TED Conversations

Mitch SMith


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Neo-tribalism - solving the identity crisis of humanity.

More and more, I get the signal that many, if not most, of the problems we are confronted with today trace to the collapse of our identity - as individuals and communities.

My idea in this conversation is neo-tribalism.

At the base of this idea is a recognition of our evolved capacity to conduct social advantage as a survival strategy - and how we now face the critical choices that will determine if evolution got it right in the case of humans .. or if we will become no more than a fossil record for the ponderings of some other species that got it right..

I encourage readers here to review Robert Sapolsky's work on primate social organisation - it helps get a larger picture if you understand that primates are very experimental in geographical time-scale.

We, as a primate experiment, seem to have gotten out of balance since the last ice age. we have entered into many exponential dynamics that all appear to be converging in the next few decades.

Personally, I feel that it is inevitable - that we are far less in control of what happens than we would like.

That said - Have we over-reached our own capacity?
And should we now consider a partial return to what we are designed to be?

My idea asks this question:

Are we tribal by default?

And if we are - should we not respect this - to the extent that our tribal limits are recognised in everything we attempt to progress our integration in the world we participate in?

I suggest that we are tribal.

And I suggest that our tribes cannot be more than 150 productive adults plus dependants.

I suggest that the "family of man" is a deep mistake and that the real advance is, not in the unification of all humans, but the unification of human tribes.

I suggest that we should abandon the notion of all humans in harmony and get on with the job of all tribes in harmony.

Please discuss?

I have some observation which I will share in the process.


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  • Oct 11 2013: I have a few questions.

    What do you mean with this sentence ? "We, as a primate experiment, seem to have gotten out of balance since the last ice age." Are you saying that the primates have it right? I am no primate expert but don't primate "tribes" fight other tribes? If this is what you mean then I think we are right in balance with our primate experiment. We do form tribes and we do fight each other.
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      Oct 11 2013: Yes.
      According to what I've read, some primate tribes certainly do fight each other.
      Chimps have been known to commit genocide on neighbouring troops.
      I'm not sure about bonobos.
      Some are more territorial than others.
      Many primate troops balance things out by having a male-exchange system - with baboons, for instance, the adolescent males join other troops - they tend to keep the violence within the troop with the males killing each other in dominance disputes.
      But overall, it seems like these inter-tribal wars are rare.

      Sapolsky observed that baboons, at least, have more than one social configuration - the most common is a deeply hierarchical social mode modulated by male violence, the second is less hierarchical modulated by mutuality - the first is patriarchal, the second is matriarchal. There may be more modes that have not been observed.

      One is tempted to view territory as the be-all/end-all of the basis of violence, but some intertribal violence seems to be conducted just for the joy of it - specially in humans.

      There are a lot of question marks in my neo-tribal idea - one of which is whether humans are equipped to conduct a more sophisticated social configuration which can avoid hierarchical and territorial violence as well as identifying and moderating inherent male aggression.

      The comment about imbalance refers to population balance. This seems to be caused by systemic wealth concentrations culminating in global ecological collapse - no other primate species has done this.
      I refer to the last ice age as the turning point of the imbalance - with agriculture being a symptom rather than a cause.
      The quest of neo-tribalism is to re-establish firm identity to human tribal groups which can re-claim autonomy sufficient to spread the risk. As it stands with the attempt at the single global tribe, we have consolidated our risk into one very precarious basket.

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