Tribal, Pre-Literate Society is Returning and There is Nothing You Can Do About It

To truly understand how lost the anti-capitalist of the 21st century is, consider how Jacobin or any socialist publication distributes its ideas. The magazine publishes repeatable type, mass-produced, through the machinery of a commercialized printing press. In other words, those advocating for the commune must spread their ideas via a mechanical, depersonalized process of infinite repetition. The exact qualities that the anti-capitalist finds reprehensible about capitalism are the methods by which they transmit their ideas. Now do you understand what is meant by ‘the medium is the message’?

Marshall McLuhan is a thinker who defies definition. His famous Playboy interview from 1969 reads like it was written today. What McLuhan wrote about television then, any scholar could write convincingly about Twitter today. At the time, television seemed to be “the death knell of Western literate values.” Today, print culture, from books to magazines, is living a kind of afterlife. The world has shifted away from its dominion, and authors and writers know it. They just won’t say it, because then they have to admit that they’ve lost all authority over the intellectual fluctuations of the world. And that would be bad for business.

One sees it clearly in the election of Donald Trump, the master of social media and television. Those writing in print, in The New York Times especially, are sickened by how easily he had evaded their visual, literate, specialized expertise. The technocrats howl at Trump like writers howl at YouTube stars for being shallow, foolish, not fit to occupy the throne. But print culture, from your favorite writers, to The New Yorker, to this very blog post, has never been quite as enlightened as it likes to think.

As MucLuhan said: “The old “individualistic” print society was one where the individual was “free” only to be alienated and dissociated, a rootless outsider bereft of tribal dreams.”

What is the culmination of the literary Marxist and existentialist 20th century than a profound whining of alienation and struggle? Reading and writing are both solitary, visual-oriented activities. Sentences flow one from the next, limited severely by the narrow capacities of text to convey the whole scope of the world. Dada and radical feminist writers have tried to change this, but it falls on deaf ears. It doesn’t work. The medium of print is more important than what anyone actually says in print. By reading a sentence, you have already accepted a dozen assumptions that perhaps you should not accept, among them being that mass-produced type is a good way of relating to other human beings. Everyday, think pieces emerge asking people to turn ‘back’ to reason, ‘back’ to the Enlightenment, ‘back’ to free expression and civil norms. They are asking you to turn back to books, a reactionary demand. “An electrically imploded tribal society discards the linear forward-motion of ‘progress.’ We can see in our own time how, as we begin to react in depth to the challenges of the global village, we all become reactionaries.” In the face of the virtual-electronic ‘all’ of the internet, reactionaries tell you to turn around. They tell you that the digital world is destroying your brain, and you believe it, too, other than the nagging suspicion that the print world of yesteryear has also destroyed their brains. The baby boomers raised on Steinbeck, Sinclair and Fitzgerald went on to create worse income inequality than ever before, after all. The activism of writing has never quite panned out, even when accepted wholly by the mainstream. Print, by its very nature, is unlikely to change the world. It can only describe what is happening. Even science fiction, at its core, only describes what is happening already.

Proponents of print over the virtual are to be thought of as iron boots stamping into a mudslide, aiming to gain traction. In fact, they only sully themselves. Print media characterizes the mass reproduction of specialized repeatable type, the mechanization of culture into a linear rational process. Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School may as well have condemned the printing press. The production of commodified culture is only possible because of mass print. The eye, which reads print, must obey linear structure in reading, and construct an impoverished model of reality via the visual sense. The alphabet-constructed model thus replaces the actual world. And so begins the estranged individual living in the standardized society. This is still the foundation of our world today. It is also the source of whining of all the nihilists, existentialists and Marxists. And how did Marxists and existentialists respond? By writing mass-produced type, of course. By feeding the serpent its tail and posturing as revolutionaries.

Pre-literate culture is returning. It is everywhere in the omnipresence of a world that is always ‘Happening’. Twitter is a great compendium of internal worlds, peoples’ spirits crucified in electricity, an eternal announcement of what is happening. The 24-hour news cycle of CNN is already as outdated as the bronze age. Twitter is measured in seconds, not hours.

