Tribal Intolerance


Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and many other religions groups could be considered tribes; a social division within a society consisting of groupings of individuals having commonality, in this case, their religious views. These tribes share very similar high moral values; love of family, looking out for the poor and downtrodden and obedience of their religion’s dictates. Yet there seems to be conflict between tribes often resulting in bitter disagreements to the point of hatred and armed conflict. If each religious tribe holds high ideals, how can there be such animosity towards other non- affiliated tribes? Is this not puzzling?

Between political groups, the Right and the Left, Conservative and Progressive, bitter disagreement is the usual and consensus between tribes is difficult if not impossible to achieved. Another question; why are homosexuals, people of color and people of differing ethnicity often despised? Why is there such intolerance towards outsiders; those belong to other tribes?

Six million years ago our hominin lineage split from a chimpanzee lineage and went on to inhabit the entire planet. What may be forgotten is that there were dozens of similar hominin species, such as Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo ergaster and Homo heidelbergenis to name just a few of the dozens of other hominin species. The last non- Homo sapiens were the Neanderthals who disappeared about 40,000 years ago. What happened to all the dozens of other hominin species? Less fit? Not as intelligent? Victims of some cataclysmic event? Or did Homo sapiens “assist” in the other’s demise?

For more than a million years, we were a tribal species and modern humans remain tribal. This may seem incomprehensible, repulsive, abhorrent or contrary to one’s beliefs, however it is a scientific fact. Evolving in a harsh environment and with limited resources, only the most fit survived. Competition between other hominin species must have been fierce. To become the lone surviving hominid species, one attribute H. sapiens developed was the ability to not only identify members of a different tribe but to hold them in contempt, or worse. We are especially adept at noticing variations in patterns, markings, physical characteristics, behaviors, political or religious affiliations; idiosyncrasies that would lead us to believe those others may be our competitors.

Elimination of competitors has been a time-honored tradition. With modern humans, eliminating members of other tribes usually takes the form of killings and waging war. Tribal leaders have honed the skill of stirring up their base; identifying the “ugly” characteristics of the opposition. And tribal members faithfully follow their leader.
Fear, aggression, greed and compassion are genetic behavioral traits that bind us together, resulting in a stronger and more competitive tribe. Fear is a genetic trait that is ancient. Without this trait we might not assess an incident prudently and hence die. Aggression is a genetic trait that insured that H. sapiens dominated in territorial disputes. Greed ensures that we obtain sufficiency to survive. Compassion holds members together by sharing the resources.

How is tribalism displayed by modern humans? The earth is warming and deniers are belittling not only the science, but directing ridicule towards climate change advocates. President Trump publicly mocked 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg. “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!” Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro called Ms Thunberg a brat. Millions of their follower echo similar sentiments. Our species has entered the Anthropocene era and consensus is nowhere in sight. Ridicule towards science extends beyond climate change. Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is now a target of Far-Right Vitriol, evidently for contradicting Trump and correcting his falsehoods. There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of Trump supporters to spread misinformation about COVID-19.

Voice or no voice the people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country. Hermann Goering, (1893 – 1946), head of the Nazi army’s equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Head of the Luftwaffe, as stated during the Nuremberg trials, April 18, 1946.

Ron Newby is a retired research biologist of The Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA. He was the founder and director of The Bronowski Art&Science Forum, 1999 – 2012. He has published several books including Homo sapiens, A Liberal’s Perspective, (2014), The Nature Of Humans: Why We Behave As We Do (2016). His latest book is Tribalism, An Existential Threat to Humanity. (2020)
[email protected]




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