24 March 2020

"Tribalism" becoming more intense on islands and vacation areas

The word "tribe" can be defined to mean an extended kin group or clan with a common ancestor, or can also be described as a group with shared interests, lifestyles and habits. The proverb "birds of a feather flock together" describes homophily, the human tendency to form friendship networks with people of similar occupations, interests, and habits. Some tribes can be located in geographically proximate areas, like villages or bands, though telecommunications enables groups of people to form digital tribes using tools like social networking websites.
Two interesting articles today.  The first from the Washington Post: ‘Stay on the mainland’: Tensions grow as affluent city dwellers fearing coronavirus retreat to second homes":
In recent weeks, wealthy city dwellers hoping to escape the novel coronavirus have been fleeing to their second homes, exacerbating long-standing tensions between locals and summer residents. While those from out of town feel they have the right to use property they own and pay taxes on, year-round residents worry the new arrivals could be carrying the disease, and local hospitals aren’t equipped to handle an outbreak.

Last week, Facebook groups intended to connect Cape Cod residents devolved into embittered name-calling and demands to close the bridges to the mainland. Police in Block Island, R.I., reported receiving credible tips about residents threatening to destroy the island’s power transformers to discourage visitors. North Haven, a small island off the coast of Maine, voted to ban its own part-time residents...

Still, for city residents facing the prospect of an extended lockdown, escaping to Shelter Island in New York or Boothbay Harbor in Maine has obvious appeal. Some communities are turning to drastic measures to keep them away.
In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, both Dare and Currituck Counties have banned nonresidents from accessing their property. Exceptions will be made for “extreme circumstances” on a case-by-case basis, the Outer Banks Voice reported.
And this related article in The Lily:  "Nantucket has 3 ventilators. Residents say ‘stay away,’ but East Coast elites keep coming":
[Nantucket is] a “medical desert,” according to Nantucket Cottage Hospital CEO Gary Shaw. The first confirmed case of coronavirus on the island was announced Sunday, and more will likely follow. With 17,000 year-round residents, Shaw estimates the island could eventually have as many as 1,700 infected patients, 350 of whom would require hospitalization.
“Well I have 14 beds and three ventilators,” said Shaw. The hospital also has a shortage of doctors, and no intensive care units. “It’s straight math.”
Nantucket is a storied holiday destination for the East Coast elite, its population swelling to approximately 50,000 at the peak of the summer season. In the past two weeks, summer residents have streamed onto the island, retreating to second homes to wait out the virus, straining a medical system already incapable of treating coronavirus for the people who live there year-round...

It didn’t take long for the year-rounders to notice the new arrivals. The first sign of summer residents is always the license plates, said Chapa. Last weekend, she said, she started seeing BMWs from New York, Mercedes-Benzes from Connecticut. Then she drove by the airport and saw the line of private jets...

Now the big question is whether to restrict access to the ferries, preventing the summer residents from boarding the boats...

Year-rounders should remember the island’s history, Glidden says: Centuries ago, when white settlers first arrived on the island, they brought a virus that wiped out Native Americans.
“We’re sitting here talking here about invaders bringing viruses,” said Glidden. “We were those invaders.”
Update:  The Washington Post now reporting large coronavirus problems in western ski resort communities:
[Idaho's Wood River Valley] is a coronavirus hot spot, registering one of the highest infection rates per capita in the country. With 192 cases in a county of just 22,000 people — including two deaths — the share of the population testing positive is greater than even in New York City.

The impact has been dramatic: The small hospital in Ketchum, the region’s hub, has partially shut down after four of its seven emergency doctors were quarantined. Patients are being ferried to facilities hours away. The fire department is relying on fresh-faced volunteers, trained in a day, to drive ambulances...

Sun Valley — the region’s major ski resort — announced the next day that it was closing for the season, weeks earlier than planned. The day after, Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw did something he never thought he would: He wrote an open letter telling tourists to stay away.


  1. In your invocation of “tribe” and “tribalism,” you open a can of words [I meant to say worms but mis-typed; maybe “can of words” is just as well.]
    Indeed, except for carefully considered situations, most Anthropologists have long dropped use of the term. The leading critic of any use of “tribe” in anthropology was Morton H. Fried, who in a series of papers and books inveighed against almost all uses of the word :

    “If I had to select one word in the vocabulary of Anthropology as the single most egregious case of meaninglessness, I would have to pass over ‘tribe’ in favor of ‘race’. I am sure however, that ‘tribe’ figures prominently on the list of putative technical terms ranked in order of degree of ambiguity.” [Morton Fried, _The Evolution of Political Society_, 1967:154]

    1. This is clearly not an area of competence for me. What word should I have used?

    2. Nobody told Sebastian Junger: http://www.sebastianjunger.com/tribe-by-sebastian-junger

    3. I always have believed words have the meaning we pour into them. In this case, I think the words express the meaning your are trying to convey, as delineated in your opening sentence. This removes any ambiguity or meaninglessness at all.

      On the other hand, I do understand the desire in some to drop the term as these words are sometimes used in a pejorative sense to describe groups of people. But we can also use it in a positive way. My family is my "tribe", and I mean that in a loving ans sincere way with no negativity.

    4. It's an effective word that conveys your meaning to your intended audience. I wouldn't change it to appease what appears to be an entirely academic "can of worms."

  2. Huh, I've been an anthropologist for quite a few years now and no one gave me the memo that we aren't allowed to use the word anymore.

  3. Minnestastan: What term should you use? That is exactly the problem.

    And it’s not that the term “tribe” is pejorative, it’s that it is meaningless. It’s not that we’re not suppose to use it, BUT we have to be clear about our meaning. As a commenter on a paper I recently submitted [2017] to a mainstream Anthro journal noted, “Define what you mean by "tribe," . . . and justify their continued use in light of recent criticisms of such classification.”

    As Fried pointed out, the problem is that the word has been used in different ways in different contexts, such that without being clear about which meaning you are using, implications from one context can be inappropriately applied to others. Robert Lowie noted way back in 1952, “The term ‘tribe’ may be used in a political sense . . . provided we remember that linguistic and political groups need not coincide. . . . It is necessary to be clear whether the term ‘tribe’ is to be understood politically or linguistically” (Indians of the Plains; emphasis in original).

    I have worked with a modern native tribe/nation [that’s another problem] for over fifty years [“quite a few”], and have written extensively about its emergence out of historically disparate sources. Some of those were culturally related, but others were not. The shared culture of which you write (“shared interests, lifestyles and habits”) is the result of diachronic cultural processes, not a precondition for its political existence.

    Indeed, the xenophobia commonly invoked in recent (non-anthropological) uses of “tribalism” is generally not a defining characteristic of historic/anthropological tribes. Or rather, fear of others may be invoked for specific political purposes, but once that context has passed, the fear disappears – or is re-stoked in other forms.

    What term should be used: NIMBYism might be a good alterative.


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