Individualism & Civic Republicanism: A Tribal Perspective

Written by Samuel Clark

As a Yup’ik (Inuit) man, I was raised in what many would consider a unique upbringing that has influenced the way I view the relationship between individualism and civic republicanism. Tribal cultures, particularly Native American cultures have a strong sense of community and support of their kin (and extended families). While not all tribes function the same way, most that I have come to know highly value their community.


This is evidenced by community-centric practices such as the sharing food and game with other members of the tribe. I can say from firsthand experience that in most hunting and fishing seasons, if a family in the tribe has had a bad haul, they can without a doubt rely on someone else in the community to look out for them.


Traditional Smoked Fish Drying Rack


The life Kemis describes in Barn Raising is a direct parallel of tribal life. It is a common notion in tribal Alaska that life is far easier for all, if everyone bands together for common goals. It may be anecdotal evidence, however, what I have come to assess in my life in a rural community, is that despite all the small town politics and drama between families, the community always takes priority. Kemis would argue that because of the rough lifestyle of rural living, civic republicanism (or some form of it) is a luxury that citizens cannot opt out of. This explains the trend to favor confederations as political structures, and further suggests that Alaska Native tribes (or tribal systems in general) would be staunch federalists.


Yup’ik Men in A Hunting Party


A major critique of Kemis is that the rural model doesn’t fit for all societies, especially urban communities. While the point stands, arguably, these republican values also leak into the life of urban Alaska. While the larger cities like Anchorage tend to favor the individualistic, many enclaves of tribal citizens exist and they bring their local values with them. Community events such as potlaches are commonplace for urban natives and chances are, if you look hard enough you’ll find some link to an extended family in the city.

While society as a whole in tribal communities is highly community-centric, there also tends to be streaks of individualism and expression that break the mold. Dancing, crafting, and storytelling are just a few of the ways that cultures such as mine show personal vigor, as well as coordination in a group. Even further supporting this spirit, as a culture that values tricksters, the Yup’ik would tell stories of great men who embodied the typical individualists. What this tells me is that like most cultures, tribes have somewhat of a mix of the two, however are heavily leaning toward civic republicanism.

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Bystander Silence vs. Bystander Intervention

To stand up for what you believe in has never been a simple task. Even children are taught to “do what’s right,” yet more often than not the answer to problems in our community is simply silence.

In watching a video on combating racism (link below), I was reminded again that a major reason perpetuating the presence of racism in society is bystander silence. Why is that? It seems that the vast majority believe racism is “bad”, whether that means racism toward people who are white, black, or any other ethnic minority. I’d argue that people, nearly universally, would rather stay quiet than to get involved in a fight on behalf of someone else.

The struggle for justice is a theme visible in Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery”. Upon drawing the marked slip, Tessie Hutchinson repeats, “it isn’t fair.” However, the unfortunate villager never spoke out against the system or the practice until it turned against her; as a result, I as a reader am able to feel only minimal sympathy for Tessie.

And this isn’t just a regular occurrence in fiction, either. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who penned Night, describes “the perils of indifference”. In claiming that “indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never [the] victim”, Wiesel reminds us that the horror of the Holocaust was, in part, the result of bystander silence. “If they knew, we thought, surely those leaders would have moved heaven and earth to intervene. They would have spoken out with great outrage and conviction. They would have bombed the railways leading to Birkenau, just the railways, just once.”

But, of course, we have since learned that they did know. The Pentagon, the State Department, the President of the United States knew. And they chose to not intervene, they chose to not send aid — and they chose to turn away the St. Louis, with its “human cargo” of “maybe 1,000 Jews” seeking refuge from the genocide.

It’s a disturbing story, and one that puts into perspective the many shapes and forms that indifference can take. Evil is not always a village stoning; bystanders are not always powerful, influential politicians; genocide is not always as easily identifiable as concentration camps, whether in Germany for Jews, or in the United States for Japanese-Americans. Sometimes, the crisis is “just” a racist stranger shouting on a train, or a casual commentator asking a sexual assault survivor, “how much did you drink?”

