Friday, January 25, 2013

Off-Topic: Against Tribalism

I'm trying to avoid rants in this blog, but this entry is pretty close to one.  In a rant, you allow the lines between reasoning and value judgments to blur, and the tendency is to offer no apologies for this. However, I would like to apologize for just that in the mostly off-topic post that follows: I'm not making much of an effort here to distinguish my emotional aversions from my evaluation of fact.

I tend to approach all subject matter with a "show me the evidence" attitude, even when there is a fair bit of trust in the presenter of a claim.  Does my skepticism mean that I want to be in the Skeptics Tribe?  Not at all, and the problem is with the tribe, not the skeptical stance.

I am pro-science, but I don't want to be in the We Are Science tribe, although they may as a rule have one or two fewer blind spots than most of the Outsiders.  I support Space Exploration and development, but won't join the Space Tribe.  I'm descended from Scotsmen, but am No True Scotsman.  I certainly want nothing to do with any of the political tribes and their blind allegiances and even blinder hatreds.  I look with deep revulsion on anything that smacks of a requirement for tribal membership.  

I don't even want to be in the Tribe of People Who Reject Tribalism.  I don't want to be in any tribe at all, believers or disbelievers, enlightened or savage, and this is said after a lifetime of experience with the whole business.  I am now persuaded we must get beyond this atavistic tendency to form groups with delineation between inside and outside.  I want friends whom I admire, and I want reliable and civilized people with whom I can ally myself as needed, and I want to sit and drink beers and talk deep into the night with smart and well meaning people, but that is all about "me and you," not "us and them."

There are many things that seem buried deep into old wounds of human history, things that after some struggle we now agree we need to leave behind us once and for all if we are to survive, and to be worthy of our survival.  We can easily identify some of these in terms of complexes of daily practice: slavery, autocracy, the subjugation of women, the violent suppression of dissent, the intolerance of religious differences, and the persecution of homosexuals.  We can easily see how these things hurt and harm, but we ignore the underlying tendency that makes them all possible, and we still indulge in Tribalism with as much energy as ever, although perhaps with a little less bloodshed.

Is is possible to live and cooperate without tribes?  I believe it is, but there is no magic elixir to cure ourselves of tribalism.  We are going to have to work to know each other and respect each other, even Those People with their different Small Gods.

We can start by recognizing our tortured self justification and confirmation biases that make our tribe always right and theirs always wrong.  That folks, is a lot of hard work, but if our species is to have a long term future, it is the work before us.