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Tribe Talk — Effective, But How Useful?

Once upon a time, connection to and support from a tribe was quite important to survival … or comfortable survival. Those days are long past, but the tendency to think and act in tribalist ways certainly remains. Not sure what I’m talking about? Think about the illogical ways people get emotional and biased regarding sports teams, the colleges they attended, their political parties, and even websites they feel connected to.

Those are distinct examples, but even more so (and perhaps more subconsciously), we form identities of ourselves inside our heads that align us with certain social, cultural, and political ideas and often make us instinctively opposed to anything that challenges those ideas.

An obvious example of “tribe talk” is what Donald Trump has done in his run for the GOP presidential nomination, and it’s one thing that stimulated this article. As Nate Silver writes, “Trump’s main differentiator was doubling down on cultural grievance: grievances against immigrants, against Muslims, against political correctness, against the media, and sometimes against black people and women. And the strategy worked. It’s a point in favor of those who see politics as being governed by cultural identity — a matter of seeking out one’s “tribe” and fitting in with it — as opposed to carefully calibrating one’s position on a left-right spectrum.”

But this kind of talk isn’t relegated to Trump, and isn’t relegated to Republicans, and isn’t relegated to politics — it is extremely embedded throughout society, so much so that it is almost invisible to us. (Just read the article linked at the end of the last paragraph — which I read just before starting this paragraph.)

nimbyWe see it a great deal in energy and EV discussions. The ironic thing is that certain subcultures actually go against their own well-being due to this tribalism. Everyone benefits from cleaner air, cleaner water, and a stable climate. A small number of people don’t necessarily benefit from the coal, oil, or gas industry shrinking, and the rich among these industries have been so effective at shaping the narrative of the Republican party (or similar parties in other countries) and conservative media that support for polluting industries is a significant part of “being a conservative” or “being a Republican” … even though these industries greatly harm hundreds of millions of people who support them.

That is all fairly old news to many of our readers, though. A more interesting and less visible thing for me is the way certain identities and communities/tribes have formed around various electric vehicles. This is not new to the car world, but it is interesting nonetheless, especially to someone like me who is historically an auto industry outsider (with a background in sociology).

Tesla has obviously developed a strong following of “fanboys” and “fangirls.” Some are very emotionally invested in the company and will get quite upset if the company is criticized. Some practically assume the company can do no wrong. Many are hugely critical of and essentially disgusted with all other automakers, or at least several other automakers.

Volt and LEAF front


But if you venture into forums for other EVs and automakers, you will find similar allegiances and emotions as well. There are Volt & GM fanatics. There are i3 and BMW fanatics. There are LEAF and Nissan fanatics. And many of the members of these tribes are very anti-Tesla. I think that’s largely for reasons I discussed last week, but maybe it more simplistically comes down to people aligning with their tribes. That would explain what seems like illogical anti-Tesla emotions due to Tesla “having too many fans” and getting too much media attention.

But coming back to the Tesla fans, it’s important to also recognize that many seem convinced that the other automakers can do no good. Naturally, they have gigantic ICE divisions that threaten the future of our society, but several of them also have large and committed electrification teams that are doing their best to push the cutting edge of technology, particularly EVs. Should we be so cynical and/or tribalistic that we generically bash all of these other efforts?

OK, I am well aware that Tesla has 400,000+ reservations for the Model 3 and no other automaker has anything like that for an EV, and there are logical, practical reasons for that. A short chat about those matters is coming next… but it doesn’t take away from my points mentioned above about reactive, tribalistic comments about other automakers.

The challenging thing — as someone who doesn’t just see my role as narrowly being a writer but as also being a community organizer and moderator (in various ways) — is that I think combative, close language takes us away from a collective effort to improve society and advance technology. This is especially true when it trickles up to the top executives of a company, but I think we can realize that the ways in which we as a public discuss these matters influences our progress as well.

So, long monologue in a nutshell: Let’s try to be reflective about how we discuss cleantech, EVs, and everything else. Let’s focus our words on the content worth discussing, debating, and sharing — not ad hominem attacks. To a degree, it is useful to question and try to discover what the motive is behind someone’s work and words. But if we want to advance all parties for the benefit of society, let’s not jump to conclusions that turn a group effort into a civil war.

(Commence throwing of tomatoes, or təˈmɑː.təʊz if that’s how your tribe pronounces the word.)


Calling Anti-Renewables Campaigners NIMBYs Is Often Inaccurate And Always Unproductive

Climate Change Deniers Are Getting Angrier, & Here’s Why

Why People Hate Elon Musk So Much

Obsessed with Tesla? Join our Tesla Obsessed Facebook group.

Images via Goodbye NIMBY, hello PIMBY & Cynthia Shahan | CleanTechnica | EV Obsession (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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