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Ethnic Vulnerability Is Killing People In Myanmar

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September 30, 2017

The article attached to this news update section for this website points out that there is a major, very bloody, cruel, and intentionally damaging and destructive ethnic cleansing going on in Myanmar right now that has destroyed more than 200 Rohingya villages and is sending nearly 500,000 Rohingya tribes people into exile in Bangladesh.

Discrimination against the Rohingya has been a clear and official policy of the Myanmar government since the country was founded.

Roughly 1 million Rohingya people have been denied citizenship by Myanmar for several decades in an absolutely clear and explicitly intentional practice of major ethnic discrimination. The government of Myanmar is now going past basic discrimination into both collective murder and bloody and cruel ethnic cleansing.

The intergroup issues that we are seeing in that country today could not be more clearly linked to the Us/Them packages of instincts that are described and explained in the books Primal Pathways, Cusp of Chaos, The Art of InterGroup Peace, and Peace in Our Time. Myanmar is the most visible case of that set of behaviors this week, but those negative intergroup ethnicity linked behavior patterns are happening in dozens of other settings where groups of people have the power to damage other groups of people and are using that power today to actually damage those people.

Ethnicity vulnerability exists in far too many settings today. People are being damaged today in clear and intentional ways in far too many settings because their ethnicity has triggered those instinctive thought processes, values and behaviors in people who have power to do damage to them in those settings.

Those sets of instincts have huge power to shape our thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and values — and that power to shape our thoughts, values, emotions, and behaviors is on full display in each and all of those settings.

In Myanmar, we actually have a Nobel Peace Prize winner who is tied to her own package of Us/Them instincts and her own Us/Them values and thought processes so tightly that she is refusing to help save people who she perceives to be Them from ethnic expulsion and even local genocide in her own country.

Her public quotes about the other tribe make it clear that those basic Us/Them instincts are shaping her thoughts and actions in very unfortunate and damaging ways. She probably does not even know what she is doing in that regard because those instincts can have such huge power over our thoughts and feelings when they are activated and we generally do not know that they have been triggered as a package of instinctive responses. She is calling the people from the Rohingya ethnic group terrorists — following the pattern we see in country after country where the majority group calls the people from local minority groups who resist or defend themselves terrorists and believe that damage done to those people is justified because we all feel that hurting terrorists is a legitimate and appropriate thing to do.

Myanmar is far from alone in having people at risk of damage for their ethnicity.

This week has also shown us a major ethnic conflict in The Congo, clear intergroup fighting in The Sudan, ethnic conflicts and intergroup killings in Malaysia, equally clear intergroup conflict in Thailand, and a continuation and extension of the mass intergroup and ethnicity based intertribal killings in Syria.

The fighting in Yemen is tribal at its core — and it is creating horrible and damaging outcomes for tribal members there who have the misfortune of being at war with a far better armed Saudi backed tribe and coalition. Anyone who labels the battles in Yemen political or ideological or even economic is clearly not paying attention to who is actually killing whom in that setting.

Those battles are given political labels in the international press, but the people who are killing each other in Yemen and Syria and The Congo are doing it as tribes and not as politicians.

Why do we have so many groups of people hurting so many other groups of people in so many places? The answer is actually easy to see and painfully clear when we understand how instinctive behaviors for those areas of our lives affect our thoughts and emotions.

Whenever we have our Us/Them instincts activated in any setting, we tend to do protective things for our Us and we can far too easily do damaging, destructive, and even evil things to Them. Tribes and ethnic groups in all of those settings create a very useful and frequently used context for the functioning of those particular Us/Them instinctive behaviors. We tend to believe that our own ethnic group or tribe is our Us — and we tend to believe that other local ethnic groups or tribes are Them.

When each of the groups has claim to turf and when each of the groups has leaders with their own alpha instincts activated both guiding group thinking and steering group emotions, we far too often experience intergroup conflict.

There are more than 100 ethnic conflicts going on in the world today and every one of those conflicts activates the thoughts, values, emotions, and behaviors that those instincts create.

