Welcome to the Horde: What Tribe Really Means – Forward Observer Shop

Welcome to the Horde: What Tribe Really Means

As for the primitive, I hark back to it because we are still very primitive. How many thousands of years of culture, think you, have rubbed and polished at our raw edges? One probably; at the best, no more than two. And that takes us back to screaming savagery, when, gross of body and deed, we drank blood from the skulls of our enemies, and hailed as highest paradise the orgies and carnage of Valhalla.” – Jack London

One of the first things I pound on in The Reluctant Partisan is the naive belief in the pastoral gentility of tribal culture. Modern revisionist anthropologists like Marshall Sahlins (University of Chicago) have tried to alter the archaeological and historical record to claim that primitive tribal societies were luxurious cultures with little or no actual violence, and everyone had plenty of time to sit on their rumps eating donuts. The stupidity of these arguments is outside the scope of a mere article, but, suffice it to say, revisionist anthropology is just as evil as revisionist history. (For the record, I’m not an anthropologist, nor a professional historian, but my degrees are in history, for whatever little worth that is.)

I’m a white dude. That’s not racist. As any long-term reader of mine will recognize, I’m so anti-racist that it hurts. I don’t believe that I am a special snowflake because of who my ancestors were, or what the pigmentation of my skin happens to be. Nevertheless, it’s probably fair to say that any inherent, evolutionary instinct I have for tribalism is a result of descending from Northern Europeans. For that reason, I will pretty much stick to tribal terminology from that region. If you, dear reader, happen to be of African descent, by all means, replace those terms with ethnically correct terms, if you feel the need. If you’re of Asian descent, the same. If you’re of Pashto descent, well… you’re probably going to be really, really bored with this article, since you’re native culture is still pretty tribal, huh?

This isn’t about Odin vs. Yahweh, or anything else religious. So don’t start getting your knickers in a twist. It’s solely a discussion on tribalism as I believe it applies to our current predicament.

Tribalism, Tribes, Clans, and Septs

Tribalism is generally defined as the state of a society being organized into tribes. Psychologically speaking, however, tribalism can also be considered as a way of thinking or behaving in which the tribe is more important than friends, country, or other social groups. For our purposes, tribalism represents a blend of both of these viewpoints.

Tribalism implies the possession of strong ethnic or cultural identities that separate members of the tribe from members of other groups. This separation is the foundation of the tribal construct.

A tribe can be defined as a social group with these strong cultural (most important for our purposes) or ethnic ties, that exists outside of any loyalty to the state. Generally based on a shared social or genetic descent, the social structure of tribes can vary, but due to the inherently small size of tribes, as well as the clans and septs that make up those tribes, it is almost invariably a relatively simple social structure with few significant social distinctions between individuals.

Tribes are comprised of clans. A clan (derived from the Gaelic) is a group united by actual or perceived kinship. The kinship-based bonds may be symbolic. A contemporary example of this would be the individual chapters (clans) that together form an outlaw motorcycle club (the tribe). While a large clan may be considered a tribe in itself, generally a clan will be a sub-set of a larger social or cultural entity of the tribe.

The Scandinavian clan, referred to as an ætt, was a social group based on common descent or on formal acceptance into a group at the “Thing”.  The “Thing” was the governing body of the tribal culture. In Saxon England, it would have been known as the folkmoot. The easiest modern example to equate that most of us will be familiar with to one degree or another is the Pashtun shura council.

Clans in turn, would be made up of individual families, referred to in the Scottish and Irish as septs (a term boldly stolen and all too often misused by adherents of the New Age Pagan groups like Wiccans). My grandfather had 30 grandchildren. From my grandfather to my daughter’s generation could be thought of as the Mosby Sept, in turn part of the larger Mosby clan that comprises not just my Grandfather’s descendants, but also those of his brothers and cousins. With enough of us, we would form a tribe, as well as a clan, but at a minimum, you’ve got one hellaciously large clan going on.

