Which tribe are you?

I’ve written before about the tribal impulse among people. By that I mean the tendency to flock with those like ourselves and to turn — sometimes savagely — against the “other” that threatens our alike-hood. Well, I’m as susceptible to tribalism as the next person, provided the next person is also as much at home at truck stops as at the opera. Well … maybe I’m a little less tribal than some people. But, I’ll tell you, nothing brings out the instinct to circle the wagons and repel the outsiders like spawning.

It started as an effort to meet people we could just talk to. Most of our friends are (and are likely to remain) childless, and as much as we continue to enjoy their company, there’s a certain disconnect between parents and those who still eat late dinners and keep fragile objects within reach of sticky little hands. Of course, meeting people we could talk to soon became meeting people with whom we’d want to talk, and off to the races we went, building our tribe.

I’m not trying to imply that our tribal quest is a bad thing — in fact, it’s a natural thing. If you’re going to build connections with people, you need to have something in common, and that something seems to become a bit particular when the wee ones are involved. It’s odd how extreme that quest can become once kids enter the picture.

I don’t really know how we’ve done it, but somehow, in small-town Arizona, we’ve managed to build connections with several other families of late-spawning, well-educated, reasonably cosmopolitan types. Given the propensity for even the local gentry to venture no further than Phoenix to acquire necessary educational credentials before returning home to breed as quickly as possible and never again venture beyond the familiar, this is quite a coup.

Most (though not all) of our new friends are, therefore, not originally from around here. They’re college-educated, in their late thirties and forties, with young children. They have cultural interests, are generally secular-ish, or at least comfortable in a room full of secular types. One has a picture on his wall of a well-known bar in which I used to imbibe in New York City, and can not only quote the drink prices, but also evoke the spicy mustard they keep on the tables. At least two, quite serendipitously, have political views similar to my own.

They are, in fact, a hell of a lot more like us than are our pre-breeding friends. Before having kids, I chose my amigos because they were enjoyable people to know for a variety of reasons, including outdoorsiness, wit, good hearts and the ability to be in one another’s company without engaging in violent conflict. Now it all seems to be about finding fairly narrowly defined versions of ourselves, with the connections largely driven by reproductive choices.

It’s freaky, not consciously planned, and yet I can’t claim that this just dropped into my lap.

Tribalism really is natural — so natural that, once a kid is in the picture, you don’t immediately realize that your instincts are pushing you to huddle with a like-minded herd.

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