The power of tribes in evolution

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by on January 15, 2014

If we examine a person’s ideas, beliefs, causes, even their religious rituals you will often find that the determining factor is loyalty to their group. Met Huxley examines the notion of ingroup loyalty and outgroup hostility.

There is something built in to our natural instincts to be loyal to our group, and hostile to others.

Group loyalty and the importance of the tribe must have been so integral to human survival that it is still deeply engrained into almost every aspect of our daily life.

It’s true, the notion, known as in-group loyalty-out-group hostility, governs how we live our lives today, from who we talk to, what politics we have, what teams we support and even what views on religion we hold.

It seems strange for this concept of a close community to have come out of the theory of evolution, which seems to be mostly concerned with the survival of only the fittest individuals. Critics of Darwin often berate the idea of a cold and cruel world where only the selfish and strong survive and those more needy eventually die off. It clashes with their moral instincts.

Pack mentality benefits survival

But here’s the rub. Many animals have learned that their chances of survival are greatly increased if they stick together. So the animal kingdom evolved the idea of the pack. Not just humans, of course – how many animals can you think of that form close-knit packs.

They all benefit from the tribe and their chances of survival are greatly increased. Or more likely, those that chose to live apart from the packs were under resourced, found no mates, easily hunted and died off.

The benefits of belonging to a tribe are so great that man performs ritual, rites and ceremonies to prove his loyalty to the tribe – these manifestations are not soley the pre-occupation of religious ceremonies, but students, masonic groups and many other associations all have ceremonial, sometimes humiliating rituals for newcomers to that group. The more humiliating the ceremony the more loyal to the person joining and the more prestigious the club they are joining.

Out group hostility

But where does out-group hostility come from? Why should a republican hate a democrat; a creationist hate an evolutionist, a muslim hate a christian – why do fans of opposing football teams hate each other? Easy.

Demonstrating hostility to those in the out-group is a very easy way of demonstrating loyalty to your in-group.

So any demonstration of hostility to the out-group increases your prestige in the in-group. So soccer fans who revel in hooliganism against the fans who live within 20 miles of themselves do so as they feel it makes them more prestigious followers of their team.

In school playgrounds when kids are first making friends, the more socially aware form an in-group based on having things in common with each other. Once the in-group is formed they single out members of an out-group and then they are hostile to those pupils. The out-group then forms its own group, largely based on not being members of the in-group and having a sense of hostility towards the in-group.

Moving into adolescence, people often form alliances over the things they are hostile towards rather than the things they have in common. This sense of hostility towards certain groups actually forges a strong in-group.

And religion is no different. If you are brought up in a religious background, where your parents have fed you, nurtured you, loved you and educated you, and then science rears its head and proclaims that your entire belief system is based on fairy tales, there will be a hostility towards science.

This is the case with Intelligent design. I don’t think that even Intelligent Design proponents actually believe in it themselves – it is just the venting of out-group hostility at science. But it goes further.

Kashrut and in-group loyalty.

Judaism is a religion filled with philosophy, history and unexplained rituals. Yet there is no explanation in any Jewish text for eating kosher food. Often reasons are cited, but they are just suppositions. Jews who keep kosher do so out of faith, for there is no reason provided. It is precisely this notion that raises their prestige among the in-group of Jews.

They can practice something that makes every day life awkward and inconvenient for which there is no rational explanation and those in the out-group think it is a waste of time. There personal sacrifice is for no apparent earthly gain – If the ritual was easier or had a rational explanation there wouldn’t be as much kudos.

But the biggest demonstration of showing loyalty to your tribe is to forsake your own credibility and reputation for the sake of the group. How can you take a religious person seriously who believes that the earth is less than 6000 years old or that the Noah flood actually happened – or that the world was created in 6 days. To repeat a preposterous party-line, that is obviously ridiculous, that makes you look a fool to the out-group is the ultimate sign of loyalty to the in-group.

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