Throughout the European and wider western world, tribalism is once again emerging, through the lens of mainstream xenophobic parties, CounterJihad activism, the emergent Alt-Right and outright militant neo-Nazis. This phenomenon is however not only confined to the western world – and I am not thinking primarily about the Nazis in Mongolia or Mexico.Read more: Tribalism and how it threatens our survival
Groups such as the Islamic State, the Buddhist supremacists in Burma and Sri Lanka, the Hindu supremacists in India, ethnic supremacists in Africa and even – in its least dangerous and virulent form – in the form of regional separatism based on ethnic identity, such as the current Catalan movement for independence. All these various movements and ideologies are characterized by one notion, namely that of the separation of our particular grouping from the others, and competition about (usually physical) space and resources.
Adolf Hitler, the most well-known ideological leader of National Socialism, espoused Ethnic-Darwinian ideals. His was a dog-eat-dog Earth, where better adapted groups preyed on the habitats of smaller groups characterised by blood feuds. In Mein Kampf, in the Table Talks, and in his conversations with Eckhart it stands clear that he believed that the animalistic struggle for survival is the true, genuine aspect of human nature, and that Culture to a certain extent was neutering and domesticating these survival instincts.
To some extent, his analysis had a point. The process of human civilization and of culture can be seen as a multi-layered move away from our animalistic origin – not primarily driven by the desire to attain higher spiritual values, but by the need to not kill ourselves. Most philosophers, prophets, ideologists and state founders have aspired to (unlike Hitler) move humanity farther away from tribal collectivism – which is understandable.
Sadly, though most of the world has made significant progress, we have not yet made enough, as proven by the continued existence of tribalist identities to the extent that people are willing to make huge personal sacrifices for them. Yes, this is – for what we know – probably hardwired into human genetics. But human civilization could be understood as a process to curb the excesses of human nature.
As mentioned before, we have not yet succeeded in that endeavour…
This article will not so much explore the nascent rise of tribalism, but rather explain why human beings become tribalists, why tribalism represents a threat against human survival on Earth, and what strategies we can utilise to move away from tribalism and establish a democratic and legitimate global confederation.
- Humanity evolved as pack-living animals on the African savannah.
- This species had a tendency for striving towards homogeneity within the group and competition against outsiders.
- With agriculture civilization was born, and thus humans were forced to organise in larger groupings.
- With a larger population, conflicts between tribes and clans became bloodier and more frequent.
- Humans developed aware coping strategies to defuse human aggression and channel it towards goals which elites saw as beneficial.
- The need of collective belonging seems to be biologically ingrained in human beings, and this need seems to have the potentially most destructive characteristics within the male population between certain age groups.
- This belonging is expressed not only through genetically close-knit groups but also through groups formed around other types of identities and commonalities.
- We need to discuss what humanity should evolve into in the future to better adapt to the circumstances of tomorrow, which is what the third leg of our proposal is about – the Culture.
- Ultimately, tribalism has absolutely no answer to how we should tackle the global environmental issues of our age and steer humanity away from the worst crisis in 65 million years. That is the real danger of tribalism.
Human nature and our rise from the Savannah
All life on Earth today is originating from single-cell organisms arising billions of years ago, and all vertebrates currently living on land share a common ancestor – a fish which evolved lungs and became the forebear of all of us. This event unfolded hundreds of millions of years ago. Humanity, or rather the beginning of it, arose less than ten million years ago in Africa, forming tightly knit family groups of omnivorous, scavenging hunter-gatherers, who eventually developed stone tools and learnt how to use fire (certainly after thousands of tragic accidents with making bushfires when trying to make flint knives).
Through language, a door opened for us towards abstract thinking and reasoning, making the human being the only animal to have discovered both the past and the future. Through this, we were able to better cooperate and become the world’s alpha predator, eventually forming civilization. Yet, for all our humanity, we have not negated (and should in no way negate or try to repress) our animalistic instincts. And despite that we know language, millions of human beings every year express frustration or try to exert control through flight-fight responses, violence and dominance behaviour still used by other animals.
