Pride and Prejudice - The STORY GRID edition - Annotated by SHAWN COYNE


Steven Pressfield

Please join the discussion below. If you have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or are serving now, your contribution is especially valuable. Feel free to post anonymously or to hold back unit designations or locations. Tell it like it is!

-Steven Pressfield



Video Blog

Episode 2: “The Citizen Vs. The Tribesman”

Citizen = Western. Tribesman = Eastern. These are two different breeds of cat, who see the world in diametrically opposed ways. Can we Westerners impose “citizen values” on a tribal society?

View the credits and transcript for Episode 2.

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39 Responses to “Episode 2: “The Citizen Vs. The Tribesman””

  1. Pete
    June 8, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Mr. Pressfield:

    A very interesting and informative couple of presentations, important for illuminating the vast gulf which separates western societies from those of eastern tribal culture.

    Now, to some comments and questions:

    1. You made quite a good case for tribalism, but no system of human organization is flawless. What are the drawbacks of tribal culture, not only from our biased standpoint, but from the point of view of those who live in them? If I was the CO of a military unit tasked with finding a seam in a given tribal group, to exploit for military purposes, this is the sort of question I’d ask.

    2. The tribe, with the possible exception of the family, is the oldest, most basic social unit.
    As you have noted, it has many comforts to offer those within it, and certain strengths to offer – i.e. cohesion, place within the world, and so on. However, this begs the question: if tribalism is so great, how come significant portions of the world’s people have rejected it as the organizational basis of society? Clearly, there must be drawbacks to tribal culture. What are they? (I know of a few, but I’d be interested to know if your list is the same as mine).

    3. Was American culture once more tribal? IMO, yes. Present-day post-industrial life homogenizes differences that once existed in everything from cuisine to music, to religion to what clothese we wear – but it was not always so. Geographic isolation, and the relative slowness and expense of mass communications, assured that America had different groups of people, truly diverse and not only in the politically-correct sense of the word. More to the point, would it serve us well to revert to tribalism, or at least some aspects of it? Please comment. I’d add that some modern commentators see what is called “reprimitivization” occurring in parts of the developed world.

    4. Whose way of life is stronger, in the sense that it will be sustained and/or adopted, versus weakening or dying off – the tribalist, or the modernist? Are we modernizing and “de-tribalizing” them, or are they “retribalizing” us? Nothing is static, change is inevitable; the question is, in what direction is it occurring?

    IMO, there exists a significant number of people in the developed world unhappy with the trade-offs implicit in post-modern life, they are alone, alienated and disengaged from their communities, friends, or families and seeking something to which to belong. Whether it is a motorcycle gang or a local club, these reflect our own need to belong to a larger group, and not only to be free agents.

    That Marine hit it on the head; becoming a Marine means you are always a Marine, a member of the tribe, one of us and not of them.

  2. Pete
    June 8, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    One other comment:

    Steven, I really enjoyed your novel on Rommel, I plan to read your earlier titles as soon as my schedule permits.

    Now, to the “million dollar question”: If you were charged with crafting a grand strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan, what would you do and how would you do it? Leave aside how or why we went into these places; that’s in the past. We’re there, now what will you do about it?

    As for me, whatever arguments could be made in favor of staying go out the window, given the fact that our treasury is empty. We can’t afford foreign military adventures anymore, certainly not at the current level. Unless, that is, you want the PRC to continue funding us.

    Look forward to the next installments in the series…

  3. June 9, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Your description of tribes and tribesmen are the same characteristics found in the military and the law enforcement communities. It’s an “us versus them” mentality. So, the USA has sent its tribes over to battle their tribes. The big difference I see is that US military tribes are only in the tribe for 4 years, 10 years, maybe 25 or 30 years. The Eastern tribes are generational. I don’t think a transient army can beat tribes like the Pashtun and Kurds. We’re too young to understand.

  4. Rich Gibson
    June 9, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Mr. Pressfield,

    It occurs to me that the argument of citizen vs. tribesmen doesn’t rest so much on a collective choice on a way of life, but moreover it is simply the result of a ratio of land mass to the populous. In every area where tribes still exist, populations are sparse with often huge land masses surrounding them. Where we’ve adopted ‘citizen’ culture to borrow from your nomenclature, populations are dense. You need look no further than Europe to see its evolution of tribesman to citizen. To be sure, ‘tribes’ exist in the States even (e.g., Gangs), but by and large tribalism fails because the intermingling of tribe member is too great. So absent a population explosion in these conflict regions, I can’t see how tribalism is defeated. It remains until the ratio of land to tribe members no longer supports it.

  5. hass
    June 9, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Iranians have had “shahrvand” = citizen for over a millenia.
    Get a grip.

