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Can tribalism be cured? Prominent intellectuals are scared of debate

Why can't we all just get along? (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Why can't we all just get along? (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)


September 8, 2021   4 mins

I am no stranger to contentious politics. I spent my early twenties in the Communist Youth of Greece, where activism involved a bit more than blacking out one’s social media profile: picket lines defended with sticks, occupations of universities and ministries, brawls against Right-wingers and anarchists. Whatever being part of a self-described revolutionary party demanded, we did it.

Looking at the tribalism prevalent in today’s public sphere, however, I am concerned and worried. Indeed, the toxicity of the West’s ongoing culture wars seems uniquely suffocating. People across the political spectrum agree that this needs remedying — but the solutions on offer are largely inadequate.

“Can’t we all just get along?” is a common refrain. But how? Shrugging off unpalatable ideas without challenging them only has a further corrosive effect in our society. “How about we all meet in the middle and leave behind us the strict commitment to ideologies?” But why meet in the middle if it requires us to compromise our ideas, values and what we believe is the truth?

What these approaches have in common is that they ultimately ask us to abandon our capacity for independent thinking — but isn’t that the essence of tribalism? Tribalism is not people disagreeing or even engaging in a robust battle of ideas. Disagreeing and taking ideas seriously are, and always have been, at the root of progress.

Tribalism is something completely different: it is surrendering one’s independent thought for the sake of a group. It is viewing oneself, others and the world through the prism not of one’s mind, but through that of the tribe. It elevates a group mentality to one’s existential horizon, placing other people over and above reality.

Of course, when we think independently it inevitably leads to disagreement, and it might often turn out that we are wrong. But we still retain the ability to appeal to others through persuasion, rather than force. And when we are wrong, we learn and correct our mistakes. Because even when independent thinkers disagree on specific issues, they retain a mutual commitment to the free exchange of ideas. Their final arbiter is reality, and they agree that truth is something that we can know, if only we use our reason.

Tribalism, on the other hand, makes persuasion impossible. It implies that different groups view the world in a different way. Notice how many prominent intellectuals today reject the idea of universal reason and talk about different kinds of knowledge: black, indigenous, gendered — the list goes on. But if we find ourselves confined to such an epistemological tower of Babel, the only way to resolve disputes is ultimately to force our ideas on the outgroup.

Yet even people who identify tribalism as a problem disagree on its nature. For Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, tribalism is an “evolutionary endowment”, preparing us for conflict with other groups. Amy Chua, meanwhile, sees tribalism as an instinct of belonging and of excluding; Joshua Greene agrees that the tribal tendencies in us are innate.

So is tribalism wired into us? I am not convinced. As I explain in my new book, tribalism is first and foremost a voluntary option, taken in default of thinking. It is the lazy route of following the herd and letting the heavy lifting of judgment to others. It is the abandonment of the responsibility to do the mental work required for grasping the world, of judging what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong, and what one should do. Tribalism should not be seen as an inescapable fate, but as an epistemological choice.

The Rwandan genocide is a case in point. In the summer of 1994, more than half a million Tutsis were massacred with machetes by their rival group, the Hutus. These were people of the same racial, religious and linguistic background. There was no way to tell if someone was a Tutsi or a Hutu, except by personally knowing the family history of someone.

As a Hutu killer reflected years after his crimes: “Our Tutsi neighbours — we knew they were guilty of no misdoing, but we thought all Tutsis at fault for our constant troubles. We no longer looked at them one by one; we no longer stopped to recognise them as they had been, not even as colleagues.” So the killer knew very well that his victims were innocent and often even people he used to love, and that what he was doing made no sense. But he had to suppress that knowledge, and put his loyalty to his own tribe above his thinking. The horror in Rwanda is the most naked exhibition of tribalism in recent history.

However, three decades after one of the darkest moments of the 20th century, the country is more peaceful, scoring above the world average on the Freedom Index. Same people, different culture, different outcomes. Tribalism, then, is neither an instinct nor a gene; it is a choice.