One aspect which unites most human beings is that they desire to belong to a community, and abhor isolation. That is hardly surprising. Our particular human species is 300 000 years old according to recent fossil finds, and according to both archaeological findings and anthropological studies of hunter-gatherer communities, Homo Sapiens tend to prefer tribes of up to between a hundred and two individuals who are closely related, mostly egalitarian, with different semi-elected leaders who take care of the different practical and spiritual functions of the tribe. Individuals who are ostracised by such communities, under the conditions prevalent during a hunter-gatherer state, generally succumb for the privations of nature. Thus, the fear of ostracism – often irrational in modern western civilization – usually meant the difference between life and death for the early human being.
We cannot speculate much about human beings and violence – like most other animals, humans tend to avoid violence when possible. During the Palaeolithic era, differing tribes did not tend to compete over scarce resources, and generally avoided bloodshed (though it was not unknown, judged by recent finds). During stressful times, human tribes could wage tribal warfare, either to drive another tribe away from its territory, or even to eat members of that other tribe. This was however quite uncommon.
Twelve thousand years ago, humans began to cultivate crops – and their number grew as they became sedentary. Before the age of writing, towns like Jericho sprung up both in the Middle East and in parts of south-eastern Europe (the Trypillian civilization comes to mind). Since this was an age before writing, we can only judge by scant archaeological findings. Previous generations had lived in small groups with relatively large territories at their disposal – but as agriculture and early irrigation emerged, humans of different tribes began living closer together.
Most of the world has undergone a process where organic tribal groupings are broken and assimilated into larger cultures. Not so the island of Papua, which sports over 800 different languages and several hundred tribes. Though the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea for thousands of years have cultivated crops, the island’s particular geographical features have prevented the emergence of a unified government until the arrival of European imperialism.
Thus, Papua New Guinea may be a state, but a nation it isn’t. Fractured by tribal violence, its democratic but weak government is unable to effectively govern. One can imagine that much of Eurasia around 7000 years ago effectively resembled contemporary Papua New Guinea, with a huge diversity of clans and tribes all competing for scarce resources at the river valleys, while being pressured from the outside by nomadic tribes. One should know that was the situation of the more peripheral regions of the ancient world even during historical time, which the myths and limited historical knowledge of for example the Balkans of the Bronze Age can attest to.
What is Tribalism?
Individual human beings operating in nature are vulnerable and easy prey. Cooperating within small groups yield certain benefits, but organically speaking there seems to be a limit of the amount of people an individual human being can operate together with – of roughly below two hundred people. Larger organisations demand constructed hierarchies and formal rules which are enshrined. Within the framework of the organic, tribal group, morality tends to arise in the form of unwritten rules and taboos regarding social status, human interrelationships and how the outside world is viewed.
Tribalism as morality is simple, and can be summarised by three rules.
- Treat those within your own group with respect and be loyal with them.
- What lies in the interests of your group is good, even if other groups are losing on it.
- If other groups act in a manner which damages the status or survivability of your group, it is bad, and you need to defend your group.
In short, morality is situational and dependent on what group the individuals dealing out or being affected by an act are belonging to. Whatever your tribe does is right and morally justified, but if other tribes act that way against your tribe, they are perpetrating a huge moral crime.
Of course, this outlook on life lies in the interest of the tribe as a self-perpetuating super-organism. By behaving in a manner veering between indignant self-righteousness and sociopathic predation, the tribe is maximising its ability to gather resources and social status, and thus increase its ability to procreate at the expense of other tribes.
One may claim that most of the world, especially the most developed parts, have put tribalism behind and embraced other ideals. While it is true that tribal organisation has been supplanted by other types of organisation at the formal level of our society, tribalism does not need close genetic kinship to arise. It has arisen in the shape of sectarian strife, of political conflicts related to nation, class, religious or moral issues. Even out of trivial, for all extent non-political issues, tribalism has emerged. One needs only to think of football hooliganism and subcultural conflicts, or primary school bullies. Neither does it need to be violent – in fact, most of the tribalistic behaviours within the framework of modern societies take the form of cheerleading.
