Delong points to this interesting post by David Brin.
Many thinkers about human nature have operated on assumptions that people ought, logically, to behave in certain ways. Freud based it all on early sexual trauma and repression, Marx on the notion that humans naturally make decisions based on rational, satiable self-interest, while Machiavelli worked out his scenarios assuming all humans interact through power relationships and domination. All are a priori assumptions, based on limited (and personally biased) observations of people and society, rather than any verified and fundamental discovery about human nature. Each writer was able to “prove” his point with copious anecdotal evidence. But, as Ronald Reagan showed us, anecdotes prove nothing about generalities, only about possibilities.
In fact, while the models of Freud, Marx, and Machiavelli (also Madison, Keynes, Ghandi etc.) have attracted legions of followers, clearly influencing sociological, historical and psychological events, I believe a much stronger case can be made for tribalism as a deeply motivating force in history. After all, should not any theoretical explanation of our nature apply across the long span of time when human nature actually formed? Also, if you can find a pattern or patterns that seem to have held across all continents and almost all pre-metal tribes, isn’t there a much better chance that the trait really is natural? That it is not an artifact of later cultural imposition by contrived societies?…
Isn’t it strange that few social theorists – from socialist to libertarian – ever cite this long epoch, when humans were few, but when a vast majority of human generations suffered darwinnowing pressures, thriving or dying according to their fitness to meet challenges in a harsh world, unprotected by the houses and markets of the last 5,000 years? (I am qualified to speak here, as a peer-published author in the field of sociobiology.)
So, what might tribalism tell us about human nature, that was missed by Marx and Freud and Rand and all the others, with their post-literacy myopia? What traits seem to be shared BOTH by tribal and “civilized” societies? Are there any deep, ongoing themes?