RETHINKING TRIBALIST SOCIETIES
The Challenge of the 21st Century

This was written for the The Global Challenges Prize 2017:  A New Shape – Remodelling Global Cooperation. The piece had planned on it all summer, but then operations were disrupted by Hurricane Irma to such an extent that only had less than two days to bang it out before deadline.

1. Abstract

We face many challenges and threats to the survival of our species this century. Ever accelerating advances in technology are of particular note. Like with the pitfalls of all previous and current technologies we are the biggest problem. The past several hundred years has experienced a massive evolutionary shift in our technological prowess, yet as a species we're still the same creatures as before recorded history. Socially we have seen major progress over the past 1000 years, although it has been patchwork that hasn't always moved in a positive direction, while wars on the global stages have been an insurmountable burden as long as we've had mass communications. Then there have been other mounting existential concerns such as environment, climate and economic. To address these challenges many have moved towards some ideal vision of a global government, yet history has hardly ever if at all produced a lasting government on even a local scale. Then to expect such an entity to somehow function as some one sized fits all while the world is almost infinitely divided by ever changing layers of tribal group identities and interactions. The idea of nations handing over their entire future and identity to some effectively foreign sovereign naturally causes stirrings in humans, although ideologies have emerged that promote the trend. This is proving to be a futile effort in bringing people together as all it does is introduce a new mass tribal identities in place of nationalism. All this is doing is creating an added layer of internal partisan competition in western societies, which in turn is causing further divisions and radicalized opposition to one another. In the process old scars from our complicated worldwide history of pitfalls caused by tribalism, due to the new supposed solution to it all being yet more tribalism. The advent and rapid diffusion of social media has only intensified this process. We're already failing this new technology, each other and ourselves considering the already apparent results. As technology progresses the stakes of global warfare and destruction beyond anything we've seen becomes ever more possible, while technology itself poses the very real threat of enslaving us or wiping us out. If such an AI god is possible then it its advent is looming. All things considered, can you honestly say mankind is ready to be assessed in such a judgement day? I argue we isn't anyone near ready, and cant expect to be until we can all learn to think above our primal tribalist urges, and find ourselves in the process. Therefore my model is more towards being a vision of an enlightened humanity where the net results are quite possibly more within reach while bearings the same kind of beneficial fruits of a would-be positive functional global government, than being a global government itself.
2. Description of the Model

Today in the "western world" tribalism runs ever more potent while the potency is already breath taking. Much of this proliferation is already due to our immersion in modern technology, and the rate of change of technological progress is forever expanding in scope and speed. Attention to this trend towards juggernaut and its implications seems non-existent due to the atmosphere of tribalist obsessionism that is emerging from its fruits. Discussions of within and about the many forms of tribalism are deafening, and the discussions themselves are causing its ugly forms to manifest, yet true deep discussions of tribalism itself are mute. In United States race relations in just this decade we have de-evolved by as many as 50 years. On the surface of the chatter is the intent to improve them, yet we've seen the opposite effects.

Group fervor innately triggers the zeal of supremacy and thus bigotry, especially in an competitive theater. We see this everywhere we look. Sports hooliganism is one shining example outside of religious or political identity. When we can hardly even count the incidents of mass scale rioting and atrocities in the name of ones favored football team this should be cause for concern. With the human urge for dominance over other groups so glaring in modern mankind's reactions to modern sports entertainment, how far humans could be unwittingly driven in realms of politics is not to be taken lightly.

Tribalism is encoded in our DNA and there is a certain logic its occurrence given our tribalist nature when added to developmental psychology. Whether or not this has a negative result depends on everyone involved at a juncture, and people obsessing about it tends to prove that obsession even with good intentions can give rise to darkness. We have a natural tendency to polarize as can be seen all across the human condition. White / Black, Republican / Democrat, Left / Right, Sunni / Shia, and so on. It's important to acknowledge that we're feeling machines that think, not the other way around. Likewise, although we all have different attitudes about the seemingly endless dynamics of human affairs, and these factors determine the ideologies we would or would not appeal to, beneath all of that (like with the mechanisms behind human language) in particular with how we behave in groups there's not much difference in how we think. That is, we all have different stuff we like to think about and love to hate, but the way our brains work beneath that is pretty much the same as everybody else.