And if that is true, it becomes easy to discern the cure for tribalism: independent thinking — using one’s mind and having one’s own judgment as the final arbiter and horizon, rather than being guided by loyalty to a group or by hatred to an opposing tribe.

That isn’t to say that independent thinking is easy to achieve. Almost everyone — from the social justice warrior to the white supremacist — believes that they have truth by their side. I thought I was an independent thinker in my radical leftist past. I remember protesting with a Palestinian scarf, indignant about what I considered as injustices in the Middle East and Israeli imperialism. The fact that I couldn’t even point to Israel on the map and thought that Hezbollah were merely leftists on the side of progress was an insignificant detail. Under the tribalist mindset, if the facts of reality are against our narrative and the way we view the world, reality doesn’t stand a chance.

Being an independent thinker is therefore neither a default mindset nor something that is easily attainable. It is an achievement, and a rather heroic one. It requires someone to overcome their own prejudices and emotional investments. It requires a commitment to reality as the final court of appeal.

Of course, one can learn and benefit from the knowledge and insights of others. But whether they are right or wrong needs to be judged meticulously. Other people might be great thinkers, but they cannot think for us. This might sound like a burden; these judgment calls are often hard to make. But who is in a better position than each one of us to make them?

After all, the ability to make sense of the world through reason is the distinguishing characteristic of human beings. Thinking for ourselves is not an unjust requirement, or a burden we should wish to place on somebody else. It is precisely what makes us humans — and what sets us apart from the tribe.


Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos is a lecturer in sociology and criminology at York St John University.

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Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

I believe in live and let live, problem is a certain part of the political spectrum believes they should control how I live. That makes us enemies, simple as that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

This is the problem.
I accept that the world cannot be run the way I want it; sometimes it will be run closer to how I would like, and sometimes it will be run further from how I would like. But I also believe that, so long as my actions do not have significant negative effects on others, then I should be free to do as I wish; and vice verse.
As you say, live and let live. Sure, there are going to be arguments over “significant”, but the principal has to be that freedom is the default, and should only be restricted where really necessary. But, at the moment, “the left” (or, what currently passes for the left) does not seem to agree; they seem to insist on the reverse. Which, yes, makes them my enemy.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

I don’t think you can demand that everyone agree that your own highest virtue should also be theirs and placed above every other consideration. What about freedom for some, at the expense of others? The argument for a free market cannot just be, for example, that it maximises economic freedom, but that it is the best method we have found of generating wealth for everyone.

There is always tension between the demands of achieving different public ‘goods’. But it is worse now, and it isn’t only one side at fault. There is now a part of the anti-woke Right, often represented on here, which is just as fanatical and uncomprising as their ‘woke’ enemies eg. the denial of election results, that Obama was a legitimate president etc etc. And before that we had the Republican insistence that the 2nd amendment – this is what it says in plain English:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”

– meant that anyone should have an absolute right to hold whatever number of semi-automatic assault rifles at home. Then there was the politicisation and partisan use of the abortion debate. Needless to say, I agree the identitarian Left is awful and is an actual enemy to rational thought and democracy, but people on here hardly ever mention the Right wing examples.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

For live and let live to work between two tribes they have to become one tribe, you all have to believe in the same controls and same freedoms. The actions of individuals in society are so inter-connected that the freedoms I want require controls that I am happy with, unfortunately they confict with the freedoms and controls other people want.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

