Recommendation: It’s an interesting read but the gist can probably be obtained from his interviews

Where to read: In a post-election death spiral

Read with: Something locally brewed

In brief: British MP David Lammy’s argument is essentially two-fold: that tribalism is an essential human impulse and that it can and should be channelled productively for broader social good.

Increasing polarisation and tribalism are common concerns for the modern political pundit or big tech hater: in the straightforward narrative of modern political life, tribalism is bad and is resulting in the rise of populist demagogues such as Trump and Borris Johnson. Lammy, for the most part, accepts those observations and the darker consequences of tribalist impulses. He does not, however, make the consequent argument that tribalism is inherently negative. Rather, he accepts that tribalism is an inherently human impulse which needs to be catered to and which, in some contexts, can be a force for good.

In some senses this is not a surprising position for a defender of “identity politics” which is essentially tribal. He talks at some length, for example, about some of his experiences growing in Britain and the experience of DNA testing and the sense of welcome and belonging he felt visiting Niger.

It is more interesting when he suggests that regional and local identities are also important and can be beneficial. In this, he echoes those (often on the political right) who lament the loss of local communities developed through churches and charities and local institutions. He also writes with a degree of empathy about the sense of social dislocation experienced by many, particularly older, people in Britain who voted for Brexit and often express tribal (and racist) views of migrants – it is, he suggests, understandable that someone watching a neighbourhood full of families change to one full of boarding houses of single men might be uncomfortable about that. In that context, they are vulnerable to a right-wing populist explanation and solution, especially if the left is not playing in that space at all.

Overall, his point that if tribalism is not channelled in productive ways people will gravitate towards more destructive versions is a good point. His proposed solutions are a little light on the detail but given he had already reached the publishing industry’s mandatory 350ish page cap, I am willing to forgive.

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