We all need to be very aware of the fact that the tides of history are flowing in directions that make more than 100 intergroup conflicts relevant today in their respective settings.

Why is that true? Why do we have so many intergroup conflicts in so many settings today? Those tides of history are flowing in very dangerous multi ethnic directions in far too many settings and we have people in all of those settings who do not understand or even suspect that instinctive behavior exists but who do understand how much they dislike the other ethnic group in their setting and who want to prevail over that other group.

We all need to understand the unfortunate fact that the end of colonialism and the fall of the Soviet Union have combined to create a world of frequent and functionally perpetual local ethnic chaos.

Ethnic conflict exists in hundreds of places because we have created highly artificial nations that contain multiple ethnic groups who have historically been in opposition or contention with one another and are now being asked to function as nations in ways that create absolutely no core level of national loyalty for most of the people who live in them.

Colonial nations held power over vast expanses of Africa, Asia, The Middle East, and both India and China for literally centuries, in some settings. The Soviet Union held equivalent over arching power over much of Eastern Europe and over all of the smaller nations that are immediately adjacent to Russia for several decades.

Within each of those empires, the people in charge very consistently, rigidly, and sometimes brutally suppressed local ethnic conflict — with often bloody and overwhelming power. The armies that held the power in all of those settings on behalf of the ruling empire did not allow ethnic battles to happen in all of those settings.

At the same time, the colonial powers also often very deliberately used the existence of the historic, legacy local ethnic animosities to play one local group against another in various ways in order to maintain overarching control over the areas held by each empire. Empires often picked a Favorite local tribe and then used that local tribe as an extension of their power. The other local tribes tended to hate that favored tribe, but that tie to a favored local tribe did give the empires extended control in those settings and many tribes chosen for that role were happy to be chosen to be in that position of relative power.

But local ethnic battles did not happen in that time frame. Local ethnic wars did not happen when the armies of the empire and the army of the Soviet Union ruled in those multi ethnic settings. There were clear and obvious local ethnic animosity and clear intertribal ill will in all of those settings — as outlined in both Primal Pathways and Cusp of Chaos — but those conflicts between tribes and local ethnic groups were not bloody when empires dictated, mandated, and enforced local internal Peace.

All of those long-standing local conflicts that had existed before any of the colonial empires were created were still in place when the empires collapsed. The people who gave up their empires did not do a particularly good or insightful job of turning their old colonies into new nations that had a high likelihood of succeeding as nations. They did that job very badly.

Instead of building new nations around each of the logical local ethnic or tribal governance cultures and instead of building on any of the long standing legacy local group identities and turf ownership histories, the empires who gave up the job of being empires simply took what were often highly illogical and almost accidental forced configurations of ethnicities and labeled and designated those illogical configurations to be countries.

Their old colonial boundaries were often pure accidents of history and set up to make administration of an empire convenient in some way — but they generally simply used the borders of the old colonies to define the borders of the new countries.

Nigeria clearly makes no ethnic or logistical sense as a country. Syria makes absolutely no sense as a country. The Sudan contained groups that had hated each other for centuries and that had even battled with and abused each other under the functional cover of colonial rule. So The Sudan was an immediate, complete, idiotic, dangerous and extremely bloody disaster and mistake as a country.

People started killing each other by group in that setting as soon as it began to function as a country.

Our instinctive behaviors became highly relevant in each of those settings. To understand the mess we are in today with over 100 ethnic conflicts in the world, we need to recognize that the breakup of both colonialism and the Soviet Union created a major array of local multi ethnic and both arbitrary and artificial nations and those nations did exactly what our Us/Them instincts cause people to do in multi ethnic and multi group settings.

That basic move to grant some form of local control to local people in all of those post colonial settings was considered by many people to be a significant and progressive step in the right direction at the time it was done — because that approach actually did remove local control over many countries from those overarching empires. Colonies liked being Free and local people often celebrated when the armies of the colonial powers disappeared from their settings.

The people in almost all of those former colonial settings have a national holiday that celebrates their day of independence as a nation. Much like the American Fourth of July.

