Tribalism pp 193-204 | Cite as

Through a Glass Darkly: Reversing Tribal Intolerance and Aggression



As we witness tribalism’s dark shadow around the world, it is easy to surrender to pessimism. Ethnic division, terrorism, strike and counterstrike, a populism built on intolerance and division, and the oppression of women are all manifestations of tribalism and our tribal genetics. The question we all must ask is, “Are these waves of hatred and fear inevitable, or can they be contained or even reversed?” Tribalism, once evoked through fear conditioning and accelerated by leaders’ fear mongering, carries momentum that is difficult to reverse, so we can discard any simple optimism of “It’ll be okay.” More scary, if threat and loss increase due to terrorism or if economic losses become more significant, then the drivers of populism and its transition to fascism will only increase because tribalism will become a more powerful counterforce. Our ancestors required these powerful built-in mechanisms of collective consciousness to oppose threat and ensure survival of the group due to the omnipresent dangers of the early human existence.

The answers to the question of ways to reverse populism and the tribal press toward fascism are complex. We must appeal to our “better angels,” and our direction should be guided by the hard-won gains that have been made in civil rights, women’s rights, social justice, and advancement of tolerance. The torch on the Statue of Liberty and the call for liberté, égalité, fraternité must continue to shine as beacons to the world. At the same time, we must address and respond to our base instincts as real and part of us. An understanding of our evolutionary tribal genetics and its power also provide a prescription for the parameters of reversing the current period of intolerance and its flirtation with fascism. A renewed approach in the battle against populism, intolerance, and fascism will need to embrace many of the rules of populism’s focus on a strong “we” and an identified “enemy,” but do so with a positive vision of tolerance and uniting under the banner of liberal democracy. It will need to be a big tent, and cannot exclude those who have not fully embraced every notion of liberalism, but instead seek the support of those who embrace a basic set of agreed liberal principles. It must bring honor to those who share the dream. History instructs that it will require dynamic leadership that can inspire the young and be trusted by those older. It will be as imperfect as Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Obama were as they inspired us with their vision.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behaviorial SciencesRush University Medical CenterChicagoUSA

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