    • Jeremy
      June 9, 2009 at 12:11 pm

      While there has been the concept of shahravand for a very long time, there is also an underlying culture of tribalism that still permeates Iran. This is a nice wikipedia article on the subject, if you’re interested:

  6. Barb
    June 9, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for the dialogue Steve. Thanks for trying to get the cultural word out to our deploying troops.

    Semper Fi,

    Proud Marine Mom

  7. Omar
    June 9, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I think you have touched base on very important aspects of tribal structures and the mindsets of invididuals associated with them. You put definitions of freedom, liberty and social soundess so accurately that tempts me to ask how you reached your conclusion.

    In a affort to perfect your argument, I have to make a one comment regarding education. I am a tribal man from north-west Iraq as my father is. He was born in a tribal village and lived in it for a considerable part of his life, I also lived for a long period of time in that same village. Contrary to the common typecast of a tribal man, he has a D.Sc. in material science from Oxford and PhD. in physics from another British University. I have a graduate degree from Harvard myself. It is important to point out that in accordance to how you defined the need to identify as a “proud member of a group”, all qualifications of idividuals contribute to the group’s collective power, and are actually considered as assests for group. Hence, tribes in reality, encourage education for individuals who excel in it. Occasionally tribes raise funds to support individuals seeking education if they show loyalty to the tribe and the ability to put these funds to good use, and success during their education.

    These are first hand observations. I didn’t require any financial help from my tribe but my father did, as well as a number of others in the tribe. I actually provided help to others who needed such help, and among those now are doctors, policemen, and army officers who provided services for their tribal community. Tribes are among the most efficient cooperatives you can imagine.


  8. June 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks, everybody, for posting. Thanks, Barb. Pete, to reply to a little of what you said, I think we’re all basically tribal. That’s why movies like “The Road Warrior” strike such a chord. Let’s go back (or forward) to those days! It’s fun. Certain nations in the west have arisen with great effort and at tremendous sacrifice out of tribalism, with such benchmarks along the way as the Magna Carta, the Rights of Man, the Enlightenement, etc. But it ain’t easy. To live as a “modern” autonomous individual goes against the evolutionary structure of our psyches, which took shape over millions of years of tribal living when cohesion, obedience, and other tribal virtues meant the difference between survival and starvation. It takes tremendous will, self-discipline, self-motivation, self-validation to put the tribal mind behind and live as an autonomous individual. Is it any wonder that people succumb to the ills and vices of modernity and post-modernity? It’s tough being all alone in the world. That’s the price of freedom. And many people don’t want to pay it. That’s not hard to understand or empathize with. “Re-tribalization” is a great word. It’s happening in many places around the globe, including here at home.

    As for what would I do in Iraq and Afghanistan, Episode 5 gets into that, at least a little. Next Monday. But I have more detailed thoughts to post as we go along, my own from history and from others who are much smarter than I, who can claim real on-the-ground experience and have had success in that very area. One of them is my good friend, Major Jim Gant of the Special Forces, who is working on a paper right now titled “One Tribe At A Time.” His thesis starts with classic COIN theory that Step One in any counterinsurgency is to establish security for the indigenous population, so that a mother and father aren’t scared to death about the safety of their children in their own home and are not afraid to say what they think. But where he diverges from some of the current thought is he believes that that goal can be accomplished — and can ONLY be accomplished — through the existing tribal structure, at least in the non-urban areas of Afghanistan and other like countries. (Cities are different, obviously.) Empowering the tribes, reinforcing their legitimacy as agents of governance, giving them the tools to resist intimidation by militant and extremist elements, winning their confidence, speaking their language and fighting alongside them. More to come on that

  9. Cheese
    June 9, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Tribalism is in many ways comparable to nationalism. Especially in Europe were nations were build around certain “ethnic” groups.

    The big strength of tribalism is their endurance, for better or worse. Usually as Rich Gibson pointed out in less dense areas, but it is not written in stone.

    However their big disadvantage is the lack of actual basic human justice w.r.t. other tribes or nations. This divides them in small pockets unable to organize effectively for large scale endeavors, unless they:
    1. numerically explode their numbers
    2. find a leech/organized crime like position in a society

    Only a few groups have (to a limited extend) transcended the tribalism and ethnic nationalism, which include nations centered around some over arching idea like the U.S.A. with their declaration of independence, (Ancient) China with its “All under heaven” mindset, Genghis Khan with his tribe transcending politics and meritocracy etc.
    Some religions also fall in this category, but although many in theory are universal, in practice only a few really are.

    Although the Afghans are very tribal in Afghanistan, when they come to live in Europe some I know easily adopt the (decent or criminal) ways of the citizen.