Print is associated with the birth of the modern individual. The novel, and the mass publication of books, consolidated the internal life of humankind in pages. Now that internal life is plastered upon neon circuit-boards, Tweets, open, naked, unrefined. Our ancient tribal allegiances have returned, this time virtual, in the form of SJWs, anti-SJWs, skeptics, nationalists, socialists, Marxists, furries, ‘classical liberals’, free speech absolutists, the alt-right, conservatives, liberals, whatever tribe you desire. The oral storytelling of ancient people has also returned in the form of the podcast, an uninterrupted expanse of pure propaganda, the medium of Rush Limbaugh, of the angry monologue, made mainstream once more. Listening is replacing reading, an archaic return. YouTube is the new television, and Logan Paul is the new Paris Hilton, the new town drunk, the new spectacle of a community that is now more global than ever before.

The boundaries between us, once totally dissolved via virtual media, will echo outward and dissolve borders. The egotistic novelist, penning his autobiography, looks up to find the whole world has already written it. Collectively, the tribal genius is surpassing the tragic Western individual. There will be no Joyce in this generation. David Foster Wallace, thought to occupy that role, has already become a running joke, a kind of self-parody, to most of those who encounter his name online. Instead of the single mastermind of print, the genius of the virtual world will be a collective one. Rather, it already is a collective genius.

Virtual communities matter more to us than physical communities. A Marxist, discovering other Marxists online, has found his nation. It is not the Congress of the United States. That is not where his heart resides. It is with the Marxist virtual continent, embedded in social media. The same is true of every ideology. But where will all these ideologies fit? Clashing together online without result, without pause, where will all this difference go? What will happen to these hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tribes?

Each will live primarily in their own hive, amongst their own, their own virtual civilization. There is unlimited room for nations in virtual space. Perhaps, if seasteading pans out over the century, there will also be room on Earth. There will certainly be room in the stars.

Yes, decentralization, tribal affiliation, and fragmentation are the future. The white nationalist and the black nationalist can each make their nations. Online, they already have. The ‘classical liberal’ can make their paradise of centrism and conformist statements in favor of Western ideals. The Jacobins can make theirs. All shall evolve in opposing directions as disparate tribes realize their disparate identities. After a confrontation with the ‘whole’, the numinous of the internet, the unified center of existence, all possible ideas jumbled together, all beauty turned into a joke and all jokes become beauty, all tribes will turn from it and go their own paths. These paths will align with tribal concerns. The central values of each society will be defined by the group that invents it, in opposing directions, a manifesto of infinite decentralization into thousands of worlds. Each can be a Jefferson, according to the Jefferson of their virtual tribe.

The South should secede. New York and Paris should align virtually and become a global cosmopolitan state. California should secede. Freedom exists in the particularity of identity that one realizes once one has confronted the digital ‘whole’. Looking God in the face, the monotheism of one unified global online world, one must then choose one of God’s constituent pieces, a demon, an angel, and go with that piece to its final destination. All tribes unite at the Godhead and then walk away with their differing tribal missions: that is the aim of the 21st century, to achieve that realization and walk from the whole toward infinite fracturing into communities that reflect what its members actually believe. It is the only way to purge ourselves of guilt and bad conscience and alienation. It is the only way. No Kant nor Hegel nor Enlightenment nor Christ will descend and unify all. The subjective world of black identity cannot be touched by ‘universal reason’. The same is true of ‘white identity’. Fracture, be cast as seeds and plant yourselves, you scattered tribes of the digital world.

