The Threat of Neotribalism
Marilynne Robinson is the author of three highly acclaimed novels: Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004) and Home (2008). Housekeeping was a finalist for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (US),Gilead was awarded the 2005 Pulitzer, and Home received the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction (UK).
Her most recent book is a collection of essays entitled When I Was a Child, I Read Books. In the title essay, an account of her childhood in Idaho becomes an exploration of individualism and the myth of the American West.
Marilynne Robinson: There are manifestations that I consider very regrettable of sort of tribalist thinking in religious groups, in political groups. There is a great deal of overlap in these categories, of course, and increasingly in the way that people identify themselves socioeconomically. Then, of course, there's always the old problem of race, which has been capitalized on recently in very, very regrettable ways. I think that tribalism is the presumptive, in effect, contempt for people that you identify yourself in contrast to.
I listen with amazement to people talking about liberal professors in big secular universities, and I’m a liberal professor in a big secular university and I can promise I have never tried to indoctrinate anyone. I have no intention to overthrow the United States of America. But you hear these incredibly aggressive and hostile characterizations made of people as groups and that's a very, very, very dangerous thing to do.
I think one of the things that's very nice about this country, historically and is perhaps more Western than Northeastern, is that people identify by affinity rather than by a received identity. The idea that I’m from a certain region, therefore I have to believe in a certain politics and I have to follow a certain religion and all these sort of things, or no religion, depending. That takes individual preference and choice and affinity out of individual experience and behavior, and I think that's a huge impoverishment of people, that they feel that they have to fall into these loyalties rather than looking around the landscape and seeing where they can add something, find where people are doing something interesting that interests them also. I think that people can cohere very, very well - and much more happily around affinity than around these hard identifications that you receive passively.
Directed / Produced by
Elizabeth Rodd & Jonathan Fowler
We've all noticed it - on television and the social web, an increase in politically partisan polemic and cultural isolationism. This "us vs. them" mentality doesn't reflect the best of America, past or present, says author and essayist Marilynne Robinson
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