Introduction

Introduction

Charles Darwin drawing of a tribe
drawing by Charles Darwin

 

This book is based on a basic underlying hypothesis: that human beings are tribal:  deeply tribal, fundamentally tribal, genetically tribal.

 We have, in fact, been tribal since well before we were human.

 The underlying insight is that we have lived and died based on our success as groups competing, quite likely,  with other groups of our own or similar species and certainly based on our success in facing an often hostile environment of scarcity and predation. Neither the individual nor the ‘nuclear’ family of proto-humans would have succeeded on their own.

 We are always and everywhere, like almost all of our closest primate kin, tribal.

What does this mean? For one, it means that our perceptions and emotional well-being are shaped by our relationship to the tribe…whether the tribe currently exists or not.

 By tribal, I mean precisely warm, fuzzy, ‘why can’t we all get along’ tribal. I also mean the ‘fear that weirdoes might ride over the hill at any moment and kill everyone in your village’ type of tribal.

 I see tribal currents in the deep and poignant loneliness of teenagers, in the unifying spiritual visions of a Gandhi or Martin Luther King, in the paroxysms of genocide that rack human societies, in the rivalries of gangs, corporations, and teams, and in our easy tendency to consider conspecifics less that human based on the skin color, accent, height, eating habits, or any convenient ethnic marker.

 In intend to make my case drawing from disparate sources across the sciences.

 Along the way, we need to face down the anti ‘group selection’ argument that seems to be on the way out in theoretical biology but still a residually prevalent ‘last years model’ in popular awareness. Indeed this is my attempt to add a book on the other side of the ‘each for themselves and god against all’ debate about human nature