Are nations tribes?

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Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Thu Sep 15, 2011 7:33 pm UTC

By Robin Hanson.

Essentially, humans behave very differently towards people in the tribe and people out of the tribe. A difference between libertarians and others might be that they disagree on the boundaries of the tribe- seeing most of citizens of their country as strangers rather than fellow tribals.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Elvish Pillager » Thu Sep 15, 2011 8:46 pm UTC

"Why should a country be a tribe?" is a good question to ask, but the author is conspicuously missing the opposite end of the spectrum - viewing the entire human species as one's tribe. I don't know if that's possible (I personally don't have the instinct to categorize people into "tribes" or "us and them", so I have a somewhat limited understanding of how that instinct works), but it seems like the obvious other question to ask.

I personally have a lot of disdain for nationalism, but I don't follow libertarianism either (I'd elaborate, but I don't have time right now, and I might want to do it on my blog instead of here).
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby sourmìlk » Thu Sep 15, 2011 8:48 pm UTC

I never understood this "us vs. them" mentality. I always carry around a "me vs. everybody else" mentality. Also I might sig that.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Soralin » Thu Sep 15, 2011 9:51 pm UTC

Elvish Pillager wrote:"Why should a country be a tribe?" is a good question to ask, but the author is conspicuously missing the opposite end of the spectrum - viewing the entire human species as one's tribe. I don't know if that's possible (I personally don't have the instinct to categorize people into "tribes" or "us and them", so I have a somewhat limited understanding of how that instinct works), but it seems like the obvious other question to ask.

I personally have a lot of disdain for nationalism, but I don't follow libertarianism either (I'd elaborate, but I don't have time right now, and I might want to do it on my blog instead of here).

I'd agree with that, I mean, with the internet, a lot of the time I'll be interacting more with more people who live outside my nation then I will be with people who live in the same city as I do. I dislike nationalism, because I see it as being too restrictive, too small, drawing arbitrary lines between people to separate them into smaller groups.

That's not to say that it might not be useful to deal with more local(i.e. national) issues by working to mainly improve things in the nation. Since it can be a lot more difficult to produce major positive changes elsewhere in the world, outside of the boundaries of that given nation.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby IcedT » Thu Sep 15, 2011 11:26 pm UTC

The binary "tribe" divide is too simplistic to be meaningful. Social obligation has lots of tiers, and sometimes obligations can be parallel for people who are equally close but in different ways.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Whimsical Eloquence » Thu Sep 15, 2011 11:40 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Essentially, humans behave very differently towards people in the tribe and people out of the tribe. A difference between libertarians and others might be that they disagree on the boundaries of the tribe- seeing most of citizens of their country as strangers rather than fellow tribals.


I do that too. It's why I get unnerved when people talk about "the Community" and the like. Try not to generalise, especially this poorly.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Gelsamel » Fri Sep 16, 2011 1:15 am UTC

This thread reminded me to link this on xkcd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Tirian » Fri Sep 16, 2011 1:51 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:This thread reminded me to link this on xkcd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g


I am totally gobsmacked by RSAnimate every time I see their works. I like Rifkin's argument, and I hope he's right, but it strikes me as naive. It is true that we seem to have an urge to not want our neighbor to starve, but it seems just as true to me that we have an urge to want to eat better than our neighbors. At the most cynical, perhaps we wish to be empathic with the entire world's community only to engage in a dominance struggle for over-consumption that will yet destroy us all.

Anyway, from my own experience, I agree with Rifkin's position that nationalism is an artificial construct. As an American, I feel very little "foreign-ness" from Canadians and Britons and Australians, and through the internet I've couldn't say that I feel that much differently against any educated person in the world who has, as Steve Martin put it, the courtesy to speak English.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Gelsamel » Fri Sep 16, 2011 2:14 am UTC

Tirian wrote:I like Rifkin's argument, and I hope he's right, but it strikes me as naive. It is true that we seem to have an urge to not want our neighbor to starve, but it seems just as true to me that we have an urge to want to eat better than our neighbors.


That just means the "family" tribe still exists--of course, so do the religious tribes and other tribes, we just care about them less than we did when we were cave people. We typically want our family to eat better than our neighbors, not just ourselves; so the issue is just that we don't see our neighbors as family.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 16, 2011 2:25 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:This thread reminded me to link this on xkcd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g
The existence of mirror neurons hardly suggestions that, say, aggression and attachment are mutually exclusive. It failed to pick up from there; doesn't it make more sense for empathy to be rooted in our ability to remember good turns done to us than our acknowledgement that others will die? (Genes are not mortal in the way that we are.)

