Monday, July 28, 2008

My many tribes

The first hit for "define tribe" on google is "a social division of (usually preliterate) people". I'm using it without the parenthetical condescension. It evokes the feel of the many cultures I've belonged to throughout my life.

I don't think it's possible to enumerate all of the tribes in this country (the US) alone, much less the world. Tribes are no longer a mere reflection of geographical proximity and the resulting community; they may or may not have any connection to the ethnicity of the members. Today's tribes are formal and informal, official and unofficial. People seek out their like, and as the groups expand, their own special language and rituals evolve.

It was this post on Whatever and following one of its links that started me thinking about it. I didn't realize there was a ChildFree tribe ("CF" is the shorthand). And that's part of the point about tribes: meeting the defining criterion doesn't make you a member. You don't belong to the CF tribe by not having children. Tribe membership results from identifying, engaging, participating, accepting, and claiming.

Briefly, I wondered why not having children would be important enough (other than as a simple choice) to jell a tribe. "Well, that's pretty judgmental," I criticized myself. "Have the tribes you've belonged to been any more important?"

So I have to list my tribes. I don't belong to most of them anymore, although there's still a fond nostalgia that is common to alumni.

  • Campfire Girls and 4-H, children's organizations.

  • Air Force Junior ROTC. Granted, it was a high school class, but it also formed my social circle and (since this was the early 70s) was my first tribe with a true "us vs them" context.

  • US Air Force. Twenty years, so I also could join the Retiree tribe, except I don't engage or participate.

  • Science fiction conventions. Con-goers are a tribe within the much wider fandom world which is within the readership world. (Then there are the graphic novel tribes and the film tribes and the art tribes and many more I never even noticed.)

  • L-5 Society. Partially overlapping fandom.

  • Society for Creative Anachronism.
    :::side-thought...belonging to a tribe helps you define, even create, your immediate world. Without a tribe, without fellows in the same mind contributing their thought energy to holding that world vision together, you're only day-dreaming:::

  • The Trivians. In the days of pay-by-the-minute dial-up AOL. I first found the trivia club in 1991, and thus discovered the social potential of the internet.

  • The Zoomie crowd at Keflavik. On the third floor of the senior NCO barracks at Kef, the dayroom had been refurbished as a bar, called the Zoomie, which became home-away-from-home for an amazing yearlong tribe.

I've wandered the periphery of numerous other tribes, but not fully entered because it becomes a commitment. A tribe is the core of what is popularly called communities. Community is casual; tribal membership is deep.


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