Worse Than Racism

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.”
“Evangelicals” are less a religion and more of  a tribe.  There are markers of their tribe: voting Republican, being anti-gay, being anti-abortion and so on.  But it is not even clear that they really believe those things or are just using them as markers of tribal membership.  Markers of tribal membership is actually a huge problem.
Take the white supremacist “movement.”  Think Progress profiled the “Most  Important White Supremacist of 2016,”  Matthew Heimback.  Heimback thinks that “races” should be separated because they each have their own characteristics.  “All races should be the dominant political force in their region. That is why America needs to be divided into smaller, ethnically and culturally homogeneous states … We need to stop the hate and separate.”
But this just begs the question, where does one “race” begin and end.  What is “white culture?”  Is it pickup trucks, funnel cakes, beer and guns?  Or is it nuclear physics, space exploration, Shakespeare and classical music?  I hate to say it, but a large gathering of Americans like you are likely to see this weekend does not scream “cultural superiority” in any meaningful way.  White “supremacy” is simply tribalism, and Heimback’s statement above is the purist distillation of that tribalism.Tribal US Map
It is tribalism we must fight.  Yes, at first the separations are large, say, blacks from whites.  But the fault lines then become more numerous.  Jews from Christians, Shias from Sunnis, gays from straights, French from Germans.  And so on, down to the family unit?  Even there people can be expelled from the tribe.  Happens all the time.
As the tribalists rise, all over the world it seems: UKIP in Britain, Le Pen and the Front National in France, Hofer and the Freedom Party in Austria, the danger is clear.
Hofer, which Donald Trump echoes, uses the phrase “Austria First” as his political slogan.  But this is but the first step, as we have seen before.  First is “Austria First” and then the right kind of  Austrians and then the ethnic cleanings begin.  There is no practical end to the divisions that tribalism can bring between us.
Stop Tribalism ImageIf we are to learn the lessons of the 20th century, we free thinkers have to fight the tribalists tooth and nail.  That is the real fight on our hands, between those who want to make the tribes smaller and smaller and those who want to see our common humanity and expand the tribal borders.
Tribalism was the underlying issue of Brexit.  It is an underlying issue in many U.S. elections.
Which side are you on?

Hello FtB World!

Thank you very much for letting me become a full member of the community, it is rather humbling to be in such company and I hope that I can live up to it.

First a little about myself.   I live in Wisconsin and am a recovering Catholic.  I was always pretty uneasy in my religious faith.  I thought the people, overall, were pretty nice but in terms of prayer and such, nothing was happening inside of me.  As I continued my Catholic education it all made less and less sense and one day when my church put up two displays next to each other, one “supporting the troops” in the latest war next to the crosses decrying all the “babies” killed in abortions, I could no longer take the hypocrisy and left.  Since then I have felt it necessary to be an anti-theist even more than an atheist.

I teach psychology at a local technical college and am part of the Professors in Poverty movement.  A few years ago Critical Thinking was added to my teaching portfolio, which I have enjoyed tremendously.  Demographically, I am completely out of step.  I am a very late Baby Boomer, but I waited a long tAge of Reason coverime to have kids, so have a kid in high school and one in college as I approach retirement.  I was a stay at home dad for almost 10 years, so have experienced life on the “minority” side.

Pure Pop for Now People album cover.

“Pure Pop for Now People” by Nick Lowe. Released in the UK as “Jesus of Cool.”

As for what you can expect here, the title of the blog might give you some clues with its blending of Thomas Paine and Nick Lowe.  I was toying with the title: “Atheist of Cool,” mostly because “Jesus of Atheism” was a bridge too far.

Other than that, I am sure I will be writing about politics, religion (especially from an ex-Catholic point of view), social justice and probably lots and Common Sense by Thomas Paine front page.lots of references to music and song lyrics.  As to point of view, cognitive psychology, especially cognitive biases, informs my thinking about both politics and religion, so expect a lot of that.  Also expect gaps in writing productivity as the beginning and ends of semesters ap
proach.  Thinking ahead has never been my strong suit.

I hope you will take time to introduce yourself in the comments and that we can have an interesting conversation as time goes on.