In the last post, I attempted to say something meaningful about “tribalism” in the world today. I thought my comments were echoed in Nancy’s reaction to the Charlie Manson phenomenon decades earlier. At any time in history, people’s allegiances, following closely in the wake of their grossest fears, are corralled, contained, chauvinistic. Today, extreme ideological and political divisions in America expose the continuing strength and power of tribal sentiments which mirror the totemic divisions of our ancestors, as described by Freud, Durkheim and others.
Nancy, an astute observer of the culture of her time (more on this in future posts), was critical of the snobbery that accompanied these tribal sentiments in her day. My way or the highway, or, if that doesn’t work, might makes right.
Some people got stuck in a spin cycle, where they flattened out against the sides that they had chosen.
‘Reverse snobbery’ Mike called it.
It was just so limiting.
People had their books open to the page they felt was most important, and read it constantly.
Their doctrines were so thin.
The most righteous seemed the most mean.
And the charismatic could whip up a frenzy.
One could say it’s a problem that our sentiments are typically such an intimate possession. It’s hard to see beyond them. Fear blinds us to any possible alternatives. The politics of fear are steeped in tribal sentiments. Nancy observed this too, even in her time, and in her progressive milieu, and she wrote:
We carry our secrets in our head.
No amount of research can swim around our thoughts.
Our philosophies….what turns us on. what we are willing to do….or to give up….
How much we learn. It’s so intimate to us.
Perhaps artistic inspiration isn’t all that different from what happens when sentiment becomes a harbor for the fearful in search of safety. Or maybe it is. Here are some of Nancy’s reflections on the matter:
After the fact, human beings name things.
Chords of music, types of lizard, even lizard, itself.
We name everything that has already been created.
The creation itself was just a matter of trial and error.
Evolution, invention, inspiration, expression.
You do it till it matches your idea. Till it works.
Then other people name it, categorize it, study it, analyze it, imitate it and try to imagine its origins.
The student of something is different from the conceiver.
The need to make manifest is different from the need to make known.
But once it’s in the air, it’s there to inspire.
And she adds
I have known it both ways.
I know we have the ability to maneuver, manipulate, position and influence events.
But when it feels as if the skies open up with some new way of seeing, and hearts swell with fresh feelings, and eyes lock with other human beings, we experience the wonder of it all ……
But is there room for wonder in a world divided by knife-sharp divisions?