As well, the bit about religious solidarity seems far too simplified. When you look at, say, Jewish or Armenian emigrants engaged in a particular trade, you find that they trade and trust primarily people from the village they emigrated from (and who have ties there) rather than Jews as a whole or Armenians as a whole. Tribalism is alive and well; it just has weaker cousins that are easier to notice.

He asks, "why would we stop at nation-state? Why not empathize with all humans?", as if he did not know that a set is defined just as well by its complement as its members. Jews are not gentiles- indeed, were there no gentiles, it would be meaningless to be Jewish!

I feel some level of empathy for all thinking minds, but to suggest empathy is binary rather than a gradient is foolishness. As soon as you agree "yep, you care more about your family than the citizens of your state, and more about the citizens of your state than humans in general," then all practical recommendations seem to fade away.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby torontoraptor » Fri Sep 16, 2011 3:40 am UTC

There always is a divide between us and them, on every single level. There is a divide between different nations, between religions, cultures, cities, anything you can imagine. At my university, being in say, engineering, puts you in a different 'tribe' then someone in science. And in engineering, someone in ECE is in a different tribe then someone in mechanical. Of course, the vast majority of divisions are pointless and arbitrary, but that doesn't mean the human mind doesn't form them.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby aleflamedyud » Fri Sep 16, 2011 3:49 am UTC

sourmìlk wrote:I never understood this "us vs. them" mentality. I always carry around a "me vs. everybody else" mentality. Also I might sig that.

I've seen you in, ehem, other threads, and you certainly understand the tribal mentality.

Now, are nations tribes? Yes, obviously. Should we be treating "All Humanity" as our tribe? No, actually, because the point of tribal instincts is to tie us to a social group whose social-thought-processes we understand well enough to simulate/run in our own brains, thereby enabling us to live compatibly with the group by comprehending its ways. All of humanity is too diverse for that; I say, cultures may grow larger or smaller, but we're still always going to have a diversity of cultures (and subcultures), because cultural ties are what enable us (or perhaps enhance our ability?) to empathize with individuals and groups.

Vaniver wrote:Jews are not gentiles- indeed, were there no gentiles, it would be meaningless to be Jewish!

You've got that utterly the wrong way around. If there were no Jews, being a Gentile would be meaningless, but without Gentiles, there would be many different and meaningful kinds of Jews. "Gentile" is defined by its set-complement, whereas "Jew" is defined without reference to another set (someone who was either born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism).

But anyway, yeah, identifying with "all humanity" would require that we provide a non-tautological yet simultaneously all-inclusive definition of "humanity".
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby addams » Fri Sep 16, 2011 9:04 am UTC

aleflamedyud wrote:
sourmìlk wrote:I never understood this "us vs. them" mentality. I always carry around a "me vs. everybody else" mentality. Also I might sig that.

I've seen you in, ehem, other threads, and you certainly understand the tribal mentality.

Now, are nations tribes? Yes, obviously. Should we be treating "All Humanity" as our tribe? No, actually, because the point of tribal instincts is to tie us to a social group whose social-thought-processes we understand well enough to simulate/run in our own brains, thereby enabling us to live compatibly with the group by comprehending its ways. All of humanity is too diverse for that; I say, cultures may grow larger or smaller, but we're still always going to have a diversity of cultures (and subcultures), because cultural ties are what enable us (or perhaps enhance our ability?) to empathize with individuals and groups.

Vaniver wrote:Jews are not gentiles- indeed, were there no gentiles, it would be meaningless to be Jewish!

You've got that utterly the wrong way around. If there were no Jews, being a Gentile would be meaningless, but without Gentiles, there would be many different and meaningful kinds of Jews. "Gentile" is defined by its set-complement, whereas "Jew" is defined without reference to another set (someone who was either born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism).

But anyway, yeah, identifying with "all humanity" would require that we provide a non-tautological yet simultaneously all-inclusive definition of "humanity".


Yes. Why?
Why is it so difficult to see all of humanity as us?
Of course, there will always be 'in groups' and 'out groups'.

Our sense of belonging can come from pride in all of what it is to be human.
The 'in group' is all persons.
Yes. It gets tricky. The family dog is more important to the family than the human that is outside the family.

The fear of scarcity fuels drawing of 'in group' and 'out group' lines. The physical body wants to live. It wants those that it loves to live as well.

When the human lives in fear, the lines get drawn closer and closer to self. Lift the fog of fear and the human will include more and more 'others' as 'us'.

