Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson appeared on a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show to discuss the challenges of tribalism and division.
- Peterson describes tribalism as an evolutionary necessity that helps humans build bonds with families and groups.
- The tension between in-group and out-group loyalty is a constant for our species, but shared narratives and belief systems overwrite these tendencies and unite opposing peoples.
- As Peterson notes, society needs conservatives and progressives to get along and work together for mutual benefit, and building new narratives is the only solution.
Why It’s Important
Modern political life has become consumed by division and instability, with opposing political tribes being unable to agree on basic definitions of words or solutions to global issues. As Peterson notes, this problem is rooted in human psychology. In light of this reality, Dr. Mamet Oz asks Peterson how this state of affairs can be challenged. How can humans increase our tribal loyalties to include the entire human race?
Peterson responds that the answer is creating narratives that subsume tribal loyalties, such as the “Judeo-Christian narrative structure,” which consists of stories about the nature of humanity and what they are. Without beliefs that make narratives self-evident, the system destabilizes and makes people hopeless.
“I think the United States is a good example of that. You need an overarching narrative of who you are, where you are, where you’re going, and how you’ll get there with other people. You can stick tribal groups within that, but they must subsume their tribal loyalty to a larger narrative, so there’s a melting pot element of it,” says Peterson.
As political conversations become more religious and tribal, they become more aggressive and unresolvable. If there is no underlying belief in shared humanity or tribal associations, it becomes impossible for groups to resolve their differences. Those differences also serve an important role in idea generation, with progressives being more creative and open-minded and conservatives being more managerial and orderly—all traits necessary for people to succeed.
“Far more of your political outlook is determined by your temperament, genetics, and biological factors than you think, and it’s useful to know that, to understand that the person you are talking to isn’t arbitrarily different. It’s a difference that might be useful in different circumstances,” says Peterson.
“Humans don’t have the capacity to make our own values. Try it. Wake up in the morning when your conscious is bothering you about something you’ve done and tell yourself it’s okay, you’ll make your own values and make everything okay. That rationalization doesn’t work against intrinsic moral intuition that has you within its grip, which connects you to the underlying moral structure of the world.”