Unfortunately for our purposes, the Mosby Sept alone is spread across four continents currently, and all sides of the sociopolitical spectrum. While I certainly owe loyalty to my family/sept, my first loyalty is to my immediate family—my wife and children. For both HH6 and myself, our immediate families are thousands of miles away. This means that we have to form new tribal alliances where we choose to live. Historically, this may have been done through the taking of local wives by conquering tribes and cultures (think of Alexander of Macedonia’s failed attempt in what is now Afghanistan of quelling the locals by taking a local wife as well as allowing his men to take local wives). Since polygamy is not a valid choice for most of us, we have to go back towards the beginning of this article and look again at the definitions of clan and tribe.

A tribe can be defined as a social group with these strong cultural…ties, that exist outside of any loyalty to the state…

A clan is a group united by actual or perceived kinship. The kinship-based bonds may be symbolic.

Many people in this community consider anyone of similar political views to be “tribe.” As we will discuss below, this is nonsensical—at best.


Tribal societies focus—for reasons of survival—on the family, the clan, and the tribe, with everyone else a distant following consideration. In a nutshell, tribal societies can be said to focus on the following, in order of importance:


Inner Circle/Clan

Outer Circle/Tribe

Rest of the World

Families are held together by blood and the loyalty that implies. Clans may be based on blood, or blood-oath to the tribe. Loyalty to the tribe is really nothing more than an extension of loyalty to the clan, although historically a clan chieftain may have sworn fealty to the tribal chief. Yet we know, even in relatively modern history as late as the 18th century, clans from the same tribe, would happily fight each other.

Loyalty in a family or clan is a blood-oath. It’s not a convenience issue. It’s not, “well, dude, I’d come over and help out, but American Idol is on television.” It’s not even, “Brother, I’d come help out, but I might get killed, and then who would take care of my family?” Clan or tribal loyalty is a matter of “if my brother needs help, I’m there.

As has been pointed out multiple times, there is too little of this type of loyalty in our culture and community. Of course, as “survivalists,” we’re focused on “survival,” right? Giving your life for someone else doesn’t really carry over… unless you consider the loyalty to family first, clan second. Perhaps going to help my clansman will serve to protect my family, even if I die; whether through destroying an enemy’s ability to project force, or through ensuring that the rest of the clan looks after my family when I am dead.

So why is “tribe” a misnomer in this community? Because the type of loyalty required of this type of blood-oath is not something you can develop over the internet. It’s not even something you can develop at a monthly get-together/training weekend. This is the type of loyalty, built on trust, that can only be built on constant, continuous, ongoing interpersonal contact and interaction. I know my clansman will be good on his oath, because I see him daily living the values he claims to believe in. I know what his values are, and that they are parallel to my values, not because he tells me what they are, or because he’s gifted with a silver tongue, but because I see him living those values.

Outside of people who have met me in a class, no one who reads this knows who I really am. Suppositions can be made based on the depth of my professional knowledge, but I’ll be the first to admit, there is a metric ton of guys with similar—or even more impressive—backgrounds who are fat and lazy now. You don’t know if I actually do the physical training that I harp on. You don’t know if I can actually shoot… or if I even own a firearm. You don’t even know if I’m a man or a woman. So is it possible that you could hold a level of trust and loyalty in me that equals the blood-oath of clansmanship? Of course not. The reciprocal, of course, is equally true. If someone is claiming you are part of their tribe, they better be living down the street from you. You better see them—in a wide range of daily activities—on a pretty regular basis in order to build trust and loyalty.


Traditionally, Teuton tribesmen made an oath on their “oath ring”; a wristband or arm band from their chieftain that represented their loyalty to the clan and to the chieftain himself. An oath is serious. Violating an oath is an affront to the “gods” and the clan. It’s an “off with his head!” sort of affront. That’s pretty serious in my book.

Think of the oath of enlistment we take when we enlist in the military. That’s pretty serious, and it’s an oath to a piece of parchment! How about the oath/vows you take when you get married?

I don’t think some sort of hokey, formal oath-taking between clansmen is necessary. If you think you need to sit everyone in a circle with a candle in the middle, cut each other’s arms open with a Sykes-Fairbairn dagger, and swear an oath of binding, more power to you… but it’s not necessary. The mora,l however, is important. You don’t—or at least shouldn’t—make claims of “tribe” and “clan” and “loyalty” lightly. It’s not something you claim, unless you’re ready—legitimately ready—to die for that oath. It’s a “shovels and lime friends” type of thing.

