The Tribe Versus the Federation

Everyone is a part of some tribe. Those are the people you identify with most and with whom you share values and other similarities.

But when tribes see themselves as superior or exceptional to all others, they are setting themselves up for eventual disaster. People who see their particular tribe as part of a larger community, or a federation of tribes, are more likely to succeed and achieve their goals.

The ancient Greek city states were small, independent communities that sometimes federated with other Greek-speaking city states, but often spent as much time fighting each other as fighting non-Greeks. They almost never granted citizenship to anyone who wasn’t born there, with a few famous exceptions. Greek citizenship was extremely exclusive and is indicative of the Exceptionalism they felt about themselves as tribes.

The Roman Empire came to take an almost opposite view and in AD 212 the Edict of Caracalla, which granted all free men in the empire full citizenship, put a legal seal on a process that had begun much earlier, whereby Rome used citizenship as a way to incorporate other groups into the empire and make them feel they had a stake in its success. This was at least one factor in helping secure the success of Rome and the failure of Greece in their conflict with each other.

Another example of the Roman Federalist way of thinking was their eagerness to incorporate new gods from conquered countries into their own pantheon. This showed the conquered, that while there was now a new sheriff in town, they had at least the benefit of the Pax Romana and that their gods were respected as part of the larger community they were now a part of. (Asterix still didn’t like it though.)

I’m not advocating for an imperial system of government. But all groups seek to control their own destiny and exercise their power and some succeed at this better than others.

The Will to Power is one of the primary forces that drives human behavior (Nietzsche). The absence of Power results in fear. At some time everyone, every tribe, and every society experiences this loss of power in a dynamic and changing world. It is how we react to the fear that results from this loss of power, that determines if we are Exceptionalists or Federalists.

Friedrich Nietzsche


Exceptionalists react to fear by drawing within themselves, circling the wagons, excluding the others, building walls. Federalists react to fear by calling on their allies, seeking wider alliances, building bridges.

We bikers have to be Federalists by definition. We are a tiny tribe among much more powerful forces. We can only win in the grand scheme of things by reaching out to others. What I mean by winning is to convince others that our vision of the future is a good one and worth expending effort to achieve. In that sense we’re really not Amish of the 21st Century, because we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the world, but rather to change it.

In the end it comes down to this:

  • Does our tribe feel that people in general are essentially bad and not worthy of our trust and respect, and we need to separate ourselves from the others?, or
  • Does our tribe feel that people in general are essentially good and worth investing the time and effort into understanding their differences and respecting them for who they are, whichever tribe they belong to, and maybe we can build bridges to them (or incorporate their planets into the Federation)?

I at least am convinced that despite the 0.1% of genuine bad apples who have a heart of darkness, people are essentially good and worthy of respect and trust. If I didn’t believe this, why would I put myself out on the mean streets with a bunch of heavy, fast, metal boxes whizzing around me on my bike?

These guys agree with me too. It is the Prime Directive.

…to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go (by bike)…