Tribalism is Not Our Moral Fate
Welcome to Healing From Within. I am your host Sheryl Glick, author of A New Life Awaits Spirit Guided insights to Support Global Awakening, a new book in the trilogy which shares through messages and stories from Spirit that our challenges are not economic political or societal but a disconnect from our inner soul wisdom and true being. Sheryl is delighted to welcome Dr. Allen Buchanan author of Our Moral Fate Evolution & Our Escape From Tribalism a provocative and probing argument showing how human beings can for the first time in history take charge of their moral fate.
Dr. Buchanan asks the question, “Is Tribalism the political and cultural divisions between “Us and Them” an inherent part of our basic moral psychology?
As listeners of Healing From Within are well aware, Sheryl and her guests share intimate and life challenging ideas in the search for knowing who we are as both spiritual entities, or beings having a physical life, and how to merge this duality so we can evolve and find the best within and transcend fears and limitations as we learn more about the human condition helping to create a prosperous healthy and happy life experience.
In today’s episode of Healing From Within, Dr. Buchanan shows us how many scientists link tribalism and morality arguing that the evolved moral mind is tribalistic. Any escape from tribalism according to this thinking would be partial and fragile, because it goes against the grain of our nature. Allen Buchanan offers a counterargument: the moral mind is highly flexible, capable of both tribalism and deeply inclusive moralities depending on the social environment in which the moral mind works.
In defining tribalism and why some say we can’t be morally tribalistic by nature but quite recently there has been a remarkable shift from tribalism to inclusiveness which changes the whole dynamics of the process.
Dr. Buchanan relates in the book that Tribalism is the term often used to characterize the extreme political polarization manifested every day in the United States and many other countries. In fact, to characterize tribalism as merely political would be an understatement. It is something much more comprehensive, reaching much deeper into our lives, as the phrase “culture wars” suggests. We see tribalism on the Left and tribalism on the Right—but not in the middle, because it’s the nature of tribalism to create an unbridgeable, uninhabitable chasm between Us and Them The tribalistic mentality sees things in black and white, good and evil—as a no-holds-barred, zero-sum conflict between Us and Them, for the highest stakes. Tribalism transforms disagreement into mutual hatred, mild condescension into utter contempt.
Tribalism clumps together very different individuals and issues. It’s the ultimate take-it-or-leave-it package deal. We are all well informed and sincerely motivated; They are all confused or malicious or both. For example…. If you’re for gun control, you’re also for “socialism” and the mass murder of prebirth human beings. If liberals know you’re a gun owner, that’s enough; the fact that you understand and applaud that the Second Amendment is compatible with substantial regulation of firearm ownership is never allowed to surface, because you have already been branded as a benighted conservative—one of those individuals who cling desperately to their guns and religion, as President Obama put it.
Another example…. If a conservative hears you say you think abortion should be legal, that’s all he’ll hear. He won’t hear what you say immediately after that: that you think abortion is not like trimming a fingernail or removing an appendix and that we should all hope that someday abortions become a thing of the past. That part will be drowned out because the first thing you said was enough to signal that you are one of “Them.”
When tribalism takes over, it’s not the content of speech that matters; it’s the signaling function: what is said signals membership in and loyalty to our group and makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that you aren’t one of “Them.” If you think that when people engage in tribalistic discourse, there is a genuine exchange of opposing ideas, you are missing the point: it’s all about signaling group identity. Assertions of supposed facts are merely an instrument for doing that. The secret of tribalism’s formidable power lies deep in evolved human psychology: the desperate need to belong, the drive for a group-based identity. If the trend toward tribalism continues, it’s not just that civility and respectful discourse won’t survive; democracy itself will collapse. Democracy requires respect for those you disagree with and a willingness to listen to them and to compromise, neither of which is compatible with the tribalistic mentality.
