To get along, let's be a little less 'tribalistic'

To get along, let's be a little less 'tribalistic'

It is not surprising that humans are predisposed to favouring those within their own social circle or community ("The perils of selective solidarity"; last Sunday).

In his book, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, And The Gap Between Us And Them, psychologist Joshua Greene explains that biologically, human beings evolved to cooperate only in a tribal way.

This "us versus them" mentality results when the moral common sense forged with members of a community with similar interests and values differs from that of another.

This instinct is portrayed in a dilemma posed by philosopher Peter Singer, who asked if one would save a drowning child if it meant ruining one's expensive suit.

Most people would be appalled at letting the child drown. But would they feel an urgent obligation to donate money to save the lives of starving children in Africa?

Most people would say it is nice to make a donation, but it would not be terrible if one chose to spend the money on oneself instead. So, is there a moral difference between seeing a child die in front of you, and knowing many children are dying on the other side of the world?

If morality allows individuals to form a group and get along with one another, then the challenge is to get groups with competing interests to get along - a tall order, given that humans have real limitations, obligations and frailties.

So the best solution is to set reasonable goals - in essence, be a little less "tribalistic".

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)


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