Tribalism and the media is a variation on a theme I have returned to several times over the course of my blog-writing career. Tribalism seems to be fundamental to most aspects of our everyday lives, our politics and, in particular, our biases. My tribe can be my family, the people on my street, the people in my town, county, state, country and even hemisphere. It is a term that differentiates on many different levels and, to deny its existence is fundamentally stupid and myopic.

     I have just spent three weeks in my home country of England, watching English TV, hearing English news and listening to English points of view. It has just re-enforced my concept of the predominance of tribalism in virtually all matters of human interaction. AND, I have yet again come to the conclusion that it is “natural”, and a fundamental tenet of human existence. A bit philosophical, I admit, but nonetheless true and ubiquitous.

     British TV and media have been obsessed over the past week with a gutter-press headline last weekend revealing that a pillar of the BBC announcers supposedly paid a 17-year-old for explicit pictures of themselves.

     Who cares about Ukraine, Russia, or even the EU and Brexit? The whole country is focused on this one personality, and the daily revelations about him. The outside world could care less, and should care less. It is hardly a unique event anywhere. Even the BBC website itself doesn’t have much on this story in its worldwide editions. Tribalism at its best or, in this case, at its worst.

     Where I live in the U.S., all the news we are bombarded with on a daily basis is of little interest to anyone in other countries. The U.S. has a greater tendency than most countries to believe it is the center of the earth, and therefore the center of everyone’s attention and interest, but news on the U.S. in the U.K. this past three weeks has been minimal. Only the arrival of President Biden in London, on a whistle-stop visit this week, prompted some attention.

     I have to reflect on whether this lack of interest in anything outside of your tribe, however you define that, is exacerbated by the media or just reflected by it. The media, of course, would deny they are influenced by either of these restrictions, but we all know that is nonsense.

     Much as it irritates me to say this, I think the media is reflecting the local population’s interest levels, not creating them. Yes, they encourage a myopic local approach by emphasizing local sensationalism rather than broader sensationalism, but I think they are only reflecting their audience’s interest levels, which is a sad commentary on our “civilized” communities and our education systems. And it seems to be true in all countries, not just in those that have heavy media restrictions imposed by autocratic leaders. Ironically, the people living in countries that do have such autocratic restrictions are probably more interested in what goes on outside of their tribe than those people living in more liberal environments.

     So, the problem is us, and our human heritage, which apparently pre-programs us to view anything and anyone outside of our tribe with immediate suspicion and, at some level, fear. The questions then become: can we change such a fundamental aspect of human nature; do we want to; and could we, even if we wanted to? The answer is most probably no to all three of these questions.

     Whether we like it or not, we are becoming “citizens of the world” more and more each day. Tribalism was actually productive when we lived in caves, or in small groups. It protected the group against marauding enemies, and created a unit that defended the individual from the surrounding, often hostile, environment. The surrounding environment is often still hostile today, but interdependency is becoming more and more the order of the day. Tribalism fights that change.

     If we can’t do anything about removing the pre-ordained condition of tribalism, can we use education, and the media, to modify such a fundamental human condition? It’s a question worth pursuing as an academic exercise but, more importantly, as a human survival technique. I shall return to this difficult subject frequently.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of hCaptcha is required which is subject to their Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.

Scroll to Top