  10. Shottmaker
    June 9, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Thanks Steven – interesting view.

    However, I am not sure that describing people as tribal or citizens encompasses the whole of a person. I am thinking of the ancient symbol of the Tao, where there is a element of Yin within the heart of Yang and vice versa. Together they form a whole.

    Growing up a citizen type, I definitely find and feel aspects of tribalism in me and my life. How do we support the tribal and still tap into the element of citizenship that must exist in them at some level? That is the question that leads to the answer.


    Further – I would like to upload the videos to youtube in order to get them to a wider audience. I know of several people/groups that I would love to have watch the videos and get their feedback – but they may or may not wish to get involved with the whole facebook morass.

    Thank you friend for all the hard work you have put into these.

  11. June 10, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Just saw episode 2. Better than good. Want to come on my radio show? It’s got a live audience of maybe three or for people in Napa County?
    Go bears,

  12. June 15, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    It’s apt that you describe the Marines as a tribe. James Webb argues in “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America” that the US military is an expression of Celtic values carried here by Scots-Irish immigrants. Those Celtic values include an adamantly independent character and a meritocracy which esteems and elevates any individual who distinguishes himself in combat, regardless of pedigree.

    Those Scots-Irish settled mainly in the South and were proud to serve in the military. After the Civil War, Southerners were loathe to join the US Army and wear the hated Yankee blue uniform, but joining the Marines was socially acceptable. Southerners came to dominate the Marines and later the Army, once the stigma wore off after a few decades, permeating it with their Celtic values. The mass conscription of WWII brought many draftees into contact with those Celtic values, which they adopted and spread throughout America. Webb argues that is how Celtic values became American values.

    Such tribes exist in America in full or fragments but are only really successful when they are open to outsiders and new ideas. The weakness of most tribes it that they tend to be closed societies where conformity is prized. They can thrive only in static environments. Ethnic communities in America tend to dissolve and are absorbed into the greater community after a generation or two.

    The advantage of citizen societies is that they are open to new ideas and can reorganize themselves swiftly to exploit them. They are not hobbled by tribal ties to fix their place in society. Radical openness is an advantage in dynamic environments.

    One way to attack the tribal structure is to make the young rich and introduce them to a richer life. Making kids rich through outside opportunities and technology gives them power and usurps the power of the elders. It also undermines the tribal structure in the long term to introduce the young to outside Western lifestyles where their peers live fuller, more empowered, more happy lives. It’s obvious to many Arab twentysomethings that they live miserable half lives compared to their cohorts in the West.

    Most of all, show the young the success of outside cultures as compared to their own. Nothing succeeds like success. A friend of mine who lived in South America in the 1960s told me that people there did not go to American movies to see the story, but to marvel at the background of modern kitchens with wonderful gadgets and refrigerators full of food. They wanted all that. The actors were just in the way.

    • Roger
      June 17, 2009 at 6:39 am

      “It’s apt that you describe the Marines as a tribe.”

      The United States Marine Corps a tribe? The United States Marine Corps puts women in positions of authority. Every day in the United States Marine Corps women give orders to men and men take orders from women. Definitely not tribal behaviour.

  13. Sean
    June 15, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    How are we supposed to make anybody rich when our country is broke and in debt to China? What sorts of success stories are we to tout in the face of our economic woes? Are young tribesmen going to be lured away from a life of manliness in order to become fat sellers of cellphones? As for the notion that we in the West are somehow happier, really? Are you basing that notion on how you’d percieve life in a tribal existance? It’s doubtful that young men brought up in such a way of life see it as somehow lacking.

    Honestly, it’s as though no one really listened to what Mr. Pressfield had to say about tribes. Even Mr. Pressfield ignores crucial pieces of the puzzle.

  14. Apollo
    June 15, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I think that in the west, or at least in the United States the primary unit is not the nation but the individual and the nation is just composed of individuals. Remember, that the government of the US was made to SERVE the individual and protect his rights. While in the east, the primary unit is THE TRIBE, and the tribesmen is just there to serve it.

    Ithink you give the tribesmen to much credit here, they dont want freedom , what they want is to be ruled by their own tribe. They dont care if they are under tyrrany as long as the tyrrant is from their own tribe. Freedom is just the absence of physical coercion, and the tribesmen is FOR physical coercion….of his tribe on other and on him.Westerners generally abhor the use of force,while the tribesmen thinks force is a part of everyday life. So the tribesmen does not want anything resembling freedom.
    As for the rest of your video which I found abhorent,

    “What are the nature and the causes of modern tribalism? Philosophically, tribalism is the product of irrationalism and collectivism.” … “If men accept the notion that reason is not valid, what is to guide them and how are they to live?”

