Humans are tribal. Irish, Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, sports fans, Londoners, etc. We are each members of multiple tribes. The tribe brings joy, happiness, community, friendship, and much more. Tribes are well suited to the gregarious nature of humanity. It is fine when tribes meet competitively, e.g. Liverpool vs. Manchester United, the Olympics, Winners are exuberant; losers are in misery. But as long as there is no violence, tribal competition is fine.
What about when tribes meet in warfare? The current Israel-Gaza war is a current example. There are thousands dead on both sides. Many on each side consider the other side’s adult civilians to be guilty or at least complicit. This belief induces violence towards civilians. This violence is against the Geneva Conventions governing the laws of warfare. However, what about young children? It takes extreme hatred, and extreme dehumanization to claim that a 5-year-old kid is guilty or complicit and thus deserves to be killed.
Yet leaders on both sides of the Israel-Gaza claim that “all’ the other side is guilty. This is the first decisive step for genocide, i.e. the brutal mass slaughter of civilians. Two examples will suffice. A Hamas leader said we will do this slaughter four times more. An Israeli minister called for an atomic bomb to be dropped on Gaza. There are many more examples of leaders of each side making such statements. Among their followers this dehumanization is widespread.
We can formulate a general rule: intense tribalism leads to dehumanization. To borrow a quote from the historian, Lord Acton: “Tribalism tends to dehumanize. Extreme tribalism dehumanizes absolutely.”
My thoughts had been traveling on this idea road when we had some Jewish friends over for dinner on Saturday night. We talked about the hostages, murdered Israelis, Israeli soldiers killed, sons of friends and relatives serving in Gaza, the inhumanity of Hamas, hostage Jewish babies farmed out to Palestinian families, and the human shield issue. No one mentioned the 5,000 Palestinian kids killed already by the fighting. Tribally-infused dehumanization eliminated these young innocent victims from discussion and consideration.
Yay, tribe. Yay, team.