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First World Values or Tribal Values?
On Jax, Tara & the Sons of Anarchy

2,045 words

The First World has a plan for you.

You’re supposed to go to college. Learn what to do, what to say, what to think, how to feel. Someone gives you a good grade, pats you on the back and tells you that you’re a “critical thinker.” Then you get a job, pay back your loans. You work to buy a house or a condo that you’ll never really own and fill it with new appliances and tasteful furniture and lots of nice things. On Fridays, you meet your interchangeable co-workers and fair weather friends for top shelf foo-foo drinks at that new restaurant you read about in your local lifestyle magazine.

It’s not so bad. It’s what people do. Even the commies in China are getting McMansions now.

I feel the pull of it. I like nice things. Sometimes I want one of those fake Craftsman houses in Happy Valley with the caramel shag carpet. I want to fill it with chunky Crate & Barrel furniture. I want a home theater and a garage with a brand new set of tools. I want to go to Home Depot and do home improvement projects. Build a deck. Remodel the bathroom. I’d even mow the lawn.

It sounds nice. Comfortable. Safe. I used to install home gyms in houses like that. Those people seemed happy enough. Could I be like them if I wanted to? Maybe I could.

A lot of guys I know feel that tug. If you’re reasonably intelligent and well-spoken, you know you have the keys to that world. And for a while, there’s time. As you get older, doors start to close. Sometimes you make a decision that closes a door forever. Eventually, after enough doors have closed, you realize that your life in Happy Valley was just a daydream, and that you will never be the kind of man who lives in that house.

* * *

After five seasons, Sons of Anarchy is about a lot of things, but one of the major recurring themes of the show is the conflict between normal First World America and the violent, patriarchal, tribal world of a criminal motorcycle gang. The Tribal World exists within First World territory, like some kind of outlaw reservation, a state folded into a state. The Sons are outsiders within, expatriates adrift in the same world whose rules and norms they rejected. Some members of the gang were born into the life, like the gang’s leader, Jackson (Jax) Teller. Various other characters, including several law enforcement officers, move between worlds, as intermediaries. Tara, as Jax’s wife and the mother of one of his children, is the main character who is trying to keep a foot planted firmly in each world. Tara is a pediatric surgeon—an unlikely profession for an “old lady.”

Tara is everything the First World wants us to be. She’s an educated, highly skilled woman who works in healthcare. She could work and be well paid anywhere in the world. Tara has all of the keys to a safe, comfortable, socially respectable bourgeois lifestyle.

Tara was Jax’s high school girlfriend, but she left their home town of Charming to escape his gang’s influence and seek a First World life. However, after becoming a physician, she returns to Charming to escape an abusive romantic relationship with an obsessive ATF agent. She seeks help from Jax, who murders her abuser, and the couple is reunited by this act of violence. Eventually, Tara gives birth to Jax’s second son, Thomas.

Over the course of her involvement with Jax and the Sons of Anarchy, Tara is constantly forced to make choices that could end her medical career. She tends to the wounds of club members involved in shootings and beatings. Club members and enemies harass her or interrupt her at the hospital, and create tension with her supervisor, Margaret Murphy. In one episode, she and Margaret are hostage together by one of Jax’s enemies. In a later episode, Tara’s hand is broken in another kidnapping attempt, and for some time it is uncertain whether she will ever be able to operate again. Still, as she becomes more deeply involved with the club, she takes greater risks, even using her professional identity to “volunteer” at prison and interact with a former member of the club.

In early episodes of the show, Tara is highly conflicted, and her “sensible” First World rationales guide her arguments and decision-making. She maintains a cautious distance from the gang, and is still frightened and emotionally traumatized by the criminal, tribal, violent activities of the gang. She is a traveler from the First World, just passing through the Sons’ tribal world, always trying to lure Jax away from the gang to a safer life with her. However, as she becomes increasingly involved with the gang, as she sees things she can’t un-see, as she bonds with Jax’s mother Gemma and others, as she becomes more a part of their world than part of the First World, she starts making more and more decisions for the good of the gang. She becomes more willing to do whatever is necessary, and she makes fewer First World arguments against the Jax’s activities. Global morality gives way to tribal morality. What happens to outsiders is less consequential, and the well-being of insiders becomes more important. She comes closer and closer to going “all-in.”