The war of terror that is flashing around the Planet from mind to mind is a fear that draws the lines of 'us' and 'them' nearer and nearer to self. This is so sad.

There is such joy to be had in the reaching out and loving across the lines of 'us' and 'them'.

The lines of 'in group' and 'out group' will always be with us. As it should be. Small groups are formed to complete a task, then, disbanded. Then, it can happen, again and again. In joy not fear. The best Art does not come from fear. The best Science is not done in fear. Fear has its place. We are being manipulated to be afraid. Very afraid.

Desmond Morris and Dr. Bernie both wrote to the issue. It is a very important idea. We are all a tribe. There will always be 'in groups' and 'out groups'. The 'out groups' have 'in groups', too.
This guy wrote and spoke to the issue also.
http://www.buscaglia.com/about.htm

We can be so very good. Who would want to turn us against one another? The same kind of people that like to watch dog fights. Right?

That group is not most of us. We can say, "No." to the fight. It is not easy. Yet, it is possible. It is. We must turn toward one another in kindness. Hard. We have been primed to turn against one another the same way the dogs that fight have been primed to fight. We fear one another. And; for good reason. People are scary.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Elvish Pillager » Fri Sep 16, 2011 11:25 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:This thread reminded me to link this on xkcd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g

Wow, that is an incredibly oversimplified argument, and I think the author was basically pulling a lot of stuff out of his ass ("empathy would not exist without mortality", wtf? Have you ever BEEN to a society without mortality?). And I was kinda irritated that all the characters he drew were male, except for a few male-female pairs and (whoop de doo!) the example of someone being scared of a spider. :x For all his talk about empathy covering all humanity, it's pretty clear that Rifkin isn't thinking of all humanity when he talks about it.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Gelsamel » Fri Sep 16, 2011 11:50 am UTC

What argument do you think it is that is being made there? It's simply an observation that the tribes we have now are fictions; nations and religions are not innate groups that are part of the structure of the universe, they're simply made up by humans. Thus, empathy restricted to groups is a -learned- thing, something our society and culture teaches people. It then goes on to say that thanks to new technology like the internet bringing us closer together, it's become so much easier to internalise that those tribes are fictions.

I don't know how anyone got that he was saying that tribalism or empathy based on tribes doesn't exist anymore, or that tribalism never served a purpose (indeed... he talks about the purposes it did serve) only that it is deminishing thanks to technology and that that is a good thing.

Also, the speaker isn't the person doing the art... :-| RSA Animate just takes random lectures or speeches they like and has some person draw things for it.

Really, I'm quite stupefied as to the responses to the video I linked... I linked the right one right? It seems like people here were responding to something entirely different. The slander against Rifkin especially dumbfounds me, even if it were not baseless.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby addams » Fri Sep 16, 2011 12:42 pm UTC

Gelsamel wrote:What argument do you think it is that is being made there? It's simply an observation that the tribes we have now are fictions; nations and religions are not innate groups that are part of the structure of the universe, they're simply made up by humans. Thus, empathy restricted to groups is a -learned- thing, something our society and culture teaches people. It then goes on to say that thanks to new technology like the internet bringing us closer together, it's become so much easier to internalise that those tribes are fictions.

I don't know how anyone got that he was saying that tribalism or empathy based on tribes doesn't exist anymore, or that tribalism never served a purpose (indeed... he talks about the purposes it did serve) only that it is deminishing thanks to technology and that that is a good thing.

Also, the speaker isn't the person doing the art... :-| RSA Animate just takes random lectures or speeches they like and has some person draw things for it.

Really, I'm quite stupefied as to the responses to the video I linked... I linked the right one right? It seems like people here were responding to something entirely different. The slander against Rifkin especially dumbfounds me, even if it were not baseless.


I agree with you and him. It is possible to have all of humanity and great deal that is not human as one's own. Why do people insist that we have an enemy? Yes. It did seem to serve a purpose. It was never a fine and good purpose.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 16, 2011 2:06 pm UTC

aleflamedyud wrote:Now, are nations tribes? Yes, obviously. Should we be treating "All Humanity" as our tribe? No, actually, because the point of tribal instincts is to tie us to a social group whose social-thought-processes we understand well enough to simulate/run in our own brains, thereby enabling us to live compatibly with the group by comprehending its ways. All of humanity is too diverse for that;
Isn't America too diverse for that? There are many Americans whose ways I do not comprehend.

