We are genetically wired to have a deep need to belong to a tribe. Humans are social animals; we evolved to live in groups. During most of our evolution, to be rejected by our tribe meant almost certain death. So there are powerful forces at work, both internal and external, to make our beliefs and behaviors conform to the norms of whatever group we identify as our tribe. We are all susceptible to this, whether we are conscious of it or not. Even those of us who like to believe we are entirely rational thinkers.
In an article at Big Think, David Roepik writes:
“Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason…. Wars are essentially tribalism. Genocides are tribalism – wipe out the other group to keep our group safe – taken to madness. Racism that lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs, parents who end contact with their own children when they dare marry someone of a different faith or color, denial of evolution or climate change or other basic scientific truths when they challenge tribal beliefs.
Dan Kahan, principal researcher into the phenomenon of Cultural Cognition, has found that our views are powerfully shaped so they agree with beliefs of the groups with which we most strongly identify. His research, along with the work of others, has also found that the more challenged our views are, the more we defend them…the more dogmatic and closed-minded we become…an intellectual form of ‘circle-the-wagons, we’re under attack’ tribal unity. Talk about tribalism overruling reason.”
During much of human history, an individual’s tribe was pretty much determined by the small group the person was born within. As societies have become larger and more complex, so has our sense of what our tribe is. At various times we might consider our tribe to be our high school clique, the members of our church, people who root for the same football team, people with the same skin color, people who vote Republican (or Democrat, or Green, or whatever). Sometimes we might think of our entire nation state as our tribe — while simultaneously feeling that certain subgroups within our nation are opposing tribes.
It seems to me that our best hope is to work toward expanding our concept of our tribe to include ever wider circles. What if we could think of all of humanity as our tribe?