    Obviously, they will seek to join some group—any group—which claims the ability to lead them and to provide some sort of knowledge acquired by some sort of unspecified means. If men accept the notion that the individual is helpless, intellectually and morally, that he has no mind and no rights, that he is nothing, but the group is all, and his only moral significance lies in selfless service to the group—they will be pulled obediently to join a group. But which group? Well, if you believe that you have no mind and no moral value, you cannot have the confidence to make choices—so the only thing for you to do is to join an unchosen group, the group into which you were born, the group to which you were predestined to belong by the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient power of your body chemistry.

    This, of course, is racism. But if your group is small enough, it will not be called “racism”: it will be called “ethnicity.””

    -Ayn Rand “Global Balkanization,” The Voice of Reason,pg. 117

  15. June 16, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Sean, We may be in a recession by our standards but we are in boom times compared to Pashtun tribesmen. No matter how bad our economy falters, we far above Muslim levels of poverty. The success story we have to tell the tribes is how to create wealth. We know the secret. They do not.

    The only way young men brought up in a tribe think they are as happy as Westerners is by ignorance. Material plenty does make you happier than somebody who is never sure of their next meal, whose family and friends are prey for simple illnesses which can be easily cured in the West, and whose life is far shorter. I’m thinking of that Afghan girl in the famous photo from the cover of National Geographic years ago. They found her, a grown woman, a few years ago. She told them that she had never had a happy day in her life. That’s quite a statement and representative of the life of terrible struggle tribal people live.

    You can develop a pretty good metric of the relative happiness of Westerners versus Pashtun tribesmen by comparing how many migrate to the other’s lands. I’ve met a fair number of Pakistanis and Afghans who have migrated to America. Who migrates from America to Afghanistan or Pakistan in search of happiness, to live a better life? Other than your odd fanatic like Johnny Jihad or Adam Gadahn, not too many.

    • June 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Tantor

      I do not know if you are a real Christian or not but many idiots like you make a mistake by mistaking pashtun wali with Islam. I am a pashtun and am a committed christian I have been in the west for about 22 years now which is most of my life. I have seen both world the muslim and the western world. I have seen the pashtun race and their tribe and what i have learnt is something from both. What Have I learnt? That there are too many ignorant people like you, so I will ask you as a christian who is pashtun and is from the east. Do you know who your real father is? Because millions in the west do not know who their real father is? what can a man learn from that even if you are living in a material paradise.

      • Asadullah Noorzay
        June 29, 2009 at 9:43 am

        hey you( ALLAH NOT JESUSE) might be a good christian , but please dont use the word pashton for your self. your grand father might be from pashton tribes but it does not mean that you are also pashton . as you said that you have been in there for 22 years , and it means that you dont know any thing about the pashtonwali , Ghairat ,Nang and etc . Professor Steven know every thing about the pashton tribes but he is not pashton same thing with you.
        a pashton is a worrior and fight for the protection of his tribe ,family and land and when he goes away from his tribe for ever he dont remain a worrior and pashton. my english is not good so i hope you understand what i write in pashto below and i will be waitting for your response
        پشتونوالی زان ته یو غیرت لری ته یو مرتد یی او د اسلام له دایری چخه وتلی یی او هر سوک چی د اسلام نه خارج شی د پشتو نه خرج دی دا زکه چی اسلام او پشتو سره ترلی دی
        که ته ریشتیا پشتون وی نو د یو بشتون په مخکی ووایه چی زه عیسوی یم نو بیا د خپل زان حال وکوره
        یو پنجابی هم پشتو خبری کوای شی مکر پشتون نه شی کیدای
        نو زما هیله دا ده چی داسی وایی چی زما پلار نیکه پشتانه وه داسی مه وایه چی زه پشتون یم

        اغیار وایی چی پشتو د دوزخ زبه ده
        زه به جــــنـــــت د پشتو سره زم

    • Asadullah Noorzay
      June 29, 2009 at 9:57 am

      Tantor ! leave us to live the way that we want that , if you are trying to change the way of our life than we are ready do die for it , and if you kill thousands of us with modren weapons that you have , some of your bodies well be ship home in plastic bags too.
      i know that you will be not able to kill us all .
      in the begaining of 2002 the America was just fighting agains the Taliban and Al Qeda , and America was making good progress on that, but when later on they missed up with tribes americans are lossing more parsonels.
      we are worriors see our history from the Alexander , the Brithish , Russian and Indians
      and you will understand the facts.
      Now if the America make the pashtons tribes friend , iam 100 % sure that it will win the war .
      i have a lot to say but we are not face to face ,………………………….

