The problem with “nation building” a place like Afghanistan is that it’s a collection of wildly different places and peoples. Three-quarters of the people still live in the countryside. They comprise about a dozen main tribes and countless smaller tribes. Many different languages are spoken. Two are official languages but the dominant one is not spoken by a quarter of the population.
It’s true that nearly all Afghans are Muslim. But a millennium of strife in the Middle East has driven home the point that there are Muslims and there are Muslims, and they like to war with one another. Their wars are typically over stupid things.
The Muslims are not alone in their religious wars. Look at the centuries of Christian war in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants. Those are tribal wars founded on hate.
These tribes and their wars are not limited to religious strife, and also exist in societies we like to consider civilized. The clans of Scotland and rural England feuded for centuries and brought their feuding ways with them to American Appalachia. Remember the Hatfields and McCoys?
Tribal warfare is the natural state of humanity. A million years of human evolution was in small tribes numbering just a few dozen or perhaps one or two hundred people. Those tribes were continually threatened by competing tribes. We learned the lesson that survival depends on hating and eradicating that other tribe. We learned our lesson well.
Too well. The nature of society changed but the nature of humanity did not. Our instinct is still to tribalize. The entire industry of spectator sports in based on tribalism.
In places like Afghanistan, tribal societies never ended. They’ve always been tribal, and still are. In other places, tribalism was submerged for a while by such things as population movements, abundant land, class mobility and common enemies, but now the tribal instinct is re-surfacing.
One such place is America.
Most Americans traditionally are not tribal, except in the American nationalism sense. They’re products of a melting pot of British, Italians, Irish, Mexican, African, Indian and so on. They’ve seen themselves as Americans.
Virtually all Americans in our history have spoken the common language. They either immigrated from an English-speaking country or learned English shortly after arriving.
Most important, the culture of America was liberalist in the classic sense. Apart from some appalling exceptions such as Jim Crow laws and the anti-Semitism pervasive through the middle part of the last century, America was a place of ideas, opportunity and merit. Great wealth and power came to smart people with good ideas who worked very hard, from Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
But American culture is changing. Identity politics and the shift in democracy from the representative kind to the popular kind have tilted the culture back to tribalism. People are encouraged to see themselves not so much as Americans, but as a member of a trendy tribe. It’s as if people in Denver started to define themselves not as Americans but as Denver Bronco’s.
Immigrants are encouraged not to learn the common language and not to assimilate into Americanism – despite their desire to do so. Anyone who suggests they should, is shouted down and cancelled as racist. “Liberalism” now perversely stands for intolerance for the other tribe’s point of view.
Merit is considered a tool of suppression wielded by “bad” tribes of heteronormative white males against the trendy “good” tribes of people with particular skin color or sexual proclivities. Ideas are not evaluated by their validity but by their source. Truth is now a matter of tribal perspective.
This won’t work over the long run because it disregards basic principles of cause and effect. Abandoning the concept of merit will produce less of it. Failing to judge ideas will produce more bad ones. Disregarding truth will produce more falsity.
The left has embraced this tribalism most overtly in service of its strategy to maintain a permanent constituency of voters to whom it thinks (incorrectly, in my view) this approach panders. But the right, too, has become more tribal.
The death of journalism has contributed to this tribalism on both sides. What used to be a profession dedicated to telling the news like it is, has become consciously and candidly a scam of click-baits and an echo chamber of political activism.
A person getting his news from Fox News is likely to think that the average Democrat is a flame-throwing Antifa rioter, while a person getting his news from CNN (or, increasingly, the New York Times or Washington Post) is likely to think the average Republican voter is a head-shaved white supremist.
The end result is that many people of one tribe are unwilling to vote for the other tribe. They are unwilling to even consider solutions proposed by the other tribe. The other tribe is not a group of people deserving debate in search of compromise or solutions, but is a group of evil-doers deserving extermination.
A nation cannot exist as this collection of hating, competing tribes. Forget about nation-building Afghanistan. Right now, we can’t even nation-maintain America.