam, and discussions of The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Logic of Scientific Discovery (at that point not translated into English). The School’s Marxist students from...

  16. CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Old Adam and the Last Man Taming the Savage Mind
    (pp. 341-358)

    Friedrich Nietzsche described the Last Man in Thus Spake Zarathustra as a creature of “desire and reason” as opposed to the First Man, who was bestial and consumed by the desire for recognition alone. The Last Man (der letzte Mensch), the man of modern liberal demo cratic society, was a “victorious slave” enacting the secular version of the Christian Kingdom of God on Earth. This was a society that put self-preservation first and cultivated physical security and material plenty. Nietzsche’s Superman (Übermensch) would rise above this and would shed the shackles of conventional morality. But in the meantime we had...

  17. Epilogue: The Dream-Man
    (pp. 359-360)
  18. Appendix: Transitional Time at the Edge of Chaos
    (pp. 363-368)
  19. Notes and References
    (pp. 369-404)
  20. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 405-406)
  21. Index
    (pp. 407-417)