Tribalism is deeply set in our lives and the more insular our lives have been and the less alternative cultural experiences we have been involved in the greater the danger we see our tribe as being right about everything and other tribes as being wrong, or even a threat.
But what’s tribalism like in Britain in 2020? A community, a football team, a religion, a political party? Well all of those and more. Just think of the casual everyday remarks Liverpool and Manchester people for example make about each other with the aim of demonstrating one is superior/less worthy than the other. On one level this is often harmless yet it is a product of underlying tribalism.
Problems arise when perceived cultural differences are raised in an irrational way as can be seen from the unfortunate history of football supporters fighting in the streets just because they back differing football teams; again this is tribalism and it can lead to hatred.
Religions have fought for centuries and countless deaths have flowed from religious tribalism despite the vast majority of religions saying they espouse peace! But it’s nothing but tribalism.
Tribalism at it’s most basic is ‘what my tribe does is right what your tribe does is wrong’ or ‘what your tribe thinks I fear, what my tribe thinks comforts me’. Of course tribal leaders need to keep their disciples on side and loyal so they invent and distort stories about other tribes which disgust or frighten their own followers making them want to defend their territory from ‘the others’, ‘the outsiders’, ‘the enemy’……
Racism sadly flows directly from tribalism – Antisemitism, Islamophobia etc. But what really helps tribalism stay ingrained in our fractured society and feeds irrational racism is when people look or sound different to those in ‘our tribe’. The colour of skin and the language spoken can and is seen as a threat to other cultures, even the food eaten can be rejected because it belongs to that of other cultures, tribes etc…..
Political tribalism can be rough and political parties can change their beliefs quite considerably but the devoted followers/members will often back those changes even if they condemned them when they had been favoured by another political tribe! They will gladly slag off a previous policy of their own party as though it had never been supported at all even if it was one they actually campaigned for.
A good way of keep your tribe on side is to tell them they are being done down. What’s more the allegation does not even have to be true in any way at all; all you need is for your tribal loyalists to want to believe it and to enthusiastically pass it on as being true. So if I’m a racist who wants white folk to think they are being swamped by immigrants with different coloured skin and/or who speak a different language I start with two distinct advantages. Firstly, the ‘others’ look different and they sound different. My tribe are already wary but if I then say something like – the government gives more benefits/money to the other folks whilst taking it out of the taxes you’ve paid throughout your working life – I’m hoping to get my tribe angry and I will probably succeed.
You see my tribe won’t check out what I’ve said because they are loyal to their leaders and what their leaders say must be true. And even if they did their social media friends will usually be of similar beliefs and will be passing on the same fake news/lies/misinformation – If Joe or Jane believes it then it must be true. But, I’ve also conditioned my loyalists to both expect such messages and to want to hear them!
But what are my own tribal instincts? How about where I was born? Surely I must be loyal to that Nottinghamshire mining town and maybe I should have a key ring with ‘I Love Kirkby In Ashfield’ on it and a union flag too to announce my nationalism. I don’t but you can buy them for any town quite easily. Yes I’m interested in the place of my birth but why on earth would I want to be loyal to it, whatever ‘it’ is? How about the football club I support or the cricket team I back? Yes they are both from the same part of my once East Midlands world but I’d never fight for them in the street after a skinful just because I’m a part of their tribe. And yes as a football supporter I probably fall for the near universal dislike (amongst other supporters) of Manchester United and I admit to having a similar dislike of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. BUT I know these childlike likes and dislikes are nothing more than that. Yes I’ll be over the moon if the Stags win (that’s a rare thing) and crying in my beer when they lose, which is regularly. I’ll even wear football or cricket shirts to show the tribes I belong too but I don’t take my tribalism too seriously.
Tribalism > Prejudice > Racism they are all linked by ignorance and fear & they are exploited by those wanting to divide and rule our society