Tribal ties—race, ethnicity, and religion—are becoming more important than borders.
For centuries we have used maps to delineate borders that have been defined by politics. But it may be time to chuck many of our notions about how humanity organizes itself. Across the world a resurgence of tribal ties is creating more complex global alliances. Where once diplomacy defined borders, now history, race, ethnicity, religion, and culture are dividing humanity into dynamic new groupings.
Broad concepts—green, socialist, or market-capitalist ideology—may animate cosmopolitan elites, but they generally do not motivate most people. Instead, the “tribe” is valued far more than any universal ideology. As the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun observed: “Only Tribes held together by a group feeling can survive in a desert.”
Although tribal connections are as old as history, political upheaval and globalizationare magnifying their impact. The world’s new contours began to emerge with the end of the Cold War. Maps designating separate blocs aligned to the United States or the Soviet Union were suddenly irrelevant. More recently, the notion of a united Third World has been supplanted by the rise of China and India. And newer concepts like the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are undermined by the fact that these countries have vastly different histories and cultures.
The borders of this new world will remain protean, subject to change over time. Some places do not fit easily into wide categories—take that peculiar place called France—so we’ve defined them as Stand-Alones. And there are the successors to the great city-states of the Renaissance—places like London and Singapore. What unites them all are ties defined by affinity, not geography.