Active members of political parties often cheer for political victories of their parties, even though they may disagree with the political issues themselves, simply because their party won. At sports bars, supporters drunkenly cheer the victories of their teams without even watching the games on the flat screens, instead feeling a sense of kinship and camaraderie with other supporters of the same team. People worship celebrities and gain a sense of belonging by being a part of a mob of cheering fans.
The need for belonging to a social group – or tribe – is one which actually evokes very positive, energetic feelings in the hearts of human beings. Happiness, togetherness, safety – the more isolated we grow, the more we long for them. The regime of clicks and likes on Facebook, and the groups gathered to support or boo left-wing and right-wing political articles, is but the most recent manifestation of this very human desire.
Increasingly, the political discourse in the western world has become more and more virulent and polarised, drifting apart by the issues of globalisation, nationalism, multiculturalism and Islam. The diverging political acolytes are following different media sources, constructing different frames of reality, and constructing echo chambers which serve to confirm their worldviews. But as time progresses what really matters is not the worldviews anymore, but rather the need to keep the tribes united and to uphold a unified line against “the barbarians” on the other side.
Tribalism, at its core, is the triumph of instinct over rationality, of myth above truth. Even groups that are defending the ideas of the enlightenment and of rational discourse, such as New Atheists and Anti-Flat Earthers, have often turned into pseudo-tribalistic gatherings which primarily serve to cheerlead the victories of their great leaders against the forces of superstition.
Thus, tribalism seems to not only be emerging everywhere where human beings are organising – it also seems to be necessary to a certain extent if groups should be able to survive. Self-critique is a valiant and noble undertaking, but too much of it can demoralise a group and lead to its dissolution. Even human beings who ought to be aware of the psychological mechanisms which drive human beings towards tribe-forming seems strongly susceptible to its allure, and strong tribal groupings complete with their own echo chambers seem to be able to spontaneously arise even with the absence of strong, charismatic leaders.
In short, Nazi morality is truly not alien or inscrutable seen from how human behaviour has expressed itself for literally hundreds of thousands of years, and mammalian behaviour has been characterised by these kind of group-egoistic patterns for hundreds of millions of years. Of course, Nazis would be the first to affirm that, with the usual right-wing argument that “because it is a part of human nature, it is natural and therefore good”.
So, let us examine the alternatives to tribalism.
When people from distinct tribes first formed city-states, it probably increased the risks for confrontations between various blood-related kinships. One can imagine that, following inevitable crises, order broke down until order re-emerged under the guidance of alphas. Such an order would equally inevitably become brittle, because it in itself was little more than pure gangsterism. In order for the leader of one clan to have their rule seen as legitimate by the other clans, a militia capable of imposing physical violence is not enough. Rather, a dominant and capable alpha male (historically it has usually been an alpha male) has generally established patron-client relationships with other clans, to give them incentives to cooperate beyond the fear of violence.
There is a point where patron-client relationships fail to work effectively, and that is when the number of clients grow to the point where important clients must be bestowed power in order to protect the interests of the patron, while the clients themselves often have internal conflicts in which the patron is compelled to mediate. In short, the spider can be trapped in his own web of power.
The establishment of formal laws is a strategy aimed at solving three issues simultaneously.
- The universal application of rules in relationship to trespasses, in accordance with formal standards rather than political expediency or arbitrary judgements.
- Laws can serve as a layer of protection against the ruling clique and can limit the amount of power the clique can wield over an individual or a group, or at least provide a balance.
- For the ruling clique, laws can actually be helpful too, especially when difficult decisions which can cause friction must be taken. A ruler can then delegate the decision to a court, which can liberate those with political power from having to enrage powerful rival clans within the same system.
Legalism as a moral system is (ideally) completely morally neutral apart from the fulfilment of the letter of the law and should ignore political, moral and emotional considerations in the way decisions are made.
