Tribal Warfare

Yesterday was day 5 of 10 for the Digital Book Club over at talk.desk.pm. We are reading Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. I am a day late due to being out-of-town on Friday.

In today’s reading Steven enumerates the qualities of an amateur. The list is extensive and illuminating. These qualities should be familiar to anyone in the process of turning pro. Most, if not all, of these qualities describe me in my personal life. Paraphrasing…

The amateur... is terrified, is an egotist, lives by the opinion of others, permits fear to stop him from acting, easily distracted, seeks instant gratification, jealous, lives for the futures, lives in the past, will be ready tomorrow, gives his power away to others, is asleep.

In detailing some of these qualities, Steven references “the tribe.” Many of the amateur’s qualities are in relation to a group of people, a tribe. I had to push ahead in the reading to The Tribe Doesn’t Give a Shit. Here Steven says:

The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others as “different.” The tribe will declare us “weird” or “queer” or “crazy.” The tribe will reject us.

Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a shit.

There is no tribe.

Perhaps it can be argued that “there is no tribe” in the same way that “there is no spoon” in the Matrix. But, as spoon is real to those in the matrix, the tribe is real to amateurs.

That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just as fucked up as we are and just as terrified.

I wholly agree that members of the tribe are just as “fucked up as we are”. But Steven goes on to say:

Each individual is so caught up in his own bullshit that he doesn’t have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it.

Here I must disagree. We might consider the tribes of political parties, gamers, genders, religions, etc. I would argue that the individual members of these groups, being “fucked up” as we all are, are all too worried about others and spend enormous energy to reject, dimish, tear-down, and intimidate those both within and outside the tribe.

Being amateurs themselves, tribe members are addicted to distraction in the form of destruction of others. They avoid their own issues by pointing out and criticizing both real and imagined faults in others. Furthermore, these tactics are intended to instill fear and usurp power.

Consider #GamerGate and the doxing of individuals for speaking up against the “tribe.” Or the “politics of personal destruction” employed by political candidates and parties. These tactics can have very real consequences for the individuals being targeted, whether professionals or amateurs. Professionals have lost their careers. An amateur might reasonably conclude that the tribe cannot be challenged, look at what happens to respected individuals who do not toe the line. And, so the tribe grows in strength as the amateur submits to the tribe’s group-think and becomes another voice attacking.

Turning pro requires acknowledgement of the existence of tribes, not denial. In the act of acknowledgement, the amateur becomes the very essence of a professional. And only with acknowledgement can the amateur choose to separate himself from the tribe and set his own course. The act of separation is the act of a professional, a grown-up, an individual who is choosing to accept his or her own calling.

I spent two decades as a member of a tribe. Separating from the tribe was one of the most difficult, and liberating, choices I have ever made. But that tribe still exists, and the consequences to those remaining and the people around them cannot be understated.