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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Questioning Tribal Warlords

Thinking about Dawkins lately, I'm wondering what it is about religion that makes it inspire so much hatred. I don't believe the statement "Religion causes war" is completely accurate, though it's hard not to see a connection.

What if religion is an manifestation of another phenomenon? What if there's another major category under the general rubric of human nature to which religion belongs?

For example: tribalism. I'll define tribalism as embodying two main elements, both of which are seen in our closest ape relatives. The first is intense animosity toward out-groups--the neighboring tribes. The second is intense competition within groups for status and the establishment of hierarchies.

Religion and tribalism aren't necessarily one and the same. Buddhism, for instance, doesn't strike me as especially tribal (though Buddhist oppression in Burma makes me wonder). But many religions, especially monotheistic ones, seem to be piggybacking on our tribal propensities.

Following this chain of reasoning, we can say religion doesn't cause wars; tribalism causes wars. But many religions aren't much more than (biblically, koranically, etc) codified, (church, mosque, temple) institutionalized, philosophically extrapolated (God as ultimate Alpha) tribalism.


caynazzo said...

1. YouTube "'Alpha" Wolf?" for the coiner reconsidering the term.

2. I wonder if it is useful to differentiate war/genocide (kill orders) among humans from the homicide of human and non-human primates, but anthropology is trendy and frustrating when you're looking for anything difinitive.

3. Doesn't horticulture and civilization cause problems for the monkeying around view of tribalism?

Dennis said...

1. Hierarchies are more complex than commonly concieved, it's true, but apes and wolves still compete for status. Humans probably have different hierarchies for just about every category of human specialization--they also have different views of the nature of god.
2. Apes can only be an analogy. There are studies of humans focusing on the triggers of tribalism, which I'll post about in the future.
3. Not really. Humans aren't always tribal, so the question becomes what conditions prevent out group antipathy. Cosmopolitanism as antithesis and prevetive measure?