Ugly tribalism is alive and well in car culture

Tribalism is one of the most primitive and powerful human instincts, but today it can do more harm than good.

You have a favourite sports team, don’t you? What about type of music? Do you identify with a particular city, a part of town, a country? Do you prefer Apple or Android?  Everyone has a preference, and you have to admit that you’ve made disparaging remarks about the “opposition” at some point. We start to form groups based on those preferences – tribes- and define ourselves as different, often better than the others.

This is sort of expected with sports teams which by nature are adversarial, but yet we still feel the need to do it with computers, music, cities. You know it’s true.

“What’s the point of driving along a rough dirt track?” If you don’t understand, leave alone those that do.

We even vote by tribes, reflexively selecting whichever candidate “our” party puts up because however bad they are, you can’t ever vote for the other side. Policy doesn’t get a look-in.

Tribalism served a purpose eons ago, when humans needed to band together to survive, so there had to be a sense of belonging to the group, a sense of pride. Much of that pride has to come from not being like the others; just like in sports you can’t be a winner unless there are losers. There can’t be an “us” without a “them”.

A classic car on a racetrack. Taking unnecessary risks with a precious car, or enjoying it the way it’s meant to be? You can share your opinion, but ultimately, it’s not your car so your vote doesn’t count.

Today, society has evolved to the point where tribes are no longer as important and people can survive without them. Yet the instinct lives on, and especially so in car culture. This is illustrated by a recent Facebook post on the subject by Kelly Palfi which gone viral. Here’s some samples:

“seriously what the f*** is it with 90% of meets nowadays having almost nothing to do with the cars? half these people dont even change their own oil. no one can hold a conversation about what THEY have done to their OWN car. like why are you even here? your only priority seems to be “hellaflush” and you will do anything it takes in the quickest way possible to achieve it.

“slammed squad, lowered status, camber this, street that” god damn you have no originality or meaning for yourselves”

“brings me to my next point. dudes flaunting shitty painted cheap steering wheels with neochrome quick releases in their windshields after they park. why do you have a quick release steering wheel when:

1. your seat is stock and gives plenty of room
2. your steering column is adjustable
3. you arent a large person
4. your car came with a 21st century airbag system”

“why is there an ebay tow hook on a car that has access to the factory one, and you only drive the car to work or school?


“WHY DO YOU PEOPLE DO THIS??? you have severely diluted the F*** out of the car culture with all your fake or played out bullshit. you would be doing the world a favor by returning your car to stock and taking up a new hobby and leaving this one to people who actually give a damn. 10/10 would rather have a total of 14 cars at a meet that are built for a personal goal than seeing 250 cars all with the same 3 types of replica wheels, rocket bunny, and any other trendy bullshit that are build for instagram likes”

In short, Kelly is angry because car enthusiasts are turning up to car meets with cars he doesn’t like.

The fact that nobody is stopping him from doing whatever he wants to do is not, apparently, relevant. Does this sound like the arguments against gay marriage? It should do, and before that, racial equality.

So many people are so very concerned with what others do, even though it doesn’t affect them. It was always the case, but today, the Internet gives them a voice.

You don’t need to like this shifter or steering wheel, but it’s a sign of maturity that you can accept differences in others.

So Kelly has defined his tribe – you must work on the car yourself, and drive it hard. Your accessories and modifications must not be cosmetic, but practical. And it’s absolutely fine to define a tribe like this, nobody says you need to like everything you see or agree with it.

What’s no longer acceptable in the 21st century is tribe-forming by overt intolerance to others. There’s two reasons that’s not acceptable; first because it causes hurt and conflict, and second because it’s simply not necessary.

A good tribe can define itself by what it is, not by what it’s not, something politicians would do well to remember.

It doesn’t matter what you use your car for, or how modified it is, or who did the work. If you change your own oil and look down on others than don’t, then ask yourself about the limits of your own skill. Can you change a gearbox, rebuild a motor, weld a chassis, design suspension, tune a turbo, write new ECU software? However good you are, there’s someone with greater skills and accomplishments.

And we all had to start somewhere, didn’t we? Every tribe, club, movement needs new members. Why turn away a rich source of potential recruits to your style of car loving?

Not everyone can turn a spanner. Not everyone wants to or needs to. Working on your car does not confer on the owner some sort of demi-god status.

Kelly talks about “diluting” car culture. That’s wrong, the word is “diversification” and that’s a power for good. Mixing with other car tribes is inspirational, exciting. You get new ideas, new directions, and your own tribe evolves and innovates, keeping the interest of its members. It’s how the world works, whereas keeping thing insular leads to inbreeding and we know what happens then.

Another example of “if you need to ask why, you wouldn’t understand”.
It’s easy and exciting to learn about the other side of life. How about you Japanese car lovers check out the muscle car scene? Muscle car people, go look at the hotrods. Hotrodders, check out the 4WD clubs. Trackday aces, visit a concours event. Concours people, get dirty with 4WD.
What are you scared of, that you might find something you like and not find what you hated? You have nothing to lose and much to gain.
You might not like it, you might think it’s pointless, but you should appreciate the effort and care that’s gone into it.

Those that need to run down the choices of others simply showcase their own insecurities. You can disagree and dislike, but you must always respect.

I’d rather have 14 cars at a meet where we can all appreciate the rich diversity that is car culture, than 250 cars all with the same three types of replica owners, self-appointed guardians of what is acceptable, all creating an intolerant echo-chamber of hate.

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7 years ago

Thank you Robert. Saying you’ve written some wise words does not fully acknowledge how important these ideas are and how well you’ve written this article. This particular article should be posted on many other websites as it contains important reminders and concepts that all car lovers should consider. As you say, we’re all guilty of ‘some’ or at least one of these sins. There are some choice paragraphs here I would be tempted to cut and paste into some online forums to give some of the rabid posters food for thought! Your articles are certainly a cut above the average Aussie motor-noter Robert. Always food for thought. Please don’t ever stop! Many thanks.

Robert Pepper
7 years ago
Reply to  Squeaky_1

Thanks Squeaky! Feel free to share the article using the tools we have provided.

I will also borrow a phrase I wish I’d thought of from a poster:

“Intolerance is rampant everywhere under the misnomer of taste”

7 years ago
Reply to  Squeaky_1

Yes Squeaky, agree with most of what you said, except for one …..I’m not guilty of any of those ‘sins’….(in fact I am Squeaky clean…..yes, really..) so not all of us behave in such a manner.. (recommended reading….Article called..”The Evolution of Shaming” ) …however….must say, well said Robert… it’s way overdue that someone DID say these things…..Thank you ….I for one will try to spread the word…keep up the good work….always look forward to your articles.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper