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.
Solidarity among some groups is called elitism, among others it is radical organizing. This understanding of esprit de corps as a survival methodology is not elitist, though it may be radical. 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, government economic stimulus, universal health care, 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. Tribalism is protective and defensive. Fear of other tribes leads to acts of anger, even to the extent of mob mentality.
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. The obsession can overflow into acts of vengeance – and sometimes violence.
President Barack Obama, when campaigning for President, commented on the forms of solidarity resulting from ‘bitterness’ over economic strife. I believe he noted guns and churches as examples. President Obama was 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 Tea Party and Freedom Works, both right wing political organizations, deny any elitism – but claim solidarity on anti-government platforms.
Uniting together to defend against the perception of a common enemy is not unusual in history. President Obama is trying the same strategy of unity on behalf of his agenda. Obama is a persuasive personality, presents his ideas clearly, and commands the bully pulpit as President.
The problem with social solidarity rests with the absolute. The past forty years have seen ‘litmus tests’ for inclusion in either dominant political party. While rancor and disagreement has become common in the Democratic Party – Absolute adherence to GOP Leadership is demanded of Republicans. The tribal instinct of the embattled GOP, has brought out the wagon trains in the form of the Tea Party and Freedom Works. The wagons are circling, establishing defensive positions, fearful of the pagan beliefs of the liberals.
The Tea Party and Freedom Works are misguided, mislead, and fearing the wrong enemy. We submit here that the Tea Party and Freedom Works demand absolute adherence to their political ideology. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Absolute power is elitism.