A tribe is more than just a grouping- it implies a high level of trust and mutual responsibility between the members of the tribe.


aleflamedyud wrote:You've got that utterly the wrong way around. If there were no Jews, being a Gentile would be meaningless, but without Gentiles, there would be many different and meaningful kinds of Jews. "Gentile" is defined by its set-complement, whereas "Jew" is defined without reference to another set (someone who was either born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism).
Were everyone Jewish, the meaningful distinctions in life would be those many different and meaningful kinds of Jews you mention- we don't discuss whether people were born to human mothers, or converted to humanity during their lives, though we might talk about whether or not someone is humane (i.e. acts human).

addams wrote:Why is it so difficult to see all of humanity as us?
Of course, there will always be 'in groups' and 'out groups'.
The meaning of seeing someone as "us" is that we are not seeing them as "them"- i.e. a member of the out group.

Gelsamel wrote:It's simply an observation that the tribes we have now are fictions; nations and religions are not innate groups that are part of the structure of the universe, they're simply made up by humans. Thus, empathy restricted to groups is a -learned- thing, something our society and culture teaches people.
Empathy existing on the level of groups is hardwired. The cultural programming is how strongly you care about various groups.

It is obviously possible to get people to feel some level of empathy towards all humans. The problem is that the more valuable a benefit that confers, the more restrictive the membership that receives that benefit must be.

Gelsamel wrote:Really, I'm quite stupefied as to the responses to the video I linked... I linked the right one right?
I apologize if I was overly harsh, but the video paints a rather simplistic view of empathy and interpersonal relations. There's no evolutionary or game-theoretic reason for empathy or mirror neurons to be based on suffering or death; they exist in species to the extent that the ability to model others increases their ability to reproduce. That skill is useful for both compassion and competition.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Deep_Thought » Fri Sep 16, 2011 2:40 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Gelsamel wrote:Really, I'm quite stupefied as to the responses to the video I linked... I linked the right one right?
I apologize if I was overly harsh, but the video paints a rather simplistic view of empathy and interpersonal relations. There's no evolutionary or game-theoretic reason for empathy or mirror neurons to be based on suffering or death; they exist in species to the extent that the ability to model others increases their ability to reproduce. That skill is useful for both compassion and competition.

Erm, you do realise the speaker had only 10 minutes to make his point, so might have skipped on some of the detail? His argument for empathy being based on death comes from a child developmental point of view - he claims that if you closely observe children a great deal of empathy is developed around the time that children become aware of mortality. There's a slight correlation/causation issue there, but I wouldn't be surprised if you went off into the psychiatric literature you'd find a better description and argument for the process. He wasn't arguing that to be empathic you have to suffer or die. He argued that you have to understand those concepts, and that children don't generally understand that death exists until about age 8, and that real empathy then develops afterwards.

His central point that many of the ways we divide each other, e.g. countries and religions, are invented. I'm not convinced though that the Internet will result in the final collapse of those boundaries. It may just result in even more being formed. Quite possibly along the lines of who you follow on Twitter *shudders*. Still, he paints a more hopeful view of the future than many others. I applaud him for that.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby aleflamedyud » Fri Sep 16, 2011 3:28 pm UTC

Isn't America too diverse for that? There are many Americans whose ways I do not comprehend.

YES, which is why the United States of America has remarkably low social solidarity among its people.

though we might talk about whether or not someone is humane (i.e. acts human).

Problem is, the standard of "humane" is entirely fictitious. Yes, we know some universal human traits that appear in every, or almost every, culture ever studied. No, there are not enough of them to actually invent a "human" culture to which people give their allegiance.

"Humane" and "humanism" are convenient lies for those who want to think of themselves as un-tribal but lack experience with mindsets and cultures truly foreign to their own. Anyone who has traveled knows this: traveling often teaches you more about you and your own home culture than about the foreign culture you visited. When you interact with other cultures, you learn just how much differs between cultures, and it's often the things you thought of as givens or universals that differ.

Read: how to recognize if you're American (similar pages for other countries are included).

Ignorance of this stuff is how you get "non-tribal" and "humane" people calling themselves "global citizens" while campaigning against circumcision.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Sep 16, 2011 3:37 pm UTC

Vaniver, could you be more specific what you mean by a tribe? There are lots of organizational forms that are called tribes, and there are large differences between them. I am not sure they even have much in common except for being smaller than groups English-speakers would call nations in the modern sense.

"Are nations tribes?" might be a lot like asking "are ships boats?"

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Jessica » Fri Sep 16, 2011 3:41 pm UTC

I can't read the blog entry, or see the video.