However, all of this is predicated, at least in theory, on the idea that Jax and Tara are eventually going to wrap up club business and retreat back to the First World. In the fifth season, as the body count rises and it becomes increasingly evident to Tara that the violent dramas of the club will keep pulling Jax back into the mix, she tries to force an exit. She receives an offer from the Providence medical group in Oregon, and she tentatively accepts it. In the final episode of the last season, Tara is implicated in a murder as a result of her club business at the prison, and arrested. After this, her future in the First World seems uncertain.

* * *

For Jax and Tara, Oregon offers a normal, safe life. If Tara manages to beat the rap for her part in facilitating a prison murder, her offer with Providence (a real hospital here in the Portland area) may stand. Jax and Tara could, conceivably, run away to Oregon and buy a house—maybe one of those homey craftsman deals with the caramel shag carpet. Maybe I’d catch a glimpse of them at the New Seasons or the Whole Foods when I make my Sunday morning run for my favorite local brand of kombucha and check out what organic produce is on sale. Jax could trade in his kutte for an REI version of same, his motorcycle boots for a comfy pair of Keens, and maybe hold on to those chilly weather thermals.

But, while it might be a tempting daydream, what does life in Happy Valley really offer Jax? Who would he be?

Sure, he could work at a motorcycle repair shop, maybe even start his own. But he wouldn’t be the President and leader of a motorcycle Männerbund. He may escape danger, but he would also give up power, authority, and exploit. He would give up adventure, because adventure dies in the absence of danger. With the Sons, he’s the chief of a tribe that lives and dies with him. The Sons aren’t merely an activity group, they are a complete world, a family more connected and interdependent than most families in the First World—who maintain a polite distance—could ever be. He has the love and respect—and occasionally the hatred—of men who he has gone to battle with and gone to prison with. He’s never going to get that from casual conversations during group hikes in the gorge with Bob the insurance agent or Ken the green architect. He’s never going to get that from the kind of couples who mix socially with physicians. If Bob or Ken ever found out about Jax’s life with the Sons, about his prison stints, about the men he’d killed…they’d keep at arm’s length. One wonders if they’d even want him as a Facebook friend. He’s already closed a lot of doors in the First World, if he ever had the keys at all. He’ll always be an outlaw. He knows too much.

If Jax follows Tara to Oregon, to safety and a life in Happy Valley, can he ever be more than…Tara’s husband? The tag-along kitchen bitch of a successful pediatric surgeon? That doesn’t sound like living, it sounds like retirement.

But then, Portland is where young people go to retire . . .

* * *

The First World—the global world—espouses universal values. It is a capitalist technocracy. Men and women are merely a mobile collection of skills and assets to be traded. If you follow the plan and you don’t challenge the values that make all men and all women equally exchangeable, you can access its wealth and enjoy the measured indulgences and the comfort and security the First World offers.

Tribal values are specific values. What is good for everyone, or good for the system, matters less than what is good for the survival and prosperity of the tribe and its members. The tribe is “us,” and the tribe cares about what is best for “us.” What is best for “them” —for the global citizens, for the global system—is a secondary consideration.

The First World and everything it offers have a buy-in price. In the First World, your status as a global citizen must outweigh your commitment to family, to friends, and to your tribe. If members of your family or your tribe commit a prohibited act, you are expected to betray your personal allegiances and inform the proper authorities. Commitment to the values of the global system must supersede commitment to anything or anyone else. First World relationships are more disposable than tribal relationships, so human connections tend to be more superficial. After all, you may receive a job offer in another city or even another country that offers a career or lifestyle upgrade. Deep ties will only hold you back. Relationships are “for now.”

