Everyone knows America has two cultures. Ever since the bitterly contested 2000 Bush v. Gore election we’ve referred to “Red States” and “Blue States”. The states in question of course aren’t monolithically “Red” or “Blue” but the color describes the dominant culture of the population of those states. Red and Blue are more clearly thought of as tribes. Scott Alexander describes the American Red & Blue tribes in one tiny bit of his terrific #longread about outgroups:
The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.
The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.
The Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe existed long before the 2000 election, of course. In fact these two American tribes pre-date their own nation. They have both existed and been at each other’s throats for a thousand years. Their bitter fight has erupted into open mass warfare three (count em, 1 2 3) times, and their cultural struggle has never ended.
Scott goes on from describing the Red and Blue tribes to briefly and parenthetically mention a third tribe, the Grey Tribe:
(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)
Partly formed? Someone should do something about that.
The Grey Tribe Is Born
Greys are a libertarian-minded tribe of live-and-let-livers. They tend to dwell online, often adopting shifting pseudonyms and communicating with each other on forums and anonymous imageboards. Amongst the Grey Tribe one would expect to see higher levels of internet savvy, fondness for tech gadgetry, and disillusionment with traditional politics. They support privacy and anonymity, and oppose the NSA surveillance regime. Edward Snowden is a Grey Tribe hero. They revere open source, strongly support an open internet, and it is by no means exaggeration to describe them as free speech fundamentalists.
Greys tend to have nomadic tech industry jobs. Many are freelancers or entrepreneurs. They engage online and don’t congregate geographically as thickly as the other tribes do, except for their noticeable clusters in San Francisco and other technology hubs. They speak in nerd/geek/gamer lingo and signal membership to each other with Internet cultural tropes and catchphrases. All three of the tribes have found a home on the internet but the Grey Tribe is born of the net and has never existed outside of it.
Many of the Grey Tribe self-identify as Blue, agreeing with Blues on many social issues while feeling disagreement with the Blues in areas economic and opposing Blue efforts to enforce political correctness. A few self-identify as Red, strongly agreeing with small government and 2nd amendment rights, but usually feeling strong antipathy or at best ambivalence toward Red social issues like opposition to gay marriage and abortion. Other Greys adopt the libertarian mantle, and many Greys disavow politics entirely. Despite their own failure so far to self label as such, the Grey Tribe does exists as its own independent culture, overlapping in areas but remaining distinct from the Red and Blue cultures.
The Grey Tribe has existed as long as the Internet but in the last few decades a generation has grown up on the internet and on its Grey Tribe culture. The numbers of the Grey Tribe have swelled while the cultural and economic power of the Grey Tribe has also risen along with the power and prestige of the tech industry. Grey industries and cultural products have now entered the mainstream and with entry to the mainstream comes conflict with existing power centers.
The Grey/Blue Conflict
The emerging Grey Tribe is the result of a schism within the Blue Tribe, who have all but won their long war against the tired & woeful Red Tribe. Greys in many ways are moderate Blues, in that they agree with the general Blue cultural positions on gay marriage and abortion but reject Blue economic and cultural extremism. Many of the technology stories of the recent past are best interpreted as part of a Blue/Grey conflict between Grey freedom of expression and moral values.
Classical Grey libertarianism is assailed as “brutalist” by Blue left-libertarianism. The Grey technology industry is mostly fallen to a Blue insurgency war under the cry of “More women in the industry!”. Grey science fiction fandom has been wracked by Blue-instigated civil war. Grey organized Internet atheism has witnessed a breakaway of schismatics in deep Blue Atheism+. And even the apolitical Grey gamers are now under Blue assault.
These varied fights are not separate, they’re the multiple fronts of a single large scale tribal culture war that the Blues are currently waging against the Greys for not being Blue enough. Each of these fronts has simmered independently but of late, especially with regard to GamerGate, the conflict has become so hot that the fronts are bleeding into each other. This war shouldn’t be confused with the mainstream Blue vs. Red culture war, which is all but over, this is a brand new culture war by the Blues against a different opponent and it takes place almost entirely on the Internet.
As they become more aware of the larger picture and notice the other fronts, the Greys will begin to see that each of their fights has deeper stakes and is part of the larger important struggle to maintain their Grey culture. The Blues may have overstepped and awakened a sleeping giant. This war may be what results in the Greys flexing their might and explicitly asserting their independence from the Blues.
Could the rise of the Greys be the rise of a new participant in the thousand year war? Will the Reds survive as more than a southern regional culture if that happens? Will the Blues instead succeed at snuffing the Greys out in their crib?
Stay tuned. It’s an interesting time to be a witness to history.