Our biology isn't going to evolve by much this century, yet we're proposing using tech to enhance ourselves in our lifetimes. With ideas and understanding we are capable of overcoming our primal urges thereby effectively evolving beyond the pitfalls of tribalism, but the old ideas and ways seem to only perpetuate them while we're faced with enhanced humans in the coming decades. I submit that if we don't get right with ourselves before hand then from following the patterns hammered out like iron laws in our known history then we are likely to see more of the same only with increasingly higher stakes and death tolls. With world wars already being a precedent in our world, when unprecedented augmentations promise to enhance our capabilities we had better have risen above the primal urges whose manifestations scar our entire known history. As it stands we're a divided species, our complex divisions are increasingly overlapping on a global scale, current ideologies are only fueling more forms of overt divisive tribalism & tribalist supremacy, and these divisions are causing a deepening rift. The net results is decreases in empathy and compromise. And this in turn in hindering progress in all forms while promoting authoritarianism in all forms. If everyone is going to be able to relate to and work towards reasonable compromises then an continuing proliferation of the negative trend in dynamics such as animosity and civility are fools errands, while the emerging trends of group supremacy seem to only be fueling counter group forces of roughly equal measure. What's apparent is a continuation of the trend seems to reveal only the promise of continuing escalations of these forces across western societies.

Hyper-Tribalism is the molding of numerous mass group identities into one ideological super-complex. According to history, this is the most radicalizing force in human nature. It may naturally arise in certain forms such as with certain case studies of theocracy's, or be wielded with deliberate attempt for explosive results such as what happened in Nazi Germany. The effects can be intensified depending on the power of the mass identities combined, in regards to the target population. A simple two pronged identity complex of religion and state (theocracy) can have profound effects and give rise to all manner of treachery in operations with outsiders and within regarding social order and self-preservation of the entity and its ruler(s). The state itself can also take on the social psychological equivalent of the role religions often times have. As with the construct of religion a typical feature effect of ideologies on humans is they generate a blind faith which readily leads to zealotry. Race is surely the most profound for just about anybody, although other mass identities can operate at about the same kind of knee jerk fervor at the ready such as with but not necessarily limited to ethnicity, religion, ideology, gender, sex and party loyalty. Nationalism is another key identity that operates at this range of mind control potential, although analogs such as globalism or some hypothetical like 'cosmicism' can readily fill the same role. Since humans are apt to pummel each other over sports teams, or massacre each other over mere differences in interpretation of the same religious text, or turn to extreme forms of peer pressure in order usher to blind loyalty to a political party, the potential profoundness of the effects of an ideology that merges many identities as one super-identity is not to be underestimated. Yet we're seeing it across the world with most of the current dominant ideologies of international renown, and their polar opposites.




What is needed is a sort of social agnosticism opposed to the tribal fundamentalist models we currently have. We need to de-fundmentalize our current models. Consider religion and atheism. Atheism while it claims to not be a religion as it is 'against it', adherents still take a plunge of faith at some point in the logic when the line of 'I doubt there is a god' to 'I know there isn't a god' is crossed (when the truth is we simply cant now whether there is such a thing or not). From that point forward the subject is sure to fall into the abyss of the same kinds of psychological and social psychological cognitive failings as those whom they are experts in observing in subjects of their religious rivals, and vice versa. Although our hypothetical person has taken a different worldview than the other, the human factor remains. It's still two humans. Think of them as computers. Imagine one installing a different operating system than the other. But if they're both running on the same computer hardware and being setup for the same tasks in mind then how different can their ultimate functions truly be?

With humans we're subconsciously governed by various dynamics such as cognitive biases, hormones, and primal urges like tribalism. Like we all bleed red we all have the same forces lurking behind our conscious self. Now it is possible to mind over these matters, but for any person to do so without conscious realization and effort on a mass scale this is effectively never going to happen. The irony therein is that the very ego's so bent on being 'special' are the very things keeping them from being open minded enough to actually become so. We know that cognitive biases tend to be the neurological underpinnings of illogical fallacies, and that people tend to engage in all kinds of illogical fallacies especially when group-think comes into play. But we also know that individuals properly informed and motivated can study logical fallacies and overcome engaging in their backwards use. Likewise, negative racism can be overcome with interaction and focus on common grounds. With this primal urge however its all too easy for the scope of education to turn into a force of indoctrination which may sound good to the people on the team wielding it but it doesn't for everyone else. Instead it prompts them to turn the tables. So tribalism is the bedrock of all civilization, and yet it can almost just as easily be the force that devastates it beyond repair. In my findings the tribalist core that is at the heart of dynamics such as racism, sexism or all the other forms of tribalist supremacy isn't hardly being thought into or discussed. Instead it seems we're to just obsess about say racism and be counter-racist, for example, but what we see happen is the anti-racism becomes but another force of tribalism. If in the end it just begets more bigotry then any perceived gains in the process are more akin to being punchlines in the worst kind of joke than they could ever be considered evolutionary leaps. It may be that it isn't even possible to be "anti-tribalist" without it becoming more tribalism, but from what I can tell it hasn't actually been tried. Approaching it as "non-tribalism" would seem to be the only way, as how with theists are convinced there is a god and atheists are convinced there isn't one while the agnostic realizes we simply cant know and therefore are least likely to obsess about the matter.