The Tribal World comes at the price of closed doors. If you’re not following the plan, your motives will (understandably) be considered suspect to everyone who is following the plan. Your interests may come in conflict with First World interests. You aren’t part of the global “us.” For Jax, and this has been the case with Tara and others on the show, the violence and criminality of his tribal world can splash out into the First World and burn anyone he is close to. However, for members of the tribe, identity comes not from an occupation or even a skill set so much as a place in the tribal hierarchy and a sense of belonging, a sense of collective identity. There is all of the Shakespearean drama, plotting and backstabbing that attends passionate human relationships, but those relationships are “forever.” When former club president Clay was excommunicated from the group for his treachery, there was a tremendous sense of loss as one of the sons blacked out his tattoos and the rest observed. Without the club he gave his life to, he is “just some guy,” another disposable man adrift in the First World sea.

Some men, like Jax or other men surrounded by gangs or involved in some sort of separatist group, are born into a Tribal World. The First World can never be more than a daydream or a form of early retirement.

Those of us who were born into the First World, who have or who started out with the keys to open its doors, face Tara’s dilemma. The comforts of the First World are all around us, and we may feel somehow attracted to them, even entitled to them, but something about the Tribal way also beckons. Like Tara, we may eventually have to decide if we are all-in or out. It may be decided for us. Or, as doors to the First World close, we may slowly come to the realization that we will never be the kind of people who live in Happy Valley.


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  1. Jaego
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps it’s all a question of scale. In other words, maybe the New World Order is just another gang and experienced as such by the big players. They have rival gangs such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Chinese, the Russians. And they have rivalries within the Gang such as the CFR vs the Neo Cons. We don’t experience any of this because we’re merely their serfs.

    The smaller gangs in America usually don’t have serfs right now, but in Mexico the gangs do. And if America breaks down a bit more, the same will happen here.

  2. Verlis
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    What you describe is the way of a gang, not of a tribe. Tribes actually need and respect their architects and their insurance agents. No tribe would have any real of need of criminal bikers that I can think of.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:28 am | Permalink

      Yes, it is the way of the gang. But I would add that your idea of what a tribe really is, is probably very romantic. In reality a tribe would probably operate the way it does in the show. Or, in Jax’s words…”you have to be a savage to sit at the head of this table.”

      And, when you get to the level of “insurance agents”, you are already past the “tribal” stage of civilization.

      • Gregor
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        Jack, I just finished reading your “The Way of Men”. Your article above makes total sense in light of a more complete understanding, one derived from “The Way of Men”. At this point, I’m not sure that comments formed in “emasculated minds”, those outside an understanding of “The Way of Men” can really “get” what you’re saying.

        While I didn’t realize it at the time, when I first read Kerouac’s “On the Road” and “Dharma Bums” in my mid-teens, I knew at a deep level that there was no way I would ever be able to live in “Happy Valley”. BTW: Thanks for that “new” term! Now I know what to “call” the frustrated attempts of certain relatives: they are constantly seeking “Happy Valley” via consumerism and following the herd — and are also constantly disappointed at the hollowness of “Happy Valley”.

        Reminds me much of Thoreau’s words about the Augean Stables eternally uncleansed … and the kind of life that ensues when one dedicates one’s life force to keeping some damned stables “clean” for the benefit of finger-shaking onlookers.

        Jack, thank you so much for that book, and this article. I gifted the book to a 19-year-old nephew, hoping that at this “cusp” in his life, he will see that “Happy Valley” is a myth, and has no real “meat” to offer as he grows into being a MAN.

    • Jaego
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the Sons of Anarchy have a bookeeper. And the leaders of the Mexican Maffia work in offices in three piece suits. I’m suggesting a continuum between the hunting pack, the gang, the tribe, and the nation. If and when the nation becomes an Empire or otherwise corrupt, the current switches and things begin to break down into gangs, and then into tribes – or if the things aren’t too corrupt, the Empire will break back into nations.

      An Empire is very different than a high functioning Nation where the Elite rule with the consent of the people. The Democrats and the Republicans, Bill & Hill and the Bushs – these are more like Gangs and Gang Leaders than elected officials. In other words, it’s a breakdown which they hope is chaos in service of Order. Just as the break down of the Nation lead to the Empire, they hope that the break down the American Empire will lead to World Goverment. They hope their children will be President of the World just as Wilson hoped to be. Thus their idealism and selfishness are one and the same. In any case, they are traitors to anything remotely resembling the America we are supposed to believe in.

  3. Vicomte
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    Jack, you’re probably one of the most romantic writers I’ve encountered.

