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Tribal Behavior Can Damage Us Badly Unless We Know Exactly What Is Happening And Why

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January 5, 2018


Very few things are more emotionally seductive than mob behavior activated in the context of a tribe.

We instinctively form tribes of various kinds — and our identity and sense of who we are can be heavily shaped at any given moment and situation by the tribe we belong to at that point in time.

We form racial, ethnic, political, religious, organizational, and even ideological tribes, and we tend to have a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the tribe with which we identify.

When we are in a tribal mind-set and identity, we tend to have strong loyalty toward our tribe, and we tend to condemn any members we perceive to be disloyal to either the tribe or its leaders.

The loyalty levels can be so strong that we feel good and energized by doing tribal things — and we can feel high levels of competition, division, intergroup conflict, and separation from members of competitive tribes.

We are channeled by our competitive emotions and thought processes to do sometimes heroic things to support and protect our own tribe, and we are often channeled to do negative, damaging, and even evil things relative to the status of competitive groups or tribes.

Sun Tzu wrote about those behaviors two thousand years ago in The Art of War. He said that deceit, deception, and deliberately misleading misinformation communications are not only legitimate behaviors in time of war — but that they are highly desirable actions relative to others in conflicted times.

We have fallen to those Art of War values and behaviors in American politics and American tribal thinking today.

We have suspended ethics in a number of areas, and people feel that lying and deceiving are totally legitimate when those deceptions hurt the other tribe and make it more likely that our own tribe will win.

The nature of our core sets of internalized ethics is that we have an innate tendency to be ethical and morally honest when we are dealing with members of our tribe — our Us.

Us/Them thinking structures our tribal thoughts, values, emotions, and behaviors.

We feel a need and a desire to be moral, ethical, honest, understanding, and even caring when we are interacting with our “Us” — but we feel no need to be honest, ethical, or morally constrained in major ways when we are interacting with any sets of people we perceive to be a “Them.”

Those sets of behaviors and values exist because we truly do live in a dangerous world and those behaviors can help us survive.

In our ancestor’s most primal settings and times, clans fought clans and tribes fought tribes, and the consequence of not fearing and fighting other tribes was often, literally, to die. Tribal behavior has had life and death consequences for very long periods of time — and anyone without those instincts was less likely to survive.

Those behaviors are not simple historical memories. We have all those sets of tribal behaviors in our core sets of instincts today, and they continue to be extremely relevant to large numbers of people. We have more than two hundred ethnic conflicts and wars going on in the world today — situations where instincts are causing people to kill, and then feel totally justified in their behavior because they believe the alternative to killing is to be killed.

The Kurds are killing people as well as being killed in multiple settings today, and the basic tribal instincts, behaviors, thought processes, and values we all have are pushing and guiding the behaviors for each group in each of those settings where Kurds are in a state of conflict with others.

There are more than two hundred other examples of those kinds of intergroup intertribal interactions happening in various settings — and the patterns are very much the same in all of those situations.

In our own country, we are very dangerously triggering tribal ethics, emotions, behaviors, and values in far too many settings on far too many levels.

We are starting to look like other major parts of the world.

In many highly tribal countries — like Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, and the Congo — the democratic elections are really just tribal census counts, with people in those countries voting overwhelmingly by tribe. Nearly 90 percent of the Sudan votes for the political party of their tribe.

We are rapidly approaching similar levels of voting by tribe in a number of states in the U.S. In the most recent election, nearly 90 percent of the Republican voters in many states were white — and in many settings more than 90 percent of African-Americans voted Democrat.

Voting by tribe has its own challenges and issues — but the bigger threat to us as a country is to think and behave as tribes at other levels.

We have reached the point in too many of our settings where instead of using the ethical standards and moral behaviors of honesty and shared self interest we instinctively use with Us — we have too many people using the value sets we use with Them and tell lies, deliberately deceive others, and use untrue statements both to enrage our own tribe, and damage and defeat the other tribe.

Honesty is one of the first victims of tribal thinking.

Trust is another very quick victim for those thought processes.

A third victim is the ability to build relationships with other groups different from our own.

Loyalty to our own group is a very powerful instinctive behavior, and both hating and damaging traitors has powerful and direct instinctive roots.

None of us want to betray our group — and none of us easily forgive traitors.

We feel loyalty both to our group and to whomever we perceive to be our leader. We have strong instincts to want our leaders to succeed in their status and role.

Alpha instincts tend to guide our leaders in very predictable ways that we can both anticipate and understand.

The InterGroup books and website all explain the strengths, benefits, and dangers of having those instincts activated in any leader in any setting.

People with activated Alpha instincts tend to be very territorial; willing to suspend ethics to very directly maintain power, and see their own group both survive and triumph.

