Tribes, Tribute, Attribution, Scapegoat

Human beings are fundamentally tribal. Without a tribe, survival was unsustainable. A father baboon, with mummy and the kids, is just food, for a leopard. However, a large male leopard going to drink will be attacked by a mob of baboons, and will have to flee for dear life. The power of the tribe is how baboons survive: they need to get to very dangerous water holes and rivers, every day, in scorching hot Africa. Baboons also learned how to conquer the savannah, and they can do so, only because they are military.

It’s not any different for human beings. True human beings are larger than baboons (but not larger than the giant baboons who used to roam Africa, before humans extinguished them). But human beings’ only defense is weapons, best used as a fighting army, not the giant, lethal canine teeth of baboons. Moreover, human beings have higher metabolic needs than baboons, not just from larger size, but also vertical posture, running and sweating (not just sitting in trees when threatened, waiting for danger to move on). Most importantly, human beings have large brains which are so energy greedy that human had to eat flesh, muscle, animal fat, replenishing marrow and the rich brains of prey.

A tribe of 100 humans, comprising 20 warriors, had supremacy on the savannah. All animals knew this, from hyenas, to buffaloes, down to crocodiles and snakes. Only another tribe could stop it. 

Sacrificing the occasional scapegoat makes the tribe stronger, more unified, better fed, cognitively satiated. By the way, those obsessed by God, may, thanks to God, engage in criminal behavior, and this all the more, the more vicious and violent the so-called “God’ is. Just ask Erdogan.

Thus fascism (obeying the alpha males strictly in case of conflict) and tribal hatred became fundamental in human ethology: they made humans, and even proto-humans possible. That’s why we share these traits with chimpanzees.

So now, here we are. All human endeavors are influenced by the  tribal spirit. Yet we are 8 billions, our tribe comprises eight billion, not just 100 individuals.

Indeed, we have solidarity, whether we like it or not. If one billion died off on the other side of the planet, it’s extremely likely that our own fates, our entire species, would be threatened by the same menace which killed our fellow-men, far away. Far away is not what it used to be. Our ancestors threw a rock 20 meters, now it takes 20 minutes to hit anywhere significant, with the Sun’s own thermonuclear fusion.

Of course, the formation of tribes, and achieving a sense of existence, thanks to tribes, is not the only concept which characterizes humanity. Intelligence is even more so. Searching for truth is formalized as “science”. Now a massive economic activity.

However, science, even science is still informed by the tribal spirit. This is why various tribes, even scientific tribes, can, and will, take violent, aggressive stances. Far from being a secondary characteristic, an anecdote, the aggressivity in science is front and central. One way to do this, is to steal others by attributing tributes falsely. This has real consequences on the evolution of science, and of thinking in general. For example, my misattributing the heliocentric theory, inertia, the theory of relativity and evolution, the subtleties, or depth, of the real creators was forgotten (the real creators being respectively Buridan, not Copernicus and Newton; Jules Henri Poincaré, not Einstein; and finally Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, not Darwin).

Buridan anticipated Riemann’s description of force, the meat of “General” Relativity. Poincaré, creator, with Lorentz of local space and time theory, anticipated it was not the end-all, be-all (as Quantum Physics says). And Lamarck, well, turns out to have been much more right about evolution, than even his most determined supporters anticipated…  

Notice this: the concept of “tribe” brought that of tribute, attributing, even “peer” as in “peer review”. Science is all about tribes… from the very language it uses! (I am aware of “Science Wars”, “Postmodernism”, Popper, Kuhn, etc… But, in some ways, I am going further, and I do know science quite well.)

So what of the concept scapegoat in all this?

Scapegoatism holds the tribe together by example.Here I will refer to Girard, long a professor at Stanford (a place I graced with my presence too). I have generalized the Scapegoat Theory (which is thousands of years old), by a more general form, Moral Displacement Syndrome. But let me give here Girard’s simple minded description.

René Girard was born on December 25, 1923, in Avignon, France.

Whereas the philosophers of the 18th century would have agreed that communal violence results in a new social contract, Girard believes that, paradoxically, the problem of violence is frequently solved with a lesser dose of violence, a sort of vaccination.

When (Girard’s concept of) mimetic rivalries accumulate, tensions grow until they reach a paroxysm. When violence is on the verge of terminating the community, very frequently a bizarre, but well-known, psychosocial mechanism arises: communal violence is all of a sudden projected upon a single individual (or a group, for example, the Jews in Europe; an example the Catholic-by-avocation Girard would have noticed, is the legend of Jesus, the mythical founder of Christianism, who ends and is reborn and brandished, as the eternal scapegoat).

Thus, individuals who were formerly struggling this way and that, now unite their efforts against someone, or some group, chosen as a scapegoat. Former enemies now become friends, as they communally participate in the commission of violence against a specified enemy.

The scapegoat re-activates the fascist instinct, satisfying the tribal nature. The scapegoat is also cognitively satisfying, as the scapegoat’s alleged crimes provide with a theory of the adversity which unfolded, now supposedly solved with the punishment of the scapegoat.

It can happen in all sorts of weird ways: for example, the “democrats” rule, under Carter, Clinton, Obama (and even G.W. Bush whom the so-called “democrats” supported in his invasion of Iraq) was completely disastrous. Actually under Obama, inequalities reached a new peak, never reached before, and officially 23 millions, under Obamacare, have strictly no health insurance (according to the Obama administration itself), and so on. Whose fault is that? Donald Trump, a racist xenophobe busy marrying foreign women, they explained.

The same happened in France: if all is terrible there, a “Republican Front” will rescue the nation by opposing scapegoat Marine le Pen, and alleged anti-European who is a European Member of Parliament. Similarly, in Great Britain, if the country became so rich, so fast, it’s all the fault of the European Union and its millions of immigrants.

A concept can become a scapegoat: if Germany was bad, the Nazis explained in the 1920s, egged on by plutocrat Keynes, a British economist and propagandist, it was because of the Versailles Treaty.

In North Korea, the entire planet is a scapegoat, thus the necessity to prepare nuclear Armageddon ASAP. 

This being said, there are other ways than finding a scapegoat to unite a people, such as a common project involving the power of the entire group, united (exactly what baboons do, several times a day, foraging together, or marching to and from water, both under military watch).

If one wants to understand people, their ideas, their feelings and their moods, one has to understand tribal effects.

Patrice Ayme’


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