Tribalism is human. It's in all of us, as it is in bands of people in the Middle East or Africa. We delude ourselves to think "We're above that" because, emphatically, we are not.
When people elevate their group by using a Label, and ascribe inferior status to others because they are not in that group or have beliefs and practices that differ from the norms of the Labeled Group, they are practicing Tribalism.
Sometimes Tribalism is innocent and fun, and sometimes it is negative and destructive. It depends. Here are some examples that distinguish between two kinds of Tribalism.
Innocent and Fun Tribalism
- White shirt and red shirt teams (tribes) playing Capture the Flag.
- A professional sports team's fans cheering their team and booing an opposing team.
- A summertime reunion, uniting a family's generations and its branches but excluding others.
- Labeling oneself or others "conservative" or "liberal" as if that were enough, to the exclusion of rational weighing of the pros and cons of each individual issue
- Racism, leading to different treatment only because of skin shade
- Denying equal treatment under the law, as in the larger straight tribe imposing different rules and laws on the smaller gay tribe
- Aggressively starting a war against a group or nation using the excuse "they are not like us", or "they hate our way of life."
- Applying a fair system of law to our American tribe of prisoners, but denying such application to the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib tribes of prisoners.
- Asserting that torturing our fighters is a war crime, but torturing their fighters is a "necessity of national security."
We should acknowledge the reality of a human imperative toward Tribalism within us all, and yet also recognize an obligation to practice only those forms that are truly Innocent and Fun.
People whose dogs poop on my lawn hate our way of life. We need a "War on Pooperism!"