The problem that those nations all faced is that they became independent as nations but they generally had no natural prior set of circumstances or internal alignments or historical interactions and shared identity as local people that said that the countries with those odd boundaries make any sense as nations

We actually knew better. The people who ran each of the empires knew better. They knew how they had actually set up their own home countries. They all used tribes.

The preferred model of national status for the colonial powers has always been to be tribal in their own culture and governance. Europe has always been fiercely tribal. European nations are built around their tribal groups. The people in France belong to the French tribe and speak the French language. The people in Sweden are Swedes and speak Swedish. The people in Norway speak Norwegian and are proud members of the Norwegian tribe.

The national day of celebration that is an annual time of celebration for Norway is May 17 — the day Norway became independent of Sweden. That event and that celebration could not be more tribal.

All of those countries in Europe have a tradition and a culture built around their own tribal identity and their own tribal language. Switzerland was an exception — with three tribal groups inside that country who each have their own tribal language.

The Swiss exception to being purely tribal was, however, only partial. The Swiss maintained their version of the tribal governance model of the rest of Europe by creating local self governing Cantons that were organized around each language group. The Swiss simply created cantons by language and let each tribe run its own local turf. The Swiss have never attempted to assimilate the tribal groups. The Swiss dealt with being multi tribal by building a very clear and effective way for each group to maintain each tribal identity and to also co exist in the context of a nation for a number of functions that they agree to share at the national level.

All of the new postcolonial multi ethnic and multi tribal nations in Africa, and Asia and the Middle East found themselves in the predicament of the Swiss without the protective and functional structure of the ethnically pure Cantons.

The Congo and Syria and The Sudan and Malaysia do not have the luxury and blessing of only having one ethnic group making up their country. The accidents of history that allowed people thousands of miles away from those countries to set the functional and legal boundaries of each country have forced people who have hated each other as tribes with different languages and different cultures now having to function in each of those complex settings as a single country.

That approach clearly has not worked. Local elections have been held in many places — and the local elections usually simply identify who has the largest tribe. The Congo just held elections. Who voted for what leader?

That set of issues was exacerbated by the very predicable fact that larger local tribes who come to power in the context of an democratic election tend to be susceptible and vulnerable to all of the worst Us/Them instinctive behaviors — and we often see significant discrimination and even damage done to the local smaller tribes when a large tribe wins a national election.

The failures of that massive experiment in multi tribalism have been spectacular. The results also are entirely predictable and understandable. Syria is a poster child for the whole process.

Syria is a country currently run by the leader of one tribe — the Alawites — in ways that clearly benefit his tribe. He has done deliberate and intentional ethnic cleansing in multiple Syrian settings. Tribal conflicts in Syria have displaced nearly ten million people. Those ethnically displaced Syrians are living in several other countries and many hate being forced to be in the country they are in. This website has a long description of the actual tribal behaviors in that country in a piece on the tribal conflicts in Syria.

The Alowites, Kurds, and various Arab tribes of Syria have been massacring each other for a very long time. Anyone who calls the current battles in Syria political or ideological or even economic clearly is not paying attention to who is actually killing whom in that setting.

Iraq is equally tribal and equally divided. Kuwait has a tribal war. Each of the Middle Eastern countries with a separatist group is facing the same set of issues — and an absolute proof point for that reality is that the very fact the groups in any setting are called separatist is that those people want to separate.


Pakistan and Afghanistan have major areas of their countries under clear tribal control.

Nigeria is a multi tribal disaster that limps along from conflict to conflict because the structural solutions to their local sovereignty that make the most sense as long term approaches are opposed by most nations in the United Nations. Those solutions are opposed for Nigeria and Syria and Iraq because most nations in the United Nations have their own internal separatist groups and the people who lead those nations and hold Alpha status in those settings do not want to do anything in those multi tribal settings that gives their own internal groups a sense of legitimacy, encouragement or momentum.

That is an important point to understand. Why doesn’t some set of forces in the world simply help each of those multi ethnic disasters re align internally into new, smaller nations that each make ethnic sense? World leaders from a number of nations do not want to see that happen, because it would put their own nation at risk. Separatist groups exist in many settings.

