We are Tribal at our Core

We have tribal tendencies.

Characterized by a tendency to form groups or by strong group loyalty.

I watched a short ‘TED talk’ regarding PTSD which had been recommended by a MSB reader (incidentally, no, I don’t have PTSD). The speaker drew some intriguing observations, one of which pointed out how we as a people are inherently naturally tribal.

I’ve always believed this to be true. Logically, it’s hard to dispute. Tribalism is built-in to our DNA. Survival required that we be tribal during ancestral times, before our modern era.

We largely consisted of close-knit families, communities, ‘tribes’ so to speak. Everyone went through their difficulties (and successes) together and did their part within their tribal group.

They ate together. They worked together. Shared responsibilities together. They supported each other. Worked through problems together. Slept under the same roof or within reach of each other. They all watched each others back.

You might draw similarities to that of a platoon.

Modern Era Not Compatible

Today’s modern era has essentially isolated us from a tribal lifestyle. It’s reasonable to argue that our modern way of life is not real compatible with our ‘built-in’ code to live tribal. A modern city may house a million people. But the majority of those people are isolated from each other even though they live so close together. Sounds lonely.

Military veterans who work so tightly together on the battlefield (e.g squads / platoons, etc.) are most definitely living/surviving as a tribe during their time. However when returning to civilian life, they’re suddenly thrown into a modern non-tribal ‘lonely’? ‘unnatural’? lifestyle – starkly opposite from how it was on the front lines. And this leads to ‘issues’ for many…

I agree with that.

We Become Tribal Upon Disaster

Why is it that following a disaster, people tend to pull together locally and become tribal? Neighbors who rarely speak to each other will align together (as a temporary tribe) to help pull through the situation.

It feels good when that happens (not the disaster – but the aftermath of tribalism). Why is that? Why does it feel good to band together and help each other out?

Could it be because it’s built in to our ‘code’?

Did you know that right after 9/11 that crime in NYC apparently went down 40%?

People rally around, or ‘circle the wagons’. Suddenly there is a common cause with which everyone can agree and come together to focus their energies.

Anyway, I’ve touched upon this sort of thing before, but this got me to thinking about it again. I believe we are inherently a tribal people.

Many of the problems we are seeing today may be attributed to the break up of the tribal unit. We are not dealing with that so well.

What do you think about it?

BTW, here’s that TED talk.

Continue reading: The Great Divide in America


  1. As times get harder many generations will end up living under the same roof. We have 3 generations in our house now. I guess that is about as tribal as you can get today.

    1. It was not too uncommon for multiple family members all living under one roof in years gone by. That in addition to having large families back then – out of necessity for ‘the farm’ (for example).

      ‘Tribal’ was often necessary. Today, not so much.

  2. High school was a sort of tribe and we even had tribes within the tribe (cliques). After HS I joined the Army to be in yet another tribe. After my 3 year tour I got out and rejoined the civilian population.

    Adjustment was difficult. I held several different jobs but never really felt that tribal connection. So after 5 years of stumbling around I decided to re-enlist but this time I figured I’d give the Marines a try.

    Now this felt like home and truly tribal. I finally found what I’ve wanted and was planning to be a lifer. Of course when we make plans, God laughs. I had an accident about 2.5 years into my tour and spent the next 2.5 years in the hospital then got medically retired. Yep, that’s right, 5 years on a 4 year tour. It felt like being banished from the tribe.

    I went to college which felt a little tribal but not as tribal as the Marines felt. Got a decent job after that and began the daily grind and moved more and more away from tribalism.

    Globalism is a disease. The closest thing we have to tribalism in modern society is sports. Funny thing about sports though is that it’s very rare for even a single player on a team to actually be from the cities they represent. Sometimes they’re even from other countries. Yet we blindly cheer for teams that carry our cities name as if it reflects on us somehow. Some people are lifelong fans of a hometown team where none of the players come from or have anything to do with their hometown.

    1. @Grits,

      Great comment. Excellent points. It IS part of us. Being tribal. Instinctive gravitation. Some ‘tribes’ have more ‘pull’ than others. Generally speaking though, it’s the closeness/comradery that we feel among personal relationships which are strongest.

      Interestingly as you pointed out, tribalism transcends to other aspects, including sports. Fans feel connected to ‘their’ team. Regardless of where ‘their’ players originate. Why? Well, that’s what I’m saying… it’s some sort of built-in form of being part of a tribe.

    2. In regard to players on sports teams, I think this is correct: in Ireland, the sport of hurling is very important to many communities. The players are amateurs, and for the most part, they represent their home towns. They do not “follow the money.” If you ever get a chance, watch a match. It’s not for the faint of heart!

  3. Tribalism, or clans, will make a come back once things get really sporty here. There will be no other way to survive. People living in the megalopolis constantly complain of being lonely, you don’t here that in rural communities. People are more connected to each other in rural areas, sure we may be old fashioned in our ways, behind the times…whatever they may call us. It will serve us well in the upcoming unpleasantness. Build your tribe now, build relationships with neighbors of like mind, they are out there, probably more than you think.

  4. Denial of the Tribal nature has been shown to be the root cause of many of the “Modern” stressors like loneness and lack of self esteem. Sadly it took PTSD research to really bring that out in the open.

