We Need to Be an American Us to Survive as a Nation
January 14, 2021
We are going into some very challenging times as a country.
We just went through a very intense and highly conflicted time in our national capital and we have many people extremely angry with one another in all directions as the result of those events and those occurrences.
We need to figure out the right things to do right now to give us the best chance of success ahead as a country and as a people.
It would be a terrible shame and a great loss for us to have that anger and those inter group divisions destroy us or even badly damage us as a country.
It could have that impact. That is a very real possibility. We have some very angry people today. We now run the very real risk of becoming just another tribalized nation at war with itself — and when that kind of division and inter group hatred comes into play in a country or a setting, we know from looking at Ireland and Kosovo and at dozens of other painful and current examples of inter group conflict that the people in each group can hate and damage each other and feel entirely justified in doing that for centuries.
That division can last a very long time and it can hurt people as long as it lasts in any setting. We Americans are just as human as the Irish or the Serbs and we could end up in the same places feeling very strongly in each group that their group is on the right path and is doing heroic things in the context of that conflict and division.
The people in Belfast who bomb the other group there feel ennobled by the damage they are doing — and emotionally empowered by the anger they feel.
We should not go down that path here and now.
We Americans should not let any current levels of inter group anger destroy us as a country, even though some of the angry people in each of the groups have enough anger right now to want that to happen.
We actually need a Peace movement for America — and we should each make having our Peace movement succeed a goal and even a priority for our lives.
We can make individual decisions and choices to emotionally and intellectually rise above the mess we are in and to not allow ourselves to be divided in our communities and our nation by the people who are appealing to our highest emotional commitments to whatever group of people we feel in our own lives is our most relevant us.
It is very tempting and extremely seductive at an emotional and highly instinctive level to tribalize at this moment in our history — and to each align with our own groups at their most personal levels..
We need to become an American Us — anchored in our core beliefs — and figure out how to restore and build the best levels of American Exceptionalism as a foundation and tool kit to get us to a future of safety, security, prosperity and success as a people and a nation.
We should take a deep breath collectively and then we should start down some roads as a country and as a people that give us a chance of restoring inter group Peace and that will give our children and our grandchildren the best chance of having good lives and living in safety, prosperity, and even very intentional levels of continuous improvement as communities and as a nation.
We need at least some of us to rise above the anger now and build a foundation for the next century of building on the very best and most inclusive and effective elements of the American dream for us all together.
We need to build a critical mass of people who still believe in the best and most enlightened and inclusive components of the American Dream who decide to be Americans and create inter group Peace.
We need a Peace movement for America.
We need a significant number of people who make American Peace both our objective and our very clear commitment to ourselves and to one another, in the context of our most enlightened beliefs and values, and then we need to work together to restore Peace as our goal and future agenda and strategy as a nation.
Some elements of our history are exceptional and enlightened and we need to rise above the current levels of division and our ugliest component behaviors and very intentionally restore the best parts of the American Dream for us all.
We could very easily continue to go down some very damaging paths to being at war with ourselves.
But, because so much of what we have built is so significantly good, we also have an opportunity right now to create another century or more of American success, safety, and prosperity and we can anchor that future with a very real level of enlightened American Exceptionalism if we set that as our goal and then do the right things at multiple levels to make that future happen.
We can have huge leverage and major impact on the world we live in if we work together as a nation and as a people to create the future we want for our children and for their children.
The opportunity is clear and real.
We live in a world with immense resources and with very real levels of continuously available and consistently expanding high value opportunity and we can have overwhelming success for our future if we recognize and understand our opportunity and then work together to make it happen.
We need to be an Us to make that future happen.
Us is key.
Being Us is the key to our success and to our willingness to align with one another in the ways that alignment will enable us as an Us to succeed.
We need to create and sustain an American Us that is united by our beliefs, our values, our ethics, and by an enlightened understanding of who we are and by our clear understanding of the tools we need to use to be aligned at the most powerful and effective levels as a nation and a people.
Instincts are key.
Knowledge is power.
We need to understand what our instincts do and we need to know how much they steer and shape our lives — because if we don’t understand what they do and how they do it, they will continue to steer us in some very damaging directions and we will feel very right in doing what the worst sides of our instincts steer us blindly and enthusiastically to do.
We need to start our alignment process and our functional strategy with an enlightened, clear, and fairly robust understanding and awareness of the basic sets of our basic and foundational instinctive programs, thought processes and relevant instinct shaped life functions and factors.