  16. Sean
    June 16, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Tantor, we’re not merely in a recession- we’re in uncharted waters economically. We can quibble over the particulars but suffice it to say that when our government has nationalised huge chunks of our financial and automotive industries it’s not just a dip on a line graph. I find that to be incredibly important.

    As to wealth, I disagree almost completely. The US has largely abondoned creating wealth for the substitute of making money. The two are not the same though they can and do sometimes overlap. I happen to live in one of the few areas of this country which still has a large degree of industry and it’s not a big area. We no longer manufacture much here in America. Instead we play the “value added” game whereby one puts a spin on a product in order to justify raising the cost. To find the secret of creating actual wealth one would be forced to look elsewhere.

    To be sure some Pashtuns and other tribal types do emigrate to our country but it isn’t all of them nor have I seen any indication that the vast majority wish to come here. But the big thing here is that you can’t seem to make the mental leap of viewing the world through their eyes and with their values. You see security as necessary to happiness, they don’t. You see material goods as essential, they don’t. You see the safety blanket of big medicine, with it’s pills and surgeries and the easy promise of long life, to be part and parcel with happiness, they most emphatically don’t.

    Every culture on earth acknowledges these facets of life and assign them a value. It’s not that a Pashtun won’t give his daughter amoxicillin- he will- it’s that he’s not going to adopt an alien culture to insure a steady stream of it. He’ll wing it. He’ll take his chances, aided and abbetted by family and fellow clansmen or tribesmen, in the great game of life. Sure it’s risky, but so is life.

    But they have something that we’ve largely thrown away. Something far more fundamental than all of the material stuff in our society. Jesusnotallah gave you a big hint. They know who they are in a way that we often don’t.

  17. Andrey
    June 18, 2009 at 7:31 am

    I do not think that a citizen of the US has the right to tell any one else what to do or how to live, especially outside the US. The so called Western-style democracies simply export and impose their ‘values’ on others in order to rape and rule. In cases when the ‘values’ being imposed are rejected by the other party, enters the army, the sanctions, the media, etc., you name it…

    • June 19, 2009 at 4:52 am

      Hi andrey
      Very good article. Thank God so many people are still awake in your country and not hipnatized by the material lies. 70 percent of afghanistan is in the hands of America. But there is no democracy in those parts. In Hareth side a war world rules and does not pay a single pay in taxes to the government of Afghanistan. In the north one of the biggest murderer and rapist in the history of afghanistan Abdul rashim dostum is ruling its own people and his own sparate government. He is suppose to be under USA. So when will democracy be established in those part which are already with America in afghanistan?
      One of the biggest laying game has been played to the unaware people of America in the name of democracy. There is only one women mp in parliament of afghanistan a very brave women she says America has deceived the whole world. Because she also says where is democracy in the 70 percent of Afghanistan where the USA is already supposed to be in control and has been there for the last 8 years? If you read the news papers the British Government is also busy telling its own people lies. They are busy to bring down the pashtun race which they could not subdue when the had the empire they are not bothered about democarcy that is a lie. If democracy why not put democracy in those 70 percent of Afghanistan which is already under USA. But those parts are ruled by the war lords and has their own government. Recently the paki government says that they have cleared swat? To tell you the truth it is far from over because they are still fighting as the fleeing refugees bring more news. This is not about democracy. This is about a single simple race call Pashtun tribe men who for some strange reason every one want to subdue because every one previously has failed. In fact empire has failed to do the job for thousand of years so this time the whole world both the east and west have come to together to control a small poor race? Not about democracy it is all lies and manipulation and holding the real news from people. 143000 Christain lives in Israel under the law of aparthield. America support that law of aparthield against those christian living in Israel where is democracy in Israel for these 143000 christian and who are supporting the oppressors of our christian brothers and sisters in Israel?

      watch—- the conveys of death– (all 7 parts) on you tube and you will know what the USA has been involve in already. The USA has shamed the name of our lord Jesus every where. Even the 143000 christian in Israel are affected by it.

      • Asadullah Noorzay
        June 29, 2009 at 11:47 am

        hey you

        how come you represnte the pashtons tribes , or how come you write in the behalf of Afghans , even you are not a pashton and not an Afghans your self?
        the one whos can speak on the behalf of pashtons tribes are called MALIK which are the head or ealder of the tribe . while you have no tribe you are same for us like other americans or westrens.
        what ever you are writting in here is ansult to the pashtons . and i would like you to stop this .
        if you called your self some how a pashtun. what was the name of your father tribe?
        and what is your name ?
        because the last name of a pashtuns usually derived from the name of its tribe
        as i said in my other comments that you might have a little bid knowledge about us , but is does not mean that you are also pashtun.
        i think you might be Tajik or some body eles
        i cant wait for your reply , leave your comments in here or simpley e mail me at

