23 January 2015

Is tribalism the same as chosenpeopleism?

Elizabeth Farrelly wrote a striking piece (full article below) with this theme in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald. In the article she cites everyone's right to be offended, not to be free from offense. Check. In light of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher deli murders, sparked by a cartoon and freedom of expression, and some Islamic fundamentalists who were offended. I liked what Ms Farrelly said, until she turned a corner and made the assumption that anything tribalist is the same as what she coined as chosenpeopleism. That's a term I have never heard, but I get it. Although I don't agree with her.

Ms Farrelly invites response with this line: " But before I go, let me say this: criticism is not bullying. Dissent is not coercion. Disagreement is not hate. In fact, these things are much closer to love." So, let me explain why I disagree.

She defines tribalism here: "But there is common ground, namely, the idea that the world would be better if everyone behaved (believed, thought and spoke) just like us. This is tribalism."

She does not define chosenpeopleism, but uses it near the end of the article and makes it the same as tribalism: "But segregating children on religious grounds inculcates Chosen People Syndrome from birth. Be it Wahhabist, Jewish or Anglican, in Saudi, Paris or Bronte, chosenpeopleism makes war, not peace. This is not God's doing, though religions lend themselves to tribalism. Chosenpeopleism is practised by the excluders (American torture) and the excludees; by races, nations, creeds, professions and mafiosi. It's human."

Actually that a people (The Jewish People) are the "chosen people" is exactly God's doing. That's what the Book of Books says, "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. " (recorded in Deuteronomy 7.7-8)

The author of Deuteronomy, Moses, is telling the Jewish people that even though we are fairly insignificant numerically, that God is faithful to His promises and chose us to represent Him on the planet. That gives us significance, but it doesn't give us a right to hate others or, what did Ms Farrelly say, "American torture" and "make war."

God tells us in no uncertain terms, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 23.9)

Being chosen doesn't give us the right to taunt the unchosen. In fact, if I read the Book right, we have an obligation to be a "light to the nations" and Psalm 67 urges the nations around us to join in the anthems of honor to God, with "Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You." (verses 3, and 5) It's incumbent on the chosen people to bring in others, to (in modern terms) evangelize and welcome (Farrelly's term) excludees into the commonwealth of Israel. Evangelism is not coercion.

I watched a video from 2012 today. The youtube is here: Muslims offended There was some editing obviously but mostly fair reporting of a conversation after a protest in the streets of Sydney went violent due to the offense of some about Islam. Watch it if you have time (about half an hour), and see if offense is cause for violence or retribution or anger or... That said, I really like Ms Farrelly's summary of being PC, "In failing to draw these distinctions, in banning even the public recognition of difference, political correctness drives truth underground. This is ugly and boring. It's also dangerous."

This is a good topic to discuss and to parse. Where do you stand?




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The full article is here:
Farrelly
Let's be clear. You do not have a right not to be offended. On the contrary I, and you, have a right to offend. Indeed, freedom to offend is a right fundamental to democracy.

In this, much as it pains me, I endorse Tony Abbott's view from 2012. The "hurt-feelings test", argued then opposition leader Abbott, is incompatible with free expression. "If free speech is to mean anything," Abbott said, "it's others' right to say what you don't like ... It's the freedom to be obnoxious and objectionable."


Pope Francis is wrong to say "you cannot make fun of the faith of others". We can, and it must be allowed.

None of us wants to hear it. We all have our inner fascist. Overheard recently in the women's loo at Bronte rockpool, two blondes, clearly locals, having a whinge about their fellow swimmers. They didn't like the fast, thrashy guys, the lane nazis. They didn't like the slow, lumbering whales. They resented breaststrokers and backstrokers, and expressed contempt for both the side-pool walkers and the "teabags" who bob and steep at pool-end. Indeed, it seemed, they didn't really welcome anyone who did things differently from themselves.

It was the same day as the first public flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 10 years and 1000 lashes for "insulting Islam" – viz., attempting public political discourse in a regime that criminalises dissent.

Obviously, the blondes weren't Wahhabis. They'd have been wearing way more clothes. But there is common ground, namely, the idea that the world would be better if everyone behaved (believed, thought and spoke) just like us. This is tribalism.

Of course, few Australians would own such a belief. We support diversity, plurality, multiculture. But that's not how we behave. The increasing polarisation of our public discourse suggests tribal creep - from religion, from sport. It makes criticism something we fear and resist.

Almost every week I am accused of "bullying" and "hate".  I criticise cyclists, I'm called a cycle-phobe, a bully. I suggest women empathise more easily than men, I'm accused of misandry; man-hate.

Of course it's ridiculous. The trollosphere has the collective IQ of a potted daisy. Yet this constant attrition has its effect, asphyxiating debate, making critics like me yearn to farm organic goats in the Western Desert. But before I go, let me say this: criticism is not bullying. Dissent is not coercion. Disagreement is not hate. In fact, these things are much closer to love.

