Last month, The Daily Beast (2 April 2012) ran a interesting article on “Why Humans, Like Ants, Need [To Belong] To A Tribe.”
Throughout history, people have joined and held allegiance to groups and institutions “to get visceral comfort and pride from familiar fellowship.”
Belonging is a familiar way to get social connection, meaning, and to make the environment “less disorienting and dangerous.”
Essentially, what this means it that we stand stronger together than we do alone and apart.
Today, people search for “like-minded friends, and they yearn to be in the one of the best” groups–from elite fighting forces like our special operations to Ivy League universities, Fortune 500 companies, religious sects, and fraternities–we all want to be part of the best, brightest, and most powerful collectives.
On one hand, tribing is positive, in terms of the close friendships, networks, and associations we form and the problems that we can confront together.
Yet on the other hand, it can be highly negative in terms of bias, distrust, rivalry, outright hostility, and even open warfare that can ensure.
The downside to tribes occurs because their members are prone to ethnocentrism–belief that one’s own group is superior to another and is more deserving of success, money, and power, while everyone else in the “out-groups” are deemed inferior, undeserving and worthy of only the leftovers.
The negative side of tribes can manifest in the proverbial old-boys club at work looking out for each other to people associating hyper-closely with their favorite sports team and their symbolic victories and losses.
Despite the risks of tribes, we have a strong innate genetic and cultural disposition to groups and institutions and the many benefits they can bring to us, so it is sad to see as The Atlantic reports (21 April 2012), that Americans have “lost trust in one another and the institutions that are supposed to hold us together.”
The article states that the reasons for this are that we’ve been “battered by unbridled commercialism, stymied by an incompetent government beholden to special interests, and flustered by new technology and new media.”
The result is that “seven in 10 Americans believe the country is on the wrong track; eight in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed.”
So there is now a historical break from trusting in our affiliations, institutions, and government to one represented by the motto of “In nothing we trust.”
Instead of turning to each other and bonding together to solve large and complex problems, there is the potential that “people could disconnect, refocus, inward, and turn away from their social contract.”
Not having a tribe is worse than working through the difficult issues associated with affiliation–a society of alienated people is not better!
When people no longer feel bonded to institutions and the rules and governance they provide, we have a potential social meltdown.
This should of deep concern to everyone, because no man is an island.
We can see this alienation in action as people withdraw from real world social interaction to spending more and more time online in the virtual world.
Although there is some measure of interaction on social networks, the connections are at arms-length; when it gets inconvenient, we can just log off.
One might argue that people are still affiliated with stakeholder-driven organizations and institutions (the government, the workplace, religion, etc.), but unfortunately these are being seen as having been usurped by false prophets and marketing types who who will say whatever it takes to get the popular nod and the job, and by fraudulent leaders who are in it to take far more than they ever planned to give.
What needs to happen now is to re-institute belief in the group by insisting on leaders that have integrity and a governance process underpinned by accountability, transparency, and diversity.
To get out of our web of socio-economic problems, group trust and affiliation is vital to solving problems together.
(Source Photo: here with attribution to CraigTaylor1974)