I have no idea what mumbo jumbo you are on about, but in the United States we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Unlike in England, we actually wrote it down. As far as we are concerned, we are not going to give up anything that was promised to us in America’s social contract.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Tribalism is a real and worrying issue in British politics, not simply the “Red Tie”, “Blue Tie” of political parties but the unthinking, monocular tribalism that has polarised mainstream journalism and made civilised, nuanced debate almost impossible.
There was a time (it seems long ago now) when good journalists would assess a policy on its merits, would look objectively at a party’s offering and be able to agree and disagree with separate elements of it. Now media organisations support everything “their side” does and will criticise everything the “other side” does. It isn’t journalism, it is propagandist and only serves to cheapen the debate.
Maybe we are too far down that road now to ever go back but I just wish media outlets – and everyone else – would stop being so completely one-eyed and only judging a policy, an action, a statement based solely on who has espoused it and what political tribe they belong to.
If I’m honest, perhaps it was always thus and I’m only (mis)remembering a time when I trusted political journalists to be objective because I was a less critical – possibly more naĂŻve – reader and viewer.
I first became aware of it during Blair’s first term in office. It seemed that the “political message” coming from off-the-record briefings rather than statements from the despatch box was very much a Nu-Labour initiative. It was documented in Peter Oborne’s books “The Rise of Political Lying” and “The Triumph of the Political Class”. An entire generation of political journalists were co-opted by the Downing St spin machine (Mandelson & Campbell) to act as PR mouthpieces for a sitting Govt.
The BBC was a very willing publicist for all of Blair’s off-book policy announcements. 
.. . â€˜Journalists were recruited as an essential part of the apparatus of government control’ , Oborne says of them, â€˜Pienaar did not merely present the Downing Street line very faithfully – it was almost as if Tony Blair or Alastair Campbell were speaking.’
Oborne, then a determined seeker after truth, seems to have fallen into this trap himself – a severe case of Boris Derangement Syndrome has damaged the objectivity and credibility that made him worth reading. He has become the very thing he once criticised.
We are still some way behind the US in terms of their polarised political journalism but we are certainly heading that way – and accelerating towards it. Trump has been the catalyst and it is almost impossible to find measured reporting in any UK media on anything he ever said or did.
It is exhausting, this reflexive and frankly childish insistence that there could never be a good reason for Trump doing anything – good or bad. In the same way, there was always a good excuse found for Obama when he did something – whether good or bad. Just as an example, the targeting of Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s chief “proxy-warrior” – which seemed wholly in keeping with US foreign policy of the Bush, Obama and Trump presidencies. Had Qasem Soleimani been killed in a drone strike by Obama I think the BBC and Guardian would have found a way not merely to justify but to praise such an action. Yet simply because it was Trump it was deemed an outrageous and idiotic action.
Biden is testing the limits of this – finally – but only because his ineptitude and cognitive decline are so evident that even the Liberal Left media is having to acknowledge it.
After the toxicity and rancour of the last 10 years, and in the face of a global pandemic and subsequent economic fallout that respects no party affiliation, it shouldn’t be beyond media outlets who pretend to be serious to maybe try and step back from the tribalist, polarised finger-pointing and actually offer their readership or viewers some objective reporting and measured insight.
“Thinking for ourselves is not an unjust requirement, or a burden we should wish to place on somebody else.”
I agree but the media’s “burden” is presenting information in a way that allows their readers and viewers to think for themselves – and not present it in a partisan framing that adhere’s to a predetermined worldview.
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Thomas Jefferson.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

I suspect 90% of the population rolls their eyes at these Woke, left wing nutters. Only media saturation about their antics makes it look like two equally sized tribes.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

I would agree that 90% (or so) of the population rolls its eyes.

But the problem is not that the tribes are equally sized, but that the Wokeist tribe, small in numbers though it may be, has penetrated to positions of power in the universities, major businesses, media, senior civil service, police, and policy-making institutions generally. In other words, those in a position to control what we know and what we do.

Its not just antics, I’m afraid.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

The trouble is that 63.78% of statistics are based purely on gut feeling.
And with the obesity epidemic, ‘gut feeling’ has expanded by exactly 42.1%, particularly among white middle class/ middle aged males like me.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

🙂 thank you for the laugh 🙂

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

‘ truth is something that we can know, if only we use our reason.’
I’m no longer convinced this is true. Two different independent rational minds can come to completely different conclusions. I’m sure that our thinking is also controlled by other more sub-conscious influences such as self-interest, personal gain, celebrity, hatreds, pleasures, bitterness, life experiences, etc.
There are few really independent thinkers. The power of the herd is not to be ignored and the internet has enhanced herd power especially over loners. Why do fashions take hold of so many: beards for men, tattoos for women, etc. It takes an unusual courage not to go with the crowd, not least to be impervious to abuse.
I’m not sure that Rwanda is really a good example of a wholesome nation. I’d like to know more. There are questions about its president and how he took power, about what has happened to his opponents and how he rules. He is also a Tutsi ruling which was what the Hutus were resentful about in the first place. Something doesn’t stack up; and I’m sure what’s happened is not just the result of calm reasoning.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Two different independent rational minds can come to completely different conclusions.

