If you’ve ever been tailgating at a football game then you’ve seen two sides of tribalism in full swing.
Try going tailgating wearing a home team jersey vs. wearing the away team jersey. You’re guaranteed to experience tribalism in two very different ways.
When you’re wearing the home team jersey then you’re part of the family! And even if you do wrong, there’s people there who will have your back.
When you’re wearing the away team jersey, you’re likely to get called names or have beer dumped on your head, even if you’re being respectful.
What makes someone want to call someone they’ve never met before a dirty slur or pour beer on their head?…Tribalism.
The “away team jersey” in this scenario represents “the enemy”, “the opposing tribe”, “them”.
Our tribe becomes part of our identity. Some people get tattoos of their favorite team and some people paint their walls in their house to match their favorite team.
When your tribe becomes part of your identity, then your tribes enemy becomes your enemy. Often with-out even giving it a second thought.
The away jersey represents a subconscious threat. And when we feel threatened, the human brain stops thinking as clearly as “fight or flight” mode is brought online.
Two opposing football teams is just a simple and fun metaphor for tribalism is our society.
However, when we have two opposing political parties, tribalism can take an ugly turn that benefits no one.
History tends to repeat itself, and the problem with tribalism dividing and destroying great civilizations is nothing new.
Let’s dive in.
What is Tribalism Activity (Us vs. Them)
When most people think of tribalism, they think of Native American tribes or hunter-gatherer tribes. The tribalism that exists today is no different than the tribal wars from hundreds and thousands of years ago.
Native American Tribes used to brutally wage war over territory, resources, and religion.
Today’s politicians don’t kill each other with arrows, instead they tweet insults back and forth over the internet. But the effects are the exact same.
The people become divided.
“Us vs. Them”
The us vs. them mentality is very dangerous in politics. It leaves little room for nuances or compromise. If you find yourself blaming “them” for societies problems, then that is a tribalistic way of thinking.
Unfortunately, the “us vs. them” mentality can be very profitable. Some news channels take advantage of “us vs. them” to write catchy (usually slanted) headlines as clickbait to attract readers. These clickbait headlines are usually written to push one tribe against the other.
(Here’s why Most People Only Read Headlines)
Divided We Fall
Tribalism can unite and tribalism can divide. Are you loyal to a higher power?
Back to the football team example, being loyal to a specific team can divide fans, but being loyal to the game of football itself can also unite the fans of two opposing teams (tribes).
Tribal thinking leaves no room for individual thought and can threaten the union of the whole.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Effects of Tribalism in Society
Tribalism isn’t all bad. Tribalism is human instinct. It’s built into our brains. But tribalism can also make us do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily do.
In the civil war, brothers fought brothers, fathers fought sons, and country men fought country men. All in the name of choosing the right tribe.
The Necessity of Tribalism
– Tribalism is encoded in our DNA. There’s a primal reason and need for tribalism. There’s a feeling of safety when you’re with a tribe. Your tribe has your back.
Tribes can accomplish great feats, like building the pyramid in Egypt, or defeating Nazi Germany, or developing life savings medicines.
Being part of a tribe can feel rewarding, fulfilling, and give people a feeling of purpose in their lives. A feeling of being part of something greater than themselves.
– Although there are many positive aspects of tribalism, it’s downfalls can destroy civilizations.
The biggest danger with tribalism is group think and populism.
Group think is when a group collectively gets an idea and everyone goes along with that idea without thinking about it for themselves. The idea becomes popular and anyone who disagrees risks being kicked out of the group.
Populism goes hand-in-hand with group think, as populism is when a tribe confuses what is popular for what is true.
(here’s a guide I wrote to tell the difference between what is popular vs. what is true)
When you have tribalism, the tribes leaders can easily be carried away. As the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Tribe leaders can easily manipulate the tribe by creating popular opinions based on untrue lies. These popular opinions can lead to war (like in WWII), political unrest, and the decline of civilizations.
Changing Bad Tribalism Into Good Tribalism.
Bad tribalism comes about when tribal leaders lead their tribe into battle for self-interested reasons. Often the tribe will argue, fight, battle, ect depleting resources, and missing other opportunities to focus their attention and time towards.
Instead blindly following tribal leaders orders which ultimately only benefits the interest of the tribe leaders.
But what if we change our perspective?
Is your tribe really any different than the other tribe? Are your values really any different? We love our family, respect hard work, want our dignity, value friends & community, privacy, and fairness as much as possible.
Are we not all already part of the human tribe first?
If the Native American tribes were fully united, would the American settlers have been able to conquer a easily as they did the individual tribes?
Group think, populism, and “bad tribalism” all lead to anger based, poor decision making in the long run. But taking a higher-level perspective can have a huge positive impact.
Ask yourself, what is the goal of your tribe? Is it to solve a problem? What is the goal of the other tribe? Is it also to solve a problem? If both tribes can’t agree on how to solve the same problem, then the problem is what you both have in common.
Seek common ground. Try and understand the problem from the perspective of the other tribe. Is the other tribe human? If they are then they have the same needs, the same desires, the same wants as you.
You can turn ‘bad tribalism” into “good tribalism” by uniting at a higher level. By focusing on the similarities, it makes it easier to come to a common solution. When two smaller tribes unite, the united tribe become much more powerful than either of the two smaller tribes.
Are You A Tribalist ? Here’s How To Tell.
- Do You Think For Yourself Or Do You “Go Along” ?
It’s critically important to think for yourself to avoid being manipulated.
Just going along with your tribe was a good way to stay safe in pre-historic times. But in modern day times “just going along” leads to group think which is a tell tale sign of a tribalist who is unable to think for themselves.
- Do You Understand “Why” Or “How” You Believe What You Believe?
