Taking the Next Step

02021-03-06 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

For thousands of years tribalism worked, I guess, because we survived. The narrative was usually simple: us against them. Over time the story changed from the obvious

They look different.

to the more subtle

They may look the same but they think different.

Tribalism has meant that each group had to be recognizably different, and that differentiation took many forms. People used scarring and tattoos, hair styles, but also certain hats or clothing to belong. Nowadays it’s no different. Hats, t-shirts, tattoos, bumper stickers…

Other aspects of tribalism were economical. For one tribe to rise another was enslaved to ensure cheap labor.

The dominant thought is that we simply have to have economic growth, even though that also is a tribalistic idea. The perceived need for eternal economic growth meant nations felt the need to exploit either nature and wilderness, or to exploit a people. Resources on this planet are finite, so in order to keep this idea of growth going, we will soon have to explore and exploit other planets. I had many arguments with my dad about this when I was a teenager. At first, he flatly stated that I was wrong and didn’t understand economics. Late in life he chose to return to this subject to tell me that I had been correct after all. I can’t tell you how happy that made me, my dad conceding the point to me 25 years after our argument!

Religion is another way that tribalism works. I believe that all religions utilize different facets of truth, like the facets of a diamond, each of which highlights a slightly different angle, but all of those facets belong to one diamond. On the other hand, religion has also been used to divide people, for thousands of years. My God is better than your God. My God is the only God. My guru is more accomplished than yours.

Religions have often mixed and matched ideas. There are the representations of Buddha, which sport the look of Apollo, or the Christian representation of God as an old bearded man – hello Zeus is that you? Or take Easter, which is a combination of an ancient fertility festival that celebrated rabbits with the Christian accession of Jesus.

I believe this to be true: regardless of their power, their wealth, their beliefs, everyone on this planet really just wants to say

Please don’t hurt me.

Whether humans survive is directly linked to whether we can evolve quickly enough from tribal thinking to universal thinking. Think of it as making the tribe much much larger. Not acting together will ensure failure.


  1. Will

    This would required totally different identification markers in order to go to a global thinking. Really it needs one identification marker with a singular tenet like “I am human therefore everything I do is for the peace of others”. Once you get more than one identification marker or tenet it will naturally become tribalism again even if it is a tribe of 1 v. everyone else.

    I like the idea though. I think another good question is how can we get many tribes to agree on one or two (non opposing) important tenets that unite all tribes.

    • ottmar

      I think it is only a matter of time. The EU had to abandon the European Constitutional Treaty because not all member states agreed – it was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. But most of the ideas were re-packaged in the Lisbon treaty in 2007. A treaty like that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.


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