The dark side of McLuhan’s Tribal Man

Does the Global Village have a few dark alleys?

I’ll skip to the end - you betcha it does.

If you don’t know McLuhan’s theory, here’s my super-duper simplified a-little-too-much version of it:

Around 1964, McLuhan theorized that as technology advanced it would become a digital central nervous system of information connecting all media like our physical central nervous system connects our senses.

In this connectivity, mankind will revert back to an oral society, back to a time of Villages — but this time a Global Village. In turn, it would rekindle us back to a tribal-like life.

Now to break it down:

Yes, his central nervous system theory was a prediction of the Internet. Usually, the mic drops here, we stop.

But wait, there’s more.

His Global Village is happening everywhere. It’s in every craft beer you drink, every food truck you eat at, pop up shop you buy a bar of elderflower artisanal soap from; every digital nomad you meet; every tattoo and piercing; every lumber-sexual you see drinking an Old Fashioned variant with locally source gin or whisky.

What does an oral society have to do with all of that?

The underpinning of most of McLuhan’s theories is how we interacted with a medium is far more important than its content. It changes us by interacting with it. The radio dial and transistors; understanding that invisible waves can transmit voices through the air; using the theatre of the mind to pretend that the announcer is talking just to you. All of this is more important than how captivating the content is.

The medium is the message

How does media make lumber-sexuals? It’s the consequences of how your brain rewires itself slightly when interacting with a medium.

The dominant medium of choice can influence how your mind works, in essence, your thoughts.

Back to the Lumber-sexual thing.

Orality.

Yup – there’s that word again

Story Telling. Oral Traditions. Great grandmothers teaching grandmothers a recipe. Learning a childhood lesson through a bedtime fable. The sound of someone else’s voice as you remember what you’ve learned. It rings with a sense of history.

McLuhan referred to this oral time and the time of the Tribal Man. And like the term Tribal, a sense of history comes. The exploration of it — asking yourself, when Mom said she was drinking an “Old fashioned” what was that? When Dad was showing me a picture telling me about camping — what was up with the mustache and toque? How would I look with a mustache and toque?

And the exploration of history deepens:

  • How did my grandfather make moonshine?

  • My grandparents sold their own butter to make ends meet. How can I do that?

  • Every tattoo is a story to tell; a visual history of your life.

Sure — this isn’t the exact same. Our current Orality is driven more through digital channels, but it’s still word of mouth.

The craft and artisanal resurgence are nice and all, I’m a huge sucker for that scene, but with the latest wave of Xenophobic-like politics happening in the US & UK, I’ve started wondering, is Orality a part of it?

What are our darker tendencies when we are Tribal?

If you’ve traveled as I have, you have walked into a place you shouldn’t have been. All eyes staring up at you wondering who you were, asking themselves “What is this stranger doing in here? Don’t they know better?”

Now imagine going farther back in time. What happens to that situation in a more primitive world: Slavery. Salem witch hunts. North America’s genocidal colonization. Farther. Holy Wars. Dark Ages. Roman Conquest. Genghis Khan. Vikings. Farther.

Humanity has a history before the written word of being fiercely loyal and territorial, perhaps to a fault: racism, religious wars, family feuds escalated to extremes causing neighbours to kill. Our history is full of a darker side when anyone mentions “protecting our own.”

Oh did I bury the lead… McLuhan said so himself …

McManus: But it seems, Dr. McLuhan, that this tribal world is not friendly.

McLuhan: Oh no, tribal people, one of their main kinds of sport is butchering each other. It’s a full-time sport in tribal societies.

McManus: But I had some idea that as we got global and tribal we were going to try to — — 

McLuhan: The closer you get together, the more you like each other? There’s no evidence of that in any situation that we’ve ever heard of. When people get close together, they get more and more savage, impatient with each together….The global village is a place of very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.

If you can get past that part and watch the rest - I think it will also help with where I’m going. Though - take out the old man complaining about the young wippersnappers.