It sounds like you're talking about an extension of the "in-group/out-group" bias. Am I correct in this assumption?

Not sure if it can be proved whether this bias is a genetic/inborn bias, over a learned bias. It has been shown that you can artificially create this bias between randomly assigned groups of people, and artificial groups. It makes sense that these biases extend to all the groups we have in the world, including nations and religions. It's important to recognize this bias (which provably exists, whatever it's cause), when interacting with in-group or out-group individuals.

*shrug* at least that's my take on what I can see of this thread. If I'm retreading ground, I'm sorry.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby addams » Fri Sep 16, 2011 4:05 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:
Vaniver wrote:
Gelsamel wrote:Really, I'm quite stupefied as to the responses to the video I linked... I linked the right one right?
I apologize if I was overly harsh, but the video paints a rather simplistic view of empathy and interpersonal relations. There's no evolutionary or game-theoretic reason for empathy or mirror neurons to be based on suffering or death; they exist in species to the extent that the ability to model others increases their ability to reproduce. That skill is useful for both compassion and competition.

Erm, you do realise the speaker had only 10 minutes to make his point, so might have skipped on some of the detail? His argument for empathy being based on death comes from a child developmental point of view - he claims that if you closely observe children a great deal of empathy is developed around the time that children become aware of mortality. There's a slight correlation/causation issue there, but I wouldn't be surprised if you went off into the psychiatric literature you'd find a better description and argument for the process. He wasn't arguing that to be empathic you have to suffer or die. He argued that you have to understand those concepts, and that children don't generally understand that death exists until about age 8, and that real empathy then develops afterwards.

His central point that many of the ways we divide each other, e.g. countries and religions, are invented. I'm not convinced though that the Internet will result in the final collapse of those boundaries. It may just result in even more being formed. Quite possibly along the lines of who you follow on Twitter *shudders*. Still, he paints a more hopeful view of the future than many others. I applaud him for that.


Yes. An optimist's vision is a good vision. I applaud him, too.
I have poked around in some psychiatric literature. The persons that do not feel empathy will tell those of us that do, that we are wrong. The ones that like to watch the dog fight will tell us that dogs MUST fight.

It is not true. Most of us do prefer the good feelings of doing good and watching while others thrive under our care.

I have done a great deal of reading about the subject.
Into our DNA is written The Tribe; Recognition and distinction memes.
Into our DNA is written something else. It is so difficult to put into words.

I know! I know! It is the Right Brain; Left Brain thing! It is Easy!

In the Left Brain is Language and Math. Chatty Chatty Left Brain.
In the Right Brain is Humor and God. Or; Humor and the Sacred. See?

The Right Brain can not speak very well, but, it is not stupid. It is as large and functions as well as the Left Brain. It is the shy, funny part of each of us.

When the shy, funny part of me sees the shy, funny part of you, then, that moment often transcends words. See? Empathy. We can type about it all day long.

Poets and Philosophers write about it. We write about it. It is another one of those things that has no color; It has no weight; We can not prove it directly.

Yet; We can prove it indirectly. No! I don't have a study at the moment. I am not sure I could find one on the internet. eww. We could design one.

I know the studies have been done. Humans thrive when cared for with tender loving care. Humans show a plethora of pathologies when deprived of the company and care of others. Its true!

Back to the topic. It seems that some people would like to limit our tribe to the boundaries of one nation or another. But; No. The Human Family is one tribe and some of its members are dogs and goats and birds and trees. A big inclusive strange family. With experts and generalist and some folks that are like zeros. Everyone loves a zero. Right?

Or; We can turn on one another. (Shrug.) What do you what to do?
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 16, 2011 5:30 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:He wasn't arguing that to be empathic you have to suffer or die.
What about the time that he argued that people who couldn't suffer or die wouldn't be empathic?

Deep_Thought wrote:Still, he paints a more hopeful view of the future than many others. I applaud him for that.
Hope is cheap. Discernment is expensive.

Zamfir wrote:Vaniver, could you be more specific what you mean by a tribe? There are lots of organizational forms that are called tribes, and there are large differences between them. I am not sure they even have much in common except for being smaller than groups English-speakers would call nations in the modern sense.

"Are nations tribes?" might be a lot like asking "are ships boats?"
By tribes Hanson is trying to evoke evolutionary psychology- essentially, fellow tribals would be people that you trust and feel responsible for by default. Similarly, you care about the status of your tribe and expect your tribe to be there for you. One's position towards members of their tribe is often seen as a large part of their personal character: someone who helps out fellows in need is seen as generous, and one who doesn't is seen as stingy.

