The immorality of anti-tribalism

People are – in general – tribal. Let’s take it for granted that we all wish that this were not so. Further, let’s take it for granted that some individual people are much more tribal than others.

The fact remains, however, that people are tribal. It’s one thing to suggest that people should not be tribal in their daily dealings with others. Let’s stipulate that this is moral. It does not, however, follow that it would be moral to organize society around the principle the people will in fact act anti-tribally.

The 20th Century was an incredibly violent one. I don’t think I overstate things too much by saying that the violence of the 20th Century was caused by the fact societies were reshaped without regard to the ways humans actually behave.

Pretend, for a moment, that all of human history indicates that people are very unlikely to do not-X. Further, let’s assume that we all really wish people would do X in their daily lives. In the 20th Century, lots of societies put into place policies that would work really well if people did X. Alas, the deaths of last century stand as stark reminders that policies based on wishful thinking are dangerous.

Lots of progressives (especially those of the libertarian sort) are fond of saying that restricting immigration is tribal. They simply can’t support immigration restrictions because they oppose tribalism.

There is no better way of demonstrating your high-status in today’s society than proclaiming your anti-tribalism. You should therefore be skeptical of these proclamations. However, many people are indeed not particularly tribal.

Your humble blogger is not a tribal person. There is no sort of person that I see on the street and say to myself, “wow, I bet he and I have a lot in common – we should look out for each other.” Temperamentally, I’m very much an individualist type. But it’s wishful thinking to generalize from my personal preferences to population-wide-shoulds.

Tribalism is, has always been, and likely always will be a feature of human societies.

Occasionally, we get not-so-gentle reminders that people are tribal. We would do well to learn. Here’s a more light-hearted example. Here’s a reminder that democratic politics is always tribal.

You’re free, of course, to consider yourself above tribalism. However, if you do so, you’ll be an idiot when you try to describe geopolitics, local politics, national politics, and public policies in general. By all means, bury your head in the sand, just don’t preach while you’re down there.

James_G makes a nice analogy in this post. He likens anti-tribal beliefs to communist beliefs. It’s true that some groups of humans can function reasonably well under communistic conditions. It’s similarly true that many human beings are not particularly tribal. However, it’s dangerously immoral to generalize from these exceptions to the general conclusions that communism works on a large scale or that all countries should be rainbow nations.

When we implement policies based on the belief that people will act as we would wish that they would act, people tend to start dying. As Parkinson put it:

Books exist in which assumptions such as these are boldly stated or tacitly implied. To those, on the other hand, with any experience of affairs, these assumptions are merely ludicrous. Solemn conclaves of the wise and good are mere figments of the teacher’s mind. It is salutary, therefore, if an occasional warning is uttered on this subject. Heaven forbid that students should cease to read books on the science of public or business administration–provided only that these works are classified as fiction. Placed between the novels of Rider Haggard and H. G. Wells, intermingled with volumes about ape men and space ships, these textbooks could harm no one. Placed elsewhere, among works of reference, they can do more damage than might at first sight seem possible.

2 Responses to The immorality of anti-tribalism

  1. Anonymous says:

    The second line of the democratic politics link:

    “It’s not like our tribes will arm themselves,”


  2. […] – Randoms, Travel, It’s Civilized To Pee In The Streets, The Immorality Of Anti-Tribalism, Review: The Map And The Territory, The Three Branches Of The […]

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