Spain is wrestling with Basque separatism. And Spain is wrestling with major Catalonian separatism. The alpha instinct activated leaders who currently govern Spain are not likely to give a green light to separatist groups in The Sudan or Syria who want to use local popular votes to figure out what their local governance approach should be.

Both the Catalans and the Kurds are holding elections of that nature in areas they control today.

The Kurds want to be their own nation in a number of settings, but the powers that run the overall countries they are in call them terrorists and people in a couple of those countries are willing and even eager to kill any Kurds who attempt to achieve autonomy. Turkey is particularly energized on that point and does not want to allow any of his or her own Kurds to aspire to separation or even local control.

India went through its own very painful ethnic conflict Hell after achieving independence, and ended up dividing into two countries along tribal and religious lines. More than a million people died in that ethnic separation process.

Some people refer to the Indian division process as being more religious than tribal. It was both. People in India held their religious beliefs in the context of tribes. That is a very common pattern. Tribes tend to adopt religious beliefs as tribes. A problem is that the addition of religious differentiations to tribal divisions in a conflicted area tends to make many situations even more problematic. When people hate each other as tribes and when people also believe that God is on the side of their tribe, that belief adds levels of energy and justification to both the negative emotions and the division levels felt by the people on each side in those conflicts.

In Northern Ireland, for example, the people shooting each other come entirely from separate tribes but the conflicts there also carry a religious banner because the tribes hurting each other in Northern Ireland have different alignments with their churches.

The people in Northern Ireland are so purely tribal that intermarriages between the groups are almost non-existent and the schools for the children are on opposite sides of major walls. Tribes fight each other in Northern Ireland and the groups at war there could not be more tribal in their behaviors in the worst context of the Us/Them instincts that we all have embedded in us.

What we know for a fact from a very large number of settings is that when people from different tribes are forced to live as groups inside countries with other tribes, conflict happens and the intergroup, instinct sculpted conflict behaviors that result are sometimes breathtakingly cruel and destructive.

Mobs form in many settings at ethnic levels. A very high percentage of mobs in the world have ethnic alignment — and those mobs suspend guilt and conscience far too easily. Group rapes happen in too many settings when people take over the turf of the other group and have an opportunity for those behaviors.

The issues we have for Men and Women relative to abusive and discriminatory behavior are outlined in three of the InterGroup Institute books and are discussed on the Instititue website as a direct topic of focus as well.

Because we know that these basic intergroup Us/Them sculpted and shaped problems exist in intergroup settings — and because we have conflicted and badly damaging intergroup situations happening now in Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and multiple other settings — we clearly need to devote intellectual energy and intellectual insight to figuring out what we need to do going forward to reduce the number of those kinds of intergroup conflicts that will happen in the future.

The tool kit of possible solutions that have ties to both our instincts and our cultures actually has several approaches that can work.

The cleanest and longest lasting solution for a number of those troubled settings would be to figure out in each setting how to build and set up new local nations that are tribally based and grounded. We need to follow the Swedish model — and have nations with direct internal alignments to their own culture, language and group at those key identity levels. We can achieve those alignments and create internally aligned new nations in some settings if we do that work intentionally, carefully and well.

We actually have proven our ability to use that approach in Eastern Europe. We experienced major conflicts between the Serbs and Croatians in Serbia and we had major conflicts inside Czechoslovakia, and, after killing more than 500,000 people in those settings, the world has resolved those conflicts and ended conflict by simply splitting those countries into new self governing parts that are each now at Peace with themselves.

So Czechoslovakia is now split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia and there is zero likelihood of those countries attacking each other. Likewise, Yugoslavia has now broken into Bosnia, Croatia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The relevant local ethnic groups each now have their own country and those new countries are also going to be Peaceful going forward.