  18. July 3, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    So how can tribes mix with the modern world?

  19. vanders
    July 4, 2009 at 6:55 am

    I’m not an academic, so take this comment as just something off the top of my layman’s head… but, it seems to me that one of the best books on interacting with tribes is Gregg Mortensen’s “Three Cups of Tea.” Here’s a guy with no political agenda who just wanted to help out one of the North Pakistan/Himalayan tribes that had saved his life after an accident on a K2 expedition. He asked them what they needed and they said: a school. He has ended up helping a lot of tribes in that area to build schools for their kids and probably doing more for US/Pakistan/Afghanistan relationships than anything all the money and political blah-blah that our politicians have done — just like Captains Gant and Harrison that Mr. Pressfield discusses on his blog are doing in Afghanistan. Like them, Mr. Mortensen has made relationships with individuals in the tribes. And in his book he has some lovely descriptions of what it’s like to be a valued friend of a tribe.

    Anyway, my point is that I might disagree that the tribes hate education — if what Mr. Mortensen writes is true. It seems that they want to be able to take advantage of the technological and medical advances of the West. But only in their own way and their own time and not at the expense of the cohesiveness of the tribe.

    I’m also not sure, like Mr. Pressfield, that our way of life is “better.” I love my gizmos to be sure, but the isolation of modern life in a big city has its discontents.

  20. Balkan
    July 4, 2009 at 8:23 am

    I am not native speaker of English so please forgive my linguistic mistakes. It is well known that the gap between the western, so called ”civilized”, world and the eastern world is big.It is the very fundamental ideals and principles on which our societies evolved and organized that differ drastically in comparison to the tribal societies of the east. The enlightment and Renaissance that occurred in the western world turned over theocracy and new terms -like personal rights -were put on the table. However, this radical change which occurred as a reaction to medieval obscurantism nowadays is resulting to lack of social cohesion.Modern societies are a celebration of materialism and selfishness.
    On the other hand, Islamic world never experienced such a progress.Theocracy is thriving on these tribes and I believe we should think hard why these people never turned progressive.Yes, it is very accurate Pressfield’s point the citizen vs. the tribesman. It is my belief that every attempt of introducing western way of life to these people is destined to fail. For example, Iraq today is an abomination of democracy, a realm of corruption and corporal interests. Is that why people died for? It is time that we put our arrogance away and see what are the problems of western world before we turn against tribalism.

  21. July 4, 2009 at 3:25 pm


    Brilliant, It is AFT someone brought some intelligence and wisdom to the fiasco we are calling war in this tribal region. Why we think our way of life is superior is beyond me. All we have is smarter machinery. We have no sense of place, purpose or being outside of the shopping mall. On the other hand, just in case mine gets cut off, unless one is raised in that tradition, it to us as yucky as the thought of eating grubs. I look forward to viewing the next videos.

  22. Bobbos
    July 5, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Mr. Pressfield notes that perhaps tribalism has some attributes that we should indulge in or at least consider as better to ours (the Western world). Let me say that I agree in some part but also disagree.
    Here is why… the current state of the US, as well as Western Europe, is one of out-and-out socialism or quasi-socialism (I believe that Washington DC has been putting us on this path gradually for some time now…. irrespective of which of the big two parties you consider)… and if I was left to a choice between this socialsm or tribalism, I would definitely take tribalism. The reason being, tribalism mirrors the one aspect of the US that the US founding fathers envisioned. Obviously not the same vision but it does parallel in that it was thought that the local community would determine it’s own affairs much more so than some grand central gov’t far away that had no idea of what the local culture was like.
    This more or less leads to why I respectfully disagree with Mr. Pressfield. I think our intention, not what is in place, in terms of political philosophy is individual freedom. In my view, this is what matters most up to the point that you do not infringe on the rights of others. People may argue that it was first the family and then the tribe but I view the first as the individual which is the smallest unit of autonomy, and again, the most important to consider.
    This only applies to our nation… all nations have a right to decide for themselves. And it is for that reason, that I most definitely agree with those who speak within this blog that are part of the Pashtuns. What works for them is their business and who am I to judge what is best for them. I think they know better. But back here in the states… let’s get back to what is supposed to be our axiom of life… which is that of liberty for all individuals.

