Why tribal mentality is bad

Written by Michael Badnarik

I had a delightful and stimulating conversation with one of my readers last night. She had several questions about my book, Philosophical Lighthouse. On page 72 I write, Tribal mentality or xenophobia, the “fear or dislike of people who are culturally different from oneself”, is directly related to ignorance. Although she agreed that xenophobia was bad, she argued that tribal mentality was actually a good phenomenon because it gives people a sense of belonging. We enjoy being surrounded by people who are like us and share similar values. It validates our philosophy because, “if all these people agree with me, I must be right”. Birds of a feather flock together, but so do humans.

This is perfectly understandable. There is a comforting sense of brotherhood and fellowship when we are part of a large group. It is one of the primary reasons so many people go to church on Sunday. It confirms and validates our membership in the community. As an extreme extrovert, I love people. I get despondent when I am alone for very long. However, I avoid tribal mentality the way many people are trying to avoid the Corona virus. Here’s why.

In early human history, being part of a tribe increased your chances of survival. A large group can find food more successfully than a single individual. The tribe would often punish violators of the culture by exiling them from the group. If you were unwelcome in the tribe, you would slowly starve to death alone. Hundreds of centuries of conditioning has embedded this firmly into our unconscious mind. Not only do we enjoy the company of the tribe, but we equate membership in the tribe with survival.

This is very strong motivation to conform to the values expressed by others in the tribe. In our modern world this is called being politically correct. Society has determined that it is unacceptable to ridicule anyone for any reason. We are ostracized if we classify someone as fat. We are encouraged to say that someone is “weight challenged” or “big boned”. It is heresy to suggest that someone is stupid. Instead we must pretend that they have a learning disability, or that their interests lie elsewhere. I’m sorry. If you are unable to give change even after the electronic cash register tells you how much change to give, you don’t have a learning disability. You are stupid. (Notice your personal discomfort when you read this.)

The two biggest “tribes” in the United States right now are the Republicans and Democrats. Your tribe is right in all things, whereas the other tribe is hell-bent on the destruction of America. (Just to be clear, politicians of both parties regularly violate the Constitution and should be tried for treason.) There are those who think that President Trump is the savior of America, and others who believe that he is the spawn of Satan. Tribal mentality is the only thing that can explain such extreme, opposite conclusions. When you are part of the tribe, you lose the ability to think logically for yourself.

Horses, cows, and sheep are herd animals. They huddle together for security, and they panic the moment they are singled out of the herd. Fish swim in schools because their large numbers can confuse predators, and it greatly reduces the probability that you will be one of the fish eaten during this attack. Humans watch CNN and Fox News because they are afraid to have an opinion that differs even slightly from what other people think. The main stream media gives us the “official story” and the vast majority of Americans adopt that nonsense as “the truth”.

Tribal mentality is dangerous to our survival, even though it gives us a “warm, fuzzy feeling” in the beginning. If you want to restore freedom in this country, start by being independent of cultural tribes.

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  1. Arthur Harrison

    When I read: “Birds of a feather flock together … there is a comforting sense of brotherhood and fellowship when we are part of a large group. It is one of the primary reasons so many people go to church on Sunday” … I thought: “gee, I don’t remember Michael having a learning disability” but then I reread it and realized it’s pretty hard to disagree with any statement that’s hedged with “one of the primary reasons”. I inherently trust Michael to speak to all things related to the constitution, guns, hugs, and several other topics but feel obliged to qualify his comments about why we go to church. The primary reason we go to church is *acclamation* which Merriam-Webster defines as “a loud eager expression of approval, praise, or assent”. For many of us, the 2nd most important reason is ministry. Unlike Michael, being an extreme introvert, “a comforting sense of brotherhood and fellowship” really isn’t one of my primary reasons but, indeed, there *is* a comforting sense of brotherhood and fellowship. Of course, there are good churches and there are bad churches and some of the bad churches do *not* provide a comforting sense of brotherhood and fellowship. Mine certainly does and, if it did not, it wouldn’t be mine.

  2. Hedemarrie Dussan

    My comment about tribal mentality being a better context for growth than a Lone Ranger, in my opinion, is that, though one person alone may get far in the fulfillment of her dreams, being part of a thriving team (a tribe) will help us get much further. I prefer having the right people walking alongside me to reach bigger dreams, than going about it “solo” when I can get further with a thriving team that shares the same vision.