The Sudan moved in that direction of dividing into local nations based on ethnic alignment but did not go far enough. The Sudan has had decades of massacres and massive ethnic conflict between the Arab tribes of North Sudan and the local tribes of South Sudan. Splitting that bloody country into two parts eliminated the conflict of the South with the North — but the South should have gone at least one step further and split into two or more additional pieces that reflect the major tribes that are relevant there.

People from those major tribes in South Sudan are now killing each other and even starving each other with intense cruelty demonstrated by all parties. That current set of very ugly conflicts could all have been avoided by just drawing better lines that created additional local tribal autonomy and then insisting that the remaining minority people in those settings have some personal safety for their future.

The Czech Republic proves that model works. So splitting into self-governing tribal enclaves can work for some settings.

For areas where the minority tribes are too small or too diffused to have status as separate nations, it can make sense to follow the Swiss model and create the equivalency of Cantons for those local tribes. Cantons can work in many settings to meet the needs of local ethnic groups, because the people in them have strong incentives to make the model work and because being part of a canton it is far better than being at constant risk of attack from people from other local tribes.

Where local tribal autonomy is not a functional solution, then we need to set up local ethnic safeguards to allow people to be safe where they work and live from actions taken by other groups in each setting. We need to recognize the instinct triggered vulnerability of being in a minority status in any setting — and we need to create expectations that protect both women and minorities in multi group settings from abuse. That model is possible, but it will sometimes need some assurances from outside forces to keep the local majority from abusive behaviors.

The treatment of the Rohingya tribe in Myanmar right now is a good example of how complicated and dangerous that situation can be for local minority tribes. The Rohingya have lived in that part of Myanmar for a couple of generations, but they have been perpetually perceived to be outsiders and to be a Them at a very primal level by the local tribes whose ancestors have lived on that same turf for centuries.

Both decades of legacy alignment for one tribe and centuries of legacy alignment with that same geography for the other tribe trigger a sense of turf alignment for each group of people. It does not take decades for a group to feel that the turf it is on is their rightful turf. It makes sense that both of those groups in Myanmar will have their instincts activated relative to the right to live on that turf and it makes sense that both groups feel at a very basic level that it is their group’s home and land.

The older tribes in the area are making the issue of who should own that turf moot for the Rohingayas right now by burning their villages, doing mass executions, and making sure that the Rohingaya are no longer in physical contact with the disputed territories.

Assad in Syria is doing the exact same thing with members of the tribes he wants to leave Syria.

The InterGroup instinct books all point out that when we divide the world into Us and Them and then fully activate those instincts in the most negative ways, we feel no guilt and we can too often entirely suspend conscience as we damage Them. In those instinct sculpted settings, groups do bad and even evil things to other groups. So we need now to look at each setting and we need to figure out what the right approach is that will work for that setting.

The Art Of InterGroup Peace has tools for doing that analysis and for building a sense of Us in those settings that allows people to help each other rather than damaging each other in multi group and intergroup settings. The book identifies ten levels of intergroup interaction tools and approaches — that range from a simple truce at one end of the continuum to full assimilation at the other.

Full assimilation is the wrong answer for most settings. We benefit hugely from our diversity and the world is a more interesting and productive place because we bring a variety of ideas and approaches to our lives when we live in diverse settings.

We need to figure out how to make bringing the right level of diversity into our lives safe for people in minority positions — and we need to figure out how to prosper in our diversity in our work places, schools and communities.

At the most basic level, we need to recognize how extremely vulnerable too many people are today in too many settings in the world because of their ethnicity and their group alignment — and we need to do the right things in each setting to optimize both safety and prosperity for the people who will be at risk if we don’t do the right things.

Understanding how the forces and functions of Enlightened, Informed, and Ethical Instinctivism work can be a key part of our solution set — and that awareness needs to be an early step in that Peace creation process for us all.

Enjoy this website. It has a lot to offer about intergroup interactions and you may find it useful at multiple levels.

Consider also making a direct and personal commitment to intergroup Peace and to an America that continues to be a shining City on a Hill and helps us all do the right things for the right reasons and do well as a result.

Today, the ethnicity of many people put those people at real risk. We need to understand why that is true and we need to make sure that the people at risk are not Us.