“Tribalism” is another term thrown around a lot today. We all know what it means, and no one is all that surprised to hear of “increasing tribalism” in the U.S. and abroad. That’s a claim to adjudicate another time. Today we’ll look at why it acts alongside a lack of critical thinking foundations in dangerous ways.
As with other topics we’ve covered, tribalism has evolutionary roots. Humans survived as a group, and one of the most deadly things for early humans was to be rejected by an outcast by ones own tribe and left for dead on the savanna. This is termed “in-group loyalty“. To survive, tribes also needed to have healthy skepticism of other tribes and fight if necessary. This is termed “out-group aggression“.
Jump to today. These forces are clearly present. While the world has changed greatly, it’s happened so quickly that we haven’t had a chance to adapt as a species. So we see blatant hypocrisy in politics that favors one’s own side (in-group loyalty) and vitriol towards opponents or immigrants (out-group aggression).
Since the forces are evolutionary, they may dissipate over a long timeframe if they are maladaptive. But we’re left to our own devices in the short-run where tribalism is controlled by cultural forces.
Culturally, we do see two tribes increasingly cementing themselves in the United States. Most relevant to this is what author Bill Bishop has referred to as “The Big Sort”. He found that we are increasingly placing ourselves geographically near people who think similarly to us. Along with gerrymandering, our politicians have become increasingly divergent. Of course, we’ve also figured out how to tailor news (“filter bubbles”) and commentary to populations as well – first through cable news and now through the internet – to exacerbate the problem.
Tribalism is a natural force in all of our minds, so it is hard to say we can get rid of it. But it can be dialed back – many of the frameworks I’ve shared thus far are useful tools for combating tribal urges if you don’t mind stepping outside the lines.