    SOA has always been about the individual, rather than the tribe. The ‘tribe’ guys get shafted and betrayed. Opie, Juice, Unser, Tig, Chibs, John Teller, all tribe guys.

    Tara is out for Jax. Tribal considerations are an unfortunate consequence of Jax. We can try to romanticize it, but it’s really just another case of the ‘good’ girl falling for the thug.

    All of the main players are just out for themselves. Savages, not tribesmen.

    • Hugh Maguire
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      I think that Mr. Donovan has a thorough understanding of the nature of Tribalism, and his comparison here is apt. Being a member of a Tribe likely means you will eventually “get shafted” for the Tribe. We rarely read about the Spartans under Leonidas “getting shafted” at Thermopylae.

      • Jaego
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        If you take the weight, you gottta pay the freight.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I can see that interpretation, but you can really spin it either way.

      I will grant you that I am definitely a romantic writer.

  4. Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Нappіness іѕ thе naturаl floweг of duty.

  5. Gregor
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Jack, have you ever looked into the thinking of an anthropologist named Lucien Levy-Bruhl? He was a French Jew, and one of the “founding thinkers” in what is now called Anthropology. Levy-Bruhl as been “dissed” by that “discipline” for quite a while, and probably because he saw things a bit too clearly for the tastes of those who currently dominate “anthropology”.

    Levy-Bruhl’s main book is translated into English as “How Natives Think”. His main thesis is that there are at base two kinds of “mind”, the Native and the Civilizational. Native “Mind” is based on what he calls the “Principle of Participation”. Civilizational “Mind” is based on the “Principle of non-contradiction”, which would be about abstract logical structures, almost always embedded in written language in the form of books — something not often “present” in Native Mind.

    I think you may see the “parallels” here, between “Gangs” and “Happy Valley”. “Native Mind” is always present in “Tribes” and/or “Gangs”; whereas Civilizational Mind is always present in the abstract universalisms that “create” Happy Valleys.

    I’ve found some amazing similarities between Levy-Bruhl’s ideas and those of Marshall McLuhan, and think that the real “thinkers” in the pro-white-tribes movement would find useful things by following that intellectual crumb trail. After all, what McLuhan said about how a “new medium” obsoletes prior media … is coming true right before our eyes … right here at C-C. For our efforts to “bear fruit”, to the maximum, it behooves us to understand what underpins these earth-shaking changes. It’s NOT “all about the Jews”; much more significant changes are in play … the shape of our communication environment is affecting us at levels we are barely conscious of, and often leads us to thrash about laying “blame” without even understanding what is going on … yet.

    Levy-Bruhl’s distinction between kinds of “mind”, and McLuhan’s understandings about how “mind” itself is a function of the mediation environment … are both NECESSARY bases of understanding to untangle this tangled web.

  6. Lew
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I watched through season 3: Samcro goes to Ireland (haven’t gotten around to torrenting 4 and 5). I take it Ron Perlman dies, and Jax takes over. In the first 3 seasons, Jax often undermined the tribe by challenging Clay Morrow’s authority.

    Kurt Sutter (creator of SOA) is very good at making vile people like The Sons seem appealing. He did the same thing on The Shield were he was a principal writer. The show is about a rogue cop (played by Michael Chiklis) that commits despicable acts yet you can’t help but love the guy.

    I think Silver is right that a high functioning tribe is not going to have contempt for its architects and insurance agents. In looking to Jews, for example, as the model for a highly successful tribe, I don’t see where Jews with combat backgrounds in the IDF sneer at “bourgeois” Jews who work in banking or architecture.

  7. Jungleboots
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    A few years back when I still had a Tv I watched the first season and alittle into the second season. Right out of the gates it has Jew written all over it. The fat little Henry Kissenger lookin biker was dressed as Elvis singing at a barmitzvu then the BAD GUYS are the ARYANS. The gang likes to sell weapons and do cool handshakes with negroes, because armed negroes are always good and pose no threat to anyone, right?