How precisely to enact such a schema is hard for anyone to say for sure, but I doubt that approaching it on a global scale as an exact top down kind of mechanism is even the right kind of thinking. The world is a complex place with borders, systems of power and over-lapping tribes of all manner. The ways that tribalism benefits and blights people from one region varies from the next just like an ideal governance model for one place might be dramatically the wrong one for another. For this reason the idea of some kind of top down monolithic government model is likely a total disaster proposal, at least in the minds of something like half the world you could propose it to. Many current systems of power themselves are hardcore tribalist hierarchical structures which as entities might be as opposed to this as they would be to handing over their sovereignty to any kind of perceived outsiders. If the direction to go is towards peaceful cooperation then going after the standing of groups or the sovereignty of nations should be expected to be the painful procedure.

I suspect that beyond this realm itself we have enough well established ideas to solve all of our problems current and future, and argue its been our approach to them all that has been at fault. This ignorance to the primal tribalist forces that seek to drive us (from within and without) keep getting in the way of the ideas we set to guide us. The effects are we lock ourselves into the group mindsets that grow to stifle the ideas, while positioning us to be hostile to outside views. We're already seeing in dramatic form how fast social media, censorship and the other dynamics driving the modern echo chamber effect is affecting societies on this front after but a handful of years. We know that group-think drives individuals to self-deception about their own group and the people at the helm of it, which fosters blind loyalty and a lack of internal criticism. We also have the role that pathology's play while we know that individuals of the psychopathic spectrum tend to end up in leadership roles (and stay there). From there we've seen too many times in history how crowds can be driven to rationales dripping in psychopathy towards outside groups. It doesn't take long for a system with such a design, or even without one, to mature into such a rogue nature.

Here in the US we have "Republican's" and "Democrat's" constantly slugging it out over their evolving ideals of liberalism and conservatism, and worst of all the lowest depths of partisanship seems to know no limits as we continue to move forward. What is being lost on the participants of both sides is the sense that both liberalism & conservatism are legitimate viewpoints, where neither is inherently right or wrong as an approach to any given thing and that perhaps people should be weighing the insights from a firm grasp of each as we all navigate the future. It's rare to even encounter much discussion of such an approach, while where ever it has been held lost long ago is any idea that perhaps all of the major political philosophies should be held up in the same comprehension. Just having two competing viewpoints given tribalism always seems to result in two zealous ideologies at each others throats. If only we could appreciate where other viewpoints are coming from, the thinking and problems that gave birth to them, not just with liberalism and conservatism but also including say anarchism and libertarianism, we already have the tools we need to cooperate in tackling the complex problems before us. But not if we don't set out to unthink the effects tribalism enacts on our attempts at such things, from all of the data I've seen we're never going to get there. There's a lot of problems out there, and everyone tends to have their own specific cause or topic of concern that motivates their care and concern. Trying to tell everyone the things they "need" to care about isn't always going to net desired results, but if we can limit partisan bickering then we have a real chance of at least seeing people more open to entertaining the concerns of others. This could both lead to added compromise and see new ideas emerge that the focus groups might not realize otherwise. In this same vein less partisan bickering and extremism should see less people whom exit the equation and settle instead for ignorance and apathy.

