September 7, 2008
The Tribe of Sarah: A Guide for the Perplexed MediaBy Thomas Lifson
Our friends in the media just do not understand the popular following Sarah Palin has attracted. In an effort to help, I thought I should explain her popular appeal to them in terms even an Ivy League graduate could understand.
If you consider yourself a member of the intelligentsia, think of Sarah's unexpectedly numerous admirers as a kind of tribe. We are going to examine a few of the folkways of strange and foreign people. Think of them as exotic and it may help you stifle any revulsion you may feel at their differences from your own familiar accepted ways.
Many of you probably read excerpts from Colin Trumbull's description of the Mbuti tribe of the Congo (The Forest People) in one college course or another. In a similar mindset you can begin to understand the values and the ways of the Tribe of Sarah, and maybe begin understand how the world looks to them, even though it is a very different way of understanding reality than your own.
(Okay, I admit the respectful insistence that these are also a complex people, well adapted to their environment and possessed of a beautiful spirituality is probably going to be a stretch for many of you. But still, it is worth a try while you still have careers left.)
We haven't got an entire semester, so I will just hit a few important concepts.
The basic values
Unlike your own refined and infinitely more complex moral understanding, these people believe in abstract concepts known among them as "right" and "wrong" (alternatively "good" and "evil.") They regard those among them whom see as championing the cause of right and defeating wrong as role models to emulate, and frequently accord them honors and deep respect.
Perhaps misinterpreting media characterizations of big oil companies, they see Sarah Palin as someone who stood up to wrong, and thus revere her example. They harbor a belief that she will continue to support good and fight evil, and accordingly project a vision of her success when leaving their world for your own in Washington, DC.
A side note for future reading: a widely believed legend among them has it that a great leader they call Jesus championed good, fought evil, and suffered horribly for it. This martyrdom and its aftermath are a subject of considerable elaboration in their folkways and ritual, and this cultural detail may conceivably amplify their anger when another honored champion is made to suffer.
The role of "Mom"
The person who is assigned the gender role of carrying unterminated fetal tissue mass is the central figure of the family structure among the tribe of Sarah. Known familiarly as "mom" (never "mother"), these moms organize the foundational structures of their civilization. The behavioral norms learned from a mom determine the entire life course of the children. Accordingly, moms are also deeply honored, indeed revered to the point of abject love and devotion among them. Those who threaten harm to a mom occasion deep disgust within the tribe.
Sarah Palin, as the mother of five, including one child facing serious life challenges, is a person widely admired among them for her devotion, which they regard as exemplary. One of their folk celebrations, the "Special Olympics" celebrates the achievements of these children. Nearly all of you have heard of the Clan of the Kennedys in your own tribe; it has actually played a major role in this particular festival. Perhaps that will help you make the mental leap required to understand the feelings engendered by Baby Trig.
Many of the tribe's moms, seeing Sarah's love for her baby with challenges and empathizing, regard attacks on her as an attack on themselves. Jung's concept of the archetype may be helpful to you in understanding this admiration and empathy for Sarah and explain their hostile response to your recent work.
Moms closely communicate with one another, and these information flows work to determine where the children attend school and under what conditions, where the family will obtain its staple foods, and see to the enforcement of behavioral norms among all members of the comunity. Think of them as sensitivity trainers, if it helps, but remember that nobody gets to leave at the end of the work day.
The moms have a number of distinctive organizations which channel their social ties and lines of communication. We have no time or space to cover major topics ranging from "church" to "kaffe klatsch." More material for future reading.
Sarah's followers know she first attained a formal leadership role in society within an organization called the "PTA," and a little context is helpful. Moms regard the shepherding of their offspring as their primary duty in life, aside from supporting the person assigned the male gender role, known among them as the "hubby." From the moment of the first child's birth until a phase decades later known among the tribe as the "empty nest," the development of children is regarded as the sacred duty of a mom and her hubby, as well as life's greatest and most rewarding experience.
PTA meetings are held at schools, with moms and a few hubbies gathering with teachers and discussing topics related to the education of the offspring. Because education is regarded as second only the mom's own influence on children, moms can have strong opinions on the content and processes of education. Frequently moms vie for honor among themselves, and seek to champion a change, or perhaps fight in opposition to one, resulting in very intense bursts of activity, communication and seeking of political support within the PTA community and beyond. Indeed, serious differences among moms can lead to feuds and vendettas, giving rise to colorful local legend that animate their communal folklore.
Members of the tribe regard someone who began a political rise within a PTA as evidence of adherence to the welfare of her children, and also as evidence of great political favor among members of her community, which subsequently elected her village head man, or mayor. But that term may confuse you, so a brief explanation.
Unlike the figures familiar to you such as Mayor Daley, those who carry the title of "mayor" in places like Wasilla must be available to their citizenry at all hours, and are expected to have met them face to face if they hope to gain their vote. Constituents feel little compunction about complaining personally to the mayor. A small town mayoralty qualifies as a rite of passage for nascent tribal politicians, ensuring their responsiveness.
This is going to be a tough one, because there is no comparable concept in your culture. But associated with the abstract concepts of good and evil is one known as sin, defined as the commission of acts which partake of the quality of evil. Now what is really tricky about this admittedly complex cultural construct is that tribe members believe everyone sins. Even good people. They believe that sin is inborn. Rather than categorize someone as evil merely on the basis of sin, they have developed methods of driving away the unwanted effects of the sinful behavior. When one has successfully made the best of the situation, repented, and corrected the disapproved behavior, they speak of "redemption."
This has important consequences for the tribe's regard of your work on Sarah Palin. If you discover sin within her family, the tribe accepts that sin is inevitable. Instead, they judge how Sarah and the family deal with the consequences. And if they perceive that the "right" thing is being done, they admire her all the more.
In short, understanding the Tribe of Sarah is going to require you to stretch your minds and learn some new and unfamiliar concepts. Further reading will pay big dividends. But this sort of mental exercise can be both useful and fun, for it can enhance your understanding of yourself, too. That's the great benefit of cross-cultural studies.
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.