Why do you believe what you believe? Have you put in the time to really understand the pros and cons and origins of your beliefs? Or do you simply believe something just because the rest of your tribe does?
- Do You Understand The Perspective Of Other Tribes ?
Do you demonize “other tribes” with out understanding their perspective? What are their goals, motivations, what is their why? How are they looking at something differently than you? If you just think the other tribe is evil with-out understanding their perspective, this is a sign of tribalism.
- Do You See Things In “Black And White” Or Do You Understand The Nuances ?
Very rarely is anything an “absolute” or “all or nothing”. There are nuances in problem solving and there are nuances in disputes. In order to understand the bigger picture you’ll need to understand the context of the nuances.
Is the nuance the rule or is the nuance the exception to the rule? If something is “by-in-large” true than it is mostly true and the nuances don’t matter.
Often in tribalism, nuances are distorted to become a popular rule instead of a nuanced exception.
- Are Your Opinions Motivated By Fear ?
What motivates your opinions? Being motivated by fear is very much a tribalistic way of thinking. Fear distorts our perception of reality. When humans act or react based on fear we’re typically not in our best mindset to make quality decisions.
Tribe leaders use fear to motivate the tribe into decisive action. Often fear based decisive action can have lasting long term consequences.
- Is Your Tribe Part Of Your Identity ?
Do you live and die by your tribe? Is your social life based on your tribe? Would you lose your friends and family if you joined a new tribe?
When tribalism becomes part of our identity, it makes it more difficult to walk back on our ideas and beliefs, even if we change our minds. Identity based tribalism can become very dangerous and is the culprit for millions of deaths around the religious wars of the 15th century.
- Are You Scared To Express Ideas That Are Different From Your Tribes Ideas ?
Being scared to express different ideas from your tribe is a bad sign for empathy, growth, and future communication expansion. Tribalism can suppress new ideas and limit the perspective in which issues are look at.
Often tribalism becomes more about demonizing the other tribe and less about coming up with common solutions to move forward.
The Way Forward – How To Combat Tribalism?
Tribalism can cause rifts and slow the progression of the growth of society. When two tribes are at war, all resources are diverted to fight the war, and less resources are devoted to moving society forward in a positive direction.
As in America today, political tribalism has gridlocked American society with a whirlwind of issues that cannot get resolved due to “in-fighting” and political turmoil.
So how do societies move forward from falling victim to tribalism?
We need to find a loyalty to a higher power. To a bigger tribe. The human tribe.
Why Is It So Hard To Overcome Tribalism?
Over the course of history, overcoming tribalism has been traditionally very difficult for a few reasons, especially if your identity ids based on yoru tribe.
For starters, most people are not self aware enough to understand that they are not thinking for themselves. In fact, only about 10-15% of people are actually self aware. If you want to find out how self aware YOU are, here’s another article I wrote that you might be interested in.
If you’re not self-aware then you’re an easy target to get swept into group think and tribalism.
Even if some people “wake up” and realize they’ve become a part of group think or tribalism, it’s not always easy to overcome. Becoming aware of the problem is definitely the first step, but once you’re aware of the problem, then what?
If tribalism has taken hold of your family or community or even your identity, changing your views can make you seem like an outsider or even worse “one of them”.
In situations like this it’s important to stand up for yourself and your right to think differently. Overcoming tribalism takes strong leadership and focus on commonalities and unity.
During times of strong tribalism, weak leaders will use one sided popularity to sew division for their short term political power, but strong leaders will promote unity on all sides between all tribes.
The strongest and most well known leaders through-out history, have always been those who unite despite the odds.
The Impact of Tribalism on National Development
All human beings are capable of reaching the highest levels of human compassion and loyalty for morality. Where does your loyalty lie?
Are you loyal to your family, your community, your political party, your nation, your race, or your species?
These are all tribes at different levels and from different perspectives. When I traveled to Africa a few years ago, I looked at a map and pointed to the USA as my home. I didn’t think about whether the people there were republicans or democrats, they were just my fellow Americans.
If you got abducted to another planet with aliens on it but there was 1 other Earth being from China, you would gladly look at that person as someone from your tribe. Someone familiar.
However, for people who don’t get abducted or don’t travel abroad, it can be hard to get a good perspective in order to realize how similar all of us humans are despite our looks and political ideals.
We fight about the best way to build our nations often demonizing opposing tribes (political parties) but we forget that in the end, both tribes have the same goals of making positive change.
However, when we forget to look at all perspectives, we get ‘caught up in the weeds’ arguing about every little thing and missing the bigger picture.
Often times in history, when one nation is locked in political tribalism and gridlock, another nation is building and looking to move past.
This is exactly what is happening right now with China. While the democrats and republicans fight over national development here in the united states, China is gaining more and more international power.
Conclusion: The Way Forward is Fighting Fire With Fire
How do we move forward in a nation gridlocked with tribalism on both sides?
More tribalism !
If tribalism got us into this political turmoil mess, can tribalism get us out? Yes. The way out of tribalism is by finding a new tribe.
Humans are social creatures. We’re geared towards community and tribalism is ingrained into our DNA. But by pledging loyalty to a ‘higher-level’ tribe we can all move forward together.
Whether republican or democrat, remember that you’re part of a bigger tribe. The American tribe. And part of an even bigger tribe than that. The human tribe. With the explosion of high speed internet, humans across the globe have been connected to a degree previously impossible in all of human history.
This new level of connectedness lays the groundwork for establishing tribes on new levels. Humans can now share experiences instantly with the world in seconds. We can hold each other accountable with new perspectives, new ideas, and new ways forward.
I’m excited to be a part of the human race. The biggest global society in the history of Planet Earth.
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