Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review of Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Sociology
Short Description

Elaborate Description
Humans want to belong.  Belonging can be found in groups, in tribes.  But with groups comes exclusion of others.  Behavior changes to fit the groups’ norms, to identify with the group.  Favoring in-group members over out-group individuals.  Causing tension and indignation.  Depending on whether it is the majority or the minority that has political and economic control of decisions shapes how the tribes engage with one another, but it nevertheless causes resentment.  Resentment that can come to have a violent expression.  To either prevent conflict or to stop it in progress will need the different groups to reconcile, which requires them to communicate.  

Quality of life ideals such as globalization and individualism have improved the circumstance of many people, but individuals still need to belong to a group.  Not all groups are the same.  Some groups provide joy, others violence.  Members of a group will do a lot for their group’s members, even if there is no return for the deeds.  The brain is hardwired for group identification.  Seeing in-group members with all the complexity and individuality that it brings, while seeing out-group members as homogenous.  This makes it easier to negatively stereotype others.  

Democracy does not override preexisting tribal divides.  Democracy can also galvanize group conflict.  When poor majorities take political power, they usually take revenge against the resented minorities.  The minorities fear the empowered majority, which leads them to resort to violence.  Threatened groups become even more tribal as they defend their differences.  People with better numeracy skills tend to be more biased as they can manipulate the numbers to support the tribe’s worldview.  Although many people privately favor individuals who express different views, they publicly shame them.  Conformity is a cascade of self-reinforcing social pressure.  This behavior can trap groups from considering the alternative decisions.  There are a few who use their privilege to shame and punish dissenters, without any cost to themselves.  The dissenters are forced underground where resentment is fostered.

Groups that have a violent expression are usually terrorist groups.  Terrorism is not about an individual.  It is a group phenomenon that turns an individual into a violent tool of tribal politics.  The individuals themselves are otherwise normal people.  They become violent gradually through socialization and radicalization.  

Exposure to different tribes is not enough for acceptance, as just exposure can make group division worse.  What is needed is to seek engagement, to understand the dignity and kindness of others.  What is needed to see the tribal adversity, and to build methods of appropriate communication.  To engage in common enterprise.  

America is a tribe of tribes.  An identity not defined by the various ethnic subgroups.  American is an identity that comes from the diverse backgrounds of the people.  A very inclusive place, but also very racist.  Because of American identity, its politically blind to the political tribalism elsewhere as the assumption is that everyone wants the same things such as liberty.  America assumes that other countries can handle diversity like America can, which is also an assumption about how America handles its diversity.  America is unique in electing a racial minority.  

Citizens of the world should mean that the U.S. is trying to break down tribal barriers, but cosmopolitanism is tribal because is for the elite who can obtain education and can travel while also exclusionary of other groups.  Multicultural expressions used to be considered a rejection of ethnocentric, but have changed to be seen as microaggressions as a group appropriates the culture of another.  Inclusive language is perceived to erase group differences and the history of problems between them.  

In the U.S., there are many movements that want to help the poor or other people’s who do not have the opportunities or qualities of another group.  But the movements do not necessarily include those who are on the receiving end of the supposed help.  The use of protests is more a status symbol, which usually worsens the perception of the people being helped.  The poor are less likely to be politically active in a variety of aspects.  Partly because their situation will remain no matter who is in power.

The problem is that few are left that seek America without identity politics.  For an American identity that would unite the diverse subgroups.  Every group feels under attack for various aspects such as jobs and the ability to shape the national identity.  The Left has moved away from inclusion, towards exclusion and division.  To be inclusive is seen as not acknowledging what had been done to oppressed groups.  With intersectionality, many groups are in competition over which group is least privileged.  The Right used to be about individualism, and away from divisive identity politics but now has been forced to take on the white identity.  Even with all the division, the country has seen a rise in individuals and groups willing to build bridges and support reconciliation.

China has been an existential threat to Vietnam for more than just one millennium.  After gaining their independence in the 10th century, they were still dominated by the Chinese and needed to pay tribute.  China repeatedly invaded Vietnam who kept repelling the Chinese.  Vietnamese bravery over Chinese invaders is the core of Vietnamese lore.  Whether the stories are real or not, they have generated kinship among the Vietnamese.  