We all need to understand our instinctive behaviors to anchor that process.
Instincts will actually need to be the key to our success.
We need to understand how true that fact is and how important it is to understand it well enough to use it to enlighten and steer our lives.
Instincts drive major areas of our lives. They structure both our emotions and our thought processes — and we need to understand what our most important and relevant key instincts are in order to give us the future we want for our nation and for ourselves because we need to channel our instincts in effective ways to enable us to succeed.
We can never be freed from the basic sets of instincts we each have.
We have powerful survival instincts, and we have very powerful instincts to be territorial, hierarchical, acquisitional, tribal, maternal, paternal, sexual, and cultural.
Cultures are major tools.
Creating cultures and related expectations for each setting is a very powerful instinct, and we need to understand that we set up our cultures in each setting to give our instincts the paths they need to function and succeed in each setting.
We need to use our cultures in very intentional ways to help us achieve our most enlightened goals as an American Us.
We have clear hierarchical instincts. That particular set of instincts will always be relevant to us because we apply them nationally and we apply them in each relevant setting — and they steer behaviors and emotions and even ambitions and aspirations whenever they are activated.
Every setting sets up a culture that has a hierarchy of some kind embedded in it.
We tend to have a chief or alpha for every setting — just like the lion prides and the wolf packs have built an alpha for each setting into their packages of instincts — and we set up the rules in every setting for our leaders to be selected and to do instinctively guided alpha things as alpha leaders in each setting.
The pattern is obvious and extremely consistent.
We have kings, chiefs, chairs, coaches, presidents and captains everywhere and our cultures in each setting steer us into the right behaviors for both the selection process and for our sense of loyalty to both our relevant group and for our loyalty to the leader of our group.
We hate traitors.
Loyalty to our group is a strong instinctive behavior — as is rejecting, detesting, and hating traitors to our group.
We tend to each also have strong instinctive sense that we personally do not ever want to be a traitor to our group. We instinctively strongly do not want to feel like a traitor to our group.
Groups are extremely relevant to our sets of instincts.
We instinctively divide the world into Us and Them and we react very differently to Us and Them.
We tend to feel instinctively right when we support and protect our Us and we tend to feel equally right when we dislike, distrust, and even try to damage, defeat or destroy whomever we perceive to be Them.
Those are extremely important differences, and we need to understand them clearly if we want to create Peace in America as a nation and a people.
When our instincts cause us to define someone to be Them, we can far too easily suspend our ethical beliefs that we believe in for whoever is our Us and we can distrust, dislike, damage, firebomb, incarcerate, ethnically cleanse, purge, kill and even sometimes enslave people who we perceive to be Them.
We often feel no guilt when we lie to them.
Those instincts all shape our country today. We can pretend that was not true, but pretending will not make those behaviors go away.
Those basic sets of powerful instincts are having a major impact in our world today — and the people in our country who want to do magical thinking and wishful thinking and politically correct but inherently fuzzy and non-linear thinking who want to believe that we modern people are somehow becoming more civilized and are somehow collectively evolving in ethical ways just need to look at what is actually happening — both in our own increasingly tribal country and in well over 100 other multi group countries in the world today — to see that those instincts still have a huge and often negative impact on real people who are alive and interacting with other people today.
Those Us-Them interactions are pretty obvious.
Look at the news media on any day. Those instincts are in full view in thousands of settings and they are doing damage across the planet and across our country today.
The Cusp of Chaos book outlines what is happening in those settings.
There are over 130 ethnic wars happening right now in the world where Us-Them instincts are activated and where people are killing other people and feeling no guilt and sometimes feeling that they are heroes and champions for killing and damaging whoever they perceive to be Them in their setting. Leaders in many settings get some of their power both by exacerbating those conflicts and them by defending their own group when those conflicts happen.
Look at the Institute for InterGroup Understanding website to see both where those conflicts are happening and the role that leaders are playing as alpha champions for their groups in those settings.
Syria is a perfect example.
Syria is broken into Us-Them groups who kill each other entirely at a group level and who feel entirely justified in that evil and damaging behavior because those instincts are in gear for each of the groups in that bloody and troubled setting.
Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Tibet, Yemen, and even Fiji all have people hating the other group and doing inter group damage because those instincts have been activated.