    Waiting until SHTF to seek out your Tribe will not be healthy. You need time to build up trust and ability to get along. Country folks used to have it a bit better but way to may of us have no real connection to the family down the lane from us. Barn raisings not Home Nesting builds that community known as a Tribe-clan.

    It takes time and working together through issues-troubles to build up Tribal strength. Waiting until all the worst is occurring is not going to do well as everyman for himself rules.

    Scary thing is the Criminal Underworld has Tribalism down pat. They will have strengths we will have to deal with when it gets ugly.

  5. All my adult life i have been a ” biker ” not a summer rider a biker, I have been in a couple of side patch clubs and fraternized with back patch clubs. I am at ease with my own , i can turn to my own, and mutual trust ensures mutual respect with my own. Seen from the outside we can be judged badly ( and a few deserve no less ). But when the SHTF I know where my support group is. When I was temporally homeless a biker and his family gave me shelter for the few weeks i needed to sort things out. Members of my old club have helped me move house. When i was a publican with my own business the biking community used my premises for there nights out. So yes being part of a tribe pays. Just remember that a bigger community exists and maintain good relations with that as well.

  6. To my family/tribe, our small town church is our tribe, so to speak. Good article

  7. Tribalism also taught us to be more tolerant of others’ ideas because we generally had great regard for that person that we knew and loved so we were more willing to listen to their point of view. We could disagree respectfully.

    Tribalism was both easy and difficult for our multi-generational households. Everyone had a job that utilized their best skills within the household, but your whole family knew your business too. Some people rebelled at that.

    The same holds true for smaller communities. I believe there is still that connectiveness in small communities – whether a farm community or an art community or whatever…they have gathered for common goals as a do on this site.

    As we became more mobile as a nation and we pushed into large cities for work, our mindsets also changed. Some people like that level of anonymity because it allows them to operate in the shadows and sometimes for nefarious reasons.

    I prefer small town life and close family and friends even when we don’t always agree. It certainly keeps life interesting.

  8. I think that most people exhibit tribal bonding as a way of overcoming some type of fear, to live in somewhat more of safer comfort zone.

    1. Texas Boy,
      I know at one time, you were considering ham radio. It too, is kind of a tribal thing. If ya haven’t done so yet, please consider it. 2m ssb

  9. We, as a society, have become so selfish that we have lost all sense of community and consideration for others. This is most likely the root cause of the stress that many people deal with. Many have been taught from birth that must have all the new better toys. Everything from the best games as a kid to the best car and house as adults. There was never any consideration for others only more stuff for me. I have taught my kids to be strong and independent but have consideration for others and be helpful when you can.
    I am in a 12 step recovery group and these people are closer and more trusted than blood relatives. These people are not preppers but will be there any time of the night or day. They have many skills that would be useful in a shtf situation: a couple of carpenters, a farmer, a nurse, a couple of gun enthusiast, and even a liberal that voted for clinton, we give him a hard time but he will be there any time he is called. The idea that people will pull together after a disaster is true in this case. Each one of us has turned our own life into a disaster of addiction. We rely on God and each other for recovery.

  10. Have considered tribal as being shared characteristics, sometimes including origin. And inward looking or circumscribed by geography to a greater degree. A shared mission, however, seems to be something else. More outward looking, and capable of moving people past their differences.

  11. I agree with a lot of this. We live in a society that isolates and separates out people in ways that don’t match how we’ve evolved. It’s very isolating – everyone works all day, then drives alone to their homes which are detached and separated and where family members move out as soon as they’re 18, no more inter-generational living.

    Everyone has become a slave to corporate masters and our lives are structured around accommodating those corporations and being as productive as possible, at the expense of socializing and sharing leisure time and living communally. It’s unnatural and it causes a lot of harm – it’s no wonder mental health issues are increasing.

    We need to spend more time together and less time slaving away for distant shareholders to earn profits at our expense.

  12. In these times the family seems to move out to faraway places , primarily to find work. I relish the fond memories of all my aunts ,uncles and cousins coming to Grandmas house for thanksgiving, christmas or a birthday . What wonderful times.

    The family tribe today does not seem to have the closeness of caring relationships with other family members. There are no bonding times.

    Divide and conquer , separate the tribe , they go in different directions. Relationships dissolve , the unity fades, and onetime family friends become strangers. It is sad but it is so.

    Some may call this progress, but this is still very sad to me .

    1. Could it be possible that social engineers target certain sectors of society to divide and conquer. While leaving others intact? I think of Puerto Ricans, for instance, often large families, and very close family ties. That’s more like it was intended to be. Italians, likewise, historically, have very close families.

      Could what is generally considered the cycle of Western civilization be a causative factor? When in the tyranny, revolution, and freedom phases, there is perhaps more of a need for support from others in order to attain the desired results. Then as the cycle progresses into the phases of prosperity, eventually luxury, and finally, anarchy, the perceived need for mutual support diminishes respectively.

      Nothing absolute here, just simply mentioning some possibilities.

  13. No offence to younger people but with all the drug dealing in my part of town, where homes range in price from $200,000 to a million dollars, as I age, I feel safer with seniors or those 55 plus. It is not only the young who are the drug dealers but those into middle age (40s, early 50s). My 70 and 80 something neighbours are safe by comparison. I deliberately moved into a condo with the elderly although I am still in my late 50s. Others are doing the same. My tribe is my condo neighbours, not the general public which I try to avoid.

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