When people suffer anxiety and fear, whether from physical insecurity, economic strife, or terrorism, they form what Robert Muchembled calls social solidarities. These systems of survival come in a variety of forms.
Many folks form loose confraternities around causes: Global Warming, Abortion, Guns, Political Parties, Civil Rights, Feminism, Gay-Lesbian Rights, and even around faith based issues. Civic rituals serve to unite and reassure a sense of belonging, and thus a sense of safety. Rituals such as marriage, funerals, holidays, and festivals all serve to bring people together, all reinforcing our sense of well being.
This understanding of esprit de corps as a survival methodology is not elitist. The phenomenon is well documented in human history.
“Ignorant of the natural processes governing climate, crops, or personal health, the people were victims not only of physical misfortunes but also of imagined supernatural forces.” De Lemar Jensen, Reformation Europe, Heath, 1992, .13
We live in a complex world. We struggle to grasp economic concepts such as a devalued dollar, balloon mortgages, and free trade versus tariffs. Differences in religions systems that lead to terror and war confound us. Rising crime rates and drug addiction are like ghosts in our communities – striking fear from dark alleys and tinted windows on black cars. Global climate changes escape all but the most well informed. We live today in concrete jungles, where danger is a constant.
Is it any wonder or surprise that people are uniting around concepts within their grasp? We derive a sense of safety in social solidarity, uniting in primal tribalism for comfort.
America is particularly exciting, offering opportunities for secular as well as religious unity. Elections are times when people can find meaning, comfort and hope. Political parties themselves bring people together in common cause. When rooted in a primal sense of survival people become radically obsessed with victory.
Senator Barack Obama, a Democratic Candidate for President, recently commented on the forms of solidarity resulting from ‘bitterness’ over economic strife. I believe he noted guns and churches as examples. Senator Obama has been called an elitist by his opponents for these comments.
Recognizing esprit de corps as a survival mechanism is not elitist – unless one considers anyone with an education and understanding of history to be elitist. There was a time when only the elite could manage an education. But we live in a modern world where everyone in America can find knowledge at the stroke of a keypad.
Ironically, the charges of elitism are themselves elite – suggesting that people are unable to understand Obama’s words in the context they were intended. The very educated Clinton and McCain clearly understood the context – but their hope is to fool the masses, who they do not believe can think for themselves. Both are elitists.