Home Apocalyptic Philosophy Tribalism, Human Nature, and Group Survival

Tribalism, Human Nature, and Group Survival

by Derrick James
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Roman-Germanic War.

Tribalism is a term that does not often carry good connotations. It is blamed for wars, racism, sexism, and so on. While tribalism may be human instinct, it is seen as primitive thinking. It is seen as dangerous. And though all of this may be true, after the apocalypse, the faster you embrace it, the better your chances of survival.

Let’s start with a definition from Merriam Webster.

tribalism – noun

1  :tribal consciousness and loyalty; especially exaltation of the tribe above other groups

2:  strong in-group loyalty


Too academic. Wikipedia’s turn:

Tribalism is the state of being organized by, or advocating for, tribes or tribal lifestyles. Human evolution has primarily occurred in small groups, as opposed to mass societies, and humans naturally maintain a social network. In popular culture, tribalism may also refer to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are loyal to their social group above all else.


That’s better.

We are wired to be tribal, and even those who rail against tribal thinking, usually academics and writers, can’t escape it. They would see themselves aligned in their anti-tribal thinking. That type of thinking, by definition, is tribal.

Tribalism was key to our evolution as a species. We are social animals. We gravitate toward one other. This was necessary to our survival as we had (and still have) much better odds of surviving in a group than we do in isolation. (There are other sociological and psychological scientific arguments for why we’re wired this way if you want to go down that rabbit hole.) Tribal tendencies go beyond just physical survival. We crave the sense of belonging that we find in our tribe. Loneliness leads to unhappiness. 

However, what started as a means to survival eventually evolved into a way of thinking we still unconsciously use today – us versus them.

Tribalism runs deep. It’s not only how we define ourselves, but how we define others. I am this and not that. I am a moderate, not an extremist. I am a man, not a woman. I am an English major, not a Sociology major. I am a writer, not an engineer.

This thinking, of course, comes with a more sinister side; and thus, the argument that tribalism is the source of political, religious, racial, and sexual violence. The argument is that while it helped us survive in the beginning, it now holds us back. This is not hard to see, either. It is innocent and fun when I root for my team and you root for your team. But if my team wins, and you and your tribe of fans get pissed and start smashing windows and flipping cars, things suddenly aren’t as fun. Taken to the extreme, tribalism leads to a sense of superiority, then genocide and war. From this vantage point, academics and writers are correct when they say we must collectively work to reduce tribal thinking, within each other and within ourselves. (Read more at Psychology Today: Belonging is Our Blessing, Tribalism is Our Burden.)

And then there was the apocalypse…

Limit tribal thinking now – embrace it after the apocalypse.

Tribalism will rule the post-apocalyptic world. At a less extreme level, tribalism also rules after any natural disaster. It’s family first. It’s our neighborhood before that neighborhood. 

Trying to rid ourselves of the us versus them mindset makes sense when society functions (relatively) seamlessly, but after plague sweeps the earth and famine reigns supreme, society will devolve into barbarism. No rules. Without rule of law. Warlords. Gangs. To survive, you will have no choice but to rally those around you – to get a tribe!

Fight for the water!

Tribalism, strangely, is actually a selfish act in this regard. We align with a group for our individual survival. That is not a bad thing, of course. It is natural. Yet tribalism simultaneously comes with selfless acts. Examples include parents sacrificing themselves for their children, or soldiers falling on grenades to protect their peers.

Tribalism brings about cooperation, belonging, and a sense of family. Post-collapse, these are important attributes. Our mental health directly influences our physical health, and post-collapse, mental health may be the biggest threat of all.

In the meantime, join the Prepper Press tribe, and you too will have a place you belong.

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