Tribal Instinct

by Jin, 08-30-10 // 11 comments

The culture must satisfy tribal instincts. If a culture exists, it must have a reason for existing. The only valid reason for a particular culture is that it provides a value for its members perceived by them to be greater than that offered by any other culture. It must differentiate in some manner. If a member of a culture is not loyal to that culture, he should move to a culture in which he is comfortable or abandon all culture. Remaining in a culture (or being allowed to do so) while antagonistic to it is not acceptable in any culture. If many members rebel, the culture collapses, as can be seen in the American culture today. The only successful cultures in America today (if there are any) are the subcultures. Only there can the tribal instincts be served.

A History of Human Culture

It’s been fourteen months since I switched to Mac, after being a PC user for almost two decades. I’ve been keeping track of how long it’s been since I made the switch because I had planned to write this big glorious post on the one year mark. It’d be a post about how much I love my iMac. Not just iMac, but also how much I love my iPhone, iPad, Macbook Pro and the wonderful UI/Marketing Apple creates. It’d be a post that would generate tons positive comments from other Mac users, and a few anti-Apple ones from PC users. There would be a big flame war in the comment section and I eventually have to turn commenting off.

In other words, it’d be a post just like thousands of others out there, and one that has very little value.

I think it’s more interesting to make observations about the culture instead. Not just the Apple culture, but sub-cultures in general. Over the year I’ve heard, read and participated in many debates on “X vs. Y.” In most cases the debate got to the religious level, and at the end they were no longer about objective views. Is our association with a product, a tool, or a piece of clothing a symbol of individuality or a mere tribal mark? Is it ever about if tribe X is better than tribe Y? Maybe our caveman instinct tells us to grow bigger as a collective group so we can feel safer about ourselves?


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Paul Randall 08-30-10

I hope to make the switch to Mac later in the year – if for no other reason than for the design.

There will be the inevitable ‘how do you do X on a Mac?’ but I’ll finally be one of the cool kids ;-)

Andrew Rohling 08-30-10

I switched in 2007 and stopped getting into conversations with people I didn’t know about this topic soon after.

I do think there is a badge that goes with being ‘against-X’ as much as ‘for-x’. I could see how your associations with products/music/coffee shops would define you.

I also think that a persons ability to tolerate other ‘badges’ without becoming defensive is a reflection of security and peace of mind.

It really seems to tap into some base emotions. But then again there seem to be many topics that inspire such fervor these days.

Ben McIntyre 08-31-10

My favourite Peter Gabriel lyric:
“There’s safety in numbers – when you learn to divide
How can we be in, if there is no outside ?”

Switched about 30 months ago. Never going back. It would be like going from Latte back to instant.


wds 08-31-10

I think the ideas in the quoted text are questionable at best. It assumes american culture is in decline, for one (not that I necessarily disagree, but that’s something which is exceedingly hard to prove). It also suggests that any culture which isn’t exceedingly tribalist, is a failing culture. It reads like it was written by a hardcore nationalist, which is a political ideology, not a philosophical one.

The tribalist nature of my own platform of choice (linux, tho I do spend a lot of time in Windows too) is something that is often overestimated. The people actually doing the coding or using it in their day to day lives often have a much more practical approach to it than the type you find in X vs. Y discussions (no offence). Having used all major consumer operating systems over the past couple of years (Mac OS X the least, though) I can safely tell you that all software sucks and that there’s no magical switch which makes a certain OS better than the other.

Should I actually care about font and colour management though, I’d probably have to do most of that type of work in a different OS ( support for all that has always been somewhat broken). Likewise, I’ve been tempted to buy a macbook pro just for the engineering, but didn’t much feel like paying a premium for something I’d just install linux on anyway.

I wonder why people consider it an either/or thing though. Surely most people run both operating systems side by side these days anyway?

Jin 08-31-10

@paul I think you’ll like it. To be fair, there’s a lot to like about a Mac, but it’s not perfect. There are many things in OSX that bother me. At first they didn’t, but eventually I found the usability to be cumbersome. I think Windows Explorer is a lot better than Finder.