I thought it interesting because it seems to explain a lot of libertarian divides from mainstream politics. Libertarians tend to be for open immigration- because they don't see much difference between the American-born person and non-American born person, and reason that the loss to the native is smaller than the gain to the foreigner. Justifications for welfare tend to go along the lines of "how could you let a fellow suffer?", and libertarians seem to define fellows in primarily voluntary ways (family, friends, coreligionists, etc.), rather than nationalistic ways.

I agree, though, that the question relies on a lot of assumptions about perspective to be a useful way to look at things.

addams wrote:The persons that do not feel empathy will tell those of us that do, that we are wrong. The ones that like to watch the dog fight will tell us that dogs MUST fight.
Are you making the claim that I am a psychopath who enjoys watching dog fights, or where is this going?
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Elvish Pillager » Fri Sep 16, 2011 6:08 pm UTC

aleflamedyud wrote:Read: how to recognize if you're American (similar pages for other countries are included).

Wow, I knew I wasn't entirely plugged into American culture, but I didn't know I was 95% unamerican.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby addams » Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:03 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Deep_Thought wrote:He wasn't arguing that to be empathic you have to suffer or die.
What about the time that he argued that people who couldn't suffer or die wouldn't be empathic?

Deep_Thought wrote:Still, he paints a more hopeful view of the future than many others. I applaud him for that.
Hope is cheap. Discernment is expensive.

Zamfir wrote:Vaniver, could you be more specific what you mean by a tribe? There are lots of organizational forms that are called tribes, and there are large differences between them. I am not sure they even have much in common except for being smaller than groups English-speakers would call nations in the modern sense.

"Are nations tribes?" might be a lot like asking "are ships boats?"
By tribes Hanson is trying to evoke evolutionary psychology- essentially, fellow tribals would be people that you trust and feel responsible for by default. Similarly, you care about the status of your tribe and expect your tribe to be there for you. One's position towards members of their tribe is often seen as a large part of their personal character: someone who helps out fellows in need is seen as generous, and one who doesn't is seen as stingy.

I thought it interesting because it seems to explain a lot of libertarian divides from mainstream politics. Libertarians tend to be for open immigration- because they don't see much difference between the American-born person and non-American born person, and reason that the loss to the native is smaller than the gain to the foreigner. Justifications for welfare tend to go along the lines of "how could you let a fellow suffer?", and libertarians seem to define fellows in primarily voluntary ways (family, friends, coreligionists, etc.), rather than nationalistic ways.

I agree, though, that the question relies on a lot of assumptions about perspective to be a useful way to look at things.

addams wrote:The persons that do not feel empathy will tell those of us that do, that we are wrong. The ones that like to watch the dog fight will tell us that dogs MUST fight.
Are you making the claim that I am a psychopath who enjoys watching dog fights, or where is this going?


Huh? Well? Do you believe that humans MUST fight? Do you like to watch dogs fight? How about the fights that break out at sporting events? Very Tribal stuff that. The tribe forms and then disbands. It seems to be amusing, to some.
I think that with our big brains, we can do better.

I know that there are many that find Peace boring. Yet; Smart people can form small tribes for a task, then, disband that tribe and join or rejoin other tribes.
Humans are a large and diverse group. Homogeneousness is less and less common. Yet; Empathy across racial and cultural lines happens now and can become more common. Empathy is natural to many if not most of us.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Sep 16, 2011 8:33 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:By tribes Hanson is trying to evoke evolutionary psychology- essentially, fellow tribals would be people that you trust and feel responsible for by default. Similarly, you care about the status of your tribe and expect your tribe to be there for you. One's position towards members of their tribe is often seen as a large part of their personal character: someone who helps out fellows in need is seen as generous, and one who doesn't is seen as stingy.


I thought it interesting because it seems to explain a lot of libertarian divides from mainstream politics. Libertarians tend to be for open immigration- because they don't see much difference between the American-born person and non-American born person, and reason that the loss to the native is smaller than the gain to the foreigner. Justifications for welfare tend to go along the lines of "how could you let a fellow suffer?", and libertarians seem to define fellows in primarily voluntary ways (family, friends, coreligionists, etc.), rather than nationalistic ways.

There's a standard work on early nationalism called "Imagined communities", which seems to me as the concept he is aiming at, more than tribes really. If you read 'group' or 'community', his articlemakes at least as much sense as when you read 'tribe'.

