RUNNING ON TRIBAL: Western literature begins with a war...


...but also, with sound advice: To what extent does western literature begin with The Iliad?

To the extent that it does, it starts with an epic poem about a tribal / quasi-national / ethnographic war. The Argives have mounted a war against the Trojans over a perceived sexual / marital / gender-political slight.

Three thousand years later, reasons for this ten-year war may sound sadly familiar. So too with the reasons for the quarrels which ensue within one of the two warring tribes.

Three thousand years later, we humans are still strongly inclined to engage in tribal wars, though perhaps in less overt forms. This impulse  lies at the heart of the epic poem which announces the dawn of the West.

That said:

Within that poem, one scene offers a valuable lesson for today. It's the scene in Book IX which ends with Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, saying this to the Argives in a tribal council:

“Tonight's the night that rips our ranks to shreds or pulls us through.”

For us, Nestor's words were called to mind by the headline on David Brooks' most recent column. Here's what that headline said:

Here’s the Mind-Set That’s Tearing Us Apart

In his column, Brooks said a certain mindset is tearing our nation apart. In the scene which that headline recalled, Nestor's wisdom saves the Argives from having their ranks ripped to shreds.

The Argives were an ethnographic grouping conducting war against a different people. Today, our world is organized around the existence of "nation states."

In Brooks' view, the ranks of our own (very large) nation state are being torn apart by a certain unhelpful mindset. In Brooks' rendering, these are the days which will rip our nation's ranks to shreds or will perhaps pull us through.

For ourselves, we have a hard time seeing a way out of our current mess. Increasingly, our very large nation state is dividing into arrays of warring tribes. 

We have the red tribe and the blue tribe, but we also have an expanding array of different "identity" groups. Various parties now stress division more than cohesion—difference more than sameness. These are some of the factors which may be ripping our ranks to shreds, which may make it hard to pull through.

In our view, various types of "silent secession" have already occurred. Last night, Our Own Rhodes Scholar kept encouraging our tribe, as she constantly does, in the belief that the fault all lies Over There, with The Others.

She pounds that message night after night. Our human brains are wired that way, major top scholars have said.

Many writers are now suggesting that our democracy is in immediate peril. Our Own Rhodes Scholar spoke with one such observer last night.

In spite of these warnings, Our Own Rhodes Scholar continued to entertain us last night, displaying her wonderful comedy stylings right at the start of her program. We're often amazed by the failure of multimillionaire TV stars to come to terms with the seriousness of what seems to be at stake.

At this site, we don't see an obvious way out of our current peril. Tomorrow, we'll detail two things our own blue tribe might do to improve chances for the nation's survival.

“Tonight's the night that rips our ranks to shreds or pulls us through?" That's what Nestor wisely said, speaking to all the Argives. Earlier, responding to an angry declaration by the headstrong Diomedes, Nestor had scrambled to his feet to tell the Argives this:

All the Achaeans shouted their assent,
stirred by the stallion-breaking Diomedes' challenge.
But Nestor the old driver rose and spoke at once.

“Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,
and in council you excel all men your age
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,
my youngest-born at that, though you urge our kings
with cool clear sense: what you've said is right.

But it's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.

And no one will heap contempt on what I say,
not even mighty Agamemnon. Lost to the clan,
lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for the horror of war with his own people.”

All over "cable news," red and blue, multimillionaire corporate stars currently lust for the horror of war with their own people. We viewers reward them with high ratings. According to an array of experts, we're wired to function that way. 

This kind of division within the ranks is now extremely big business. In part for that reason, it's hard to see a way out of this mess. 

Will these be the years which pull us through? Tomorrow, two basic suggestions, though Cassandra keeps insisting that it's already too late.

Tomorrow: Readers respond to Brooks' column. Also, pundits respond to Shor


  1. "In Brooks' view, the ranks of our own (very large) nation state are being torn apart by a certain unhelpful mindset."

    The dembot is right, dear Bob: that's your liberal 'mindset', or your liberal mindlessness, to be exact.

    But wait, dear Bob, what about the nuclear codes? Why aren't you concerned about the nuclear codes?

  2. Various parties now stress division more than cohesion—difference more than sameness.

    Is Bob referring to BLM and the purveyors of Critical Race Theory?

    1. Yes, he thinks race shouldn't be part of identity because it results in division. Somerby ignores that a subculture exists that has emerged from the history of slavery and its aftermath (Jim Crow and segregation) that unites people more than simply their skin color, so that people are not all the same, and would not be the same even if skin color didn't matter.

      Critical Race Theory has nothing to do with stressing division, except to the extent that division has been incorporated into our nation's laws and business practices. Critical Race Theory is a legal theory proposed by legal scholars. The right has co-opted the name to refer to anything involving race or racism. Similarly, BLM refers to reforming the police to eliminate injustice in policing. Somerby would no doubt consider these manifestations of the stressing of race instead of race-blindness in our society. Race-blindness cannot be accomplished or exist until racism is eliminated. Somerby does not want to deal with eliminating racism. He only wants people to stop talking about it.

