I’ve been in a very introspective and uselessly philosophical mood as of late. Right now I’ve been wondering about tribalism, or the idea of people forming groups around a shared identity, interest, or idea. This affects me because I see a lot of it wherever I go, from something like a shared hobby all the way to political and cultural tribes. I can’t help but think that it gets in the way of human achievement.
Take mental illness and changing social norms about it, for example.
To begin with, I think about this because I keep facing the reality that I can’t talk about all of my symptoms with people – even anonymously or in therapy. So it’s a very real barrier to me getting a full measure of cure for what ails me. I’m sure other people with mental illnesses suffer the exact same thing. Dealing with stigma thus is a matter of survival for a large group of people.
But how stigma gets changed matters, too. It doesn’t serve anyone to threaten people with social punishment if they don’t promote a new social norm. At that point, people are only claiming to respect the mentally ill out of fear, and not because they can see why such treatment is important. Ignorance of mental illness will persist, albeit a bit more quietly.
Tribalism has the same effect elsewhere.
In the US at least, we’ve been publicly against all sorts of nasty things for quite some time. Despite the public demand for equality and decency, a lot of them haven’t changed. Everything gets distilled down to group membership. If you’re in the group, people will forgive almost anything. Being outside the group makes a person fair game for poor treatment.
That this exists shouldn’t be a surprise; evolution has been very kind to people that were able to work together. But working together doesn’t mean thriving together, and it most certainly does not mean that individuals must thrive. In fact, tribalism often gets in the way of individual people having a better life.
Here’s where I go off the rails and realize this is a big question.
Tribalism has been a basic human social tool for thousands of years, at the very least so long as we’ve had recorded history. It might have served a purpose when a person’s major goals in life were to eat, sleep, and get laid. Outside of these three things, tribalism tends to get in the way of human achievement.
Think of it this way. We’ve got technology that lets us talk to everyone around the world, and it gets used to bully people into submission. At times, this has been so awful that some people have killed themselves. Such behavior seemed okay at the time because the victims weren’t members of whatever tribe was on hand.
It’s easy – even for me – to forget that there are people behind all of these ideas. Nobody should agree with me or get treated poorly because they don’t have the same library card as I do. With regards to group membership, the ends do not justify the means.