Of course. And it is by no means a concern when the different conclusions are acknowledged to be on matters of opinion. (Provided – to take up Matt Hindman’s point above – one group is not improperly converting its opinion into control of others.)

But the problem is where, as currently, we are told that there are actually different truths in the plural. Not different opinions, but different truths. Different realities. (And I have a book first published in 1981, Women’s Reality: an emerging female system in a white male society, by Anne Wilson Schaef, which explains that inter alia numbers and reason are falsehoods constructed by white men to suppress women and people of colour.)

People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. But now the very notion of of objective reality, even of science, is a form of oppression. This is the end of Enlightenment reasoning, indeed the end of reason itself.

You and I can have a discussion about our different opinions. But how do we have a discussion if I say my reality is different from yours? Not to mention when I add that your questioning of my reality proves that you are an enemy and an oppressor?

Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

We must assume that there is an objective reality, even if we disagree as to what it is, because without such, all and any opinions are equally valid.
If you are right, and this is the end of the Enlightenment, then it is not going to go well for women.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

…the mentality…of a liberal historian [is] that the past cannot be altered and that a correct knowledge of history is valuable as a matter of course. From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy…and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth….A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist.

George Orwell, The Prevention of Literature, 1946
https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/the-prevention-of-literature/
I recommend reading the whole thing; an absolutely prophetic essay of astonishingly accurate predictions that could have been written yesterday about today, with very little change required.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Thanks, it was his reference to ‘truth’ that I was particularly interested in. What is the difference between truth, fact and opinion? Reasoning will produce different opinions but not, I’m convinced, necessarily truth. Facts can be observed or measured, although interpretation of data can be opinionated.
But surely truth applies in human life in things which can’t be measured. Love is essential in fulfilling relationships is a truth but is it a fact? A 12-year old child should not give permission for a vaccine or a tattoo is a truth which can’t be measured. Reasoning won’t give agreed answers here.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

You nailed the conundrum we are living in today. In previous times, this has only led to war and destruction.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

If Rwanda’s genuinely more wholesome it’s presumably because they’ve liquidated most of the outgroup.
In the same way, anti-Semitism wouldn’t be such a problem in the Middle East if Israel were annihilated.
I suspect that like the Romans they made a desert and called it peace.

andrew harman
andrew harman
2 years ago

Interesting and well written article. I found myself thinking that it is not so much tribalism that is the danger but rather ideological rigidity which is so often brandished with a religious fervour. Then again, are tribalism and dogmatic certainties interchangeable? Do some confuse them? it is an interesting distinction perhaps.

Ian Moore
Ian Moore
2 years ago

The strangest thing with tribalism, especially the more “complicated” version we seemingly have in the developed western countries, is that it requires people to submit completely to a dogma to which they probably do not wholly agree with. It also removes all trace of individualism from people who spend a disproportionate amount of time on social media claiming to be their own person. It is quite perverse really.

In the same way that every spent months, possibly years, posting memes about “not giving a f*ck”, when by the very act of doing this they quite clearly do/did.