On the libertarian part: the Internationale is a bit of counterpoint here, don't you think? Both as song and as organization. I'd say that lots of ideologies are non-national when they are not trying to accomplish specific goals in the here and now. Nationalism itself was once a broad, cross-border movement. It's only when you want to make things happen that you cannot ignore the national state as the central organization of the modern world. If only because the people who aim at that level become the influential leaders. Did you even knew there's an active Liberal International organization? Let alone thought about joining?

Also, there is a bit of a true scotsman there. Like it or not, the Ronpaul is the face of actually-existing libertarianism, and he's someone who very clearly sees the difference between American-born persons and non-American born persons. Libertarianism and Americans nationalism seem pretty closely related anyway. For every self-described libertarian who thinks that the USA is an arbitrary entity, how many think that real Americans don't let Washington tell them what to do?

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 16, 2011 10:40 pm UTC

addams wrote:Huh? Well? Do you believe that humans MUST fight?
Must? I would say I consider it implausible that no human will choose to fight.

addams wrote:Do you like to watch dogs fight? How about the fights that break out at sporting events?
No; I find blood sports distressing.

Zamfir wrote:There's a standard work on early nationalism called "Imagined communities", which seems to me as the concept he is aiming at, more than tribes really. If you read 'group' or 'community', his articlemakes at least as much sense as when you read 'tribe'.
This?

Zamfir wrote:On the libertarian part: the Internationale is a bit of counterpoint here, don't you think? Both as song and as organization. I'd say that lots of ideologies are non-national when they are not trying to accomplish specific goals in the here and now.
Of course. I didn't mean to claim that any opposition to nationalism turns one into a libertarian- just that it's a plausible causal difference between libertarians and mainstream folks.

Zamfir wrote:Did you even knew there's an active Liberal International organization? Let alone thought about joining?
No, but I have now.

Zamfir wrote:Also, there is a bit of a true scotsman there. Like it or not, the Ronpaul is the face of actually-existing libertarianism, and he's someone who very clearly sees the difference between American-born persons and non-American born persons. Libertarianism and Americans nationalism seem pretty closely related anyway. For every self-described libertarian who thinks that the USA is an arbitrary entity, how many think that real Americans don't let Washington tell them what to do?
I would liken the last bit to the Englishmen who thought that, since the king was trampling their rights as Englishmen, they would form their own country. That is, the country's name is attached to the spirit of liberty, rather than the country merely having liberty attached to it. I do agree, though, that Paul is more nationalistic than most libertarians, but also noticeably less nationalistic than other Americans (consider, for example, his willingness to admit that 9/11 was blowback).
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby iChef » Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:32 pm UTC

There is a saying in the Middle East that applies to this topic. "Me against my brothers, my brothers and I against our cousins, my cousins and I against the village, my village and I against the world."

There was a point in history were people belonged to basically one tribe. Walk into the average European village in the middle ages. Everyone is the same nationality, they are all Catholic, the level of education has a very small spread, but most people are illiterate. Where now you walk into a city and you can find people from every race on earth, speaking different languages, ranging from rich to homeless.

We belong to many more tribes at once and have to decide which ones are most beneficial. For some it's family others it's co-worker or religion.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Velict » Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:45 pm UTC

This is kind of tangentially related: some thought-provoking stuff on immigration in the welfare state: immigration and the welfare state and The Political Externalities of Immigration.

TLDR: people don't mind paying higher taxes to support a welfare state for people "like them." Which is to say, people of similar socioeconomic and yes, even ethnicity. There's some evidence of an actual trade off between how expansive the welfare state is, and how ethnically homogeneous a society is. This is an interesting lens to view the American welfare state through, if you compare it to say the Danish or Swedish welfare states (wherein almost everyone is a Dane or a Swede, respectively).

Or if you'd prefer a more pithy response, America is less of a tribe because we're such a diverse country.

So, we are sort of tribalistic, in that homogeneous socioeconomic and ethnic groups lead to greater solidarity and a more powerful welfare state (and thus more social justice, etc.) in our societies. I don't mean to say that things should be that way (and don't dare misrepresent my position as that), only that some recent research has suggested this associations.

P.S. in before "dat's racist!"

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby thc » Fri Sep 23, 2011 1:23 am UTC

Gelsamel wrote:This thread reminded me to link this on xkcd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g

I don't understand the dig at utilitarianism. Of course we can understand helping out others from a utilitarian perspective.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby sourmìlk » Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:56 am UTC

What, exactly, is the reason for the concept of tribes as a social construct to exist in the first place? Why would one consider arbitrary similarities with another person (location or origin, religious beliefs, etc.) when deciding how to treat him or what rights to give him etc? I recognize that, given the existence of these categorizations, we sort of have to work with them, but the whole concept seems unnecessary to begin with.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Sep 23, 2011 12:24 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:Why would one consider arbitrary similarities with another person (location or origin, religious beliefs, etc.) when deciding how to treat him or what rights to give him etc?

