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Tribalism, Groupism, Globalism

February 3, 2013

E.O. Wilson for The Globalist:

For all the talk about a world without borders and ever more interconnectedness, one fundamental human trait has not lost any of its power: the penchant of humankind to organize itself in tribes.

12918295People must have a tribe. It gives them a name, adding to their own and social meaning in a chaotic world. It makes the environment less disorienting and dangerous. The social world of each modern human is not a single tribe, but rather a system of interlocking tribes. People savor the company of like-minded friends, and they yearn to be in one of the best — perhaps an elite college or the executive committee of a company, a religious sect, a fraternity, a garden club. The goal is to belong to any collectivity that can be compared favorably with other competing groups of the same category.

People around the world today have grown ever more cautious of war and are fearful of its consequences. They have turned increasingly to its moral equivalent in team sports. Their thirst for group membership and superiority of their group can be satisfied with victory by their warriors in clashes on ritualized battlefields.

Like the cheerful and well-dressed citizens of Washington, D.C., who came out to witness the First Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War, people now anticipate the experience of a battle of the Washington Redskins on the football field with relish. The same applies to Arsenal of London, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.

Experiments conducted over many years by social psychologists have revealed how swiftly and decisively people divide into groups, and then discriminate in favor of the one to which they belong. Even when the experimenters created the groups arbitrarily, then labeled them so the members could identify themselves, and even when the interactions prescribed were trivial, prejudice quickly established itself. Whether groups played for pennies or identified themselves in a group-based manner, say, preferring some abstract painter to another, the participants always ranked the out-group below the in-group. They judged their “opponents” to be less likable, less fair, less trustworthy, less competent. The prejudices asserted themselves even when the subjects were told the in-groups and out-groups had been chosen arbitrarily. (…) Groupism — the elementary drive to form and take deep pleasure from in-group membership — easily translates at a higher level into tribalism. People are prone to ethnocentrism…And they grow hostile to any out-group encroaching upon the territory or resources of their in-group. [More]

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