  23. David Heyl
    July 9, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Very interesting and valuable ideas throughout this series. In video no. 2, I don’t agree with the idea of citizen as defined, in fact, in Alexander’s army the Greek members were very close to the tribal mindset compared to the “civilized” Persian empire members. I propose the early city state mentality wasn’t much different from that of a tribe, and the Macedonians and Thracians were considered as rustics or even barbarians by the Greeks. He had the problem of a big, mixed organization and the difference in tactics and equipment, but he and his senior Greek officers had experience fighting mountain tribes in nothern Greece (the Balkans seem to still have the tribal mindset to me).
    The tribal mentality (perhaps put in the idea of the clan as a subunit) not only gives the sense of belonging but the real respect for the individual’s worth, and his opinions. Clan leaders are almost always elected by councils, often with the same family holding the leadership from generation to generation, but only with clan – tribal approval. Every few years or when needed tribes will have general meetings where the various clans meet and the main leaders will address the topics of import for the tribe. This also allows interclan ties of the tribe to be reaffirmed.
    I believe western democracy and its citizens, especially the founding father’s (celt, saxon, german, frank and viking tribes) has its roots in tribal structure. The ancient “civilized” societies (Eygpt, China, Inca, etc…) put the role of the individual as subservient to the authority, with no choice or input for the normal individual. These societies overwhelmed the older tribal structures by shear size and power of the entity, and the role of cities shouldn’t be underestimated in the rise of totalitarium forms of government. I think the comments by Bobbos above touches some truths. Perhaps even in smaller cities (i.e., Greek city states) promotes the sense of the individual as you describe, the selfish, less communal thinking, as one is not constantly surrounded by one’s family and tribe and a person’s moral role in society is sharply reduced, while the pressures of city life are mounted upon the individual, creating harder, more cynical ways.
    Traditions are of very high importance in tribal culture, and difficult to change. The Spanish culture in the Andes is just a veneer, even after almost 500 years. I agree that tribe members do not respond to being told what to do by outsiders, while “civilized” groups are easily led by any new authority. But from my experience traditions often can be overcome or modified with clear demonstration of the benefit of the change-especially education. But all must be done with respect, for example, you cannot send in a woman to address the leadership of a tribe, which is a major sign of disrespect in almost any tribe. Distrust of outsiders is strong, and over history they are often killed on first contact by tribe members. However, once an outsider is accepted, trust is very strong and that person will be protected to the death if need be, even from other members of the tribe, as long as he demonstrates the trust is well placed (from many personal experiences).
    From my experiences of over 25 years, some more basic ideas: Do not use PC bs with any tribes, study the history of the tribe, the region, who are the enemies, and politely treat all members with the respect as a man is due, but you must show you also are a man of respect. Never make a promise you can’t keep; I will always speak the truth, even if it hurts my arguments (and even anger my distant bosses), because to have the trust is more important than to have an agreement. If your word is true, even as an adversary you have gained respect. Lawyers aren’t a good idea; plain, simple language is always a plus, in fact, city folk from the tribe’s country usually are a major hindrance in gaining trust, (here in the USA too). If you don’t understand some words, apologize for yourself and ask the words to be repeated, with tribal leaders every word can have import.
    Your comments in this video on the benefits of tribalism are great, but I think individual liberties – quirks are probably better tolerated, as long as one respects the tribe. Great stuff.

  24. July 16, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Stephen, you mention the dichotomy of east versus west, citizen versus tribesman. The largest populations in the East of course are in India and China. I am sure in the rural areas there are still deep evidences of tribalism in those two countries, but are there not vast numbers of Indians and Chinese migrating over to becoming “citizens” or at least more citizen-like as their countries become more and more urbanized, materialistic and ever eager to increase the influence of capitalism?

    I am not criticizing capitalism or urbanization…I perceive a migration away from tribalism that you indicate has not only been firmly implanted in the east for thousands of years but most likely will stay implanted. Please speak on this issue when you get a chance.

  25. Jim USMC
    August 16, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Mr Pressfield, Excellent analysis and great thought provoking recommendations. Having commanded an infantry battalion in both Afghanistan and then Iraq, I view any advocates of a “transplant” of the Anbar awakening with GREAT suspicion, so I was pleased to hear that you did not oversimplify any parallels. As you know, in Afghanistan, every valley is its own little war. On your recommendations for “how to win,” I would humbly offer that not only do our more junior troops need more training in “how to make the deal,” they need the authority to do so. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, I felt like I could not push down the full range of authority that my company and in many cases, platoon commanders or squad leaders needed. In short, we have US and coalition military fighting insurgents while PRTs and State Dept officials try to fight the causes of insurgency. To a tribal society, we must look quite dysfunctional. Thanks and keep up the great work!

  26. Jerry
    October 7, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Mr Pressfield,

    Listening to your videos, struck me all of a sudden. You are talking about the street gangs in this and other countries. You could also include the Mafia, I suppose.