When the U.S. intervened in Vietnam, they missed two aspects of Vietnamese culture.  They missed the animosity between Vietnam and China, and missed the internal market-dominant Chinese minority.  The U.S. thought that they were fighting communism for Vietnam’s freedom.  Vietnamese did not see U.S. as providing freedom, they saw the U.S. destroying their way of life.  When North Vietnamese leaders decided to liberate the South Vietnamese, the U.S. responded by escalating military involvement without adapting to the guerrilla warfare.  

U.S wartime polices only increased the resentment of the Vietnamese of the Chinese and U.S.  As U.S. needed many supplies, they bought it from those who had the ability to deliver them, the Chinese.  Most of the money went to the minority Chinese.  The Chinese profited from U.S. intervention and seemed very ruthless against the Vietnamese.  There are cases were the Chinese deliberately caused problems for the Vietnamese.  Although the Chinese were supposed to help fight the war, they avoided the draft via bribes.  The perception was that South Vietnamese were meant to fight and die their northern peoples to make the Chinese rich.  

Afghanistan was established in 1747 by a Pashtun.  Pashtuns kept leadership for over two centuries.  During the mid-20th century, both the U.S. and Russia saw only the distinction between capitalism and communism, but that was not the source of trouble in Afghanistan.  It was the feud between Pashtuns and Tajiks.  The Taliban is mainly composed of Pashtuns, which arose because of threats to Pashtun dominance.  U.S. military intervention turned many Afghans against the U.S.  With the U.S. training, arming, and funding many of the Taliban’s key figures.  

With U.S coming out of the defeat of Vietnam, it decided to covertly fight communism using Pakistan.  The military leaders in Pakistan made the U.S. its geopolitical pawn, as the U.S. provided the arms and money.  General Muhammad Zia-ulHaq manipulated ethnic politics to destroy Pashtun nationalism, and to dominate with radical Islam.  All the U.S. saw were soldiers fighting for a free world.  In this way they armed anti-Soviet fighters who would later become part of U.S. most-wanted.  Only after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden after the World Trade Center, did the U.S. trade the communist worldview for the antiterrorist worldview.  All the while still misunderstanding the ethnic importance of the movement.

Many Afghans supported the Taliban in the late 20th Century because the Taliban brought stability to the region.  They were willing to accept a stricter code of conduct, in exchange for security against the massive racketeering rings that profited on kidnapping, extortion, and many other crimes.  The Taliban was able to provide that law and order because of their Pashtun identity.  The Taliban retook control of Afghanistan from the Tajik minority, which was popularity accepted by the Pashtun majority.  Only in areas that were not primarily Pashtun, did the Taliban have strong resistance.  The Taliban was not able to unify Afghanistan because moderate Pashtuns found the Taliban’s method repulsive.  Many also saw the close ties of the Taliban to Pakistan as problematic.  

While setting up the post-Taliban government, the U.S. alienated Pashtuns by excluding them from decision making and favoring rival ethnic groups.  As the U.S. was moving on to the war in Iraq, it failed to ensure the security that the Taliban provided.  After the Taliban, lawlessness surged again.  Many policies that were implemented by the U.S. turned the population of Afghanistan again the U.S. 

Much like Vietnam and Afghanistan, the U.S. found itself in an unwinnable war, making the regional people hate the U.S., and produce ISIS.   When the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Sunni minority were dominant economically, politically, and militarily.  Shias were the majority, and were mostly poor.  Sunni understood that the U.S. would bring Shias to power, which caused the Sunni to retaliate against the U.S.  

Many of the Sunnis were removed from their jobs politically or not.  The U.S. even removed Sunnis from skilled work such as health care.  The military was forced to disband.  All this created frustrated with people who had no other skill sets or means to earn a living.  

Over time, the U.S. had military decision making person in Iraq whose strategy was to approach local populations, with explicit group-focused, and ethnically conscious policies.  Winning over regions by very local tribe at a time.  This built alliances rather than fueling hatred.  Recognition that it would take Shias and Sunnis working together.  This policy stabilized the region and heavily reduced sectarian violence.  