Criticism manifests a belief that things could be better, and a desire to move in that direction. Criticism may not feel positive to the recipient. It may cause offence. That's irrelevant. What's important is that criticism's right to exist is imperative for our collective well-being.

Curiously, criticism is inhibited both by totalitarianism and by its putative opposite. In the wake of Charlie Hebdo, commentators have noted the strange disjunct between the West's fierce defence of free speech and the mealy mouthed, self-imposed gag of political correctness.

Our schoolchildren are taught not to bully, and not to be racist. That's good. But they're also taught that equality requires every competitor to get a prize, that harmony implies universal consensus and that fairness makes one person's offence another's blame. What they're not taught is how to parse this well-meant mind mash.

So kids insist it's racist to describe someone as Chinese or black. They say it's homophobic to make a joke involving lesbians. This failure to recognise the neutrality of descriptors misdefines prejudice and demarks entire swaths of discourse as no-go zones.
Prejudice defines as discrimination based on criteria that do not properly pertain; criteria that are, literally, impertinent. This implies an element of untruth. It's not racist to say, "I need 10 black people for this film", but it is racist to say, "only black people can act".
In failing to draw these distinctions, in banning even the public recognition of difference, political correctness drives truth underground. This is ugly and boring. It's also dangerous.

We were rightly horrified at the Hebdo massacres, and at recent footage of Saudis publicly beheading Laila Bassim in a Mecca street. But it's not so long since Catholics and Protestants were burning each other with full legal approbation in the streets of London.
That wasn't religion. It was tribalism. What lifted us from the bloody morass was reason; the age of reason, separation of church and state, the Enlightenment. Of course it was flawed, and of course the process is ongoing. But two supremely important principles emerged. One, that public discussion should be as free as possible without causing harm to others. Two, that the best antidote to murderous tribalism was universalism – of law, of reason, of education.

Thus, we have a "right" to free speech, constrained by libel laws, hate-speech laws and, in many European countries, laws against Holocaust denial.

We should note here that "hate speech" is not simply expressing hatred. Hate speech, for legal purposes, is a call to action; a public incitement against an individual or group. (NSW law specifically exempts debate that has genuine scholarly, academic or artistic intent.)

I think these limits (unlike Pope Francis') reasonable. (I'd also happily ban denials of the Australian genocide, such as Andrew Bolt's recent effort, and possibly of climate change – presuming that same exception for genuine debate - which has more catastrophic potential still.)

On tribalism we're more conflicted. Easily the best counter to tribalism would be to ban religious schools. Not religion. That's fine. But segregating children on religious grounds inculcates Chosen People Syndrome from birth. Be it Wahhabist, Jewish or Anglican, in Saudi, Paris or Bronte, chosenpeopleism makes war, not peace.

This is not God's doing, though religions lend themselves to tribalism. Chosenpeopleism is practised by the excluders (American torture) and the excludees; by races, nations, creeds, professions and mafiosi. It's human.

Pope Francis got it wrong. But another Pope, Alexander, points to enlightenment on this: "Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man."
Twitter: @emfarrelly

5 comments:

Brad Mayhew said...

Tribalism is dangerous, yes. So is sex, capital, alcohol, driving, etc. But tribalism is part of who we are as humans to want to belong. If it's eliminated we invent it (Australian football fans just want the best team to win, right?). It's foolish to say the problem will be solved by eliminating gathering places like schools for certain sub-groups. Humans will always create an in-group. The answer is not to deny tribalism as the USA did with its ?native Americans (the tribes are still there) or Tanzania did with it's tribal languages by making Swahili the national language (the tribes are still there). It is to do as Jesus did in Nazareth, where he identified with his own tribe while rebuking their failure to humbly recognize the Creator loved other tribes as well.

Elizabeth Farrelly said...

Ms Farrelly wrote a comment: Elizabeth Farrelly ‏@emfarrelly 22h22 hours ago

@BobMendelsohn Yes chosenpeopleism is tribalism. All religions believe themselves chosen, but this is not godspeak. It's primate. Tribal.

Bob Mendelsohn said...

I wonder if what Ms Farrelly is calling 'tribalism' might better be understood as "triumphalism?' As Brad says in his comment, identifiers are appropriate and we regularly group ourselves. But when we demote others to second-class on the basis of their race (dare we include creed?) then we are demeaning them and touting ourselves as the greatest. Triumphalism is not healthy for a multi-cultural society like Australia.

Bob Mendelsohn said...

Today a rally was held in Lakemba (Sydney) protesting the insults of the prophet Mohammed. Maybe these people should read both my response and @emfarrelly 's original article.

Here's the SMH coverage this morning: Lakemba protest

Charles Mort said...

Bob M says "Actually that a people (The Jewish People) are the "chosen people" is exactly God's doing. That's what the Book of Books says, "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose...." blah blah blah... sorry, but what a load of crap based on a not very good tall story...islam, catholics etc all just as bad...you all live on a lie..
the only god is mother earth...the sooner we rid humanity of religion altogether the better.