Some people think of tribalism as a defection from morality. They think that if people would practice the moral virtues, especially tolerance, just resist the temptation to abandon moral principles, tribalism would abate. Yet if you listen closely to tribalistic talk, it becomes clear that it is moralizing in the extreme. Terms like “hypocritical,” “insincere,” “treacherous,” “unscrupulous,” “liars,” and “unfair” are hurled back and forth. These are clearly terms of moral condemnation. One begins to suspect that tribalism is not a flight from morality, but a kind of morality.
Sheryl says that as a Reiki Energy Master Teacher and medium who knows empathically that we are more than our physical life and exist beyond this time and place which is only one dimension or reality or our soul experiences she senses that tribalism and Identity Politics as we have seen evolve so extensively over the last perhaps 15 or 20 years is perhaps a result of social media or political need to take power completely and not honor a two party system which of course will destroy democracy and lead to a totalitarian Nazi communist or fascist leadership which we in the United States seem not to be too far away from…In England and US many civil liberties and great strife: rioting looting lawlessness which is being based on racial inequities but in fact, are more class and monetary inequities. We have gone from talking about “equality” to talking about “equity.”
Equality is the ability of an individual to rise to the highest levels of society through individualism, hard work, talent and perseverance where equity is about preserving the rights of a privileged class of individuals to hold power indefinitely keeping out those who are qualified and deserving of advancing in society. It’s really like the old Monarchical systems of government or a return to the past. It is hard for people who have been given this wonderful democracy and ability to excel through education and talent any American would want to return to the time of pre Nazi conditions which led to World War 2 and to see the same conditions presenting themselves once again. So Tribalism is not new, but it did quiet after WW 2 and we need to morally save ourselves if possible from a repeat and possible worse reality than what happened then. Growing numbers of people acknowledge that all human beings have equal moral status.
Let us consider the case of Supreme Court appointments that has caused such a stir of emotions for years. If Democrats and Republicans were in the bargaining mode, they might strike a deal: we vote for your nominee if you refrain from blocking our next nomination or vote with us on some policy matter that is more important to us than blocking your nominee. But if tribalism prevails, one party will do anything to block a nomination or to push it through before the election: and the opposing party will play tit for tat, behaving in exactly the same way when they have the opportunity to do so. Mutually beneficial exchange gives way to aggression and retaliation.
Sheryl says “ Isn’t that what we have been seeing for years since the Trump election and most especially since the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Connan Barrett and the newest impeachment trial of President Trump?”
Dr. Buchanan tells a story about Mask Wearing vs. Anti -Mask wearing during Covid-19 and why we have these moral conflicts. He says that one day he was outside and standing close to his neighbor and his neighbor said, Well I guess you voted for Biden? It was an assumption because President Biden even before his election was emphatic about 100 days of wearing a mask.
Dr. Buchanan writes that “tribalism plays out in our government and political system especially during the lead up to this last 2020 election. In order to understand how tribalism works in regard to government and political systems it is important to understand the social learning mechanisms in our culture and conformity bias. There is also some agreement about the character of some of the social learning mechanisms that enable cumulative culture. These include various cognitive learning “biases”—predispositions to learn from individuals that fit certain categories, such as being prestigious, or being like oneself, or being successful. Another mechanism of social learning is “conformity bias,” the tendency to learn to do what most people around you are doing. The development of a culture as a continuing accumulation and recombination of resources exhibits “path dependency.” Cultural innovations are often (some would say “always”) a response to new challenges. A society that starts off in one environment, at one point in time, will face a distinctive set of challenges even though, as a human society, it will also share some challenges that all human societies face. Where a society starts off matters, because the options it takes early in its development can have disproportionate consequences for where it can go in the future. That’s what path dependency means. Here’s a simple example to illustrate path dependency. When you first start building a house, you have more options for what sort of house you can end up with than when you’ve already laid the foundations, built the walls, and erected the roof. Given the path dependency of cultures—and given that there is more than one effective way to solve the problems of cooperation that the moral mind was created to solve—one would expect diversity in human moralities. The extraordinary human capacity for cumulative culture and the path dependency of cultures, when combined with the flexibility of the moral mind, results in diverse human moralities.”
