Discover more from Friday Forward
Tribal Nature (#402)
Bad actors are bad actors irrespective of team or tribe
As a species, we have certainly evolved over our many millennia of existence. This is especially true with respect to our “software”: how we’ve improved our ability to think and reason, how we’ve used writing and communication to preserve knowledge, and how we’ve collaborated globally to create massive societal leaps forward.
Unfortunately, the same evolution has not entirely occurred with our “hardware”; the survival instincts we were programmed with to protect ourselves in a very different type of world. Many of those instincts still exist today, even though most of us no longer need them.
One of the biggest examples of this outdated hardware is tribalism, a phenomenon that causes us to be loyal to people like us and distrustful of people who are different from us.
Tribalism has dominated human behavior throughout our history. It has endured in large part because, for much of our species’ existence, our tribal instinct was the difference between life and death. For example, in ancient history, people who went against their tribes were left to fend for themselves, cut off from food, water and protection.
In other words, going against the tribe was an existential threat. Trusting a tribe different than your own could be just as deadly without shared norms or language.
While we don’t live in those times anymore, tribalism is still very much part of our wiring. Countless books and studies show how it still drives our behavior, with Sebastian Junger’s aptly named Tribe being one of the best. We fall prey to the same fear of going against our team or tribe, even though the danger of doing so today is much more intellectual than physical.
This is particularly apparent in the deep polarization we have seen in the last several years, which grows more acute by the week.
No matter which “tribe(s)” you’re part of today, there is usually an accepted culture and behavior of that group. People who go against the tribal culture are ostracized—and few in the tribe are willing to speak up in the dissenters’ defense.
As social media and the internet have made it easier for us to join tribes of people who share our beliefs or opinions, we are steadily focusing less on the character of others, and more on whether they belong to our tribe. In the worst cases, we twist ourselves into intellectual pretzels to defend behavior from people on our side that we know is wrong, simply because they’re in the tribe.
We are quick to call out people in the outgroup but refuse to criticize the same behavior from someone in the ingroup. Here are some examples:
A teacher or police union defending the indefensible from one of their own.
A parent refusing to denounce poor sportsmanship from a player on their kid’s team.
A company tolerating behavior from a leader that is in direct conflict with their company’s values because they get results.
A political party staying quiet as a United States Senator blocks hundreds of critical bipartisan military appointments, therefore weakening the defense of his country to advance a personal vendetta.
Advocates for the human rights of one group neglecting to call out that group’s human rights abuses against another or holding two different standards. Too many people neglect to acknowledge that most wars produce far too many civilian casualties on both sides.
This behavior completely disorients our moral compass and forces us into intense cognitive dissonance as we preach one set of values, then defend the people on our team who act against those same principles. Doing this weakens our team, hampers our judgment, and inhibits our ability to live and work according to a shared set of principles.
The ugly effects of these tribal behaviors have been very much on display in the past couple of weeks.
We need to be conscious of our tribal instincts and start to rely more on our values than our team allegiance. We need to call out the bad actors, especially on our own side. We need to be more consistent in our application of support, outreach, judgment, and anger.
Bad actors are bad actors irrespective of team or tribe. We need to be braver, show better leadership and realize that the dangers of going against our tribe are not the mortal ones our ancestors faced. In fact, at this point leaning into tribalism is a greater threat than abandoning it.
We might not be able to change our hardware overnight, but we have to be better at relying on our software to override it. Looking around, it seems that our software is in dire need of an upgrade.
Quote of The Week
"The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity." - Rollo May
New for Premium Subscribers