Seems the best way to describe the times we live in is “do as I say, not as I do”. The majority of politicians in the UK and USA seem to be wholeheartedly following this approach.

aaron david
aaron david
2 years ago

Enlarge the tribe. That is how you overcome this. But, in the meantime, you have to work on that, which is the thorny question; how? First of all, you cannot let state-sanctioned bigotry persist. In the US, this means public Universities. They have been allowed to form a monoculture of leftist thought and at this point are in many cases simply spreading hate as the administration bows down to ill-educated students and angry junior faculty. Evergreen is probably the best example of this, but there are countless others.
The next step is to slow down the administrative state, as, again here in the US that has been co-opted by unions when it was supposed to be a neutral service. If it cannot remain neutral, it must be neutered. And whatever someone thinks about unions, they have too much political pull over workers who are supposed to treat everyone fairly and often work to bend the rules in favor of their political party.
Those ideas work in the negative, to remove the poison. But, how does one expand the tribe, at least in a way that doesn’t raise the issues that drive the left, fear of nationalism, and patriotism? I am not sure, but if tribalism is real and requires an Us/Them, we better figure it out quickly, as this issue is driving us into the ground.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  aaron david

I believe that the Left and the Right in the USA need to talk about forgiveness. But I don’t live there. I’m extremely sympathetic to the view that I should just mind my own business. I would if the US would only stop exporting their political divisions and trying to make their problems mine.

aaron david
aaron david
2 years ago

Honestly, I think we are past the point of forgiveness for a generation at least. What we need to do is install understanding and familiarity. We all walk amongst each other and we have to realize that “they” aren’t the other we so fear, but rather the shop owners and cousins and everyone else.
It really isn’t any different than leavers vs. remainers. Just with even more spun-up hate.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

I’m not a scientist but I know some psychology and as far as I know humans are innately tribal but as thinking, reasoning beings we can override this instinctive behaviour with our will.
The closer we are to savagery the more likely we are to behave according to our instincts, the more sophisticated we are, the more likely we are to be able to control that impulse.
What is worrying is that the internet /social media seems to ‘unleash the beast’ in us, causing people to behave as if the past 500 years had never happened.
There was an interesting article on UnHerd about this by an ex prime minister of Iceland I seem to remember but I can’t find it. A search button would be good UnHerd.
Another point : Might it not also be that liberalism itself by allowing and acknowledging ever more outlandish behaviour is leading to more tribalism not less ?
We had built up systems of rules and encouraged self discipline and we have systematically undermined them in the name of “progress”. Maybe it was inevitable that we would do so.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I think the article you are looking for is this one: https://unherd.com/2017/11/populism-iceland-care-whats-happened-since-crash/
Here is a useful trick, better than any search button. Get yourself to a google search box. Type in:

site:unherd.com Iceland

or

site:unherd.com Iceland “Prime Minister”

and see what pops out.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

Thank you, how useful.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

My pleasure.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

That is’nt the article unfortunately, it was more recent than that, 2020 or early 2021.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Well, the site:unherd.com search restriction still works so you can find all the articles that mention Iceland here and see if you can find it. Sorry I cannot be more helpful.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

No need to be sorry Laura, you’ve been very helpful. I insist on blaming UnHerd, it can’t possibly be my memory or searching powers that are at fault. (joke)

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

The google search index only indexes the article, and not the comments, so it is no good trying to search via ‘site unherd.com’ that good quote by Orwell that was used in the comments. I suppose that is to protect our privacy from the twitterati who might go digging for things we said in order to present them in the most damaging light, so I understand, but it is often the comment that I am interested in re-visiting, which means I have to remember what article it was a comment on, and well, I am not all that good at that.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

After all, the ability to make sense of the world through reason is the distinguishing characteristic of human beings.

Actually this appears to be more and more an article of conviction of the Philosophy Tribe. Perhaps even a Noble Lie. A great proportion of our thinking is automatic and filtered through unconscious biases. Our tribal emotions cut in before our conscious reasoning starts.
We respect the exercise of conscious reason, but philosophers (let alone politicians) come to different conclusions, criticise each other, and are usually impervious to others’ reasoning.
A good book to read is ‘The Mind Is Flat’ by Nick Chater – he argues that there are no great mental depths only opinions and ‘choices’ generated on the fly. If this is so then the best way of improving our ability to make sense of the world is to pause between perception and response to provide a gap for slower, more reasoned thinking. A pause that our Western media and social media short circuit in their rush to make money or gain status.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

