Welcome to the Horde, Part V: Building Tribes
Most of us are familiar with the term “Posse Comitatus” in reference to the 1878 law that was pretty much anally-raped out of existence with passage of more recent “anti-terrorism” laws. In 2006, GWB urged Congress (what a quaint concept, huh?) to consider revisions to federal statute to allow .mil forces to be used to restore public order and enforce laws. These changes ended up in the NDAA for 2007.
I mention this, not because it is particularly relevant to the article, but rather to quell the ever-present need to bring up shit that is completely irrelevant to the topic under discussion (invariably, had I not mentioned this, someone would have stopped reading after “Posse Comitatus,” went straight to comments, and blasted me for not knowing that it was largely irrelevant in contemporary American jurisprudence.)
What IS relevant to this discussion is the term “comitatus.” This is a Latin term generally accepted as meaning “retinue,” and dating back to Republican Rome. A comitatus would be formed when a member of the patrician class announced that he needed a group of citizens to accompany him into an enemy territory…Volunteers, generally from the Order of Equestrians (what we would recognize as “knights”) would form into a temporary band, for the duration of the raid or operation.
Later, in Imperial Roman culture, high-ranking generals (I know…as opposed to low-ranking generals, right?) and the Emperor would have a core group of friends and advisors surrounding them, entrusted to provide good advice and—to some degree—act as a bodyguard beyond the Praetorian Guard.
Further north, in the Germanic tribal regions, both during the early Iron Age, and later into the migration-era and “Viking Age,” all the way into the middle ages, the arrangement was similar but much more feudal in nature. A leader, the “lord” (the Old English term was apparently “hlaford” meaning ruler, which derived from the earlier “hlafweard” meaning “warder—keeper–of the loaves”)supplied the food for his men, keeping them close in peace as well as in war. He supplied their weapons and horses, and shared in the spoils of war (for my fellow historians, or any living historians reading, I recognize that this is a) a gross oversimplification, and b) leaves a lot of later developments out. Bear the fuck with me.)
The biggest difference between the Roman method and the Germanic method however was that the Germanic version—the gedriht—was bound together by ties MUCH stronger than self-interest. This was the cultural value in Germanic tribal society of mutual obligations of one to another are tied together in the interest of the “frith” of the community/tribe/clan. In some ways, this mirrored the feudal obligation of the Japanese samurai to his lord. In both societies, the followers were sworn to live, breathe, and die for their lord in battle, it being a terrible disgrace to survive him. In exchange for this, the leader was obligated to his companions in numerous ways, beyond simply feeding and supplying them.
Germanic culture—whether migration-era Teuton or Viking Age Scandinavian—was big on reciprocal gift-giving, as a means of building what we today could call rapport, in the sense of reciprocal loyalty. The mutual reverence and respect thus engendered made for a strong, cohesive military unit compromised of individuals (as much as that term could be used in Germanic culture that centered on family and community).
The fierce individualism we hold so dear in modern America was—and is—unknown in tribal cultures. It was even—really–unknown in pioneer America. We have this Hollywood impression of the lone frontiersman seeking out new lands on his own, when the historical and literary record—even in America—demonstrates the exact opposite. The eastern long-hunters (think Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Last of the Mohicans archetype), might only travel in small groups, but they generally traveled in groups. The “mountain men” of the western fur trade era (incidentally, the subject of my master’s thesis) traveled in companies, with the occasional example of smaller groups of two guys batching it or small squad-sized elements. We certainly know that the actual pioneers who traveled west with their families traveled in large groups, and tended to settle in communities, rather than individually. While there were inarguably exceptions that prove this rule, they are just that—exceptions. The historical record is self-evident: the “rugged individualist” is a cultural conceit made possible by living in settled, “civilized” society.
The Lone Warrior versus the Team-Playing Soldier
While we will get into the concept of outlawery shortly, let’s look at the differences between the lone warrior versus the team-player, and the impact this has on tribal conflicts. A successful society in a tribal environment (well, really in any environment, but let’s stick to the meme for a moment) must be able—and willing—to win fights against attackers. In larger societies, like the modern nation-state, this is the function of the military. In a tribal society however, with few exceptions, there is little opportunity for anyone to have the luxury of sitting around and doing nothing but training for war, when there are crops to sow and harvest, fields to clear, structures to build, and other tasks to be completed. This means, unless you intend to survive as a raiding, looting tribe—to go “a-viking” regularly—you’re not going to just be warriors. You’re going to have normal obligations to fulfill as well.
That means, in addition to the guys who are going to go out and provide those security patrols between shifts working in the fields, you have to have an auxiliary that can not only provide additional material support, but can act as the Home Guard.
