Replacing Tribalism with Humanism
Feb 27, 2011

Replacing Tribalism with Humanism

One of the most destructive aspects of tribalism is the tendency to delineate discrete differences between tribes, dehumanizing other tribes and glorifying the humanity of ones own. This phenomenon is very strong today regarding public perceptions of Muslims from the west.

The rhetoric does two things. Firstly, there is this growing idea that there is a clash of civilizations or perhaps religions going on between the Christian west and the Islamic middle east. This clash of cultures is presented as a fundamental, discrete difference that separates the groups. Secondly, Muslims are consistently dehumanized. The perception of this fundamentally discrete group is one that has less of the humanizing qualities that we do.

My point here is that when we make a statement or hear a statement, we should ask whether this statement presents the people being talked about in a humanizing and individual way, or as lumped together in a group and is dehumanizing them. I believe that we should always aim for the former and indeed it is the failure to do so that has led to so many of the problems of tribalism.

I am not merely saying not to be racist or bigoted. Indeed, I have talked previously about the difficulty in identifying racism in our society. One of the reasons for this is the inability to identify clearly false or clearly bigoted statements when they have been appropriately qualified as not absolute generalizations. Instead of trying to label such statements as bigoted, it is perhaps more effective and fair to instead ask whether the statements are humanizing or dehumanizing, grouping together based on clear divisions or talking about individual characteristics. We thus get a metric for conversations that demonstrates how we can improve our statements without it degenerating into quibbling over whether something is or is not racist.

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