This has to be one of the fundamental questions of the age. Whether one thinks our biggests challenges are responding to climate change,  the mixed blessings of tech & AI, the various threats to western civilisation, or whatever- its hard to overcome them if society is bitterly divided.   There seems to be abundant evidence that a tendency toward tribalism is a human universal, which suggests it does indeed have biological roots. That said I agree with the author that its also partly an individual choice. “The Upswing”, a recent book by Robert Putman, argues that Tribalism can indeed be cured. He cites mutliple studies suggesting that in the late 19th century the US was getting increasingly polarised. But then in the early 20th century the trend reversed, with the US reaching  a peak of bipartisanship around the 60s (we had something similar around the same time in the UK with Butskellism. )  Then since the 70s the US has been getting increasingly tribal, but Putman thinks this may reverse again soon.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

““The Upswing”, a recent book by Robert Putman, argues that Tribalism can indeed be cured.
Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve ordered this book from the library (the author is Robert Putnam, by the way).
The current article is fine and I certainly can’t argue that independent thinking will help resist the tendency to tribalism and polarization, but we need more specific suggestions than that. Hopefully the Putnam book provides more detailed insights.
Sadly, the current author’s new book is not in our library system, and I’m a poor cheapskate who gave up buying books years ago.

Last edited 2 years ago by J Bryant
Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Instead of styling yourself a poor cheapskate, you could call yourself a ‘noble patron of that most democratic of enlightenment institutions: the public library’.

Sue Whorton
Sue Whorton
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Request it. If they won’t buy a copy they can get it as an inter library loan.

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

it must have been the early 60’s because the late years were almost as divided as we are now; the only difference is in demographics which i think will be a hindrance to any reversal that is hoped for.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago

Haidt is right. People resign themselves to tribes naturally. The fact that it happens time and again shows that the process is unavoidable. To say otherwise is uplift and eyewash. It’s like sin. Yes, a sin is a choice and hence open to judgement; but it is also inevitable, inherent in humanity. As Scott Fitzgerald once observed, thinking – serious thinking – takes effort and humility; mankind is by nature indolent and proud. Far easier to accept a raft of prepackaged opinions as “orthodox” and then get on with the harsh business of putting one foot after another in this weary world. It is typical of anyone from the Left not to understand this – they are usually truculent “rentiers” or vagrants who are less enmeshed in living than their victims.

Sue Whorton
Sue Whorton
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

A theological definition of sin is of a falling short, the arrow missing its mark. Also of a broken relationship with God and thus separation both from God and other people and the created world. It is wider than doing a bad thing or being a bad person.

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2 years ago

An article denouncing tribalism written by a former active member of the Greek communist youth (the definition of tribalism).
If this isn’t hopeful then what is.
The question is how do we protect society from tribalists’ active fever which justifies all acts, even illegal, for the shake of the cause. For example the occupation of a university which use to be so common in Greece and always made me furious during my student years.
The answer is: zero tolerance to all kinds of breach of the constitutional order as it is guarded by the established law and order.
Even if it seems innocent, any outlaw activity must be considered as dangerous for the society as it can lead to misinterpretation of our rights’ extent towards those of other people.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

The problem with thinking for yourself is that it is not tolerated. Think independently about race, gender, or climate change and see where it gets you. If you’re only labelled a denier, you’re getting off lightly.
It’s only the left that does this. You get left-wing opinion pieces in right-wing newspapers, but you don’t get the reverse.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

If we want to get away from tribalism we are going to have to convince people that what they believe, and what they write and say doesn’t matter nearly as much as they think it does — what counts is how they behave, or what they do. And yes, the irony of needing to convince people to not care so much about beliefs — except for this one — has not escaped me.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

I agree with your first point but have’nt you fallen into the trap of moral relativism in your second ? Fatal.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Possibly, but if the criterion is behaviour (rather than belief, or speech, or writing), then the end-stop will be the law, which is not relative and should apply to all equally.

So when wokeists’ behaviour is beyond legal bounds (riotous assembly, physical assault, criminal damage, obstruction of movement, and so on) the law should be fairly applied against it.

