Art Limani 15/06/2022

Tribalism: From Caves to International Organizations

In the book “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, a plane full of children malfunctions and falls on a remote island. What follows is an eerie yet realistic story of humankind: the survivors are unable to come together and fight against the harsh condition they find themselves in, so they divide into groups and fight one another. Tribalism has been part of humanity and the animal kingdom from the second the process of evolution began and is still evident today. Tribes are a big reason humans have evolved so much, as being born into an already functional group with each member having their own specific duty to fulfill meant continuous food and protection. Back then, food was scarce and we weren’t top of the food chain, so there was permanent war with other tribes and predators for anything we could get our hands on.

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But why is tribalism so popular in today’s world? Being at the absolute top of the food chain and having everything at our disposal surely means we won’t ask for more? Well, it’s clear that people are still divided when push comes to shove, as separating ourselves from one another is engraved in our way of thinking and behaving. It is easier for our monkey brains to be part of smaller groups because we’ve spent thousands and thousands of years surrounded by a small number of people. A case could actually be made that tribalism is even more apparent today than a millennia ago, simply because today we are part of a bigger tribe, called humanity. We have easier ways of communicating and more things to disagree on. Why does it happen, what does it mean for our present and future, and what are the causes and effects of tribalism?

A member of a tribe cherishes each and everything within that tribe; after all, it’s the reason they are still alive. Other members are friends and non-dangerous entities, while other tribes are enemies and should in no way be approached. Sometimes, a member wants to reassure others that they are a loyal member and becomes over-protective or aggressive to get some much-needed benefits. This is how it worked back then, and in a more peaceful way, it’s how it works today. There are tribes anywhere you look: Donald Trump supporters are one tribe, and his biggest opposition is another. Pro-vaxxers against anti-vaxxers, VV against PDK, Barcelona fans against Madrid fans, and the list goes on and on forever. There are positive tribes, such as football club supporters, and they’re experiencing being part of a tribe that does not affect their lives drastically (except when your favorite team loses 8-2 and you’re depressed for a month straight). However, there are also tribes in today’s age that have a dramatic effect on their members and society as a whole.

Let’s talk about some of those: The tribe that denies global warming could potentially include some of the world’s most important leaders and send the entire world into chaos. What about vaccinated people that wanted unvaccinated people to be banned from society? And the other way around, the unvaccinated people that do not believe in science? Even more important to us in Kosovo, are the PDK supporters that accept their leaders even through their many faults, and the VV supporters that accept their current leaders simply because they’re not PDK. The world functions in tribes, and with the help of the internet, these diverse groups of people are closer than ever to each other. You simply need to get on Twitter during elections or during wars and all you’ll see are tribes of people fighting one another through their screens.

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In international politics, tribes are much larger and they’re called states. When two states go to war, it’s unambiguously a prehistoric group fighting with another group for a dead mammoth found in a valley. When two states try to reconciliate, the leaders of both tribes agree not to cause any more trouble and a time of peace ensues. However, there are even larger tribes called International Organizations. In recent times, we’ve all been spectators of the war in Ukraine, and how Russia was threatened by Ukraine's claims to join NATO; literally a case of a tribe not allowing another to come closer to its camp, or else…

This is where my theory of tribes kind of collapses because in prehistoric times there were no nuclear bombs capable of destroying the entire civilization. Back then, whatever happened was limited to the two groups of people in the matter and no one else was harmed, either on purpose or indirectly. The history of humanity is full of bloodshed between what are essentially tribes. With the advancement of social media, tribalism has once again taken center stage. As social media quickly becomes an important part of human interaction, these tribes no longer are territorially divided between them, and differences of opinion cause conflict.

Is all of this ethical? Is something so human, so animalistic, so engraved in our brains, an ethical way of thinking? It depends. Humanity has deeply changed from the time when tribes were the way of life, and the ethics of behavior have developed hand in hand. What was once allowed and thought to be normal is now illegal, and vice versa. Yet, how can we judge someone for doing something that comes so naturally? We all belong to different groups of people and we’re all educated enough to not let things escalate, yet we let them slip time and time again. Maybe we just like the drama? Maybe we miss the savannas and the caves so much that we try to turn our modern world into a field full of monkeys that only want their enemy’s blood, not knowing that their biggest enemy is not the monkey in front of them, but the tiger lurking behind the trees.

Illustration: Bigeye

Read the article in Albanian here.