Natural selection, as always, will decide the rest. The Jacobin society may go the way of Venezuela. The white ethnostate will become a living joke. The black ethnostate may become a Wakanda or also a living joke. No matter what, it is crucial to understand that you must follow your own path, and break from the digital ‘whole’. But rejoice, for your path is not your own – it is a shared archetype, the archetype of your tribe. Your fellows spirits. Those who you internally, at the gut level, ride or die with. Abide by the idea that moves your gut and your spirit, whatever it may be, and leave all others alone to adhere to the spirits that inspire them. All should create in their own pockets. No empire, no forcing of conformity across tribes, is permitted. If non-interventionism wins on the left and the right, we may have that. The will to dominate others must be surpassed by the will of like-minded groups to achieve their goals in peace. In fact, imperialism by definition is broken and foolish – one can not unite all lands conquered by the empire. One cannot unite Alabama and Massachusetts, how will one unite Iraq and England? Never. The mistake of imperialism is the mistake of extrapolating your own fragmented angel or tribe onto others. It won’t work, because everybody is their own galaxy. Stay in yours. Malcolm X was right. Be inspired by your own vision for your like-minded souls, and none other. Not everyone will understand. Religious people should know this by now – and atheists too.

Stop trying to make other people believe what you believe, and just create what you believe. That which you seek, seeks you.

Key quotes from McLuhan’s interview:

“The tribe, you see, is not conformist just because it’s inclusive; after all, there is far more diversity and less conformity within a family group than there is within an urban conglomerate housing thousands of families. It’s in the village where eccentricity lingers, in the big city where uniformity and impersonality are the milieu. The global-village conditions being forged by the electric technology stimulate more discontinuity and diversity and division than the old mechanical, standardized society; in fact, the global village makes maximum disagreement and creative dialog inevitable. Uniformity and tranquility are not hallmarks of the global village; far more likely are conflict and discord as well as love and harmony—the customary life mode of any tribal people.”

“Tribal man is tightly sealed in an integral collective awareness that transcends conventional boundaries of time and space. As such, the new society will be one of mythic integration, a resonating world akin to the old tribal echo chamber where magic will live again: a world of ESP. The current interest of youth in astrology, clairvoyance and the occult is no coincidence. Electric technology, you see, does not require words any more than a digital computer requires numbers. Electricity makes possible—and not in the distant future, either—an amplification of human consciousness on a world scale, without any verbalization at all.”

“Psychic communal integration, made possible at last by the electronic media, could create the universality of consciousness foreseen by Dante when he predicted that men would continue as no more than broken fragments until they were unified into an inclusive consciousness. In a Christian sense, this is merely a new interpretation of the mystical body of Christ; and Christ, after all, is the ultimate extension of man.”

“For many years, until I wrote my first book, The Mechanical Bride, I adopted an extremely moralistic approach to all environmental technology. I loathed machinery, I abominated cities, I equated the Industrial Revolution with original sin and mass media with the Fall. In short, I rejected almost every element of modern life in favor of a Rousseauvian utopianism. But gradually I perceived how sterile and useless this attitude was, and I began to realize that the greatest artists of the 20th Century—Yeats, Pound. Joyce, Eliot—had discovered a totally different approach, based on the identity of the processes of cognition and creation. I realized that artistic creation is the playback of ordinary experience—from trash to treasures. I ceased being a moralist and became a student.”


  1. Hi Alex,

    Soooo, in light of this… are you going to delve into the world of making your own YouTube videos? Or continue your podcasts?

    I think you have a lot to offer.

    Based on listening to some of your previous podcasts I think you are great at educated rants, but to make your amazing talents more digestible to a wider audience, maybe you could break up or steer clear from (ahem) lengthy monologues by adding either “references of things you are reacting to”, OR maybe you could be an “opinionated/educated/peer interviewer” , OR the “part of a team of co-hosts?”

    Thanks, Joe Cowan

    1. That’s a good question. Part of me hopes the YouTube/Twitter wave is the first in a serious of new modes of conversation, and that sometime in the coming years, one platform will just come ‘naturally’. Either way, I’ll be experimenting…

  2. Fairly an intervowen society where soft skills will be a very useful tool for an individual. As for the morale, family is in danger, being surrounded by various untamed extremists with no notion of the Whole. Indeed I spent my traveling time, enjoying the glimpse of an artistic overview in this article.

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