Sheryl says, “that is true and perhaps the reason it is hard for groups to “collaborate and find common ground” is based on these thoughts of diverse human moralities. We have seen over the last 10 years that there is little cooperation between political ideologies or parties and that the lines have been drawn with MSM Big Tech Corporations and certain countries like China and Iran, setting up narratives that serve certain belief systems that are now not in conjunction with The Constitution and the American way of individualism or freedom of speech. The only problem with this is that it is a trajectory towards destruction, loss and pain and the only way forward is for more reasonable thinking and positivity to prevail. It’s a tall order to look beyond the group mindset and remember we are all unique souls worthy of respect, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Must remember as Dr. Buchanan wrote, “The first is that psychologists, neuroscientists, and cognitive psychologists are converging on the conclusion that the human mind is highly flexible. Even though it features some degree of modularization (specialized functional subsystems physically expressed in certain regions of the brain), it also includes highly flexible, general capacities. From an evolutionary standpoint, one would expect that humans evolved to have highly flexible minds, because that would help account for our peculiar success as a species. We occupy almost every region of our planet and, unlike our nearest Homo relatives (Neanderthals, Denisovians, etc.), have not only survived drastic climate shifts and other potentially lethal environmental changes but also increased our numbers quite dramatically. Elements of culture, including tribalistic attitudes and social practices, that first arose because they performed one function, namely, enabling cooperation that contributed to reproductive fitness, can come to have other functions and be sustained for other reasons.”
He goes on to say, “one reason that we see a good deal of tribalism is that it is in the interest of some people to encourage it! We all know that it’s common for leaders or would-be leaders to stoke tribalistic moral responses when doing so increases their power. For example, they can gain power by persuading people that some other group poses a grave threat and by presenting themselves as the savior who will avert the threat. If, owing to cultural inertia, current moralities still contain significant tribalistic residues even in environments where more inclusive moralities have begun to take root, and if some people nourish these residues to advance their own interest or promote some cause they’re committed to, then we will see tribalistic attitudes and behaviors. When this happens, the correct explanation will not be that such attitudes and behaviors are the inevitable expression of a tribalistic nature or even of a predisposition that will usually be dominant no matter what the environment is like.”
The unique freedom we have at this time in human existence for individuals to reshape their morality revolves around moral progress, which has occurred, and in some of the most significant instances it involves a shift toward “Inclusion, away from tribalism.” The exemplary public intellectual Steven Pinker has written two fine books to remind us that there has been a great deal of moral progress. In many societies, the position of women is now better, chattel slavery has been abolished and serious efforts are being made to eliminate other forms of involuntary servitude. The governments of more countries than ever before are constrained by the rule of law and constitutional principles, homicide rates almost everywhere have dropped dramatically since the late Middle Ages, there have been significant strides toward achieving equal civil and political rights for people of color and national minorities. More countries recognize the right to freedom of religion than has been the case throughout most of human history, in many places laws now curb the worst treatment of nonhuman animals, and so on. Reflecting on these positive changes, one feels proud and optimistic. Yet if you’re like me, you feel a deep, disturbing tension between Pinker’s inspiring message and the belief that humans are tribalistic, morally speaking. You don’t know what to think about the prospects for moral progress—whether hope or despair is the proper response to the current situation. And if you look at what science tells us about morality, you’re likely to conclude that the great ape species called Homo sapiens is condemned to tribalism—and that moral progress is therefore likely to be limited and fragile—because evolutionary science apparently tells us that our moral nature is tribalistic.
If you think we can’t escape tribalism, then you will begin to question an assumption that seems to lie beneath the surface of Pinker’s work and the thoughts of a lot of us who believe that things have gotten better, morally speaking: that there is a march of progress, that we can count on further improvements—or at least that we don’t have to worry much about losing what we’ve already gained. Many people, probably most of the people who believe in moral progress, take it for granted that the triumph of Enlightenment ideas of human equality and tolerance, along with the spread of scientific thinking that dissipates superstition, is permanent and that the only question is what new progress can we expect.
