Is Tribalism the Worst Idea in History?

My student, the color drained from his face, explained that a blood feud had just begun that would continue for generations.

I had been teaching an MBA class when this student — a Kurd from Turkey — received an emergency phone call from home. In his village, police had responded to one neighbor’s complaint that the chickens of another neighbor were running loose in the street. The patriarch of the family whose chickens were loose was incensed when he came home to learn that the “honor” of his family had been insulted by the police visit. In rage, he shot to death the members of the family that had called the police.

I had been lecturing about the rule of law.

At about the same time that the chicken feud began, Chinese journalist Zhou Qing was exposing Chinese food scandals. Clenbuterol is a pig-feed additive that makes pork redder and meatier; because it’s poisonous to humans, it has been banned. Newsweek related this story reported by Zhou:

Zhou hears from a food-safety official about a provincial political leader told by a farmer that his pigs still get the banned chemical because it makes their meat a hot seller in urban areas. “Don’t you know that it harms people?” asks the official. “Yes,” replies the farmer. “But city people have free medical care, so it’s no problem.”

Both events have the same root cause: tribalism.

My Clan über Alles

Tribalism is the belief in the supremacy of one’s group identity over the rights of individual human beings. Tribal identity fosters negative feelings, even hatred, toward those outside the tribe. Prejudices are reinforced while commerce and contact with those outside of the tribe are minimized. Tribal societies tend to be closed societies.

Tribalism is a failed system that has brought poverty, misery, and destruction to the world. Political scient…