    I´m still enjoying your book even though I don´t agree with your binary options that reduce people to only two categories. Why not considering a third one like the “Otherness of God” besides Reality and Mysticism?

    [mjb: A group of people can provide more power to a project, meaning that many people can dig a ditch faster than one person. However, projects “designed by committee” are notoriously less effective than projects designed by one person who understands the concept. Finally, your “otherness of god” is just another label for mysticism, so there are still only two options. Hence, the subtitle of my book, “Reality of Fantasy”.]

  3. Adil

    Dear Michael,

    I’ve been following you since 2015.
    I believe that the “fear or dislike of people who are culturally different from ourselves” is at least in part justified by the existence of objective truth, and of relative superiority of one culture to another. This “dislike” is born from a natural (and crucial to a culture’s survival) instinct to discriminate against values diametrically opposed to ours. For example, our “dislike” of freedom-hating/non-libertarian principles and cultures has allowed our founding values to survive far better and to a greater extent than that of “open minded” cultures, like that of Sweden which is committing metaphorical and literal suicide as we speak, and will not survive this generation even by the most optimist predictions. I guess at least they won’t be called prejudiced as they draw their last breath when the church goes on fire or their daughter is molested by one of those other “relative cultures” we’d be so ignorant to be afraid of.
    As you pointed out, being part of a “tribe” is crucial to human survival. In the end you state that to “save our country” we need to abandon tribalism, or in other words belonging to culture. The reason this country needs saving in the first place, is that many of us departed from our culture and “left the tribe” beginning in the late ’60s (or since the Frankfurt School of Taught began its satanic deeds) and the notion of relying on different values and beliefs couldn’t change our country dramatically, even if opposed to the founding ones of our “tribe” (the United States).
    Ironically, most of these new values were justified exactly by shouting things like “racist!”, or “xenophobe!” until the accused would retract in shame from the accuser.
    In short, if we blindly tolerate — or even openly embrace as you seem to suggest — the idea of cultural relativism our founding values will be diluted to the point that the prospect of a liberty-centered society will be so far from feasible we’ll regret not being a bit more proud and tribal. I would define tribalism, at least in our civilization, not as ignorance but on the contrary as profound knowledge of what happens when cultures different from ours are given power to govern — and we’re not amused or tickled by curiosity when we entertain the idea. Once again ironically, our culture (freedom of speech, religion, and so forth) would be the only culture that — if it survives — would allow for the existence of lesser ones within our borders. And before you jump from your chair: yes, lesser. No one in their right mind would rather live outside of Western democracies, just take a look at where everyone is emigrating from and to.
    Proof of that is that you would rather continue living in Texas rather than Rwanda: aren’t all cultures the same, and us “ignorant” for not wanting to replace all Texans with Rwandans? I’m sure nothing would change, and we wouldn’t be labeled with hurtful words in the process.
    A society is defined by the values and beliefs that comprise, Congress cares about votes and the majority that can elect them and keep them in power. Failure to protect (through pride, debate, or “xenophobia” as you put it) those values for fear of being called mean epithets will result in their ultimate demise, and we will be the butt of the joke once our culture is replaced by one that has no problem or shame into suppressing other tribes and/or values in favor of their own.

    In Liberty,

    P.S. The reason we go to Church is to worship our Lord and Savior, and no other.

    [mjb: Today’s post is a generalization about a very narrow topic. I agree that “A society is defined by the values and beliefs that” it holds, and I personally advocate for a society that bases its values on “objective truth”. I find it distressing that this is rarely the case. My comment suggests that when tribal mentality causes people to accept fantasy and mysticism as the basis for their values, (which is almost always does) then tribal mentality is the “gateway drug” to stupidity. Finally, you are welcome to attend church for whatever reason you want, however your statement implies that everyone attends for the same reason you do. I won’t waste time trying to rebut that idea.]

  4. Kay

    As always, i enjoy reading your stories. You make some good points, but I admit that I think there are perhaps many good reason to be a part of a tribe. However, being part of a tribe does not mean that it’s right to stop thinking and reasoning for ourselves. My take, anyway.

  5. Louise

    Interesting. Don’t think I buy all of it but it is interesting as is the discussion following. Many valid points.


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