The Tribalism Answer

July 30, 2018

Aside from everything else he does or says, Jordan Peterson has gotten just one thing right, and this one thing is enough to have irritated a lot of people. A lot of people hide their dislike for Peterson behind claims of transphobia, racism, misogyny, fascism (which is especially weird), and lots more.

But at the end of the day, despite any of his more specific views that I do or don’t agree with, it’s just this one view that’s pissed so many people off.

And to describe that one view, I’m going to turn to Russ Roberts, who recently wrote a fantastic Medium article extolling the many concerns and issues around this problem.

Roberts, like many of us, has growing concerns about the temperature of political discourse in our country. A lot of people do, but most people look more exclusively at the issue of polarization instead of treating this as a symptom and looking for the source of the problem.

The source, the real source, of many of the problems we see today seems like a good. It’s the ability for so many of us to connect with other people that see the world the same way we do.

The internet has made this remarkably easy. If you’re the 1 person in your town that believes in evolution while everyone else attends the fundamentalist church down the road - it’s no big deal, you can connect with everyone online. Similarly, if you think the flat earth theory is intriguing but you’re ostracized anytime you bring it up - no big deal, there’s thousands of others online that think the same things you do.

This may be the biggest power of the internet: to connect people across geography, culture and even language that think similarly. And it may be the biggest problem too. What it leads to is usually called tribalism today - and this is what Jordan Peterson has called out so strongly - but it seems to equate closely to the ideas of group think or confirmation bias as well.

We all fall for this, we all want to belong and be around “like-minded people”. But there’s a simple solution, that Roberts perhaps bounces around a bit, to eliminate a lot of the problems with tribalism.

The solution is to pick as your tribe the humble, skeptical, truth-seeking tribe.

These principles, when placed near the core, provide the ability to constantly evaluate the possibility of confirmation bias, outrage, or political maneuvering. Even if you’re part of other tribes - even the tribes of Democrat and Republican - if you are first and foremost a part of the humble, skeptical, truth-seeking tribe, a reasonable discourse is achievable.

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