Tribalism is so important to humans that we almost never think in terms of it. I, of course, am obsessed with the idea. During my lifetime, I’ve seen tribalism get so diced up to the point where opportunity is just not a thing anymore. There was a time — barring a Great Depression — when anyone could have a job if they wanted it. Now, that’s just not true. The rich take care of their own. The middle class is just struggling to survive. And the poor are in the same state that they’ve always been, with the exception that the voices denouncing them are louder and more respected than ever.
The way that I usually frame the issue is as “the right kind of people” versus of “the wrong kind of people.” I wrote about this recently with regard to national security, Petraeus and Sterling: Different Kinds of Leakers. David Petraeus, of course, is the right kind of leaker who released top secret information for the purpose of bedding a younger woman and his own self-aggrandizement. As a result, he gets no jail time. Jeffrey Sterling, on the other hand, is the wrong kind of leaker. He leaked information about wrongdoing in the Bush administration. He’s looking at decades in prison.
Over at The Daily Dot, SE Smith brought my attention to a similar tribal divide, If Homeless People Can’t Sleep Outside, Apple Customers Shouldn’t Either. I’ve never actually given much thought to this because I don’t know any people silly enough to think they have to be the first to get a new phone — or anything else. But I am aware that this sort of thing goes on. I believe people do the same thing for concert tickets and new video games. Smith noted that there is nothing fundamentally different between these people and the people who simply have nowhere else to go.
But from a cultural standpoint, there is a difference. The local business establishments wants those idiots who have $650 in their pockets to blow on a phone. They are nicely dressed. They are shaved and they don’t stink. Of course, if we cared about the homeless people, we could provide them with rooms and clothes and showers — and the mental healthcare that so many of them need. But we decided long ago that don’t care. They are not our tribe. They might as well be a different species — but not one of the cute species that we care about.
It reminds me of the way banks work: if you need a loan, you can’t have one; if you don’t need a loan, they’ve come to your door pleading with you to take one. Of course, banks are private businesses. We don’t expect them to work for the public good. But the Apple Store is too. And all the businesses that don’t want homeless people sleeping out in front of them are too. But they get the government to do their dirty work. They get cities to pass ordinances that make it illegal to sleep on the street — as long as you aren’t one of the right kind of people who are just resting until you can buy an overpriced phone.
If you are the wrong kind of person, there is no job for you. There is no room for you to sleep in. There are no showers or clothes or regular meals. There are just laws criminalizing your very existence. And if you are the right kind of person, well, set up a tent in front of the Apple Store, have a pizza delivered, maybe get a manicure while you wait. If you’re the right kind of person, it’s all good.