When it comes to primal impulses our species as society seems disturbingly inept at seeing through and rising above them. There are other examples beyond tribalism, such as the role lust plays and how apt we are to embrace it. With tribalism it runs as deep as anything. We're a social species, whom are so dependent on contact with other humans that even in prison isolation is utilized as torture. From Eurasia to Africa to the America's, past and present, tribalism from groups within actual tribes to intercontinental empires, the effects of tribalism both bless and blight our entire history. We also have a tendency to treat the symptoms of diseases rather than focus on the root causes to cure them. This effect can be seen across medical industries and in peoples reactions to some of its common methods. Today in civics this seems to be the operating system judging how basically everybody is labeling everybody else as "racist", "sexist" and the like. There's even a sort of confusion that can be observed as the term racist is now commonly applied to basically any form of bigotry. What's happening is we're overlooking that racism is just a specific stripe of tribalism, and the focus is being put on constructing new tribes that are against it, yet they overlook the root cause of this 'disease'. In the process the appeal of being anti-racist is a just cause, but given race drives passion in humans with maximum profoundness its just too easy that a logic of ends justifying the means to kick in. The cause of a group becomes supreme over its opposite and so sown are the seeds that lead to bigotry. We're only human is the part we can no longer afford to overlook, yet we're just gung ho to repeat the same patterns over and over again.

We still have so much to learn about ourselves, but we know that we can rise above our impulses, or that we can change our attitudes and beliefs. We know that ignorance isn't the best way to solving problems, so we shouldn't expect ignoring our nature to be the way to evolve ourselves beyond it. We know that treating symptoms doesn't cure a disease. We know that people can grow above their dark tendencies. Mental illnesses can be treated, managed and even cured. Kids can quit gangs, and adults can leave religious cults after even decades of piety. Just like we can as societies rise above the savage law of the jungle, individuals can surely come to better grips with their unconscious involuntary urges to sling guns and group think. It's not that it should even be scorned, or that the urge is inherently unhealthy in any way, its just that the real world has a lot of darkness in it. With our own personal mismanagement of these urges, all of us together on a species wide scale that is, we just haven't been evolving much if at all. Honest attempts to right its wrongs are even miserably failing with more of the same patterns whether unintended or otherwise.


Jane Elliott's "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" seminars are a classic example of inter-group tribalist orientation. The format where people are divided by what eye color they have does dig deep towards the racism class of tribalism, being color cued and hereditary. One thing that may be overlooked during these lessons however is that just as easily the kids could be divided into groups based by hair style, favorite color, music scene, or perhaps even the "best" singer, and with the same general script and performance have gotten about the same exact results. Once the new groups are established pecking orders will develop within them, and between them. In Ron Jones' the "Third Wave" experiment we saw that effectively an entire school can be unwittingly transformed into into a sort of neo-fascist movement complete with self-rising incidence of the ousting of internal dissenters and high security authoritarian tendencies. All of that in just one week just flowing from the chalkboard of one classroom. Then there's Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment where simply group role playing as prison guards over the mock deviant criminals quickly led to disturbing acts of dehumanization. With Stanley Milgram's Obedience Experiment we see how the mere presence of a guiding authority figure can readily push us to commit bizarre unethical acts. So we still have a lot of pitfalls as individuals to learn to be above, while in this context we tend to get dumber when in large groups as explained to us by Gustave Le Bon.

In the 1900's we saw mass scale savagery across the globe to the tune of over 120 million dead, and the deaths are only a portion of the magnitude of the pitfalls of tribalism that wrote all of those stories. Then there's the realm of death caused by central planning gone wrong and governments turned totalitarianism. Here the dark side of tribalism reigns as the core of what drives the citizens to participate no matter how dark the system goes. Tens of millions just in the body count during the 20th Century, and is easy to focus on that and blame the government, the officials or the ideology behind it all. But those are only the symptoms. The root cause is the dark side of tribalism. Those systems sure did manage to force cooperation within their group, but how well did they play with the rest of the world becomes the question. The answer generally involved conflict and war. Here its easy to put the blame on nationalism, where all nationalism is is a mass group identity. So is religion, and plenty of wars have been and are still fought over them.

