Humans and Tribe Mentality

The most disappointing aspect of humanity is our failure to recognize that everyone is a member of the same species.

We could all be on the same team with common goals, cooperating and creating together, if we weren’t so obsessively tied up in our own tribal senses of identity. I’m scarcely the first person or the last to feel this way but it’s always worth saying.

People, whether they hail from technologically advanced civilizations like the United States or countries where warlords still prevail as in Afghanistan, are tribal in nature and in practice, whether they use the word ‘tribe’ to describe their group or not.

These ‘tribes’ can be political, ethnic, religious, social, or even sports-oriented. Often times our tribal allegiances and their priority change multiple times in one day. Maybe, in the span of 24 hours, you find yourself having a number of discussions ranging anywhere from who will make the next best president to which football team is best, but in all likelihood, facts don’t really matter so much as who you’ve decided you already identify with. That will be the ‘tribe’ you inevitably support.

This happens because when we identify with an institution, group, or person, we view attacks against them as direct attacks against us. Maligning of their character is as good as a calumny issued at ourselves. Instead of thinking critically and dispassionately we choose to ‘feel’ instead. Patriotism works precisely like this.

Religious tribes provide some of the best examples of the kind of hypocrisy and self-destructive habits this internecine and balkanizing force has on people and their psychology. Many Christians in America will insist that ‘loving thy neighbor’ is one of the great virtues of their faith and yet it is because of their faith that such instruction becomes necessary in the first place. Without religion to create an ‘us’ there would be fewer reasons to have a ‘them’. Religion is particularly invidious in this way since it claims a monopoly on divine truth, immediately demonizing dissenters as anything from ignorant (and in need of saving) to sinister liars.

The point is that tribes regularly subrogate the truth with their brand of tribal truth which is based not in reality but in the reputations and delusions of tribe leaders. Said sports team is the best because we say so. America is the greatest because we say so. Christianity is the one true faith because the Bible says so. There is never any objective standard substantiating these superlatives, just bumptious insecurity.

If superficial allegiances and petty grievances could be dispensed with and the only fixed tribe membership became that of humanity at large, imagine the cooperation that would ensue. What if critically-thought-of ideas and how people felt about them were the new glue between us? Unrealistic, I know. But it is for this reason that I feel the human intellect is the single most overrated thing on Earth.

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