All my life I’ve had a hard time understanding how tribalism is so present in our society.
It is defined as the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group. But time after time I’ve always failed to understand why almost everyone still seems to be a victim of it in some way.
The main problem with tribalism is that, more often than not, it requires you to hate the other group in order to be a part of the one you’re in. If you don’t hate the Yankees you’re not a real Red Sox fan.
It permeates all across society and it doesn’t make sense in the modern world. From sports fandom to politics, patriotism, race and even religion; tribalism is deeply rooted within ourselves and it only creates problems.
It certainly was useful for a while in our short time in this planet. When we started to organize as a society and started to gather and collect we needed to trust our peers, we needed to establish rules that worked for our group and we were faced with the constant threat of another group coming up and stealing our resources, destroying our settlements.
Over the course of the history of mankind tribalism was a useful tool. But it no longer is, and it ended up in us drawing invisible lines on the ground and calling it “our land” or “their land”. We gave value to certain things and used it as “currency” to trade goods and services between our peers. Each tribe had a different currency, each tribe created different set of laws.
We needed to protect ourselves from the others. We needed to be loyal to our group and we needed to grow ready to defend our land. We created armies, we went to war.
Tribalism then, can only come from fear. When you’re afraid the “others” may take away your food, your home, your family you create a wall that separates you from the world. You start seeing “the others” as a different beast that threatens your peers.
These walls can be in the form of laws, citizenships, religions, borderlines, currencies, weapons and even fences or actual walls.
Whenever humans feel afraid of the unknown they turn to what they know and they become angry at what they don’t understand. When you’re afraid the “others” might steal the fruits you worked so hard for, you start hating them, protecting against them, creating a division that is mostly in your head.
Every war, every conflict, every division you ever heard is most likely related to tribalism in some way. From hooligans trashing a stadium to WWII. It’s all because of that fake mental construct that we are different groups and we need to hate and be wary of “the others”.
Racism, religious fanaticism, patriotism, homophobia, sports fandom they’re all forms of tribalism.
And boy do we love to separate each other into groups! Black people, gay people, christians, jews, activists, nerds, environmentalists, engineers, writers, blue-collars, white-collars, patriots, liberals, rebels. And we love to put everyone in one box or another and then offend and be offended by the other “boxes”, it’s like a cancer that spreads across the entire human race.
And when someone manages to capitalize that fear he/she can make societies do crazy things and lead them to further division. That’s how you get to fascism, vengefulness, radicalism, terrorism and so.
So by giving into your own fear and tribalism you’re one step closer to become a fascist, a terrorist, and you’re promoting that behaviour in the ones around you.
Tribalism in modern society doesn’t make sense. We are a civilized, interconnected and abundant society and there’s no need to feed that mental image of “others” and the need to “protect” from them.
We have come so far. We can talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time. We’re so productive that abundance is the rule of thumb nowadays. It’s just unequally distributed… because of tribalism.
When someone talks about black people or white people I don’t know what they talk about. People that have a different melanin concentration than them? How does that make them different? The concept of race is absurd.
When someone talks about gay people or straight people I don’t know what they mean. People that have sex with a different gender than them? How does that make them different?
When you talks about muslims or jews or christians it’s the same thing. How are they better or worse? Why are they even in a different group?
No one is coming to take your fruit. There’s enough for everyone. And if someone comes to take your fruit, there are institutions that will do its best to provide a fair judgement on the matter. You can face any situation with respect and an open mind.
Tribalism in our current world makes little to no sense. Tribalism is made-up. It’s fear. It’s a made-up fear abused by those who want to achieve power.
If you think the Yankees are better than the Red Sox, or Barcelona is better than Real Madrid, if you think Star Wars is better than Star Trek or Apple is better than Microsoft, Nikon better than Canon, Ferrari better than McLaren you’re being a victim of tribalism. You’re creating a division that will bear you no real win in life and that it really doesn’t exist. You’re not thinking as a civilized, rational person.
This becomes dangerous very quickly: when you start thinking that black people are less than white people, jews are better than christians, Italians are better than Mongolians, men are right and women are wrong (or viceversa), or a terrorist is someone who hates you and want to kill you, so you need to get rid of them first.
You’re being driven by that deeply-rooted fear that the others might take your fruit and need to be eliminated. And while in sports and harmless fandom it can create a healthy competition, in bigger matters it can create wars and division that can ruin countries and even the world.
Last night, tribalism won, fear won. And I bet the consequences are going to be dire.
If you agree with at least some of this and believe that something should be done about it here’s a couple of things you can do:
- Work on being more self-aware of your own tribalism and start working in becoming more tolerant.
- Remember to be curious, instead of fearing what you don’t know, fearing the “others” try to understand how they think, why they feel the way they feel. Be curious about other ways of thinking, believing. Curiosity doesn’t mean that you have to change your beliefs, it just mean to listen with an open mind.
- Learn, Inform yourself, question your beliefs and what you read. Don’t settle with just one perspective of the world. Just because it comes from someone you admire or respect doesn’t mean is true. Try to understand all parts of an argument. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
- Be respectful. If you disagree with someone or something you can make your voice heard, but there’s no need for insult or violence in any way.
- Forgive. You surely are a victim of some sort of tribalism, no matter who you are. Let it go, don’t feed the sick cycle by creating further division. Whatever happened, it’s in the past.
- Spread this message so others can do the same.
We all fall victims of tribalism in many different ways. It’s rooted in our deepest instincts. But we can try to be rational, to not yield into an unfounded fear. And I hope that after reading this you decide to do something to make the world a less tribal place by working on being less tribal yourself.
It’s a daily practice. We need to rewrite something that have been within us for thousands of years.