There are however several problems with legalism which we should not elaborate on in this article. As systems of law often emerge to protect property rather than human lives, it can enshrine the kind of inequality which threatens human quality of life, and also stipulate cruel punishments which serve to protect the elites. Moreover, legalism can enshrine even formal inequality, such as the feudal systems in Europe did. Lastly, if the elites really wish to for example exterminate a group of people, the legal systems can compel bureaucrats and judges to partake in crimes against humanity.
Legalism at its core is moreover built on fear, because its underpinnings are those of the ability to inflicting pain. Nevertheless, legalism, as it emerged in Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, China and other places, can be seen as the first step away from tribalism.
The need to regulate, channel and repress the violent tendencies of human beings has only grown with the ascent of civilization and technology, and these methodologies have usually expressed themselves through the establishment of states and laws, through attempts to shape the culture through other values, or through universalist ideologies and worldviews. This roughly corresponds to the three systems of control which we have identified.
- External control I (fear of retribution).
- External control II (fear of ostracism)
- Internal control (desire to better fulfil an ideal)
Universalism has mostly emerged out of the high cultures of Eurasia, roughly during the same period between 2500 and 1500 years ago and appeared in the form of religious and philosophical systems encompassing the individual as a subject and all of humanity as its scope. There is no coincidence that it emerged (in imperfect shape) during the same period in Greece, the Middle East, India and China. All four regions were amongst the most developed in the world, and had undergone crises which were caused by the old tribal order but also undermined it, destroying tribal identities and kingdoms supported by them, in exchange for oligarchic city states in Greece and parts of India, and Empire in the Middle East and China.
While tribalism asserts the particular identity and right for collective self-expression of a tribal grouping, universalism tries to assert the shared humanity of everyone, in spite of tribal affiliation, gender, class and other demarking factors, transcending them with a new identity rooted in some kind of metaphysical or existential value. The emergence of this kind of identity can be seen both as a response to the horrors of tribal violence, but also as an organic adaption to urban life in emerging (then the closest thing to) global metropolises such as Babylon, Seleucia, Alexandria, Athens and Rome. Such cities, fraught with disease and high child mortality, sprawled because immigration from the countryside, forming the foundation for a new human identity – that of a colony- rather than a pack-dwelling animal. In the city, the human being sacrificed security for a – during peace-time – greater standard of living, survival skills for specialisation. And yes, new pseudo-tribal identities emerged in cities, those related to class, neighbourhood or political and sectarian belonging.
Universalism is also an internalisation of the type of legalistic code which aims to treat the state’s subjects equally. It means that actions – instead of being judged through the context of who was wronged and who the perpetrator was – should be judged after universal moral standards encompassing all human beings, where the action is judged independent by which it entails rather than whom perpetrated it. Of course, similar acts of laws had existed before – but were either installed by decree like Hammurabi’s code, or just encompassed the tribal identity of the nation, like the Mosaic Laws. Universalism strove to install into the human being a concept of justice unrelated to blood and soil and instead emanating from the sanctity of the human being. This provides the legal structure with a guiding moral principle beyond and above the propertarian foundations of most legal codes.
The foundations of Nazi Ideology
National Socialism as envisioned by ideologists such as Gottfried Feder, Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, was an amalgamation of several intellectual trends during the 19th century, a mixture of German idealistic philosophy, non-Marxist guild socialist currents, Romanticism, biological anti-Semitism, Vulgar Darwinism and traditional German militarism. Various scholars – both pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi – have differing viewpoints regarding this ideology, thus our summary will probably not satisfy everyone.
If one wants to summarize an ideology – any ideology – as well as its levels of moderation or radicalism, we can determine its structure through a simple graph. Let us say that the X-line represents a “problem” (it might be a genuinely objectively life-threatening problem, or one made up by brain phantasms), while the Y-line represents the devotion to an ideal – because what ideologies are constructed to convey is ultimately the meaning of human civilization.
The problem formulation of Nazism is as follows:
- There exists a scarcity of food, resources and land in relationship to growing populations (Malthus).