The call to do something to fight injustice can be sometimes be hard to hear, or scary to heed, but it brings up another important question:is there a point at which bystander intervention goes too far? What, for example, should we think about punching a Nazi? Clearly, that’s the opposite of bystander silence. Is it an act that erodes freedoms of speech or assembly, as the fascists themselves may fight against, or is it simply the dutiful protection of an oppressed minority? If violence works, can it be morally or ethically right?

5 Ways to Disrupt Racism:

Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery”:

Elie Wiesel, “The Perils of Indifference”:

The Black Bloc: Inside America’s Hard Left

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Tax Cuts

Although taxes have consistently strengthened the economy while contributing to infrastructure, the misappropriation of taxes is truly a problem in the United States of America. We have a culture in which the wealthy pay more to subsidize for the less fortunate. By incorporating a flat tax, corporations would be inclined to spend more of their revenue in the economy which in turn, can lead to more job growth and a stronger economy as a whole.

We can learn to change the current tax system by understanding how it works and what it is not doing correctly. The current tax system tends to tax the upper class significantly more than the lower classes which inhibits their want to invest in their respective businesses as well as the economy. This is extremely significant due to the fact that it results in less job and economic growth for society as a whole. Moreover, the discrepancy of taxes is apparent in the foreign investments businessmen are beginning to make overseas. This is extremely noteworthy due to the fact that foreign citizens would in turn be benefiting rather than the American people.

By the same token, the lower class tends to feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to taxes. They believe that the upper class is automatically responsible for paying their taxes for the simple fact that they make more money than they do. This ideology needs to stop due to the fact that a business man making a hundred thousand a year has a significantly larger portion of their income taken away for the simple reason that they make more money. Clearly, this does not make sense.

Another benefit that lower taxes could bring to corporations is incentive to pay their employees more. This is due to the fact that there would be more money left over at the end of the fiscal year. By incentivizing employees to work harder, better, and more efficiently, businesses would thrive financially while minimizing expenditures at the same time. As Donald Trump said during his 2016 presidential campaign, in which he won by significant proportions, “China is killing our jobs.” This statement is incredibly and fundamentally insightful due to the fact that businesses are more inclined to take their businesses into countries in which regulations are lowered and the tax bracket is almost non-existent.

As a society, we must begin to change the way we view taxes and the appropriations as whole. This begins by communicating with our local representatives in order to ensure that they know what we (the constituents) want from the government. By assuming that taxes are going to one day be lowered, we are not doing ourselves any help. By mobilizing the United States Congress, we can begin to pass legislation which can ensure lower taxes for the upper-class and corporations in order to generate job growth and a much stronger economy than we are seeing today. If we continue to adopt our current tax system, we will not be able to have growth of any kind.



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Surfin’ Like its 2006, Bro

When it comes to the results of election day,” there are two potential outcomes that equally excite the politically inclined: firstly, and most obviously, there are the “toss-ups,” races which are so close that they could potentially swing to either candidate. Secondly, we have the opposite of a toss-up, which are landslides, races that are completely uncontested and result in a blowout victory for the winning candidate. Every several election cycles or so, there is a shift in the general will of the public, and that change is reflected in the results that are read come election night. Races that should normally be a landslide for one party become toss-ups, and races that should normally be contested quickly turn into landslides across the board for one party. When this alignment occurs, and everything appears to go right on election night for one party, the event is called a “wave election.”

To understand the impact of wave elections, as well as how they come to be, I will briefly summarize the circumstances and climate of the notable waves of 2006, in favor of the democrats, and 2010, in favor of the republicans. After 12 years of republican dominance in the legislature, democrats captured the both the House and Senate majorities in the 2006 elections, as well as a majority of governorships. There were several factors leading to the democratic wave, but two were considered the most significant: the unpopularity the Iraq War, and the scandal ridden republican leadership in congress. Independently, these factors may very well have been enough to ensure a democratic advantage; combined, however, they resulted in a democratic gain of 31 house seats, 6 senate seats, and 6 governorships.