    Next the the bad guy with a Swasticka tattoo ( I’m sure he’s a jew too) leaves the hospital and runs into the Jewess from Married with Children. She of course notices the Swasticka tat and asked the filthy degenerate ” What his nice jewish doctor thinks of that” Those are the exact words, “Nice Jewish Doctor” Then the slimeball says Oh, you’re also Jewish and her reply was on my Russian mothers side. Well if it wasn’t a jew run show from top to bottom, the slimeball might have said. Do you mean from the Trotskite bloodthirsty butcher’s side that murdered 10’s of millions of White Christians or that meneicle Bela Kohen that was killing Hungarians by the score in 1920? But of course Bloodthirsty Jews are never ever mentioned in Tv.

    Then of course you have to have a terrorist group. Did they maybe pick Irgun or a Menachem Beigan terror cell,, The Stern Gang, Mossad, maybe Black Panthers, Weather Underground, Mandela’s ANC ? Are you kidding, the picked the IRA as once again the bad guys and of course they are WHITE.

    The leader Ron PEARLMAN, can’t get any bigger or Neanderthal looking then him has his second LT. another kosher curly headed big nosed Hebe, don’t know his name and don’t care to. They love strip clubs and will run some pornography shops and studios during their free time.

    If Sons of Anarchy was anymore jewish, it would be filmed in Tel-Aviv and their club patch would be their star of david. A terrible show run by terrible people and when I see friends post that they watch that show on facebook and that is their favorite, I cringe and think how utterly lost and brain polluted they truely are.

  8. Craig
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    I agree it was definitely a Jewish show, I’ve watched some episodes sporadically, one where the SOA were suppose to be protecting a Jewish business owner from a white American, who wanted to buy his business, accordingly the white American business man hired some Hispanic gang member to do his dirty work. The egalitarianism of supplying blacks with guns, intelligence sharing between the SOA and Black bikers, and having a white supremacist group, the gang rape of the Married with children Jewess by the WS group, ect… Well it’s a well over cooked Jew memed show.

    Perhaps YKW is trying to encourage the Neo CONservative rednecks to form Out Law motor cycle gangs that work for their interests?

    Fact is majority of white biker gangs are white supremacists, I knwo quite a few, here. Even researching the facts on the internet shows the “Mongols” a Hispanic Biker group formed as the “Hell’s Angels” only accept whites… The WW2 National Socialism imagery is iconic with White biker gangs world wide. Even history shows in down under, non-white biker gangs are eliminated via out right gang war or subversion if they even attempt to gain territory in our country, that’s exactly what happened to the NZ Maori “Mongrels”. We are pretty feral down here, perhaps it has something to do with a higher convict ratio on colonisation.

    Some Australian Mafia TV series, based on true historical criminals.

    For shits and giggles even the Amish have a Mafia that takes care of business.

  9. Mike
    Posted December 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    The “Sons” have absolutely nothing of value to recommend them, they are just an organized criminal gang of thugs, and like all professional criminals, they are predatory parasites. Their tribal loyalty means nothing to us, for they have no loyalty to nation and race. In National Socialist Germany, they would have been rounded up and imprisoned, in short order.
    Just because they are White, rather than black or latino, in no way glamorizes or excuses their behaviour.

  10. Mr. Dithers
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I’ve wanted to like SOA and some episodes are entertaining, but it’s hard to get past the anti-white undertones that keep recurring each season. For example, season two featured a pro-white group (led by Jew Adam Arkin) as the antagonist in conflict with the club that the Barney Fife like deputy referred to as “white hate”. But prior to that, season one featured Aryan Brotherhood types who were cast as weak, despicable characters deathly afraid of the SOA gang. This has Jewish paw prints all over it, so I’m sot surprised to learn that the show’s creator, Kurt Sutter, is Jewish.

    So while the SOA biker gang is cast as implicitly white they reject and oppose explicit whiteness just like most white Americans who claim to love racial diversity but take strenuous measures to live and raise their families in whitopias.

  11. Hugh MacDonald
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    Good article.

    I remember at first being attracted to SOA because I thought, “wow, finally, a show about traditional small town white people who are portrayed as heroes and badasses”. But then I discovered that apparently every freakin character is Jewish. WTF, a jewish biker gang? So the identity factor which initially pulled me to the show went away and I slowly lost interest.

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