Bigot or Tribalist?

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There’s a world of difference between these three things:

  1. hating persons who are different because they’re different
  2. fearing persons of a certain type because that type is highly correlated with danger
  3. preferring the company and comfort of persons with whom one has things in common, such as religion, customs, language, moral beliefs, and political preferences.

Number 1 is a symptom of bigotry, of which racism is a subset. Number 2 is a sign of prudence. Number 3 is a symptom of tribalism.

Liberals, who like to accuse others of racism and bigotry, tend to be strong tribalists — as are most people, the world around. Being tribal doesn’t make a person a racist or a bigot, that is, hateful toward persons of a different type. It’s natural (for most people) to trust and help those who live nearest them or are most like them, in customs, religion, language, etc. Persons of different colors and ethnicities usually have different customs, religions, and languages (e.g., black English isn’t General American English), so it’s unsurprising that there’s a tribal gap between most blacks and whites, most Latinos and whites, most Latinos and blacks, and so on.

Tribalism has deep evolutionary-psychological roots in mutual aid and mutual defense. The idea that tribalism can be erased by sitting in a circle, holding hands, and singing Kumbaya — or the equivalent in social-diplomatic posturing — is as fatuous as the idea that all human beings enter this world with blank minds and equal potential. Saying that tribalism is wrong is like saying that breathing and thinking are wrong. It’s a fact of life that can’t be undone without undoing the bonds of mutual trust and respect that are the backbone of a civilized society.

If tribalism is wrong, then most blacks, Latinos, members of other racial and ethnic groups, and liberals are guilty of wrong-doing.

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5 thoughts on “Bigot or Tribalist?

  1. I don’t disagree that one can call it tribalism, but since it has a genetic basis, I would call it “being a mammal”. Mammals compete for resources, repel outsiders and anyone/thing perceived as “too different”, and share with their own kind.

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      • Well, there are plenty in the animal kingdom that don’t exhibit these behaviors, but that’s a very minor disagreement. And yes, some behavior is learned, but “hard” scientists (like me) tend to view the “nature vs nurture” mixture as being at least 75% genetic.

        By that theory, we learn mostly what we are predisposed to, by programming that extends down to the chromosomes. Social scientists, psychologists etc. believe instead that we have more freedom of choice, and it will be shaped by experiences. I used to subscribe to the other side of the question when I was younger! 😀

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      • I don’t disagree with you that genes dominate. (The evidence that I’ve seen about intelligence suggests that it’s 50%-80% determined by genetic inheritance.) But there’s still room for socialization. In any case, we seem agreed that tribalism is more than an easily reversible attitude.

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