Modern humans are reckoned to have been in existence for about 100,000 years. For almost all of that time, our societies (like those of chimpanzees, gorillas and other primates) were arranged along tribal lines. They were small scale societies composed of a relatively small number of people, many of whom were related by blood. The benefits of living in a tribe include access to shared food and other resources, the pooling of skills, the presence of friends and family and—importantly—a sense of belonging. However, tribal identities are often very exclusive, in the sense that people from other, or at least non-aligned, tribes are often seen as the enemy almost by default; the ultimate “us” and “them”.
Where have modern tribes disappeared to?
With the advent of agriculture and, later, modern industry, societies became bigger and more complex. However, the instinct to come together as a tribe is still fundamental and is expressed in a wide variety of ways. For example:
People enjoy coming together to support a football team. Fandom often occurs in the absence of any particularly rational reason to support one team over another. It’s about emotion, rather than reason. A lot of people really enjoy the sensation of being part of a collective; a group of people united by fellow-feeling and the shared goal of seeing “their” team achieve victory.
Many of us feel more comfortable with people whom we believe to be similar to us—people with similar values and cultural backgrounds, for example. When we are looking for new friends or allies, we’re likely to start looking among people whom we identity as being like us.
Not all of the ways in which our natural tribal tendencies are expressed in the modern world are positive. Bullying behaviour—whether in the playground or in the workplace—is often fuelled at least in part by an instinct that drives people to team up and ostracise or behave aggressively towards an individual who is perceived as “different”, “an outsider” and not part of the “tribe”. At its worst, tribal behaviour in modern societies can be manifested as racism, discrimination, and even physical violence.
Understanding a little bit about our long tribal past as a species helps us to understand how we behave collectively, but also how we behave as individuals in a collective context. If we find ourselves tempted to join in when everyone else in the office seems to be “picking on” a particular individual, for example, we need to question ourselves about our motivations. Do we really have a reasonable, well-founded problem with this person, or are we being tugged along by an instinct that doesn’t always work for the best in the modern world?
Who can I speak to about modern tribes?
For more information about modern tribes, speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.