Understanding Tribalism

Robert introduces the problem of tribalism today and begins to explore the evolutionary roots of what has become a key issue both in public life and everyday interactions.


0:00 – What is tribalism?

We might consider this term unfair since we aren't using it in association with the many positive aspects of life in a tribe. "The challenge for all of us is, 'how do we bring out the best in ourselves?'"

2:32 – Tribalism is not about ethnic conflict

"Next time you see a sporting event where a fight breaks out between the two teams: if both teams are ethnically diverse, you'll see that they don't fight along ethnic lines. It's people wearing a jersey of one color against people wearing a jersey of another color."

5:41 – How cognitive bias separates us into groups.

"There is also a tendency in any conflict to think that your group is in the right, and the other is in the wrong. We can create hostilities along pretty arbitrary lines."

9:37 – evolutionary adaptation and natural selection.

"Wouldn’t the fittest animals be the ones that can see the world most clearly, and respond to it because of that clarity of perception in an adaptive fashion? It turns out to be more complicated than that... if a gene can get itself into the next generation by actually making you see the world less clearly, then that gene will flourish."

12:27 – Cognitive biases and their influence on human behavior

"It could be that the evolution of the psychology of tribalism has a lot to do not just with groups having fought groups in the past but with the dynamics of individuals interacting within a society... These kinds of biases: the idea that we're entitled to more than the other person, we're more likely to be in the right than the other person, these are the same biases that play out at the group level in the psychology of tribalism. It's the same psychological mechanism that operates in everyday life that operates when groups are interacting with other groups."

17:25 – The deep distortions of the mind that underpin tribalism.

"The psychology of tribalism is about much more than rage, it is also about convincing ourselves that we have something to be enraged about. That's where these biases come in. Without our even realizing it they are distorting our view of the world in ways that convince us that we are the productive people, the other people are the slackers; we are the aggrieved, they are the transgressors; we're upstanding, they're not. Our very perceptual and cognitive machinery, day in and day out, is paving the way for expressions of tribalism."

17:55 – Feelings shape biases

The term cognitive bias might be misleading because "feelings shape the biases. Feelings are involved in the construction of this biased construction of the world. And that's where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness will make you more aware of this fine intertwining of feeling and cognition. And it's also a practice that helps you do something about the problems created by that intertwining."

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