    2. David,
      Of course he is referring to BLM and CRT. But since he talks about two warring tribes, it’s clear that he feels that conservatives are also contributing to our downfall as a nation. It would be nice if commenters like you and Cecelia would acknowledge that, rather than simply coming here to unleash your own tribalism by attacking liberals, but no one is holding their breath. It takes people in both tribes working to end tribalism to fix what’s wrong.

      I could have replied that maybe he’s talking about the tribe (GOP) that wants to prevent “urban” voters from voting, that wants to overturn free and fair elections, that supports insurrection, that threatens local officials with death for proposing mask mandates, that elects corrupt liars.

      But I chose not to.

    3. I can see you not choosing to, mh.

      I come here because I find the blogger unique and interesting.

      Being unique and interesting makes him the target of a gang of tyrants who find that too off-script.

      I try to defend him because someone should and they’re none too bright.

    4. No, Cecelia, being "unique and interesting" is not making Somerby the target. It is being a Trumptard while calling himself liberal that is making him a target.

      You defend Somerby because he is singing your song. And you end with your trademark name-calling.

      I could mention that it is the right who is joining militias which engage in violence under cover of peaceful protests. It is the right who attacked the capitol and tried to disrupt a peaceful transition of power. It is the right who is condemning school children to death because Trump politicized the covid vaccine. It is the right who is calling for civil war.

      You have a lot to answer for, Cecelia, but you don't even try to justify the stink rising from your side of the aisle.

    5. Anonymouse 12:06pm, no one has to justify themselves according to your presuppositions.

      You don’t have to do that and no one else does either.

      The fact that you don’t have a common sense of this is why you’re a militant and here daily to call.a blogger a traitor.

    6. Somerby is not a Trumpcard

    7. Of course Somerby is a Trumptard. His essays here echo the right-wing talking points of the day. He has bent over backwards to excuse Trump and his henchmen. He claims to be liberal but he expresses no liberal thoughts here and hasn't for years now. Somerby called all of the Democrats running against Trump "terrible candidates" and he went out of his way to say negative things about Biden when he was the nominee. He keeps claiming that the Democratic margin is slim (not actually a Trump win, but close). Of course he is a Trumptard.

    8. Cecelia, you and every other conservative is on the hook for the crimes committed on Jan 6 and all of Trump's crimes in office. You are on the hook for the needless covid deaths that your votes and words here enabled. Of course you have to answer for Republican crimes of commission and omission. You voted for the turd.

    9. Anonymouse 7:40pm. get stuffed, sweetie.

  3. "Three thousand years later, reasons for this ten-year war may sound sadly familiar."

    What war in modern times has started because a woman ran off with or was abducted by the leader of another country?

    The Illiad was written from oral history, which involved the retelling over stories for generations, with the kinds of "improvements" such story-telling usually produces. That makes them narratives, not history, and their purpose was entertainment and tradition, not veracity. But Somerby treats the Illiad as if it were a news report. While scorning modern news as too narrative-driven, he exalts a work of literature that is more fiction than fact. That makes no sense at all. Then he reasons that we are today seeing the return of such divisions, when the struggles of rival city-states of the past are far different than today's political problems. You have to gloss over too many details to make this idea fit any current circumstance. So this is just nonsense from Somerby, who appears to have little understanding of what life was like in ancient Troy, beyond reading this single lengthy poem. It is too silly to take seriously.

  4. "In his column, Brooks said a certain mindset is tearing our nation apart. In the scene which that headline recalled, Nestor's wisdom saves the Argives from having their ranks ripped to shreds."

    The only similarity between these two situations is the use of the words "ripping" and "tearing" to describe a result. Beyond that, nothing is the same in Nestor's situation and modern times. Not even the overt battle that is contemplated in the Illiad. We are not at war today. We are using conflict to achieve democratic outcomes, because that is how our system works. We don't have top-down authority figures but a Congress that resolves its differences through struggle, over and over. It is the abandonment of democratic process that is troublesome, not any imminent war other than that of words. That is the strength of our system. It is almost as if Somerby never took a civics class.

    1. Your posts couldn't be more boring.

    2. No one here is trying to entertain you.

    3. What does that have to do with anything?

  5. The alt-right is fervently wishing for a war of secession. Perhaps that is what Somerby keeps referring to. Those who are not part of the right-wing are neither seeking nor expecting war, including civil war. On the left, we are fighting a virus, not each other. Is Somerby aligning himself with the Boogaloo Bois? Does he think we should be so frightened of the right's lunatic fringe that we appease conservatives instead of pursuing our country's best interests? In that case, domestic terrorism wins. And remember, America doesn't negotiate with terrorists, not even those on our own political right.