  27. JW
    October 27, 2009 at 9:51 am

    How can you say Tribalism is the greatest way to live? You contradict your own statement with the Marine Sgt example. In the West we are able to progress as an organized nation by revering individual merit, coupled with the ability to select precisely which “tribe” we wish to join within that national structure. Afghan Tribal society, and any Tribal society in general if we are to believe your assertions, is static and any attempt at change or advancement is met with violence – how is that better?

    As an aside: I’m sure it isn’t intentional, but this series (particularly its title) seems to paint a picture of you as some great prophet of the Tribal-Insurgency connection. It would be great if you’d mention some of the originators of the research surrounding the matter, and low-intensity conflict in general.

  28. Tom
    November 22, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Mr. pressman, i do not have the academic background to agree with everything you say, certainly your views on the strength of tribalism resonant with me especially as regards NATO efforts in Afghanistan, given the lack of a credible and ineffective central government in Kabul. I have long believed, as does Major Gant in his article, that a key to stablizing Afghanistan, remains outside the cities, within the tribes and their provinces, and that if we as a NATO capacity builder, are able to strengthen their unity of purpose we will utlimately strengthen the Afghan Central Government. I do believe though that a point is missed regarding tribes and education. of the 34,000 villages in Afghanistan, most seem to clamor for more education of their sons and daughters. As that occurs over time, I can see a shift from tribalism to one of “urbanization” as education leads to commericalization. But we are a decade away from that. Having served mutliple tours in Vietnam, then Somalia, Iraq and soon to be Afghanistan, I have always been struck by the strength and reliance of tribesman on the tribe for substenance and livilehood. With a weak central government in Kabul, I do believe a renewed effort should be directed at the tribes and what strengths they can bring to the bargaining and stability table. Reconciliation among tribes is a must, enhancing the economic growth and trade among tribes is a must, and continuing the education of the tribesmen (and women) must continue to grow. I do not necessarily agree with pulling NATO resources out of the provinces, for to give the insurgent free access gives him the ability to communicate far more effectively with the unsatisified tribes who have yet to see services or assistance that is continuous and sustaining from NATO or the central government. Yet, too we must remember that Afghanistan’s 4 major population centers offer economic and educational opportunities that begin to erode some of the former tribal beliefs, and that centering NATO forces in these major population centers (to include other cities) while necessary now as NATO forces regroup in their strategy development, we must be prepared to return to the provinces, to build these relationships, to ensure they are sustained as well as the work accomplished with them, as a NATO, not (U.S.centric) mentor, while giving critical time for the NATO ministries to work with the ever developing Afghan central government, building its capacity to extend itself within the next decade, to provide the services to the tribes and its peoples, uniting Afghan people as one.

    • Jim Gant
      November 22, 2009 at 10:08 am


      I hope you don’t mind that I have answered your post, as you sent it to Steve Pressfield. But I will anyway! And it is not really an answer, but an observation based on my time in Mangwel. The very first thing that Malik Noorafzhal (Sitting Bull) asked for, once we had gained his trust through our actions, not with words, was for us to help him get THE GIRLS SCHOOL UP AND RUNNING. Think about that for a moment and all the implications there. You are correct in many of the things you have said in your post. There is something that I would like to point out here…If the tribe and its elders decide to push for education, for whatever reason, and this leads (after many years) to some hybrid form of “tribalism”…that is OK. The key point here being it is what THEY want, not us imposing our will or values on them. It is very hard to sometimes just communicate with the tribesmen becuase there is no basis for simple words or concepts. In other words, one must have a deep understanding of their history (both as a group {Pashtuns} and as a tribe and just as importantly as an individual. Sitting Bull and his ancestors had a very proud history of fighting foreign “invaders”…as did his tribe and the Pashtuns in general…so that played a vital role in how I and my team dealt with him and his tribe. In your case, the role of education will vary from tribe to tribe and the long term outcome of that will effect the current definition of what “tribe” means. I believe we should let the tribe decide that.

      Our fate their will in the end be determined by the relationships we build face to face, working and fighting together, and yes helping their children to become more educted if that is what THEY want. And in doing so, we will get “educated” as well.

      Again, thanks for your post.

      Take care.


      Jim Gant

  29. February 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    I think that white educated urban people have been conflated with this interpretation of the citizen. Certainly, in my small town it is family that counts, then county, then state, and the “nation” is some theoretical thing out there faraway that is out of control. People who are “right” are people who are like “us,” who want our goals (practical things like road clearance, dependable electricity — and, no, we don’t have them) and who will not demand so much money in taxes in fees that our old people and low-wage people cannot be independent.

    “We” do not like the “other.” They are not trustworthy. Politicians in this country should be as smart about this as the military is becoming in Afghanistan.

    Mary Scriver

  30. April 4, 2010 at 5:48 am

    wish this war never took place.

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