People with activated tribal and hierarchical instincts tend to feel great emotional satisfaction doing whatever necessary in the service of their rightful Alpha leader — and they will often suspend other values and priorities to meet their leader’s needs, wants, and desires.

Those sets of instincts all can be extremely emotionally seductive. People feel deeply drawn to those emotions and patterns of behavior — and that can sometimes include mob-like behavior in support of their group or leader.

We actually have very strong mob instincts. Every police department in every major city in the world has mob control equipment and training because those instincts are so universal — and because they can be both volatile and damaging when triggered.

Today, we have taken mob instincts to a whole new level, and we sometimes activate them online. Virtual mobs with the same low levels of ethical constraint we see in the streets now, sometimes form on the Internet — and those mobs often attack viciously and fiercely, and find reinforcement from each other’s behaviors, attacks, and collective responses.

We need to understand those behaviors because mobs, of all kinds, are dangerous to those who want to live in Peace.

We need to very clearly understand all of those instinctive behaviors. We need to all know that our instincts shape, guide, influence, and channel our emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and values in very clear, direct, powerful, and very predictable and understandable ways.

We build cultures in every setting to help our instincts achieve their goals.

We have strong hierarchical instincts, for example, so our culture in each setting builds a hierarchy we use to achieve that expectation.

We have chiefs, captains, presidents, and popes — and the people in each group tend to feel right both accepting and using the hierarchy created by their group for their setting.

Our usual model for actualizing our instincts is to let the instincts create our expected goals or behaviors, and then build a culture that gives us the behaviors and values needed to make it successful. Our intellect is the servant of both our instincts and our cultures in that process, and it helps both instincts and cultures achieve their goals.

At this point in our history as a nation, a people, and a community anchored on our common humanity — with both dangerous and dysfunctional tribal instincts increasingly undermining our likelihood of future success, safety and prosperity — we need to change that old model, and we need to let our intellect take control of the process in the interest of enlightened values and our collective survival.

We need to put our intellect in charge. We need our intellect to make enlightened decisions about our values, our goals, and our expected individual and group behaviors.

We need to use our cultures as tools of our enlightened values — and we need to build our enlightened values into our cultures for each setting.

We can never be free of our instincts. Our instincts will always be embedded in us as a core part of who we are. But we can build cultures that incorporate enlightened values that use and build on the best elements of our instincts — and we can let our instincts reinforce our values instead of pushing us into negative, destructive, and even evil behaviors.

We need to build cultures that defuse our worst instincts and build on our very best.

We need to know our instincts so well that we can let them serve and reinforce enlightened values and create collective benefits, rather than steer us to collective evil.

The key to that strategy is to make our Us/Them instincts work in our favor in very intentional ways. We need people to feel included as an Us in very believable and real ways.

We need people to feel a shared sense of Human Us and American Us — and to want all of us to do well. Win-win needs to be a commitment, a strategy, and a skill set.

We need to build a values-based sense of Us from our core values that gives us all safety and success in each settings.

We need to be an Us a country, a people, and in every relevant community and setting.

We can do that if we understand our instincts and the process, and make a commitment to the behaviors and the values that function to help us succeed in that work.

We need to rise above the tribalism tearing America apart in too many settings, and we need to align in inclusion to go forward with a shared sense of being Us that allows us to move past historical damage into a far better collective future.

Nothing that we can do now will change the past. History is the record of our patterns of instinctive behavior applied situationally and sequentially by the people in each setting, to each other, and to their lives.

Some of our situational impacts to our instinctive behavior patterns were evil. Some did real intergroup and interpersonal damage. Many of our situational and historical behaviors were unforgivable.

We cannot change that past.

But what we can do is decide now to recognize that even though we cannot change the past, we can change the future.

The future needs to be what we commit to change now.

We very much need to make the collective commitment to change the future in ways that work for us all, and that will give a better world to our children and grandchildren.

If we do not use this set of insights to change our future — and if we continue down the path of tribal thinking at the most dangerous and damaging levels — we will simply extend the worst parts of our past into the future, which will be a disaster and ugly place for us all.

Some people will love that future. They will be able to fight with and hurt each other — and feel the emotional exhilaration of doing tribal damage when tribal instincts are activated in the most powerful ways.

Let’s not give the future to people who are addicted to those behaviors, values, beliefs, and emotional surges.

We need a Peace movement for America.

We need people of good will, good heart, good intentions, and real insight and wisdom to rise above tribal thinking, and give us an America that grants every group — comprising the rich fabric of our wonderful country — full access to the American Dream.

We need to be an Us on the most enlightened and mutually beneficial levels.

This is the time for us to go down that road because we are at the point where our future is being determined, and we should not let anyone other than Us determine what it will be. Let’s design the most enlightened future, and let’s anchor it lovingly, carefully, and intentionally on Peace.