- Human beings bond in racial (genetic) groups which fight over resources (Hobbes, Dawkins, Pseudo-Darwin, Rhodes).
- The weaker races must yield to the stronger races (Pseudo-Darwin).
- Civilization and cities serve to dilute the blood and domesticate the human being, thus rendering it vulnerable to invaders not yet weakened by the trappings of humanism and universalism (Gibbon).
- Races which “dilute” their blood with the intermixture with other races lose their “racial soul” and become polluted (Gobineau, H.S Chamberlain).
The core worldview of Nazism can be summarised as follows:
- A race possesses a “folk-soul” which can be polluted and lost by racial mixture (Herder, Pseudo-Hegel).
- The struggle for survival and supremacy between races is natural and healthy (Pseudo-Darwin, Pseudo-Marx, Pseudo-Hegel).
- Those who are losing this struggle deserve to go extinct (Pseudo-Darwin, Pseudo-Marx).
- An individual can only achieve immortality within and through the survival of their “folk” (Hitler, Pseudo-Hegel).
Nazism can only be understood and consciously accepted if one would subscribe to all or most of above statements. As the “problem” is formulated, we can see that the first two points are touching the realm of the real by virtue of considering resource economics and human behaviour. What Nazism advises, however, is that it is impossible and immoral either to manage resources in a manner which would prevent conflict between human beings, or to prevent conflict between human beings (Dawkins touched this dilemma in “The Naked Ape”).
Neither technology nor sound ecological management can in the end salvage us from a Malthusian resource war, and civilization only serves to weaken the resolve and primitive survival instincts of a “folk” against its less civilized enemies. In short, Nazism – much like anarcho-primitivism after it – represents a rejection of Humanity as a project.
Rather, Nazism imagines a world of racially homogenous nation-states which are fighting for habitats and resources (neo-Nazis generally consign the struggle to the interior of countries and imagine isolationistic homogeneous nation-states where the dominant ethnic group acts like a huge tribe). Thus, it is a reactionary ideology, not in the pejorative sense but in the sense that it wants to retard civilizational and cultural development and sweep away the collective super-ego of the western civilization.
According to Nazism, what is “natural” (to kill those who are genetically more distant from you to improve your offspring’s chance of survival) is automatically assumed as morally righteous because of its inherent genetic rationality. The “folk”, understood as a racial rather than a cultural, social or civic constituency, is under mortal threat of extinction by the mere existence of representatives of other races and ethnic groups in its habitat.
For a liberal-minded, educated and economically safe westerner, this ideology looks repugnant and kooky, but what Hitler consciously devised and mobilised a managerial, bureaucratic state to perform has for millennia been a facet of human tribal behaviour – as of recent revived in its ugly form in the decolonised world. Ethnic cleansing, by machetes rather than firing squads and gas chambers, has plagued large parts of the world. The weaponisation of rape to break the “folk-soul” of tribal adversaries is but one of the horrific tactics employed by ethnic militias throughout the world.
The Nazis, racist and white-supremacist, claim that they are the strongest defenders of Western Civilization, and that they abhor Africans (amongst others). Yet, Nazism – in its primal form – is a repudiation of western traditions since the 18th century and before, and aims for the nations of Western Europe and North America to assume a virulent, aggressive form of tribalism which would destroy the very idea of Humanity as a conscious project.
This is but one of the reasons why Nazism must be rejected. This rejection must, however, not take the form of moral panic, and must be based on a wider rejection of tribalism in all its forms. The reason for the danger that Nazism poses is not its inhumanity, but because its keen touch with certain animalistic instincts constituting a part of what we can call “human nature”.
Which is the most terrifying part of it.
Why Tribalism and Nazism are a problem for all human beings
Our country is Earth, our nation is Humanity.
That is the perspective of our movement. As you are well aware, our goal is to help our civilization avert the sixth mass extinction event. This is not only because the ecosystems and the biosphere have a value in themselves, but because humanity is dependent on the weather, the soils, fresh water and biodiversity to thrive.