China’s Han leaders clearly feel that the Uyghurs are a Them and they are achieving both ethnic cleansing and various kinds of physical damage and cultural genocide against that group of Them.
That set of instinctive behaviors is extremely relevant to us as Americans today because we clearly have some of those same sets of issues happening here and people were damaged last week in Washington, D.C in very Us-Them ways.
We Americans are currently at very high risk of having those same kinds of tribal Us-Them instincts activated on a growing scale in our country today in ways that can damage us for a very long time.
We need to know and understand together how terrible and damaging and serious that risk of fully activated Us-Them instincts at a functionally tribal level currently is to Us. People have those instincts activated and great inter group anger is being triggered in very self-reinforcing ways. It is a very seductive and slippery slope to hating other people as a Them and then feeling like heroes for doing damage to Them.
Dehumanizing is easy, when skillful leaders and people who want us to fight with one another do inflammatory things to make those fights happen.
We do not need to allow the people who want us to go down those paths of very primal instinctive behaviors and thought processes to succeed. We can see what is happening and refuse to allow it to happen.
We can choose, instead, to rise above that tribal thinking and return to our trajectory of American Exceptionalism and choose to be an American Us rather than just being another multi tribal country at war with itself.
We will always need leaders for purely instinctive reasons, so we need our leaders to win by supporting Peace instead of conflict. We need that in each community and group.
We need our leaders to support us becoming Us, and we need to choose leaders who fill that role and who get their power from Peace and not anger.
Leaders from many groups in many settings tend to gain power within their groups by being champions of their groups against other groups. Being a leader very often has a powerful set of instinctive rewards that seem to be not dissimilar from the emotional rewards that exist for the alpha leader in a lion pride or Chimpanzee clan for their alpha leaders.
The role of being alpha in any setting can be extremely seductive. The role also can be very local. Wolf packs don’t exist as wolf nations. They have alpha activated wolfs who are willing to fight to the death to be the head wolf for each pack and they only need to be head of one pack to have those rewards activated.
We should be aware of the fact that we can have similar temptations at an equally instinctive level here for many of our groupings. We have heads of communities, heads of organizations, heads of families, heads of academic departments and heads of teams who all can feel the pull and the power of alpha status instincts and who have them both guide behaviors and create aspirations for continuing to be in power.
That alpha status package of instincts isn’t usually dangerous to us, but it can sometimes can trigger dangerous inter group behaviors when people have their alpha instincts activated by leading conflicts in various functionally tribal settings.
Alpha status can be extremely seductive and extremely hard to give up. Alpha wolves do not walk voluntarily away from their pack to give the control and alpha status to another wolf. They will often fight to the death to retain that status.
We clearly have some of those behaviors happening in our own most recent election. It clearly feels very wrong to one of the candidates to give up Alpha status — and people in his group who are in beta and theta status also feel extremely drawn to behaviors that are intended to maintain their own relative power as well.
We use our laws and our cultures to steer our instinctive behaviors in functional directions to achieve our overall societal needs while achieving our instinctive goals. Our constitution calls for both defined terms and term limits for our highest office — and that has clearly been a good thing for us to do because our instincts in that particular behavior category are so strong that many people would hold office for life if that were allowed.
In fact, when you look at our U.S. Senate and our Congress, there are people who get into those positions and feel those instincts to retain power so absolute that they last for decades — sometimes into their eighties and even nineties.
We use our cultures and our laws to offset potentially damaging instincts. We use cultures and their embedded laws to create security on property ownership issues and on territory issues and even on some sexual issues — so that people are forced into less damaging behavior patterns than the ones we might see for some people with no laws in those areas.
In this election, we have those instincts on full display at multiple levels.
That is exacerbated someone by the fact that there is a universal pattern here and in other countries that some people gain power and alpha status in their groups by their opposition to another group.
The current leader of India has played that card many times in many ways, and has been successful doing it.
That is a package of behaviors that we Americans should not reward.
Instead, we should decide at this point in our history to reward leaders who clearly want to create Peace instead of war, and we should give them a chance to do that.
Leaders actually often take their lead from the people they lead in a number of ways.
That’s an important strategy for people to understand.
Leaders can be led.
Leaders will often lead in the directions that gives them alpha status relative to their people and their group. Because we know that to be true, as part of our Peace Movement, we can actually choose to steer our leaders into inter group behaviors we prefer, because we can simply make the enlightened decision to support leaders who make Peace instead of War — and we can then give them both our steerage and our support when they go down those paths.