As communism and authoritarianism failed, America promoted the opposite, markets and democracy.  The U.S. backed the democratically elected Shia parliament.  Led by Nouri al Maliki.  While the U.S. praised Maliki for an inclusive government, Maliki was determined to perpetrate genocide against the Sunni.  Persecuting and executing Sunnis.  Terrorizing the Sunni via the Shia militias.  

Venezuela had deep buried racial tension with a market-dominant minority.  There were claims that there was no racism because everyone was mixed-blood, but individuals were classified based on racial purity, creating a caste system.  

Chavez was a product of democracy.  He represented the majority who were poor and looked like them.  Chavez spoke for them.  Supported the emotional needs of a demoralized nation.  Based on Chavez’s antibusiness policies, a lot of wealth was transferred to overseas banks.  The biggest economic boon in Venezuela was its oil, run by an efficient elite.  Chavez fired the elites and replaced them with people who had little business experience.

In 2002, there was a coup against Chavez in which Chavez was deposed.  The U.S. claimed that the coup was a victory for democracy.  But with a lot of popular support within the country, Chavez was shortly back in office.  When the U.S. supported the overthrow of a democratically elected leader, the hypocrisy devastated region influence.  Chavez was more autocratic and floundered economic policy, but the country was more democratic under his regime.  

The book is eloquently written.  The problem is what is not included in the book that would have elucidated different relations and methods of handling tribal negotiations.  Chua has written plenty on diverse empires throughout history, while does not use them.  Does not reference historic diversity, other than the in the 20th century and early 21st.  A claim is made that the U.S. is unique in its acceptance of diversity, but Chua wrote about empires which seemed just as unique.  Or rather, maybe they were not that diverse or unique.  Adding a chapter or two about how empires which were composed of diverse tribes, and how their affairs were handled, would have elucidated ways on how to manage present diversity.  Their failures can present lessons on what not to do.  Their successes can hint at appropriate conflict resolution.  There are also 20th century examples of nations which were composed of minority groups which support Chua’s views on tribal politics, but they are not listed in the book, so their failures or success cannot be learned from.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book
•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•Why do humans want to be part of groups?
•How do individuals change when they are in a group?
•Why is there tension between in-group members and out-group individuals?
•What causes resentment?
•What is needed stop or prevent conflict?
•What does democracy do for tribal circumstances? 
•What happens when a majority has power?  When a minority?
•How do people treat dissenters?
•Why do people join groups which have a violent expression, such as terrorist groups?
•How to bring people together? 
•What is America’s identity?
•Why does America assume it has handled diversity well?  Why does it project that assumption unto other nations?
•Why is being cosmopolitan a tribe?
•How has being multicultural changed over time?
•How are movements and protest perceived?
•Who is left to seek to understand without identity politics? 
•What is intersectionality? 
•What is Vietnam’s identity? 
•What role does China have in Vietnam history?
•What tribalism did the U.S. miss when they intervened in Vietnam?
•What was the perception of the Vietnamese of U.S. intervention?
•How did the Vietnamese see their Chinese minority during the Vietnam War?
•What is Afghanistan’s identity?
•Why did the Taliban want to take Afghanistan?
•How did the U.S. help create the Taliban?
•Why did the U.S. want to use Pakistan as an intermediary?  How did Pakistan react? 
•What were the problems with the post-Taliban government? 
•What is Iraq’s identity?
•Who did not want the U.S. to intervene in Iraq?  Why?
•What did the U.S. do to the Sunni minority?
•When did U.S. policy work in Iraq? Why?
•What is Venezuela’s identity?
•Did Venezuela have a caste system?
•How did Chavez get power?
•Who did Chavez represent?
•Why did Chavez create so many problematic economic problems?
•Why was there a coup against Chavez?
•How did Chavez get back into power after the coup?
•How was the U.S impacted by Chavez government?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780399562860
Pages to read:   158
Publication:     2018
1st Edition:      2018
Format:           eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5