The Tribal Mind

This post is a brief explanation of the notion of “Tribal Mind” used in my posts on the Modular God and How to make a Christian.

The relative size of a mammal’s brain seems strongly correlated to the size of troops in which they socialize. There are about 200 species of primates. They all vary in troop sizes and brain size. Baboon’s average troop size is about 50 while the average human troop size is about 150. The increased brain size is needed, among other things, to identify and remember traits of members of the troop.

One primate survival skill is cooperation. The downside of cooperation is the freeloader — the individual who exploits cooperation.  Thus, along with cooperation evolved the ability to contain the cheaters. All thriving cooperative societies must thus have a way to identify and limit these cheaters, thus large parts of the brain are devoted to identifying and keeping track of other individual’s cooperation and cheating records.

As human societies expanded, they created laws and enforcers to supplement the brain’s natural tendencies to keep troop size around 150. But that troop brain (“Tribal Brain”) still serves as a strong calculating module in our minds.  At its best, the tribal brain allows cooperation, but it also creates an “US vs. THEM” mentality — the tribal mind regulates the degree of hostility toward outsiders (those outside the tribe).   When the Tribal Mind gets co-opted by theology, it become the “Tribal God”.  The theology of a religion, among other things, regulates obedience to authority, tolerance and conventionalism which have strong impacts on the Tribal God.

Related Readings:

Related Triangulations:

  • Goyology: how one views and treats those outside their tribe/troop


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “The Tribal Mind

  1. geoih

    I think you also need to link your tribal mind to biology. I’ve also read where the increase in the human troop size is most likely related to language, by allowing for a person to connect with others without direct physical contact.

  2. Interesting observations, Sabio. Curmudgeon had a post recently about tribal values versus family values.

  3. @ geoih :
    Exactly. The references at bottom are referring to much of that biology. It is fun stuff, isn’t it!

    @ Leah :
    Your link was interesting — tribal thinking can be used to motivate all sorts of hatred and violence.

  4. I’ve written about the “Us vs Them” mentality in relation to religion.

    This primitive facet of the mind is commonly exploited by religious leaders and politicians. It’s hard not to get swept up by appeals to such a powerful motivating factor.

    However, in modern times, this mindset is often decried as counterproductive in today’s society. We’re developing more of a global consciousness as technological advancements bring more and more people into contact from all parts of the globe.

  5. @ Janus
    Thanx. I think the Tribal mind can serve us well — to make clubs, corporations, teams, friends and the like. But it can be an ugly weapon also.

    You are right, we have built many cultural tools to transcend the limitations of the genetic module and thus culture can be like an epigenetic mechanism. But culture is not as durable as genes. It disappears in a flash and we are left with the old tools.

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