Tribe vs. community

Rarely do the liberal and conservative elites unite in denouncing something. Tribalism, however, they both hate. In elite circles, “tribalism” is the opposite of an urbane, cosmopolitanism outlook. Brexit was cursed as “a reversion to tribalism.”

The liberal elite are joined by the conservative elite in denouncing American tribalism. The conservative elite on “Fox & Friends” joined together one recent morning to lament “hyphenated Americans” who “focus on background.” Having an ethnic identity, like Norwegian, Irish, or African American, is what “we have been trying to move past for a long time.”

“My grandmother, I believe, spoke Norwegian,” Fox News host Pete Hegseth said. “I don’t know a word of Norwegian. That’s what I hope every group who comes here does.” His conservative co-hosts agreed.

These elites act as if their elite tribe is somehow not a tribe. As laughable as this idea is, it’s also horribly cruel. What they value so much in their own lives, belonging to a little platoon that provides a sense of identity and purpose, they want to deny to everyone else.

As conservatism has increasingly defined itself as hating what progressives stand for, the conservative position on race and ethnicity has been to demand a “color blindness” and a denunciation of identity politics that eyes with suspicion any identity other than “American.”

Whether the elites are liberal or conservative, they all seem to have the same attitude. They want to ban tribalism (all tribes but their own) because they desire a society which looks up to them. They seem to want a homogeneous mass of identical individuals whose happiness and behavior depends on direction from them, the elite.

But the elites miss what underlies a strong and resilient society. The most resilient societies are diverse, but the diversity serves a common purpose. It is complementary diversity. It is composed of communities which are all independent but all working together for the common good. America has always been a nation of people with multiple overlapping identities. We have our American-ness as one identity, but that is tied up with a diversity that includes our particular geographic place, our particular vocation, our particular faith, and, yes, our particular ethnicity.

You cannot understand a person, including yourself, without trying to comprehend the invisible forces, spanning generations, that shaped you.

A corollary to this insight is that we owe it to our children to give them not only a healthy and happy and challenging now. If we hope they have a happy and successful tomorrow, we need to also give them a yesterday. In some cultures, this is easy and natural. In some settings, this takes real effort.

A recent book provides a great illustration. It’s author, Michael Brendan Dougherty,was raised around New York City as an only child of a single mother, with only irregular contact with his father from Ireland.

Spending one’s youth in different suburbs, in two different states, raised without a father is a formula for serious alienation. It’s the same profile as the man who murdered Heather Heyer with his car in Charlottesville, Va., after joining a white nationalist movement. Much of what afflicts the working class in Middle America today is the nakedness of a deracinated life: We have more and more men who lack faith, who lack ethnicity, who lack fathers, and who live in areas that lack a sense of distinctive place.

So, what did Dougherty’s mother do? How did she try to save her son?

She made him Irish.

First, she named him Michael Brendan Dougherty.

Then she dug deep to plant roots that would anchor this little family that otherwise could be tossed by the tempests of modernity. She brought little Michael to Irish culture festivals and Irish pubs. She brought him to Gaeltacht Weekends where attendees were supposed to speak no English, but only the Old Irish language, which, as an act of rebellion, some of the Irish had been trying to resurrect for about a century.

“[M]y own nursery was injected with a peculiar kind of Irish nationalism,” Dougherty writes. “My mother wanted me to know myself as Irish. ”

His book is grounded in the specific worlds of Ireland, greater New York, parochial school, and modern America. One can divine easily the broader lesson, though, and that’s why a the book has been praised by a bunch of Jewish American conservative writers who appreciate the richness of family, faith, ethnicity, and language.

“None are so blind as they who will not see.” Other writers and commentators denigrate America, the deplorables, Wal-mart goers, and any other tribe other than their own liberal minded clique. They can’t see how they draw sustenance from being part of a very exclusive community which sure looks like a tribe. They denounce tribalism while pledging full allegiance to their own tribe.

