Tribalism

I previously wrote about how the desire for conflict is probably mankind’s greatest inherent problem. But the problem that is in close second-place – the problem that ensures humans’ desire for conflict will never go away – is tribalism. Perhaps the desire for conflict could be stifled more often than it is, were it not for our lack of desire to think independently.

We can overcome our tribalistic nature if we choose. The problem is, we don’t choose it. There is security in numbers, strength in numbers, and guidance, too. We are social animals, as I’ve said a hundred times. In fact, all of our problems as humans comes from our nature, but that doesn’t mean we can’t override what our nature tempts us to do. It especially doesn’t mean we don’t need to try to … because we do.

Stick together for strength and support, but don’t let that make you think your tribe is the greatest of all time. It doesn’t mean your tribe always knows what it’s doing. It doesn’t mean your tribe are healthy people for you to be surrounded by. It especially doesn’t mean your tribe should or has the right to strip you of your individuality, physically or ideologically. I’d say the more tribal the group, the more destructive it is to everyone in that group, and outsiders.

Tribes – whether that is familial, political, ethnic, geographic, ideological, or religious tribes – have circular thinking, which frequently makes any idea, good or bad, always turn out to be a much worse idea in the end. For example, the idea that America is the greatest nation. Is that true? I think it is. But imagine if we all told ourselves that on a frequent basis no matter what we do next as a country. No matter what policies we implement, no matter the wars we wage, no matter what we do to our own people … if we keep thinking we’re the greatest, always and forever, that in itself will make us reckless, and stupid. Yes, I think we are the greatest, but it’s toxic to keep reminding ourselves of that. (Not to mention, being the greatest doesn’t mean we do every little thing better, either. We are only the greatest overall.)

I don’t mean to talk about tribalism on grand scales, though. What is equally as important (and I’ll later explain how) is personal-level tribalism. With friends and family. People seem to only believe in nuance, or bother to put in the effort to be nuanced, when it involves two people from the same group. Family members, particularly. Or, even with relationships. In fact, let’s use that as an example.

What precisely happens every time a girl is in a breakup, without fail? She goes to her girlfriends and her family, and she gets swarmed with cozy love and support from everyone. Except, it’s not exactly support, because whatever the girl says about the guy she broke up with, everyone believes without a second thought, and they reinforce everything she says. She can say literally anything, and not one response she gets will be, “Was he actually that bad, though?” Or, “Don’t you think you’re exaggerating a bit?” And if, on the very rare occasion, somebody does question her sob story, she claims they don’t love her and she never speaks to that person again. What literally, undeniably never happens is someone in that girl’s tribe says, “I’ll go talk to him, and hear his side of the story, so that maybe you two can part more peacefully, or even be friends later.”

Months after the breakup, nobody in the girl’s tribe remembers that guy with any fondness, because they never questioned the sob story to begin with. If the guy reappears someday, whether passing him in the street, or (more often) if the two had a child together and for that reason the guy has to show his face around her family on occasion … everyone in the girl’s tribe looks at him poorly, with disgust, because like I already said, they never questioned the sob story at all.

Why does this happen? Tribalism. In that particular scenario, which happens every single day somewhere in the world, it’s quite easy to be tribalistic. Why? Because the guy was never part of the tribe to begin with. He was only tolerated. He could never possibly be good enough for the rest of the tribe because he’s an outsider. He came in to their territory on a visa, so-to-speak, and his stay could only last as long as he was liked. He was never not going to be an outsider. Why go out of your way to defend someone who’s not part of your tribe? They’re gone, never to come back. I guess there’s no real motivation to be nuanced or fair, right?

I didn’t use men as an example because that almost never happens with us. Guys tend to simply say, “That sucks, bro,” and then they try to get their buddy’s mind off that girl in a variety of ways. It’s much healthier. It’s rarely ultra-tribalistic. There’s sometimes a dark reason for this, too, but doesn’t happen all the time, which is the fact that guys sometimes patiently wait for their buddy to be single so they can find a way to sleep with their ex. Or, at the very least, the guy’s friends found that girlfriend attractive, and don’t want to speak against her for merely that reason. For better or worse, guys aren’t ultra-tribalistic like girls and the people girls confide in (male or female).

Humans rarely judge people as individuals. We only ever care about someone based on what group they belong to, whether that is their family, sex, ethnicity, personality, interests, opinions, etc. It’s always a matter of how much we are similar to someone, and if we are not similar to someone in the way we want, we are unfair to them. Everything is always tolerance at best.

I was an outsider growing up with my own siblings. Well, the two I grew up with, anyway. Why? Because I had a different father. Sure, the three of us had the same mother, but the fact I had a different father meant, in their mind, that I just couldn’t quite be as connected to them as they are to each other. It makes no logical sense, but it’s not unheard of. Their behavior only got worse after we were adopted, and for additional reasons. But at the beginning, it was always about tribalism. My skin was lighter, I was in a different age group, and most importantly, I wasn’t as related to them as they were to each other. I was only half a brother, in literally every way.

Personal-level tribalism is equally as toxic as large-scale (such as politics or religion) because everything always starts at the personal level. If you can’t do something in your own life, you can’t do it when it comes to decisions that affect everyone around you and beyond. It reflects in how you vote, in what causes you fight for… It shows in everything. If you can’t be nuanced and judge people as individuals when it comes to who-is-or-isn’t part of your ethnic group, or family, or religious group …, then you can’t be nuanced with your society, either. And societies are entirely made of individuals. Every action counts. Every action (or lack of action) leaves a mark.

Humans’ tribalistic nature, combined with our constant need for conflict, will forever be the reason we can’t treat each other as individuals only or govern our behavior based solely on principles.

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