    But what is Somerby doing issuing threats on behalf of the alt-right, cloaking them in the garb of ancient Troy in order to legitimize their terrorism? Has he lost his mind?

  6. TDH THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2021: All over "cable news," red and blue, multimillionaire corporate stars currently lust for the horror of war with their own people.

    The corporate-owned media is a tool to maintain power, Bob. It’s what happens when you let certain people have too much power, wealth, and respect. Our present and future is the hands of the ruling tag team of 21st century robber barons and centuries old religious hucksterism. Power-mad capitalists (wealth-hoarding tyrants glorifying greed), and their allied supernaturalist trickster charlatan priests spreading irrationality. Both glorify illegitimate hierarchy. A people who truly believed in democracy and sanity would take away their power and establish institutions that promote the common good.

  7. People who watch R also read and watch other points of view. She may not have the sway you imagine.

    As for the red/blue divide, it's been with us for decades, if not formally. The Confederacy has remained true to form, while the blues shift around a little.

    1. I don't think it's the overall sway that TDH is on about.
      When RM (or any partisan media stooge) acts like an idiot it makes good causes look bad.

    2. Not everyone thinks Rachel Maddow looks like an idiot. She has a large audience of people who like her work.

  8. Nestor is asking for unity within the tribe, so his tribe can carry on its war with the Trojan, the other tribe.
    Day after day, Somerby seems to be saying just the opposite, enhancing the divisions in our tribe so it is less effective.

  9. "Western literature begins with a war..."

    The Illiad wasn't the beginning of Western literature. It was Homer's rendition of an oral tradition that included many different stories, historical events and family genealogies. They haven't survived but that doesn't mean they didn't exist.

    Wikipedia says: "Many scholars argue that the earliest written works in Western Literature were fundamentally written to be spoken orally. From the Homeric Epics to the oldest piece of epic western literature: The Epic of Gilgamesh (written c. 2150-1400 BC)." Homer wrote somewhere between 1200 and 800 BC, so Gilgamesh predates Homer. In the poem Gilgamesh, "
    The goddess Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven after which the gods decide to sentence Enkidu to death and kill him." This is not about war but about obeying the gods.

    If you want the oldest written literature:

    "The Sumerian civilization first developed writing around 3400 B.C., when they began making markings on clay tablets in a script known as cuneiform. Their texts usually consisted of economic and administrative documents, but by the third millennium B.C., Sumerian scribes were also copying down essays, hymns, poetry and myths. Two of their oldest known literary works are the “Kesh Temple Hymn” and the “Instructions of Shuruppak,” both of which exist in written versions dating to around 2500 B.C. The former is an ancient ode to the Kesh temple and the deities that inhabited it, while the latter is a piece of “wisdom literature” that takes the form of sagely advice supposedly handed down from the Sumerian king Shuruppak to his son, Ziusudra. One of Shuruppak’s proverbs warns the boy not to “pass judgment when you drink beer.” Another counsels that “a loving heart maintains a family; a hateful heart destroys a family.”

    Neither of these is about war. Spmerby has selected an epic poem about war himself, but that isn't what ancient written literature was necessarily about.

  10. "Math and reading test scores for the country's 13-year-olds have dropped sharply in comparison to numbers from 2012 as some of the lowest scoring test takers fell the furthest behind.

    Data from the the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that while 2020 average scores in reading and mathematics for 13-year-olds marked an improvement from the National Assessment of Educational Progress's earliest results in the 1970s, scores had declined since 2012.

    U.S. News and World Report reported that this was the first major score drop in the subjects since the National Assessment of Educational Progress began tracking long-term academic achievement trends in the 1970s."

    For the record, these tests were taken just before the pandemic began, so that cannot be blamed for the decreases, which were found mostly in the lowest percentiles of students taking the test. Decreases were also largest among the younger students. So, the students most in need of help in the early grades were clearly not getting it during Trump's administration.

    Will Somerby discuss this>

  11. "Texas House passed extreme gerrymandered GOP state House map at 3:30 am last night. Democracy quite literally dying in dark

    Whites 40% population but control 59% districts

    Hispanics 39% of population but control 20% districts

    Blacks 12% of population but control 2.7% districts"

    This is why Democrats have slim margins in some parts of the country. Not coincidentally, Democrats include more diversity and Republicans are largely white.

  12. Real issues now, is the Press informing the public about what’s in Biden’s programs and how he plans to pay for them? How are they covering the Republicans, a party under the thumb of someone Bob admits is nuts? Too painful, I guess, to the now lazy Howler.

  13. I’m impressed, I have to say. Hardly ever do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining. Your idea is outstanding; the problem is that not sufficient people speak intelligently about..přání k narozeninám online

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