On the other hand, if some children’s author (say) merely tweets a view about a subject, that would simply fall into Laura Creighton’s believing/writing/saying category, rather than behaviour attracting the attention of the law … and the wokeists should just let it go.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I agree, but I was actually more concerned with the problem that people think they can be good just by believing the correct beliefs, and policing the thoughts of others. Saved by faith alone. No good works necessary — besides, who would have time for them when you are constantly busy being a flash mob over incorrect thoughts?

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I cannot agree.
Laura says first of all that “we” need to convince people of . . .what she says, which is a very reasonable and logical idea and plan of action to avoid tribalism. Then she immediately undermines her own argument by making it just one more “belief” of no greater worth than any other. That is moral relativism and it is a bit c r a z y, if all thoughts and beliefs are worth the same then they are worthless, that’s postmodernism and nihilistic.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

It is not that I think that this belief is of no greater worth than any other — on the contrary. I am merely finding it bemusing to envision the practical difficulties of trying to convince people to care less about their own beliefs, when they can immediately say that I am a hypocrite, since this belief clearly means so much to me.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

Yes of course I see what you mean, and that links in with my comment below about the internet/social media, there are so many opinions and voices to deal with.
Someone somewhere else once came up with “turn off the internet”, perhaps we will have to one day.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

really a Humpty-Dumpty article, Lewis Carroll

““When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’” And this writer chooses ‘Tribal’, and ‘Independent Thinker’ to mean something other than what they really are.
Tribalism is used to mean something sinister by this writer, like being part of the Borg Hive Collective. “It (Tribalism) elevates a group mentality to one’s existential horizon, placing other people over and above reality.””is that they ultimately ask us to abandon our capacity for independent thinking — but isn’t that the essence of tribalism?””Tribalism should not be seen as an inescapable fate, but as an epistemological choice.””Tribalism, then, is neither an instinct nor a gene; it is a choice.”

Contrasting this are ‘Independent Thinkers’ “That isn’t to say that independent thinking is easy to achieve. Almost everyone — from the social justice warrior to the white supremacist — believes that they have truth by their side.””Being an independent thinker is therefore neither a default mindset nor something that is easily attainable. It is an achievement, and a rather heroic one.”

What ever….I suppose what the writer is really thinking is he opposes Post Modernism and Neo-Marxism, a couple concepts he would do well to understand. Both suppose the individual does not exist, that all people and society are made up of collections of ‘Identities’, I suppose super-tribal blends, or Intersectionality

“Notice how many prominent intellectuals today reject the idea of universal reason and talk about different kinds of knowledge: black, indigenous, gendered — the list goes on” He has a crude stab at it here, but needs to label it what it is, Post-Modernism.

(basically an existential and Nihilist philosophy derived from Frankfurt School ‘Critical Thinking’ – which says senses are unreliable, delusions, and thus the actual reality cannot be known. All which can be known is discussion, (Dialectic) and all discussion is Power as one works to take power over the other one in a discussion (thus all is oppression/Oppressor). The individual cannot exist as it cannot self discuss, and thus all are mere Identities, and collections of Identities. (male, female, race, religion, sex orientation, wealth, education, National origin, age, intelligent, less intelligent, poverty, on and on) and all are either oppressed or oppressors by the fact of understanding existence through the dialectic, and us all blends of these Identities.

Then Neo-Marxism which has superseded Classical Marxism being all about the means of Production (Land Labour Capital, and those who have the Means, ‘Capitalists’, and those who are oppressed by the Capitalists, Proletariat) ie – money is the root of all societal injustice. Now it is Identities, and “Intersectionality
Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege.”

Neo Marxist makes wealth only ONE of the Identities, and the actual Oppression is Identities, Classes, as Oppressor and Oppressed. CRT, BLM, Critical Theory, the entire race and gender and sexual thinking, the White Patriarchy – it is not all $, but sheer Oppression for its own sake, as that is what Post Modern supposes all is. is this Neo-Marxism. The cult of hate. Identity politics,

And what do Neo-Marxists say is the way to address this Oppression/Oppressed? EQUITY. Which means all must have the same. Meritocracy, effort, talent, do not matter as anyone with less is oppressed, and anyone with more is an oppressor.

