We Are All Tribalists

Whether we care to admit it or not, we are all tribalists to some degree. The way we dress sends social signals of tribal affiliation—think of a hipster and how he dresses and then think of someone who works for physical security for companies in the middle east and how he dresses. The values we embrace are communicated via virtue signaling in order to signal association with others. Even the decor used by a café indicates tribalism; signaling to customers who “we” are as a café and their branded coffee cups effectively signal membership in their tribe.

The Specialty Coffee Industry is a tribe that differentiates itself from the larger Coffee IndustryCup of Excellence is a tribe within a tribe. Organic farmers are a tribe.

It’s human nature to associate with those who are similar to us. When one talks about community, they are talking about tribalism. A community is a group of people who all share defining characteristics, which often include the immediate area in which they live. Community organizers organize tribes and this has a social function— it is a method for survival:

[T]he tactical advantage of cooperation in the securing of clustered resources enhanced selective pressure on cooperation, even if that implies increased individual mortality...

(Seltzer, 2019)

Traditions are signals of tribal membership; ‘we do it this way because our fathers and their fathers did it this way.’ Traditions, especially useful or pragmatic traditions help to maintain unity within the tribe by giving meaning and value to membership. They are a way to pass down knowledge and skill through the generations by instilling a dogmatic way of doing things; ‘we do it this way because it is the way of our people.’

In this sense, useful or pragmatic traditions have value and serve a purpose, but only as long as they don’t impede improvement. Once a better way is learned, it should supplant the old tradition in order to ensure the tribe improves over the generations. Failure to adapt meaningful and improved traditions is the source of backwardness within tribes, which eventually leads to their demise. My opinion of traditions is in direct relation to something I recently wrote, that Balinese farmers needed to want to improve.

Normal tribalism is neither bad nor good. It simply is something to understand and be aware of and doing so—understanding and being aware of tribalism—is a critical aspect of having a rich and rewarding experience in the coffee industry and life in-general.

  1. Seltzer, N. (2019). The Evolution of Tribalism: A Social-Ecological Model of Cooperation and Inter-Group Conflict Under Pastoralism. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 22(2), 6. https://doi.org/10.18564/jasss.3963

Michael C. Wright

Michael is a licensed Q Grader, licensed Q Processor Pro, an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST), and most recently, a graduate with a degree in horticulture and a concentration in horticultural business management. He has over ten years experience in the coffee industry operating on both the supply and demand sides of the value chain.