With the rise of reactionary right wing parties in Europe, Brexit and now Donald Trump, there has been much talk about racism. And that is certainly a term that can used to see the commonality between those movements. But it actually goes deeper than that, and reflects something actually worse than racism. Tribalism.
Tribalism is deeply rooted in the human psyche. When oxytocin burst on the scene as the “cuddle hormone” researchers quickly found its oxymoronic effects. Yes, it makes you disposed to move closer to those you love, but it also moves you push away the “other.”
Clearly if we have a neurohormone that prompts in-group versus out-group behaviors, this is a phenomenon of deep evolutionary significance.
Tribalism is worse than racism because it has no boundaries.
It certainly true that there are no “sub-species” or biological “races” of human beings. But it is true that there are some physignomonic differences between people: skin color, eye shape, hair texture that might indicate “races.” We know this to be literally skin deep, but it is understandable that people might see these as real differences. But tribalism is much more insidious.
Let’s look at Brexit for a moment. I saw that one person reported that some elderly people seemed to think that voting “Leave” would mean that the Polish people in their village would literally have to leave (sorry, can no longer find the reference, so this will have to do.) Poles, Italians and Britons are all “white” are they not? Perhaps, but they are not of the same tribe, so, for some folks, they have to be separated.
The same is true here in the US. At the turn of the 20th century, Poles and Italians were considered as “non-white” or “ethnic” much like the Irish before them. Even the infamous KKK doesn’t really believe so much in “White Supremacy.” Historically the KKK has opposed Jews, Catholics and immigrants. Mostly such people are clearly of European “white” heritage. So what gives?
It is tribalism, pure and simple. And the tribe gets to decide who is and who is not a member, which is why tribalism is actually more dangerous than racism. Racism has its limits, tribalism does not.
For example, relating to Islam we have a sliding series of definitions. For some Americans, all Muslims are the same and clearly not a member of “our” tribe. But within Islam there are several (many?) tribes. The two most famous are the Sunni and Shia and each thinks the other “not true” Muslims. So much so that they are willing to kill people in the other tribe.
We see a similar thing here in the US. We are used to thinking of Evangelical Christians as group who share common beliefs. But it turns out, in surveys carried out the Christian polling company, Barna, that evangelicals don’t really believe their own stuff.
“The Bible does not refer to any person as an ‘evangelical,’” researcher George Barna noted. “This is a construct created within the religious community many years ago to differentiate a group that possesses a distinctive theological perspective. Over time, people have become sloppy in the measurement process, as evidenced by the fact that one out of every four self-proclaimed evangelicals has not even accepted Christ as their savior.”