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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 19 2013: Hi Mitch,

    I wrote a book a few years ago about how the difference between social progressive and conservative personalities (which thanks to identical twin studies we know are heavily genetic) may stem from genes that mutated over the last 80,000 years, as we evolved from small tribal "focus on the family" to larger more social "it takes a village" cultures.

    We may accidentally be sorting ourselves out by political personality "tribe" here in the US as our highly mobile citizens choose to live in red Dallas versus blue Portland. I wonder how this might apply in other countries.

    There is a huge sample of the book at
    A few folks really dug it, but to most people the idea is Teflon. I'll send you a copy if you like the sample.

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      Oct 20 2013: Hi Robert,

      I'll check the link in a moment - maybe do another reply post.

      There is some interesting stuff happening these days with the instant global media connectivity thing.

      Nothing like what I was prepared for - I was expecting emergent AI going down just out of network-adaptive dynamics .. didn't happen - it didn't happen because intelligence is a garbage-bin word outside the context of a "self" for the intelligence to serve.
      So what we have gotten is some pretty cool tools, and that's about it.
      And no one seems to be able to make the distinction except the odd few amongst out of .. what? 7 billion?
      Good word that "Teflon" and that's how it feels.
      But there is an inevitability about it - because when the Teflon turns into sandpaper - everyone tries to claim it - and that's OK. Because - no one can say which Teflon gets traction all of a sudden - because it only does that when the time is right. Telescopes and steam engines and such like .. these get their time like some weird wave-front .. and then proceed to become instant world-views.

      The tribe thing comes from the obvious numbers when you add up how many humans we all track in our zone-of-familiar when you multiply the 200 or so people we actually "know" by the Cartesian join of all them together to track 3r'd party relationships - that quickly uses-up the 10 billion neurons and trillion synapses available for any single human to use.
      So a stable human tribe can not ever exceed 200 fully matured "quadrads" (me - my-you/you your-me). Familiarity is the convergence of these quadrads through Bayesian learning - takes time but is exponentially convergent .. pretty cool, but limited.

      I observe that we have forgotten the absolute limit of tribal coherence - and we better remember it if we are going to get through the next bits - and they are upon us now. It's only just started, but the doubling-times are very short.

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