We have an innate need to be part of a tribe. Loving your people, your ethnicity, your culture is something we all need. But when such love is coupled with hate of all those who aren’t part of your tribe, tribalism become destructive.

“We are totally right and they are totally wrong” is an extreme of tribalism which assures destruction.  The American Indians were divided into thousands of tribes which nearly all fought with each other even as the advancing Europeans took over their lands.  Something similar is happening in the US today.  Because we are so busy fighting with each other instead of working together to conquer our many challenges, other tribes are invading and taking over more and more of our country as we fight with each other.

Even if one side does win, this tribalism will identify an Other within its ranks. Then the tribalism and destruction will begin anew. Spend a little time in Africa and you’ll see how tribalism destroys. Yet the elite in Africa also want to eliminate tribalism, while not recognizing they are part of a tribe who wants to eliminate tribalism.

Belonging to a community or tribe is good. But watch out or your allegiance to your tribe will result in destruction all around.

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Yes to Koran and eagle hunting; No to Bible

Turkish Airlines breaks the rules. In contrast to what you might expect from the national airline of an Islamic country, Turkish Airlines is much more flexible than American airlines. It does things no American airline would dare to do. For example, they offer audio versions of religious texts. If you don’t want to watch the latest movies, you can listen in sonorous English while the Arabic script flows from right to left across your screen. No American airline is brave enough to offer the Bible to fliers.

Turkish Airlines does a lot that no American airline can match. On my last flight, I was served a cube of comb honey and a dark sphere which stood up on my plate. It turned out to be a shell of hard chocolate with mango slices and soft chocolate inside.

On long flights you get a couple of full meals and sandwiches and spirits whenever you like. Turkish Airlines boasts that it flies to more destinations than any other nation in the world. But even on short flights, they treat you really well. On a 90 minute flight, you get a full meal that is pretty durn good. Most of its airplanes have hundreds of movies available on demand.

Many of the movies are in Turkish with no subtitles. They lure you in with an English summary, but then you usually can’t understand the movie. Sometimes the movie is so entrancing that you watch it anyway. That happened to me on my last trip. I’d just come from visiting guy in Kyrgyzstan who hunts with falcons and eagles, so when I saw a movie about a young girl becoming an expert falconer in rural Turkey, I tried it and watched all the way to the end, though I couldn’t understand a word. Now I know the tricks of becoming a falconer. A red tailed hawk just might be enlisted in my new hobby next winter.

Usually I get bored listening to a language I don’t understand, so I skip around the available channels and that’s how I found the Koran. You can hear the Koran spoken in English as you watch the Arabic phrases flow from right to left across the screen–much like Hebrew. Funny how close Arabic and Hebrew are.

Turkish Airlines doesn’t offer the Bible for Christians or the Bhagavad gita for Hindus or the Tao Te Ching for Taoists. But they do let you switch seats almost at will. American airlines don’t let you do that any more. They are intent on making money by insuring they are paid more for good seats. Comfort of passengers is definitely not the top priority for American airlines these days.

My next flights overseas will be on Delta and Ethiopian Airlines, so I’ll see if they match up to Turkish. I’m not holding my breath, that either will over the Bible, though Ethiopia was Christian a thousand years before America existed and six hundred years before Turkey switched from being Christian to being Moslem. Anyway, I’m going back to Kyrgyzstan as soon as I can, so I’ll get to enjoy Turkish Airlines again very soon.

Make America Joyful Again II

A young girl is helping her mother by hanging up clothes to dry. She then picks up her 3 string Kyrgyz guitar and starts practicing. Her mother is cooking dinner for the construction workers across the park. They smile when we walk over.

The mother offers us bread, as Kyrgyz do for visitors. Her daughter showed us the music she had copied out and was practicing.

Down the road, the wife of the falconer is cooking a traditional bread called boorsoks and sends her daughter to give us some when we are talking to her husband. They are still hot when we get them so I go visit the cook. Turns out she knows English and loves to talk. She joyfully tells me all about how she makes boorsoks over an open fire and her six children and how her husband won a prize at a falconry competition in Saudi Arabia.

