Tribalism, Misanthropy, and the Lesser Evil
By Bryan Caplan
1. Tribalism without misanthropy is fairly harmless. If you’re optimistic about the potential of the typical human, you’ll see out-groups as opportunities for mutually beneficial trade. You won’t say, “He doesn’t belong to our tribe, so let’s get rid of him.” You’ll say, “He doesn’t belong to our tribe, but he can still be very useful for our tribe. Let’s welcome him.”
2. Misanthropy remains extremely harmful without tribalism. You may be less inclined to do evil to out-groups for the sake of your tribe. But you’ll feel a strong urge to do evil to everyone out of perceived self-preservation. A tribal misanthrope, for example, would hesitate to restrict the fertility of the other members of his tribe: More people are a burden, but they’re Americans. (Or whatever). A non-tribal misanthrope would have no such scruples: Every baby is nothing more than another unwanted mouth to feed.
The upshot: If we rid the world of misanthropy, we could largely forget about tribalism. And that’s fortunate, because tribalism probably has much deeper evolutionary roots than misanthropy.
P.S. Both tribalism and misanthropy typically include both a positive and a normative component.
Positive tribalism: People in our tribe are smarter, stronger, more skillful, and more cooperative than people in other tribes.
Normative tribalism: People in our tribe are more intrinsically valuable than people in other tribes.
Positive misanthropy: People are stupid, weak, unskilled, and uncooperative.
Normative misanthropy: People have low or negative intrinsic value.
Although these concepts are logically distinct, they’re closely connected empirically. Positive and normative tribalism go hand in hand, as do positive and normative misanthropy. My claim is that the tribal positive/normative package is a lesser evil than the misanthropic positive/normative package.