This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Roqueta, Menorca’s English-language magazine.
Have we reached a point at which tribalism is becoming a dominant force in the world? Is this something new? Or are we simply seeing variations on a theme in the way that social forces and human traits that have always been present manifest themselves?
The political writer David Goodhart has recently published a book called The Road to Somewhere, in which he suggests that globalisation has divided people into two groups, those he calls “Anywheres” and those he calls “Somewheres.”
“Anywheres” are people who feel at home all over the world; they have liberal values and relish the opportunities of ever freer trade and movement of people. They are mobile individuals who have a diminished loyalty to a particular place or community. The Rev. Giles Fraser, former dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral has described them as people who “float around as rootless cosmopolitans, with portable identities and no specific allegiance to home or to what some might call ‘one’s own people.’” That does not sound particularly flattering.
David Goodhart describes “Somewheres,” on the other hand, as those who feel rooted to a particular place, who tend to be socially conservative and who are uncomfortable to see their neighbourhoods changing before their eyes. He suggests that immigration often makes them no longer feel at home. These are the people, he suggests, who are unhappy with the the effect of globalisation on local communities. Some of this can be seen in the result of the Brexit referendum, as frustration has been focused on “the EU,” or “Brussels” as the originator of globalisation and associated social ills. In truth, of course, the people of the nations of Europe, including Britain, have elected governments that have pursued such policies; the EU is simply a common denominator for harmonisation of national standards and trading.
I have to confess what may in any case be glaringly obvious: I am an “Anywhere.” I have spent more than forty years as an immigrant in one country or another (“expatriate” is simply another word for “immigrant”). I have benefitted from relatively open immigration policies within Europe and North America. Some would say that is a privilege – and I would agree. If I were a Syrian (or, previously, Ugandan, or Vietnamese) refugee, I would have faced considerably greater barriers to movement – even with the same qualifications. In fact, as an immigrant, I have come to appreciate the value of diversity within a community – whether local, or more broadly based.
In pondering this, Giles Fraser suggested that as a parish priest, he should build up a sense of shared common enterprise amongst the people who live in the streets of the parish. “Our job is parochial by definition,” he wrote, but then went on to be cautious, recognising that his current East London congregation is “about as socially and racially diverse as its possible to get.”
The problem with David Goodhart’s definition of “Somewheres” and “Anywheres” is twofold. First, it caricatures and over-simplifies “Anywheres” into an upmarket version of the hated “metropolitan liberal elite,” and ignores the basic fact that younger generations are exposed to and embrace cultural and economic diversity in ways that older generations find less comfortable. Secondly, it simply promotes a kind of tribalism that really is counter-productive in a world in which barriers to communication and travel are constantly being reduced. One of the goals of the Rotary organisation which I found to be valuable was the encouragement of travel sponsorships to enable people from different parts of the world to encounter and experience cultures other than their own, the idea being that once we have befriended someone who is different from us, we are less likely to be hostile towards them.
Here we find the crux of the challenge for those of us in the church. One of the fundamental principles of the Christian faith, as expressed in the New Testament is radical inclusion: the idea that we are to welcome all, regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious background. The Jesus who is described in the New Testament constantly surprised – and even outraged – the leaders of his own people by stepping over boundaries based upon gender, infirmity or social position. The early church continued this trend, finding ways to accommodate Gentiles into a church whose origins were firmly within the Jewish faith. It is not too far-fetched to suggest that Christianity is in fact anti-tribal – something that the world in general seems to have been rather slow to embrace. And at times, the church itself, being a human institution, and subject to human fallibility, has not exactly been exemplary in this regard. We are approaching the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, one of the glaring “tribal” divisions of Christian history.
Instead of suggesting that someone who is a citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere, and drawing identity into ever-smaller groups and enclaves, the Christian point of view has to be that our identity is rooted primarily in our faith. For those who are not of the faith, a secular equivalent might be to find identity in humanity first and foremost. In either case, a worthwhile goal would be to blend our differences to make a (positive) difference in the world, suppressing divisive, tribal instincts. The “Somewhere” backlash that David Goodhart describes is more than likely to prove to be a rearguard skirmish in a world that is inevitably going to become more “Anywhere.”