It's even clear that many leaders or rulers understand our tribalist nature and strive to weaponize and use it against us to drive their often times megalomaniac agendas. Tyrants surely put such schemes to use as best they can figure it all out. It's not hard to imagine that plenty of well meaning sorts try to utilize this primal urge for (what they deem to be) positive purposes. A lot of this sort of business arises naturally, as 'its only instinctual' for our species. When it comes to leadership roles it naturally comes with the territory. An assessment of any sports team or work place team unit concept demonstrates the inherent necessity of group cohesion, as well as hierarchical structure dynamics. The coach or manager model readily parallels that of the politician, and with the politician we also see overlap with the role of military commanders. With military commanders we find a most precarious job description where part of their command & control game of chess involves consciously sending their own men to their deaths in all manner of creative ways to achieve a victory. When it comes to realms of politics, how hard is it for regular people to sub/consciously make decisions in a social sense that would parallel that of the military commander whom must sacrifice 'things' in order to win? When people start believing their own propaganda just how counter-productive can a well meaning initiative or movement unintentionally become? We only have to look to history. Hitler believing his own propaganda gave him the absurd ego that determined Germany to be invincible. On that occasion luckily it cost him World War 2. On the other end we know that people locked into a group are resistant if not hostile to change, more so than with individuals, and when other groups are involved with coming at them then they're bound to radicalize. Self deception and denial play heavily into this realm. Like could be found in religious debates, specific incidents of denial bordering on delusion are commonplace. It's just how we are. Acknowledging it doesn't inherently mean we need to beat our self esteem over it. Many if not most religious people are open to admitting to faith. Yet we need to know where to draw the lines within ourselves to keep our idealism and delusions from becoming supremacist and bigoted.

The reality is that supremacy applies to all other group models that are being completely ignored with all of the focus on race. I imagine a lot of the ideas behind multiculturalism read with so many of my same sentiments herein, but from what I can tell the way the idea alone unleashed across humanity as is all its done is created a new tribal identity. At some point persons within a tribe turn to evangelism. 'Spreading the gospel' isn't inherently a bad thing, but at some point there are going to be people that it rubs wrong. So an us versus them mentality begins along the way, and before anyone can keep up lines are drawn in the sand. Eventually persistence gives rise to intolerance, meaning further radicalization of any of the involved parties is the final option (with supremacy over the other group as the objective) at which point fair compromises can hardly ever even be achieved. Now throw other dynamics ingrained in the human factor, such as corruption & criminality, and I've just described exactly all that can be expected today in the realms of how ideologies play out given the human factor in these kinds of equations. Therefore, while ideas such as multiculturalism has the right ideal, just pushing it out there upon the sheep but as just another ideology it is doomed to prove yet again what some might describe as the iron laws of ideological groups.

Part of my model of awareness is that we have to learn to manage our expectations, as they say in medicine. On the one hand there's only so far we can push people with tribalism before getting push back. Likewise, only so much so fast can be achieved in scopes such as changing opinions within our current tribalist paradigm. On the other hand, we have to come to terms with this part of ourselves. Just demonizing tribalism as a whole cant be expected to net wildly different results than we've been seeing with modern attempts to demonize racism. So we have to work towards how we can each appreciate this part of ourselves that we share with others while not embracing and running amok with it. We must re-examine our current paradigm in ways such as learning to perhaps find humor in it opposed to hostility at every turn. For one person to answer all of the details of these challenges is beyond practicality, such as we know that centralized command and control models of government become more inhumane the larger they are scaled up. It's going to take a lot of diverse thinkers on this problem which will not have one single answer as should be expected considering no one single philosophy of mind can answer all that it is to be human while we know that no single ideology can ever appeal to everyone. Attempting to replace old ideology's isn't going to work nor should that even be the approach if it could. To suit everyone everyone must have a voice in this, amalgams of insights from a multitude of political philosophies are likely to be required to achieve actual progress from one issue to the next, just like a plethora of industries would be involved if a comprehensive solution to climate change were to be enacted assuming one were even known or possible for that matter. I'm a staunch believer in de-centralized systems, yet we still have to realize that across the sphere of humanity there are going to be hierarchies of all shapes and sizes, and that for us it is core in defining productive healthy systems and even subjects, yet its also the makings of totalitarianism. From that we all have to get square with the reality that what happened in places like Nazi Germany and North Korea, it can happen anywhere with anyone given a long enough timeline and just the right conditions. While for the sorts of people whom might toy with the idea that it could be applied for our own good its also just as at the ready to cause deep rifts in society to the scale of bloody civil wars. So what is needed to save us from ourselves in this century is not a revolution. As revolutions go in cyclical loops, so has the pitfalls of tribalism been a constant pattern so far for humanity. What is needed is a renaissance in how we understand ourselves. We already have all the ideas we need, now its time to evolve our way of thinking about them. Assuming its going to take all of us just to figure it out, let alone actually make it work, well we already have plenty of data that its never going to happen so long as we don't re-think our approaches with the realities of tribalism firmly in mind.