@andrew, I feel the Apple vs The Rest sentiment is stronger than ever now, with Apple expanding to other markets. I find it interesting that a lot people who complain about Macs are the ones who don’t actually own one. But the same isn’t true about Apple users, since most of them were one time PC users. But like you, I don’t really engage in this type of conversations anymore. I honestly don’t hate PC, I have two at home that I use to test when I create websites. For certain things, I actually prefer PCs.

@Ben, thanks.

@WDS I didn’t read it that way. At a national level, I think the obvious ones are the political and religious groups. I’m more interested in subcultures. Some subcultures are subtle. I feel the way that our society puts labels on everything makes it hard for one not fall under a certain category.

Apple vs. X is just one example. Of course I agree that it’s not a dichotomy. I feel fine using both Mac and PC. Even though I love Macs, I don’t see myself as a fanboy.

I still think there’s that cavemen instinct in us wanting to be in smaller groups. Think high school, there are only jocks, nerd and “non-conformist goths/hippies(which ironically are a conformed group anyway).”

Louis 08-31-10

I agree with WDS. My primary OS at home is Linux, at work I use Windows, and I occasionally boot up Mac to test software. I think they’re all flawed, but improving from year to year. People who get into arguments over their product choices are lacking in self confidence and either seek justification in their choices, or seek to reaffirm them by convincing others. Most religions follow a similar design, converting new members to increase confidence in their “correct choice”

Brent Ozar 09-02-10

HAHAHA, and then I go and post a “How to Buy Your First Mac” post the very next day after this post goes live. Brilliant.

Régis Kuckaertz 09-03-10

“Is our association with a product, a tool, or a piece of clothing a symbol of individuality or a mere tribal mark?”

Both. Research have shown that belonging to a group is directly wired in our neurons. We then define our identity based on the groups we’re part of… and critique those who are belonging to other groups.

Coincidentally, Roger Dooley wrote about this very subject a few days ago:

Jin 09-03-10

@Louis, sadly what you say is true, in most cases.

@Brent, you’re one of very few programmerish guys I know that use Macs!

@Régis, thank you for the link, pretty fascinating. I always thought even though marketing plays an important role, but when it comes to purchasing the products have to be good. The best marketing is to have trusted friends making recommendations. That was true in my case. I was never affected too much buy Apple’s ads.

Jeff 08-18-11

Since its been about a year now, I am curious to know what you think! Got an update?

Jessica Meyer 01-28-14

These are things I think a lot about too. I thought that maybe I was idealistic and other cultures so not suffer from these things, but evidently not as much as the American culture has.What is most embarrassing is that is clear that other people are noticing this and it isn’t just a dirty little secret. People are embarrassed to stand up and to do the pledge allegiance to the flag. Almost everyone is about stepping on one another to meet their own needs. I do not understand how someone can understand fully what they need as an individual if they do not understand what it is to know fully what a civilization needs. I believe that the needs of people here are based on childish self absorb wants without any true bases of understanding where their needs come from. We take from our country like children and slap the hand that feeds us. I feel like so much freedom is not meant for everyone, because certain mind sets are not set up to be able to withstand so much free thinking. Without a strong since of where we come from and a pride backing that up, a tribe, I feel most of this civilization will fall apart.
I honestly was talking to a stranger in the market today and listened to him bash our own country, the thing is because everyone is out for themselves no one is willing to make a difference for the greater good. Talking bad about our country is normal conversation. This country gives so much freedom, so much food, so many ways to succeed, yet it is only the minds of people that stop this country from being great. When half of these people stop being cradled they may finally realize what spoiled children we really are.
We have a lot of problems, definitely, but the biggest problem is lack of education.I use to be one of those stupid complainers and hated our country too until I started to push the power button off the television and read and start working in nature. It’s about what we can give one another, not about what someone can give us.
I hope this rant makes sense.