We need to make the intellectual decision to reward and support leaders who steer us to Peace instead of into conflict, and then have them in key positions.
We also need to reward and support Media leaders and public media people who support Peace instead of conflict.
Some leaders for our groups will convert to the new approach when we make our preferences clear. Others will need to be replaced. There won’t be a shortage of people willing to go into that role as a shaman of Peace rather than a captain of War, because the seductive pull of alpha status can be used to steer people in either direction.
Today, the steerage far too often from our leaders is to be at war. Conflict creates power for some people, and we have far too many deeply conflicted settings today. The Washington DC mobs last month made that painfully obvious. We are at very high risk of becoming just another multi tribal nation at war with itself.
The only thing exceptional about us, if that happens, is how horribly far we fell.
We can and should choose a better path for America than what we see playing out right now in Nigeria or China for the inter group conflicts there.
Those are ugly behaviors whenever those instincts are in gear.
The Uyghur people and the Tibetan people in China who are being perceived as Them are being massacred, purged, tortured, oppressed, and imprisoned. The Uyghurs would probably be executed by Chinese soldiers with those instincts fully activated if the world wasn’t watching those Us Them instincts playing out for those people in horror.
But everyone recognizes the behavior.
Us-Them instincts cause people to be damaged.
The Pablo Picasso painting Guernica was the civilian bombings of the Basque people in that town because they wanted their tribe to be self-governing. They wanted their Us to govern itself, and the pilots in that air force perceived them to be Them and introduced mass bombings of civilian populations to the world of inter group interactions.
So the point we need to focus on right now — for our own inter group interaction — is that we need to choose a better path for our Us-Them instincts here.
When we look at the two hundred plus settings in the world today where Us-Them instincts are activated in bloody ways, we can see that the separatist groups and local ethnic groups in many settings set up militias to achieve their goals. The Sudan militias hurt a lot of people. Militias in Somalia and Pakistan take peoples’ lives.
Those patterns of behavior are actually also beginning to threaten us as a nation, and we actually now have active militias in Idaho and in northern Michigan and in dozens of other states and settings who aspire to very much the same status as the militias in the mountains of Afghanistan. They clearly feel the need to protect some Us relevant to their lives.
Having those militias gaining in power would be hugely damaging in a number of settings. We do not want that to actually happen. We need to think about what we can do going forward to reduce the negative impact of those organizations on peaceful communities here and to restore our sense of creating an exceptional and unifying American Us.
With a basic and foundational understanding of how instinct impacted we each are, we Americans need to very intentionally use our full sets of basic instincts at this point in our history to unite us rather than using them to tribalize us and to divide us into warring factions who are committed to damaging one another as various categories of Them.
We need to be honest with ourselves about the risks we face as Americans for expanding those most negative outcomes into additional settings.
Those core sets of tribal alignment emotions and instincts can be very seductive and they can easily take us in bad directions for too many Americans, individually and in groups.
History Both Repeats Itself and Rhymes
Once you understand and look hard at instinctive inter group behavior, history can be understood, explained and even predicted and anticipated.
History, when you understand instinctive inter group behavior, both repeats itself and rhymes.
Us-Them behavior patterns shape our emotions, thoughts, values, and beliefs in every setting in very predictable and highly evident and obvious ways.
The pattern is extremely powerful and very simple, once you learn to see it for what it is.
We all find it instinctively easy to align with an Us and it is sadly far too easy for each of us to oppose and resist and dislike and even damage anyone who we believe is Them.
At this point in our history, we need to be very honest with ourselves about the risks we face if we allow those instincts to continue to structure how we think about one another and do not do the right things to do to create a sense of American Us.
The patterns are universal and clear and they shape our communities and our nation.
When we believe people are Them, we distrust them, dislike them, avoid them, fear them, and we often do things to damage them and we can feel like we are a hero to our group and for our Us when we do that damage to Them.
We need to understand loyalty as well as part of that package of behaviors.
Loyalty is a very strong instinct that has deep links to our Us Them instincts activation.
We each have very strong instincts to be loyal that guide our values, thought processes, emotions and behaviors. We have strong instincts to be loyal to our group and to our leaders and to whoever we believe is legitimately Us in our lives.
Those loyalty instincts can be an asset to us if we focus them well.
Being a loyal American needs to be our goal.