When 2010 came around, though, republicans got their revenge. Following the passage of the Affordable Care act and the bailout of Wall Street, democrats were crushed by one of the biggest waves in American political history, losing 63 seats in the House, 6 in the senate, and 6 governorships. Unlike previous election cycles, where waves were largely formed by dissatisfaction with war, scandal or the economy, republicans were able to achieve total victory through grassroots organizing and a lack of democratic enthusiasm. Republicans are still being rewarded by the benefits of the 2010 election, although the party may soon end with democrats honing in on 2018.

After huge gains for democrats across the country last week, but mainly in Virginia and New Jersey, many are forecasting that the 2018 elections are shaping to be a massive wave in their favor. Democrats won both governorships by large margins, acquired total governmental control of the west coast, and somehow managed to win or at least come close to winning the Virginia House of Delegates. These victories are in addition to these various statewide races that democrats won, many of which were in republican strongholds against strong incumbents. If democrats can sustain these results going into next year, then it is likely that there recent victories will be replicated on a fully national scale. Additionally, there are already several factors that could be conducive to a democratic wave in 2018, aside from the 2017 results. For example, nobody knows how far Robert Mueller’s FBI investigation will go and what it will find. Already plagued by scandal after scandal, it is difficult to see how the Trump administration and republicans would recover from any clear revelations of collusion with the Russian government. Some of the biggest waves have occurred after major scandals, such as in 2006 and in 1974 following Watergate. Couple scandal with an unpopular president and a lack of any, popular or otherwise, legislative achievements, and 2018 might be a tough year for the republican party.

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The Case for a Common American Mythos

There is a tendency these days to examine our national past through a far more critical lense than ever before. Old narratives surrounding our founding and our principles are dug up and dissected. Hypocrisies are exposed within these are exposed. Our history looks far less appealing when dragged out into the stark light of our modern values. In general, it is a healthy thing to look back and understand the mistakes of our past, but it is a difficult thing for many to face; that the foundation of their national identity may not be as clean cut and virtuous as they once believed. Many, understandably do not enjoy a key part of their cultural identity being marred in a negative light.

This close examination of our history dredges to the surface many skeletons which are worth examining and learning from. This is a helpful thing, and being honest about our mistakes and learning from them builds a stronger America. The problem lies in trying to uproot cultural traditions that may have associations with such mistakes of the past, especially when their contemporary celebration or usage do not directly promote these travesties. We are an increasingly divided and polarized nation, partly due to a diversification in the variety of entertainment and news sources we consume. We are increasingly lacking common cultural reference points. The advent of the internet targeted advertising, and streaming services has created a market of tailor-made content for everyone to enjoy.  The supply for content that reinforces our beliefs has met the demand, and it is formidable. Political discourse has fallen so low, not due to lack of common ground, but instead to lack of a common understanding of reality. Without this framework, any attempt any meaningful debate quickly collapses. There no longer is room for compromise when each side, left-and-right, has been trapped in a reality distortion field that drags them deep into a cycle of ideological self-affirmation.

This diversion of political perceptions of reality has left the nation crippled. We have a dysfunctional Congress that is beholden to an increasingly irrational electorate which seems incapable of escaping the echo chamber, a President who seems to be in many respects the result of said echo chamber. This great divergence on what American values are is untenable. A solution might be to open up and promote our national mythos. The nation is in need of a grand narrative of our shared history in a way that promotes inclusive values so that every citizen may feel a stakeholder. Indeed, to some, the idea of “painting over” the mistakes of our past will seem objectionable, but America already has a separate national mythos to some degree. Many Americans revere our founders to an almost demi-god like status for their role in the forging of our Union and for their contributions to our founding principles, but most have come to terms with the fact that on close examination there is much to find unsavory about much of the men who got the ball rolling on the great American experience. Others may view this proposal with skepticism from a more ethnocentric point of view, such as those who criticized the cast of Hamilton for being all individuals of color (as I mentioned in my prior comment on the blog, which led me to write this post). The fact of the matter is this: America has changed and is changing. We have become more diverse not just in racial/cultural demographics, but in the content we consume. This is a great thing, but it poses the risk of isolating ourselves from the ideas of others and hunkering down amongst only those who think like ourselves. To avoid losing track of who we are as a country, and giving everyone, regardless of their background a stake in our nation, we should promote a forward-looking American mythos that builds off of our best ideas to promote who we should be.