All the while she’s talking and smiling, she is rolling out dough, cutting it up and plopping it in the oil bubbling over the fire. When we leave, she insists we take a bag of boorsoks. Another daughter and a son come around the corner as we leave and smile shyly at us.

This Kyrgyz town has a community center that includes a theatre and a museum. The museum honors a famous writer who was born there. We get a tour from two dedicated guides. The theater is the home to a community theater group.

Part of the group is just leaving a meeting and sitting on a wall. They are called the “Joyful Grandmothers” in Kyrgyz. When we start talking, they ask me to come sit with them. They laugh joyfully as I push my way down amongst them.

All those instances of joy appeared in a couple of hours in a small town called Sheker on the Kyrgyz side of the Kazakh border.

A few minutes later we found another joyful grandmother who loves to sew and embroider natural felt. She was bursting with enthusiasm and insisted we eat too much and take home lots of extras.

There are so many stories of joy in this isolated and not very wealthy country on the border of China. These are just a few from one day. I hope to go back again soon and collect some more. Until then, I’ll try to spread some of that Kyrgyz joy in America. We need it.

For the first Make America Joyful Again, see: https://meadowcreekvalley.wordpress.com/blog/make-america-joyful-again/

Spirits in the swamps: methane and rice

Swamps are not nice places to be sometimes. Even when they are called wetlands. Rice paddies are really just small little swamps that only last a few months. So they don’t accumulate all the evil that swamps do, but they get close.

Probably one of the most evil things that swamps produce is a deadly odorless gas called methane. You might have methane in pipes going into your house. It’s called natural gas today because the industry has good public relations people. The producers of natural gas have to mix it with really smelly stuff so you notice and get out when there is a leak. Or you would die. Swamps and rice fields produce methane in abundance.

Those of us who live close to swamp areas, have lots of stories about methane–also called swamp gas. Occasionally it is ignited and appears to be a lantern or a face running through the woods (“will-o’-the-wisp”). European folkfore has numerous stories about strange, bright apparitions leading lonely travelers astray–all inspired by methane somehow ignited in the woods. Watch the following video to see how much methane swamps produce.

in modern times, methane has become even scarier since it is one of the greenhouse gases leading to climate change. Methane is way more potent the carbon dioxide. Over 20 years methane traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. In 100 years it degrades, but still traps 28 times as much. Methane emissions from swamps are the largest natural source of methane in the world, contributing roughly one third of all methane released from nature and by man combined.

Methane is produced by bacteria decomposing organic matter under water. When rice is flooded, man is creating a little swamp with perfect conditions for methane producton.

Rice doesn’t produce nearly as much methane as swamps (about 2 per cent of the methane released by human activity). So rice fields are a small, but definite contributor to our GHG problem. And its a problem which can be solved. We just have to figure out ways of growing rice with less flooding. Researchers are figuring out ways to do that and rice farmers are implementing them resulting in lower costs for water and lower methane production.

It seems like a great achievement. Except in some places, like California, all the natural lakes have been destroyed and there is no habitat for migrating waterfowl except flooded rice fields. So in the short run, we have to keep flooding California rice fields.

As soon as possible, however, we need to get farmland in California converted back to natural lakes. Natural lakes in a dry climate like California’s rice growing area do not accumulate the high levels of organic matter under water which leads to methane production. Reestablishing that system should be our goal, not flooding rice fields and watching the methane bubble up.

In Arkansas, with 50+ inches of rain a year, we have plenty of habitat for migrating waterfowl without flooding rice fields and are trying everything we can to reduce the period of flooding on rice fields.    

Wetlands and rice fields do produce methane. We can’t just sweep that fact under the rug because we need flooded rice fields for waterfowl migration. Instead, let’s recreate the lakes destroyed in the Pacific flyway. We don’t have to settle for methane production from rice fields.