The Memetic Tribes

Peter Limberg and and Conor Barnes of the Intellectual Explorers Club describe the Memetic Tribes and their conflicts.

Until the last few years, it made sense to talk in terms of a red tribe and a blue tribe when describing political affiliation in the U.S. The red tribe was right-wing, populist, nationalist, religious, concerned by terrorism, and valued sexual purity. The blue tribe was left-wing, globalist, internationalist, secular, concerned by global warming, and valued sexual freedom. They had fundamental disagreements about what America (or the West) was, what it needed to become, and how to get there. They even had a culture war. However, the red/blue dichotomy no longer provides a sufficient map of the political territory we find ourselves in.

Enter memetic tribes. We define a memetic tribe as a group of agents with a meme complex, or memeplex, that directly or indirectly seeks to impose its distinct map of reality — along with its moral imperatives — on others. These tribes are on active duty in the new culture war. They possess a multiplicity of competing claims, interests, goals, and organizations. While the red and blue tribes were certainly far from monolithic, any claim to unity between memetic tribes is laughable. An establishment leftist who squabbles with the right must contend with mockery from the Dirtbag Left. Meanwhile, the Dirtbag Left endures critiques from Social Justice Activists (SJA), who in turn are criticized by the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW). The trench warfare of the old culture war has become an all-out brawl.

Some have used the notion of “digital tribes,” which we might call pacifist memetic tribes, to understand why individuals sort themselves into online groups that share interests and beliefs. But historians will see the era of digital tribes for what it was: A brief blip before somebody said, “Wait, aren’t we forgetting something? We could be fighting other tribes right now!” Digital tribes could not sate a fundamental need for bloodshed. The internet, ostensibly an opportunity for greater understanding, communication, and collaboration, has instead become the central theater of the new culture war. Over the last decade, a boundless field for the diffusion of kitten pictures, image macros, and insular forums has transformed into a battleground for propaganda, doxxing, partisan podcasts, and public shaming campaigns. While digital tribes — the speedrunners, or the harmless furries — still exist, we have entered the age of memetic tribes.

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