Tribal Trivia

An article I wrote for my school magazine ‘INK’ when I was thirteen (unchanged, unedited). Please don’t be mean. – Slightly older Edmund

More and more, I’m noticing something distinctly odd about our society. Even though every person on Earth has the capacity to show kindness and generosity, many people do not. Sometimes people are bullied for reasons we are frighteningly familiar with, such as race, sex, age… But why? Why is it that people behave in this way? Well, the reason, sadly, seems to be an integral part of human nature, and one that is very difficult to shake off…

Here’s me in my 20s (possibly exactly 20, if I recall), as the 10s already seem lost to the sands of time.

Neanderthals, another type of human, existed over 30,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence now suggests that Neanderthals became extinct because of a combination of two factors. One: climate change. Two: us (homo-sapiens) colonising Europe. Andrew Marr’s documentary ‘History Of The World’ even went as far as saying that our species may well have eaten Neanderthals. But why?? Simply because Neanderthals were somewhat different. This difference could have encouraged tension between the groups because, in evolutionary terms, you’re more likely to pass on your genes to the next generation if you can breed with someone sharing similar DNA to you. Neanderthals were, in our eyes, not as similar genetically to us as other homo-sapiens so they were not ‘one of us’ and were fit to be treated like any other animal.

This rather blunt explanation of why people dislike differences may seem irrelevant to our culture, but our brains still work in a similar way as they did tens of thousands of years ago. To prove it, let’s wind forward a few thousand years to the English civil war in 1642. At this time, political tension was escalating because of a split down the middle of religion in England. On one side were the Protestants, who wanted to overthrow the Catholic-sympathetic king because they didn’t want to be ruled like a Catholic country. Both sides didn’t like the other being in a different religious group so this added to the list of reasons each side had to go to war with one another. Although religion wasn’t the only reason both sides had to go to war, it was certainly a major contributor to it. In Ireland at the time, the violence had gone out of hand, and some of the Catholics went on a rampage, slaughtering many people simply because they were Protestant. Some of the Protestants had similar ideas, and both sides fought each other, even though some had done nothing ‘wrong’, except from being on the opposite side as the enemy. This sort of generalised conflict – fighting someone just because of their group – originated from those tribal tendencies we had towards Neanderthals all those millennia ago…

Another case study that is worth covering is the Second World War. The political group the Nazis rose to power putting the blame of Germany’s financial crisis on another particular group. Adolf Hitler, in his autobiography, described the Jews as ‘a pestilence’ and claimed that they were the core of the country’s problems. This, as we now know, isn’t true because inflations like the terrible one which Germany was experiencing aren’t caused by thousands of Jews coming together and saying ‘Now, how can we mess up the economy of our own country (just for fun)?’. The Nazis thought the Jews were in the wrong because they were different. This example of how people can be exclusive of other groups gives evidence that humans often put blame on people as well as excluding them if they don’t look the same.

In today’s society, similar things have happened. For example, we have heard many tales of football racism in the media. Additionally, in football, appalling things have happened to gays because they’re different from what people regard as the norm. On a frighteningly recent date (15th February 2013), the U.S.A. footballer Robbie Rogers retired on the spot when he confessed that he was gay because of the tribal, anti-gay culture. He was so afraid of people realising his differences that he said:

“For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show whom I really was because of fear. Fear that judgement and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations. Fear that my loved ones would be farthest from me if they knew my secret. Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams.”

Also, from my personal experiences, I have seen people showing a grudge to some other people outside their own social group. People’s excuses sometimes can be ‘it’s just a joke’. Well, I think humanity needs to move on a bit and embrace other people from different groups because, unlike in the days of tribes and hunting, it is not necessary to dislike other groups for the survival of one’s own genes. We live in a different world, in which there’s a more secure environment and a multi-cultural society. But accepting others still isn’t contrary to our instinct of survival – it’s just inventing new ways to fulfil that instinct, and making humans flourish by other means. Exclusion and bullying aren’t going to benefit our survival, but being compassionate to everyone is because we’ve only got one world and we’re too technologically sophisticated for it to be sensible to fight. Nelson Mandela showed how this could be achieved when he campaigned successfully for the liberation of blacks in South Africa (who were previously maltreated because of their differences from the white occupiers). If Nelson Mandela can do it, why can’t we? After all, it’s not as though we’re in different tribes…


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