Anyway Tribalism is so 1960s – now it is the identities assigned to one by existence and the Dialectic.. One merely IS, and thus one is oppressed, and thus must have Equity. I am not going to re-read the mess I wrote, but just explain how the writer is 60 years out of date talking of Tribalism and Individuals. A much greater evil is taking the world, and that is Post-Modernism, which has ‘Captured’ the entire Education systems, and the Left Political Parties, and all Left/Liberal thinking and action; and Neo-Marxism, that even more twisted thinking on justice than classic Marxism.

(Post-Modernism is the refutation of all classical thinking, of the 500 years of man’s intellectual understanding of the real and intellectual existence (the ‘Modern’ – it says we have now moved past that.)

“I remember protesting with a Palestinian scarf,” ps, Keffiyeh

Mark Vernon
Mark Vernon
2 years ago

But hasn’t independent thinking become part of the problem, morphing into the exhausting business of having to have a view? Agnostics of the world unite.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Vernon

This is where the magic phrase – I haven’t researched (alternatively, thought about) the matter enough to have an informed opinion – comes in handy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago

You have two tribes, sometimes more. This one thinks this, that one thinks that, the others are less clear. You aren’t really sure but the first has better looking women, is richer and cooler. That’s the process most modern, Western youth go through. For youth in more precarious, poorer places, security is a major factor in a far more limited choice, if there is a choice at all.
As middle age approaches, why change when you’ve invested so much in a tribe and when security: psychological, material and physical, is likely to be compromised? After all, you still can’t really be sure, unless you are a fanatic, all areas are grey.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jonathan Ellman
Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

Humans are groupish — like many animals. The groupishness is related to survival, particularly in defending food-growing territory against other groups.
But I maintain that all tribes are “fake tribes,” an imaged group generally created when men have grouped together to fight a war. E.g., nations. How did Bismarck create a united Germany? With three nice little wars.
Our problem is the neo-tribalism invented by the left. The tribalism of race and class that is the basis of modern progressive politics, e.g., the Communist Youth that the author belonged to.
I say that “politics is division” into tribes. My tribe against your tribe.
I say that “government is war plus loot and plunder.” Not necessarily a shooting war; could be an election. But after the war/election it is time to share out the loot and plunder to the supporters. Just like in olden times.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago

Tribalism is inherent in humans as a product of evolution. The cooperation of tribes eventually led to city-states to promote the betterment of all. It seems we now have it so easy in this modern world we need not cooperate for the greater good which stimulates another human instinct of greed (and envy). I worry over the destruction of society if everything becomes a zero sum game.

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
2 years ago

Thinking for ourselves is not an unjust requirement, or a burden we should wish to place on somebody else. It is precisely what makes us humans — and what sets us apart from the tribe.”
Very true. But societal tolerance for independent thinking throughout history seems the exception and not the rule. The strict religious and accompanying moral intolerance present over most of history dwindled through the 20th century and into this one only to be replaced by a rapidly emerging intolerance to independent thought by the left which has now captured most institutions.
I am not hopeful for an increase in the number of independent thinkers but if this is to occur the starting place will need to be in our education system. I’m glad to see one inside the university walls values this part of classic liberalism.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
2 years ago

It’s encouraging to see a university lecturer taking this stand. I’d be interested to know how this goes down with his students and colleagues.

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
2 years ago

So the distinguishing characteristic of being human is one that most humans do not possess, and many of the remainder abandon in extremis?

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

Arguably,”Tribalism” is always going to be present, it is part of the human condition, we all like to belong to groups that think similarly to ourselves. The group could be a football team, workers union, logo on clothing, whatever it is is still a form of belonging.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

Bravo! Let’s do it.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

Bravo! Let’s do it.

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago

seems like i observed some years ago a review of the happiest countries on earth. the top few were the least diverse…

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago

seems like i observed some years ago a review of the happiest countries on earth. the top few were the least diverse…