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Is it a gun problem or a mental health problem?

Since I was a young kid I was always fascinated with firearms. I vividly remember shooting cans and lizards in the back yard with my BB gun. I would always read books about how people used to hunt for their food and the types of weapons they used. If you think about it, during the stone age people still found means for acquiring food, and killing each other. In today’s time, I find myself being a legal firearm owner and avid shooter. I enjoy building up my firearms for the looks, but most importantly the ease of operation. I’ve never had an accident with a firearm, I’ve never wrongfully used a firearm, and I’ve never broken any firearm laws. With that being said, I absolutely hate the fact that most people blame the firearms instead of the actions of human beings. A firearm isn’t going to discharge by itself, move itself, or even load itself. The problem with gun control in today’s day in age is the fact that people making laws to control weapons don’t know anything about them. People still believe that the AR-15 stand for Assault Rifle. In reality it stands for Armalite Rifle. A study shows that people want “military type weapons” banned simply because they are scary. If we take a look what has happened these past few weeks we can see how people want guns banned because of the Las Vegas shooting, and the Texas shooting. However, no one once mentioned the fact that these people had serious mental health issues. The mental health system here in the U.S. is broken and needs to be addressed 1000x more than gun reform. Keep in mind that firearms are just tools, just like a knife, car, fork, etc. It’s not logical to blame the fork for making you fat. It’s also not logical to blame the car for getting into a car accident. In the end, a person who truly has evil in their heart will find a way to commit a crime such as the one we saw in New York City with the rented truck. It’s time for logical firearm control instead of creating laws based on personal opinion and fear.

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Why Nothing Resists the Majority?

Tocqueville said that nothing resists the majority and especially in the US “a number of specific circumstances tend […] to make the power of the majority […] not just predominant but irresistible.”
We may agree that this is true. But what about other Tocqueville’s claims. Let’s see, for example in the context of the Lottery, the claim that “The power of the majority, like all powers – and maybe more than others – needs to endure if it is to appear legitimate […] it gains obedience through coercion [and] only after people have lived for a long time under its laws do they begin to respect it. But had not the Lottery ritual been respected from the very beginning, why people did not raise their voice against? Isn’t democratic decision of the majority legitimate from the very principle?

To a certain point, I do not agree with Tocqueville here. The power of majority can grow suddenly and from nothing particular. It is a combination of different factors leading to consensus among many against the opinion of minorities. The only thing is that with time it is getting worse see Lottery quote: “It’s not the way it used to be. “Old Man Warner said clearly. “People ain’t the way they used to be.” People, especially those with conservative minds, when adopting the custom as a tradition, tend to live that custom making it worse and almost irreversible to change. People enjoying throwing stones are clear example of this rule.American_Majority_(logo)

Tocqueville further claims that “The moral ascendency of the majority rests in part on the idea that there is more enlightenment and wisdom in an assembly of many than in the mind of one.” If only this was true. Seeing the Gaussian function applied on wisdom, we have to say right the opposite. We cannot believe that he majority is doing right, it has just voice too strong to let the minority voices to be heard sometimes.  “The moral ascendency of the majority [may] also rest on the principle that the interests of the many [are] preferred to those of the few,” which does not happen every time. Or does it? On the level of society, it is true but what about the level of state? Is it true that the majority is in the US more powerful than the wealthy white men elite when pushing opinions or rules ahead? Tocqueville asks further questions when looking at the American society. As “a nation is like a jury charged with representing universal society and applying the justice which is its law. Should the jury, which represents society, have more power than the society whose laws it applies?” Going back to the Lottery should the tradition represented by the black box, which no one liked to upset and those running it; be stronger than the society itself?flock-of-sheep-in-a-field-after-the-harvest-1889

We know that “the consequences of this state of affairs are dire and spell danger for the future”, I say let’s think about the dangers for today. We should not be misled and should stay cautious because even though the majority has a voice it is always led, motivated or manipulated by one or few individuals and their thoughts. People are maybe only a flock someone must make run the same presently desirable direction. 

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