In short, if you want to truly cherish humanity and the individual human being, you have to express ecocentrism. And if you want to prevent a sixth mass extinction and stabilise the biosphere, you have to have a global outlook. Humans from all parts of the world must need to pool their skills, willpower and resources together if we are going to make it.
Tribalism may be excusable amongst illiterates, hunter-gatherers and isolated farmers in the most remote parts of third world countries. It is definitely not excusable amongst urban dwellers with at least a primary school education – and either is a product of wilful ignorance or malevolence – malevolence, I should add, just not against the groups targeted against the ethnicities or tribes that are the object of derision and hatred, but against all humanity. Because splitting humankind in this century, under this situation – when the most serious crisis life on Earth has faced for the last 65 million years is approaching – is tantamount to an indirect, extended suicide.
Imagine for a moment that the Islamic State – in reality yet another tribalist group, unified around a sectarian, violent form of Salafism – conquered most of the Middle East and established a Caliphate, without much resistance from surrounding powers. Imagine that they succeeded with their goal of establishing Islamic Sharia Law and their form of government, rebuilt their cities and re-established what – from their point of view – would be an Islamic golden age?
Their Caliphate would nevertheless be destroyed when climate change turns much of the Middle East more uninhabitable for human beings when it already is, and a large part of the population are turned into refugees, in the period of 2050 to 2100.
The same if a Fourth Reich is established somewhere in Europe. If all the descendants of Non-European migrants are expelled, if all minorities are quenched and all Jewish influence removed, nevertheless rising sea levels will not only render coastal communities inhospitable, but will also damage sweet-water reservoirs. Melting glaciers in the Alps would disturb river systems, and changing climate will upset the ecological balance and thus expose the population for more hardships.
It is true that we – tribalism or not – are moving rapidly towards an ecological collapse, caused – which once again is true – largely by a civilization based on debt, trade and exponential growth rather than tribalism. But just because tribalism is not directly the cause of the approaching sixth mass extinction event, does not mean it would be a solution to the crisis – as for example those Nazis who are aware of the environmental crisis like to boast.
In order to transition towards sustainability, we need to address the issues of climate change, soil erosion and freshwater depletion from a global perspective. If a civilization or a culture is based around the concept of hostile particularism directed at other groups of human beings, that civilization or culture will have a difficult time cooperating with those it views as hostile or as subhuman. Moreover, its intricately constructed ethnic conflicts and theories of superiority or inferiority represents a distraction from the core problems.
Our rejection of virulent tribalism in all its forms must not be based on liberal-humanist sentimentality or an unwritten, unsaid endorsement of our current, unsustainable civilization, but must be based on an uncompromising faith that we – the human species – can endure this crisis and transition towards sustainability only if we unite around common objectives and view the Earth as our homeland, and Humanity as our nation.
The resurgence of nationalism in all its various forms, as well as of ethnically based conflicts, from Burma to the banlieus of Paris to the inner cities of the United States, is hardly surprising giving the current state of automation, economic development, globalisation and the mass extinction event we have caused and continue to cause as a meta-civilization.
Those reactions, however, would not do much to solve the crisis – in fact they serve to complicate the situation. Tribalists generally view the world as a static, zero-sum game where the tribe would need to attain dominance over a geographic area, be it a neighbourhood, a region, a country or a continent. What they are unable to comprehend is that even if they attain their goals, they will not be able to reach sustainability – which is what they believe they will achieve in their own lives if they succeed in defeating their designated rivals.
However, the EOS cannot fall into the trap of letting the rejection of tribalism become an endorsement of liberalism – because liberalism in its current form is ultimately in itself an endorsement of a civilization built on the illusion of exponential growth, the very system which in itself is causing the sixth mass extinction, and which encourages the masses into passivity and consumerism.
Our universalism must be one built on active inclusion, on introspection and on action simultaneously – a common project based on enlightened, heroic collectivism aimed on transitioning towards a sustainable future for all of humanity.
“We possess the power
If this should start to fall apart
To mend divides
To change the world
To reach the farthest star”
Ronan Harris, VNV Nation