Those are not exactly arbitrary similarities. They're among the main things that create communities. People you live and interact with, the people that grew up in the same way as you did, people who share your value system. You've been to other parts of the world, right? At least to Israel? You must have noticed how people can be subtly or very different from what you're used to, how you are in many ways more like the people back home than like the place you are visiting. How you take things for granted that surprise people from far away, and how they take things for granted that surprise you.

People differ in the way they want to do things, how they like the world around them arranged, in their morals and values. The bigger that difference, the more difficult it gets to have a roughly satisfactory legal system in particular, and other common projects in general. And for practical purposes you'd like the people in your geograhic proximity to be in the same legal system as you, and many public affairs have close ties with geography too.

Also, don't forget chidlren. Nearly all people want their children to share the rights they have, to be accepted as a member of communites they belong to. That highly restricts the basis you can use to determine such groups on, since most members will simply be the children of previous generations.

None of that implies modern nation-states of course. That's just a particular form of societal organization that has come to dominate the world in the last century or so. But many other forms rely on similar things to define membership and legal status: transfer to children, geographic location, cultural traits like language or religion.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Deep_Thought » Fri Sep 23, 2011 12:40 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:Why would one consider arbitrary similarities with another person (location or origin, religious beliefs, etc.) when deciding how to treat him or what rights to give him etc?

Erm, if we go back into the mists of time, similar origin would likely have implied similar genetic structure due to shared ancestors. There is some very interesting, and quite scary, genetic mathematics that shows that altruism towards those of similar genetic structure can increase the survival rate of certain genes, even if a particular altruistic organism sacrifices itself without breeding.

The scary part comes in when you find the maths that shows that you can increase the survival rate of your genes by actively attacking other members of your own species that have dissimilar genetic characteristics*. You're competing for the same resources after all. There may be a genetic predisposition towards your tribe above others, although this does not explain the social, non-genetic, characteristics of "modern" tribes.

*Look up the career of George R. Price.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby sourmìlk » Fri Sep 23, 2011 1:10 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:Erm, if we go back into the mists of time...

This nicely explains the evolutionary utility of forming tribes around these criteria, but it doesn't explain why it's now a useful concept.

Zamfir wrote:The bigger that difference, the more difficult it gets to have a roughly satisfactory legal system in particular, and other common projects in general.

This is more the argument I was looking for. How do social differences obstruct common projects? And would not a good legal system adhere to objective morals (insofar as they exist) without making decisions based on cultural norms anyways?
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:10 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:This nicely explains the evolutionary utility of forming tribes around these criteria, but it doesn't explain why it's now a useful concept.
You asked why it existed in the first place. What made you think the response would be why it's useful now?

If you think about usefulness locally- "would someone who considers themself a member of a tribe be better off than someone who doesn't?"- you get a much better picture of why things continue or don't continue to exist.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby sourmìlk » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:16 pm UTC

True. But why would a person considering himself part of a tribe be better off nowadays?
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:21 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:True. But why would a person considering himself part of a tribe be better off nowadays?
Social satisfaction is a major component of both happiness and health. Being a member of a tribe could easily increase one's social satisfaction.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:45 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:True. But why would a person considering himself part of a tribe be better off nowadays?

Huh? Who lives in tribes nowadays? People clearly do live in countries, probably as close a social structure as we have to a tribe. And it's pretty obvious why you might want to be a citizen of a country.

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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby Vaniver » Fri Sep 23, 2011 8:42 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Huh? Who lives in tribes nowadays? People clearly do live in countries, probably as close a social structure as we have to a tribe. And it's pretty obvious why you might want to be a citizen of a country.
Consider, say, the Satmar Hasidic Jews who live in places like Kiryas Joel.
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Re: Are nations tribes?

Postby aleflamedyud » Fri Sep 23, 2011 8:45 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:This is more the argument I was looking for. How do social differences obstruct common projects? And would not a good legal system adhere to objective morals (insofar as they exist) without making decisions based on cultural norms anyways?

You are presupposing that some agreeable set of objective morals (not morals people claim to be objective or can demonstrate to their own satisfaction are objective, morals people can ALL AGREE are objective).
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