Building a tribe then, becomes not just a matter of getting together a network of people, but understanding how to inculcate the virtues of both the warrior and the soldier into them. Do poor people from harsh, unforgiving climates make the best warriors? Or is it—after the ancient Roman model—the wealthy with more to defend and the ability to procure and stockpile more material goods that make the best warriors? Ultimately, it depends on how you define “warrior.” Do you want a bunch of individualist heroes who are focused on individual valor and heroism, or do you want team players who will work together as a team/unit to accomplish the collective goals of the community?
The ancient Germanic ideal was the individual warrior seeking individual valor and glory in the eyes of his lord and community. This was seen as a way to bring good fortune to both his family and the tribe. In the Roman ideal however, where we see the tortoise as an evolution of the Greek phalanx, team work and the ability to subsume the individual to the unit was the ideal. Even at the end of the Roman Age however, we see Arminius convincing the Cherusci Teutons to put their individual and tribal rivalries on hold, in order to work together against the legions at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.
Whether we’re discussing Teutonic Europe, the Roman legions, Japanese samurai, American Indians, or modern soldiers, though, there is an underlying message of community, team unity, and focusing on the collective goals, rather than individual self-interest. The cliché of course is that soldiers don’t fight and die for country, Mom, or apple pie. They fight and die for the buddy on either side of them. They know that invoking their natural self-interest—survival–and running away to survive another day, puts their companions—their brothers, in greater danger. Loyalty to the group—esprit de corps—is the essnce of fighting morale. The faith that you are part of something greater than yourself—a legacy if you will—is what makes men do really stupid shit that we later look at as courage under fire.
I get asked regularly, “how do I form a tribe like this?” “How do I build this type of loyalty?” Unfortunately for those who want a nice, pat, pre-packaged answer, this loyalty is the result—not the cause—of the companionship developed.
How do we develop that companionship? By spending time together, trading “gifts,” and building relationships. There are no easy answers. Getting together once a year with a bunch of guys you meet on an internet forum does not “build tribe.” There’s no loyalty being built. To use the Germanic tribal terms we’ve been using, because you’re not building a real spirit of frith—intertwined loyalty to community laws—there is no commingling of “wyrd” or fates.
If you’re searching “survivalist meet-up” sites to find a group to join, you’re doing it the wrong way. Intentional communities—especially survivalist communities—just don’t work out. They all end up either being the result of some megalomaniacal fucker trying to create his own fiefdom, or the “rugged individualism” of the rich yuppies involved comes to the front, so no commingling of effort and fate and luck ever takes place, and the venture falls to pieces.
If you want to build a tribe, look around you. Where is your family? Who are your friends? Both my immediate family and my in-laws, live prohibitively far away from us. In a grid-down scenario, we’re going to be useless to them, and vice versa. Thus, we have to build new tribe, out of the people around us. We have to look at our neighbors; the good ones and the bad ones, and decide how they are going to relate to us when things get ugly. Do I have a neighbor—even one—that doesn’t have issues I dislike? I fucking doubt it. Are there neighbors I think are complete fucking douchenozzles that I don’t even want on the same planet as my kids, let alone in the same community? Absolutely.
There is a difference though. I can work with the first example. Either I can choose to ignore their idiosyncrasies that I dislike, and hope they do the same for me, or I can approach them and try to figure out a way to help them work past those issues (I hate the fact that I have neighbors too blind to see why they need to actually train with the gun they carry, rather than just carrying it. So, I try to get them to go shoot. I hate the fact that I have neighbors that don’t have any storage food. So I try to demonstrate why we have storage food. I hate the fact that I have neighbors who don’t do PT…so I do PT and then do things that are physical, hopefully better than them, to set an example).
The second example? Well, I can either hope that they get killed off, or be ready to do it myself if it becomes necessary. Writing off every single person in your community though, is either arrogant hubris, or sheer stupidity. Unless you live, completely alone, in a hermitage on a remote mountain in the Himalayas, if you can’t find a dozen, or two dozen, or more, neighbors in even a small community, that you share interests, concerns, and values with, you need to take a serious look in the mirror. As bad as things are in America today—and make no mistake, I think they are fucking horrendous—if you think there are not other people in your community who are just as concerned, you’re a fucking retard.
So, the secret to building a tribe? Get to know your fucking neighbors already. Who cares if they watch the Super Bowl this weekend? Who cares if they’re not a “prepper?” Who cares if their only value post-grid down is going to be learning how to dig ditches and developing the physical stamina to do so? You’re going to need ditches dug. Build a fucking community already.