Sheryl says “I would like to think that but that is not what is being reflected by MSM and Big Tech which are partisan and tribalistic and have little tolerance for our American traditions values, leading us to a rise in unrest, violence and bad behavior by leaders and politicians condoning lies, false narratives and conspiracies that reflect their narrowed belief systems and lack of a spiritual sense of higher energy or values. The Pandemic or coronavirus plague has thrown the world into an economic decline creating more fear and unrest and having the children out of school in the U.S for a year is creating emotional mental and physical issues which will haunt us for a long time to come.”
Removing and replacing tribalism can look like an improvement on the other side of this limited mindset. Those of us who believe that greater inclusion in the form of the Two Great Expansions is moral progress regard the prospect of a return to tribalism with alarm. An especially nasty and destructive variety of tribalism is on the rise in the United States and in many other countries. This is an exceedingly dangerous development, one that imperils the hard-won progress toward deeply inclusive morality that humans have only very recently achieved. Many people think, quite reasonably, that this tribalism also poses a dire threat to democracy, because it undermines the mutual respect and genuine, sincere communication among citizens that democracy requires. Maybe if we figure out how the shift toward inclusion came about, we can learn how to halt or even reverse the deeply disturbing shift back toward tribalism. Tribalism is not a finished product of evolution (nothing is, unless it’s a trait of an organism that has gone extinct). It’s still evolving.
Whereas tribalistic morality among our remote ancestors involved distrust, hostility, and even preemptive aggression against people who were members of other societies, tribalism has come to take on an additional form, namely, intersocietal tribalism: within our own society, we divide people into Us versus Them and in the most extreme cases exhibit the same negative attitudes toward Them that our ancestors exhibited toward actual foreigners.
The most extreme and dangerous effects of tribalism or what might be some good effects of a minimal amount of tribalism are that the tribalism dogmatist has recourse to one last desperate fallback position: he can admit that human moral nature sometimes permits non-tribalistic moralities, but insist that tribalism nevertheless is part of the moral mind itself, and that it is therefore still accurate to say that humans have a tribalistic moral nature. For the reasons given in the preceding paragraph, I don’t think that we should say that tribalism is an element of our basic moral psychology, part of the moral mind itself—unless we quickly add that the moral mind also includes the capacity for inclusion.
Sheryl says, “we know that the dangers of tribalism led to ideas of radical left liberal thinking known as “Identity Politics and Cancel Culture” which over the last two elections has shown us little tolerance for anyone thinking outside the box: the box meaning what the media and money interests want the rest of the world to follow. So, while they speak of inclusion and diversity, they really only prefer certain groups deemed as victims whose society has imposed limitations on their group, and you will hear them speak of black, brown, LGBTQ groups as worthy of all political gains. Others are seen as the enemy to be actually terminated or reprogrammed, as Sheryl has only recently heard by a newscaster suggest they need to be reprogrammed. This is what is happening in China and other communist countries with millions in slave work camps for refusing to give up their religious beliefs. So this is Tribalism at its worst! The world, humanity cannot survive this thinking for it is not morally correct. The Nazis thought the same way and tried to conquer or destroy other groups and ways of living. A world war was fought to stop that travesty and here we are, right back into the worst of tribalism, socially, politically, economically and spiritually. We must find a way to save the best of tribalism and inclusion but it is not black or white: the tenants of tribalism must find a cooperative accepting way to allow people to be safe and secure and not molded to fit a narrative that is restrictive in any form.
Sheryl says “if asked to describe myself twenty- five years ago, I might have said I am a female, wife, mother, teacher, a sensitive, loving and cooperative person wishing to help others. Since becoming aware that we are energy beings or souls having a physical life which allows us to grow more loving and compassionate through our life experiences, many of them challenging in this physical life, I would no longer use the ego-based personality description of myself. Now I might simply say I am both a physical and energy being hoping to refine my energy thinking and to grow more compassionate as an eternal soul.”