Chiefs, Chieftains, and Leadership

Tribal chieftains were/are generally not the autocratic bullies we perceive them as. In most tribal societies, especially predating the Christian-era with it’s “divine right of kings” concept for gaining political loyalty of local leaders, it was actually a pretty precarious position. Some cultures were so individualistic that even on the battlefield, if a warrior though the chief’s luck had run out, they’d pack their stuff and go home. In others, it was a matter of if you though the chief was getting a little long in the tooth, you’d challenge him to a fight. Whoever won was now the chief.

Tribal leadership is not about rank or artificial constructs. It’s a trust and loyalty thing. “I will follow this guy because I believe he has the good of the group in his heart, and he has proven himself worthy of my loyalty.” That might have been through prowess in battle, wisdom in statecraft with other clans and tribes, or through giving stuff away to win friends. The minute a leader no longer strove to earn the respect and admiration of his clan, he was done.

If you’re forming a group/cell/unit/clan/tribe, don’t believe—for one moment—that gives you any sort of special claim to authority. You might deserve the loyalty of the group for having the foresight of organizing, but someone else may be better equipped or better suited for fulfilling the real or perceived needs of the complete group. You can either huff and puff and raise hell (risking blowing down the house you worked so hard to build), challenge the new leadership (I’m not suggesting dueling…well, I am actually, but probably not yet), or either leave the group, or find yourself shunned or exiled. In plain English, if you wanna be the boss, you’d better be worthy of being the boss…

So, What’s the Point?

Why bother with understanding tribal societies? We’re a post-modern, Judeo-Christian society, right? We’re past all that stuff! Not quite so fast, hero…

Stateless societies—whether due to the lack of formation of a state, or through the disintegration of the state (hmmmm?), share the common characteristic of resulting in tribalism, for both good and bad. From a long-term, individual survival standpoint, tribalism is actually pretty piss-poor, with the threat of ongoing small-scale but endemic warfare/conflict. Further issues include lack of reliable, modern health care and medicine, and lack of manpower to grow crops and protect both the crops and the community.

From a short-term individual perspective, and a long-term family survival perspective, tribalism is actually as good as anything we’re likely to find in the future. You’ve got a ready-made community of like-minded people with shared values for community and companionship. You’ve got the added protection of friends and clansmen, rather than trying to fight off enemies all by your lonesome. You’ve got the ability to share efforts for greater efficiency in both the production of survival necessities and protection.

The point then, is quit thinking of forming “groups” and “units” and focus on building a clan or tribe of families and friends who share your common cultural values, and with whom you can share the necessary levels of trust and loyalty to work in cooperation, even when things are at their worst. Instead of backstabbing and stealing from one another in the dark of winter when the wolves are at the door, you need to have the level of trust that allows your clansman to show up at your door with some extra food to keep your family from starving. When a rival tribe is trying to burn your house down around you, rape your wife and steal your daughters, you need to trust that your clansman will be there to shoot them in the back of the head while you’re shooting them in the face. You need to be able to trust that, when you die, your clansmen will bring your family in and make them part of their family, rather than showing up to take all the supplies you have, and shove your wife and kids out into the cold.

John Mosby is a former U.S. Army Special Operations soldier. He lives somewhere in the mountains.


  1. Mosby has stated in the past he is not particualrly religious and I respect that as I am not, as well. Quote the opposite, I recognize I am a fallen man in desperate need of a Savior and can find none better than the person of Jesus Christ. I say that to say this, a very good place to start looking for a tribe per John’s apt and detailed description above is a group of people who genuinely, exhibited through their daily behavior, desire to follow Christ. I count myself extremely blessed to have found such a group of people I have no doubt exhibit all the traits John lays out in his closing paragraphs. How do I know, by what they do now with and for my family and each other.

    The other aspect is that the coming sportiness will try one to his spiritual core and I opine, without faith and hope in something beyond oneself, I doubt one will be able to perservere. Just my humble opinion.

  2. Seem as though we were once a part of the same tribe. Different era’s. S-3 Asst fire support SGT, Aco2/75 , Inf , Weapons Plt. (82-85) Admire your gift and skill with writing. Sparks a lot of memories. Thanks Man!

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