We talk about the “lost values” of America, but then we sit in our basements, jerking off on internet forums, instead of getting out and spending time with our neighbors and building relationships built on trust and shared values. We talk about how its harder to get ahead than it was for our fathers and grandfathers, while ignoring the fact that they didn’t hide in the house, watching bad television and surfing the internet: they got outside and did shit with their neighbors. Ultimately, beyond the immediate family, tribes are communities, and the only way to build a motherfucking community is to PARTICIPATE in your community.
Are you pissed because your town council is doing shit you don’t like? Quit bitching about it on the internet and go to the meetings and make your voice heard. Worried about what the HOA is doing? Quit “rebelling” by painting your house puke green, and go run for HOA president (better yet, move the fuck out of a HOA!). If you genuinely believe that your community is hopeless? Move the fuck out. Generally, that suggestion gets met with cries of “But, my family is here!” “I’m too invested in my house/career/Fantasy football league!”
In the first case, if your family is there, and you STILL think you can’t build tribe there, then you need to get up, right now, walk to wherever there is a firearm in your house, and eat the muzzle, because you’re so fucking retarded that you’re beyond hope. In the second, if you place your house or your career—let alone a butt sex gay hobby (seriously? Fantasy football? Jesus, go PLAY football, you fat, lazy fuck!)–above the survival of your family, I don’t know what to tell you.
If you’re serious, and you’re sincere that your community is hopeless, you’d better find a way to move the fuck out, because I don’t care how big your dick is; I don’t care how many guns you own, or how well you shot your last Appleseed. I don’t care how many tactical carbine courses you’ve taken: if you don’t have a community of support to back you up, you’re going to lose when your community gangs up and comes after you. Quantity has a quality all its own.
So what if none of your neighbors wants to go run buddy team bounding drills yet? Hang out at the range enough, and I guarantee—in this day and age—eventually some young dude is going to show up with a tricked-out Stoner or Kalashnikov, plate carrier, and war belt, and be pissed that the Elmer Fudds who run the range won’t let him run dynamic drills. I hate public ranges. They’re considerably less safe than just heading out onto the National Forest by myself, and I have to deal with stupid looks from the elk “hunter” who spends five rounds and twenty minutes, once a year, making sure he can shoot minute of cardboard box at 25 meters so his elk rifle is “sighted in.” I’ve had loaded guns pointed at my face, rounds fired into the ground frighteningly close to my feet, and been asked the dumbest fucking questions you can imagine. Who cares? I wear my body armor at the range. When I get asked why, I tell guys, “Because I’ve seen some of you fuckers shoot!” If someone is making egregious safety errors, I either correct them, or point them out to whatever member of the range club is present, and it get fixed, or they get thrown off the range. When it comes to stupid questions (and yes, Virginia, there IS such a thing as a stupid fucking question, regardless of what your Mommy told you), I just suck it up, bite my lip, and answer them. Even if they’re asking stupid questions, at least they are asking questions!
If putting up with all of that nonsense means I make one new acquaintance who is serious about training, then it’s worthwhile.
It’s not just about the range though. Find out the places in your community where like-minded people do shit, and go there and do the same shit. Get your neighbors involved in shit. Build a neighborhood playground for the kids. Shit, get out and take a walk around the neighborhood and talk to people. You don’t have to be Mr. Paranoid Gun Nut Prepper Neighbor. Talk about other shit. Just get to know people. If someone needs help with a project, offer to lend a hand. Hell, don’t even offer, just show up on project day with a pair of work gloves and jump in to help.
But, Blood is Thicker Than Water, right?
There is an old cliché, “Blood is thicker than water.” Here’s a secret I learned about that cliché the other day though…It’s been taken out of context, and as such gets misused all the time (And I learned this due to a conversation on Facebook….sometimes leaving yourself open to NSA surveillance pays off!). The actual proverb actually reads, “The blood of the convenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
This phrase, surprisingly, predates the Christian era, and relates to the ties between tribal leaders and their thegns and retainers. The ties of the blood-sworn oath of loyalty are, in fact, thicker than the water of the womb representing family ties.
Most of us place the ties of family before all else, and I would argue, correctly so. Nevertheless, the idea that our tribe and community MUST be related by familial ties in order to be effective, is just not historically true. Whether the blood oath is between friends of equal stature (think Lone Ranger and Tonto-style “blood brothers”) or between lord and retainer, is irrelevant, as long as the ties are legitimate, and the feeling of frith is equally strong between both. Just because your family doesn’t live in the same community as you are developing relationships, through effort and time invested. You build tribe through the shared companionship and camaraderie of experiencing life and tribulations together.