Dr. Buchanan might like readers to take away with them after reading his book, Our Moral Fate Evolution & Our Escape From Tribalism that tribalism is not a finished product of evolution (nothing is, unless it’s a trait of an organism that has gone extinct). It’s still evolving. Whereas tribalistic morality among our remote ancestors involved distrust, hostility, and even preemptive aggression against people who were members of other societies, tribalism has come to take on an additional form, namely, intrasocietal tribalism: within our own society, we divide people into “Us versus Them” and in the most extreme cases exhibit the same negative attitudes toward them that our ancestors exhibited toward actual foreigners.
What we need is a theory of moral progress that rests on a deeper, more general explanation of how moral change comes about, including changes that are progressive and those that are regressive. But first we need to explain how some human beings could have developed moralities that are much more inclusive than the moralities humans exhibited when they first became moral in a distinctively human way. Understanding that dramatic change will give us clues about moral change more generally.
Dr. Buchanan’s goal isn’t to provide a complete solution to the puzzle of how beings with initially tribalistic moralities could come to have moralities that include the Two Great Expansions, but rather to make a good enough start to do two things. First, to develop a more general theory of moral change that will provide information about how to foster progress and prevent regression—that’s my urgent practical aim. Second, he wants to convince the best scientists, including especially evolutionary psychologists and evolutionary anthropologists, to direct their skills and energy toward solving this intriguing puzzle and in the process of doing so develop and extend the account I’m offering of how moral change occurs. We need that knowledge if we are ever to learn how to take charge of our moral fate.
We thank Dr. Allen Buchanan for bringing to the public a discussion on a topic that is affecting all aspects of life in these changing and challenging world events for in knowledge is the key to better interactions and solutions to our moral fate and our survival.
In summarizing today’s episode of Healing From Within, we have tried to rethink moral progress to learn how to take charge of our moral fate. Dr. Buchanan, as all of us, should want to understand how moral progress comes about—especially progress toward greater inclusion and away from tribalism; and also want to understand the reverse process, how people whose moralities are inclusive can regress to tribalism. But that is not my ultimate purpose: we want to understand moral progress and regression because Dr. Buchanan is convinced that doing so will begin to provide the information we need to shape our social environment so that it fosters progress rather than limits or erodes it. In other words, we must want to understand how moral progress and regression occur, because doing that is essential for taking charge of our moral fate.
Dr. Buchanan writes, “Some moral philosophers believe that it is our practical rationality, our ability to reason about what we ought to do, that makes us so morally special among all the beings that have moral standing. Others think it is something more basic: the ability to distinguish between what is desired and what is good or between what one wants to do and what one ought to do later on. He goes on to further say “if we come to know enough about how those sorts of words and images interact with the moral mind to produce behavior that is physically violent or undermines the minimal mutual respect that democracy requires, shouldn’t we take steps to prevent this from happening? If certain exercises of freedom of expression are especially dangerous, as a result of the evolved moral mind’s potential for tribalism, shouldn’t that fact influence how we understand and institutionalize freedom of expression?”
Dr. Allen Buchanan and Sheryl would hope that listeners simply begin to become aware of the possibilities of understanding “Tribalism and Inclusion” as issues that have both positive and negative realities depending on our awareness of Self and ultimate potential for human development. By having a discussion, become aware of what might be best for the majority of leaders and visionaries as we move forward in our evolution and moral awareness of goodness, light kindness, humility and find peace as is the most basic human need.
Sheryl Glick, Host of Healing From Within and author of A New Life Awaits Spirit Guided Insights to Support Global Awakening, invites you to visit her website www.sherylglick.com to read about and listen to metaphysicians scientists spiritualists educators medical professionals and those who seek an understanding of the human and divine condition. Shows may also be heard on www.webtalkradio.net and www.dreamvisions7radio.com.