We Need an American Us to Be Loyal To
We need to have those loyalty levels extending to our American Us collectively and clearly as a belief driven nation and we need to be very intentional not just to have that loyalty instinct package apply for each of us to our families, groups or to our various tribes.
We need to be an Us united as an Us by our beliefs.
It’s important for us as Americans to have key, enlightened and clear beliefs that unite us.
We should all be able to explain to each other what our American priorities are.
To survive in a world of inter group complexity and diversity at multiple levels, we need to be united by all agreeing and sharing the belief to share a belief that we should function in democratic ways for key areas of our communities and our lives.
We need to have democracy as a core group and individual value — and we need to each be willing to commit to and even be willing to defend that set of beliefs, values and behaviors that is anchored on democracy as a foundational value.
That belief makes us different and more enlightened and is actually even significantly better than other settings where the key belief and approach is loyalty to and obedience to the will of someone who is named in non-democratic ways to be the group leader.
We need to have a shared belief in democracy and equality and equity as part of our agenda if we want to be exceptional and successful as a people and a nation.
Honesty needs to be a core value. Again.
We don’t need to be painfully honest with each other on every issue, but we definitely need to commit to telling the truth to each other and make not ever saying anything that we know is not true to be a normal part of our interactions with one another.
The temptation in many settings in America today can be to say things that are not true. When we perceive other people to be Them in any setting, we often deceive and mislead and intentionally tell lies to each that Them with no guilt because our instincts cause us to suspend several levels of basic ethics when we perceive other people to be Them.
Saying things that we know are not true will make it much more difficult for us to thrive and to trust one another and even to function as a people and a nation.
Our politics in America have deteriorated in too many settings today to the point where people tell intentional falsehoods and feel entirely justified in saying things that they know are not true because we believe the other party to be Them and our instincts encourage us to lie to Them.
To create long term Peace and safety in America, we need to know that we have been doing that practice of deliberately saying some things that are not true and we need to stop doing it.
We don’t have to debate what is true. We just need to stop saying things that we know are not true at the moment we say them. That level of honesty is good for self-respect and it definitely let’s people hear what we say from a different and more useful, and more functional perspective when we disagree.
We need to say and believe that we want all groups in America who believe in our core values as a people — democracy, shared safety, honesty, ethical behavior — and we need also to add to those values and goals a sense that we want everyone from every group to Win.
Winning is important to us all. Winning should be a good thing, because we should all want to win and we should all want to have our family and our key groups win. So we need to understand which approaches give us the very best chance of having our group win, and then we need to build those approaches into what we do as communities and as a nation.
We need to understand our options clearly.
There are three primary patterns and sets of outcomes that are relevant to winning and losing. We need to understand all three and we need to choose and understand the approach and strategy that will clearly give us the best chance of success and even survival as a nation.
We need to do win-win outcomes to succeed and survive as a country. That can be done, but it will only happen if we decide to do it and then do it well and soon.
There are six key instinctive alignment triggers that can be used in inter group settings to create a sense of Us for people in the setting. They look at lot like the famous Maslow Hierarchy of Needs pyramid that deals with our individual needs. These triggers create a set of group needs.
The core motivation trigger for alignment by groups is the same trigger that anchors the motivation pyramid for individual people — danger. Danger is extremely motivating for both individuals and groups.
The next level up the pyramid is common enemy. People feel a need and willingness to align when people believe a common enemy exists.
The alignment trigger directly over common enemy is team behavior. We instinctively love to be on teams and to align as teams.
The trigger over teams is Group identity. We all want to be part of a group and we all like to have group identity and group purpose and definitions at some level.
The alignment trigger above the group identity is group gain or acquisition of some benefit by being together. People will fight as a team to achieve a collective reward of some kind.
The top rung on the Maslow personal motivation pyramid is personal self-actualization or achievement. Similarly, the highest rung on the group pyramid is either a mission and a vision for the group or some form of loyalty to the group leader or leaders. Loyalty to leaders or to a mission or belief system both can work. Combining them also can work well to get people aligned.
Some people try to get people aligned with just good intentions. It’s much easier to do with danger, common enemy, team activity, group identity, collective gain, or leader or mission loyalty either alone or in any combination.
This pyramid has been used skillfully at each level by some people in our community in recent days to divide us. Let’s use it now to bring us together.
Before it’s too late and we regret forever that we did not do the right thing when it needed to be done.
This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding