Theistic Satanism: Home > Politics > Nazi > Tribal instinct
Human tribal instinct, racism, and the need to think about them
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
- The shortage of refutations of racist ideologies online - a personal note
- A stab at the heart of neo-Nazi ideology
- Satanism, individuality, and tribal instinct
- My tentative predictions about human tribalism in the near future
- The shortage of refutations of racist ideologies online - a personal note
In Part 2 of this article, I will do something that most of today's activists against "hate groups" would never do. I will look seriously at one of the central ideas of neo-Nazi ideology and argue against it. Not only that, but I will try to refute it on its own terms, rather than in terms of moral beliefs which the neo-Nazis and other white racial nationalists have rejected. In other words, I'll present an example of an argument that I might use in a serious attempt to persuade neo-Nazi-leaning people themselves to re-think their beliefs.
Most anti-"hate group" activists avoid any debate with their enemies, preferring instead just to insult and vilify their enemies and to try to get their enemies censored and driven out of town. Most anti-racist and anti-Nazi activists seem to feel that it is beneath them to try to refute their enemies' claims, because, in their view, racist ideas should just be considered a priori unacceptable, end of story. In my opinion, the near-total absence of any attempt to refute their enemies' claims is a grave mistake - especially given the huge amount of attention and free publicity that the "hate groups" are getting, otherwise, from the activists who oppose them.
One possible reason for the lack of interest in refuting racist ideology has been the perception, by many leftists, that the greatest progress in civil rights has resulted not from any efforts to change the beliefs of white people, but rather from political pressures on institutions to change their policies. (See White Perceptions : A discussion with Tim Wise, March 28, 2002.) To some extent I agree with that perception. Nevertheless it seems to me that the beliefs of white people do play an important role in the system, even if they aren't the most important factor. And the beliefs of white people are certainly important if you want white people not to join a reactionary movement against the progress that has been made. Thus, although direct efforts to change the beliefs of white people might not be the most important thing for a movement against white racism to do, they are not utterly unimportant. Anyhow, although I suspect that many anti-"hate group" activists may be influenced by the afore-mentioned leftist perspective, they don't fully share that perspective, because, if they did, then they wouldn't be focussing so much on the extremists in the first place; they would be focussing more on anti-black racist behavior by institutions. (See Racism, White Liberals and the Limits of Tolerance by Tim Wise, who also points out in this article, "Unless antiracists, including those of us who fought so hard to convince voters that Duke was a white supremacist, and an 'extremist,' can do just as good a job undermining the ideological basis for his political appeal, he will never be finally defeated, and the danger he posed and poses will never be finally passed.")
For several months around the year 2000, I spent a lot of time studying neo-Nazi and other White Nationalist websites to try to understand their point of view. I also spent quite a bit of time looking at anti-Nazi and anti-racist sites. I discovered that, contrary to popular stereotype, the folks on the neo-Nazi/WN side are not all just a bunch of semi-literate "trailer trash." It's true that many of them aren't very bright. But it disturbed me to discover that some of them are very intelligent, articulate, and well-educated. Even more disturbing, some of them made arguments that I found very difficult to refute.
Worst of all, back in the year 2000, I couldn't find any answers to most of their arguments on any of the anti-racist or anti-Nazi websites I looked at. I did find the Nizkor site, devoted to refuting Holocaust revisionism, and I found refutations of some common anti-Jew myths on the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) site. But I couldn't find even even a single website that bothered to make a case against racism. All the anti-racist websites I could find simply assumed that racism is wrong and didn't even bother to look at, much less refute, the central beliefs of racist ideologues. Instead of making any case at all against racism, nearly all of them were devoted either to (1) exposing subtle, hidden, unarticulated forms of racism, or (2) providing historical and biographical information about the leaders of today's "hate groups," sometimes attempting to psychoanalyze them but never attempting to understand or rebut their actual stated beliefs.
I even tried approaching some local anti-racist activists, asking if there was anyone they could refer me to who would be willing to talk to me about these matters, perhaps for a small fee. No luck.
So, I had no choice but to think very, very hard. The whole experience put me into quite a state of cognitive dissonance for about a year. I was determined to grapple with my confusion in an intellectually honest manner, not by just mouthing the usual moral platitudes.
As of 2006, there are now some much better anti-racist resources than I was able to find back in the year 2000. (See my page of Recommended anti-Nazi and anti-racist resources and the links on my separate page on The myth of "black crime".) At least there are now some fairly good sites devoted to refuting the more commonplace anti-black racist beliefs.
But it's still very hard to find any web pages that address what I see as the very heart of neo-Nazi and other white racist ideologies. White racist ideology isn't just the sum of a bunch of lies and half-truths about Jews and about people of color.
It seems to me that the heart of neo-Nazi and other White Nationalist ideologies has to do with something else entirely: the nature of human tribal instincts, and the ethical consequences of same. That is the issue which the most intelligent and articulate White Nationalist ideologues focus on the most, and which is the underlying theme of almost everything else that they write, including most of their specific allegations about particular ethnic groups. Human tribal instincts are what I had to spend the most time thinking about back in 2000. And they are, in my opinion, a vitally important topic that everyone should spend some time thinking about.
So far I've found only one page on which an anti-racist activist responds to a White Nationalist perspective on tribal instincts: Transcript of Radio Debate between Jared Taylor and Tim Wise.
Unfortunately I don't have time to write in-depth about human tribal instincts myself right now. I'll have more to say about them in the future. For now, here on this page, I'll just briefly introduce a few key issues.
As I said, I think it's a big mistake for anti-"hate group" activists to avoid any serious attempt to refute their enemies' claims. It is a propaganda boon to the neo-Nazis and other White Nationalists, who can now portray themselves as courageous, persecuted truth tellers whose enemies cannot refute them but can only resort to slander and censorship in a desperate effort keep the white "sheeple" brainwashed into allowing themselves to be destroyed.
- A stab at the heart of neo-Nazi ideology
Human tribal instincts can be essential to the individual's survival under some circumstances, such as warfare.
Racial nationalist ideology starts from human tribal instinct. Racial nationalists believe that the human species will always be divided into groups of one kind or another, because evolution requires competition and people can compete better as groups than just as individuals.
So far, all of the above is probably true - unless we get invaded by space aliens or something, at which point the entire human race would have a nonhuman enemy to unite against.
But racial nationalists also believe that the most natural form of tribal instinct is loyalty to one's literal biological tribe, and, by extension, loyalty to one's race, which at least one White Nationalist has described as "just a very big extended family." To them, loyalty to one's biological kin is the highest good. Hence, from their point of view, it's very important to have clearly distinct and separate biological tribes/races.
There are lots of problems with this idea, one of which is that human tribal instinct does not limit itself to biological kinship. People naturally form groupings on the basis of all sorts of things other than genetic kinship.
One biggie is religion, which can easily divide families, let alone races, and can give people a much stronger sense of group identity than blood kinship. As Jesus is said to have put it, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." (Matthew 10:34-37, referring to Micah 7:6)
The reality is that race, all by itself, just isn't all that much of a social glue. Many racial nationalists do in fact realize this, because a lot of them talk about the need for a "cohesive culture" too.
(Note to readers other than White Nationalists: By saying that race, by itself, isn't much of a social glue, I don't mean to deny that racism is a widespread problem. However, at least here in the U.S.A., it seems to me that popular white racist attitudes consist mainly of a bunch of prejudicial beliefs about people of other races, such as the "black crime" myth, rather than any strong sense of tribal identity as white people. This may be one of the reasons why a lot of white people with popular racist attitudes don't see themselves as "racist.")
Here in the U.S.A., neo-Nazis and other White Nationalists have had so little luck fostering a sense of racial tribalism among white people that, out of sheer desperation, some White Nationalist activists have reached out to street gangs, which naturally do tend to form along lines of race and ethnicity. Furthermore, although most white racist "skinhead crews" aren't street gangs themselves, as far as I can tell, they nevertheless display the same thuggish attitudes that are characteristic of street gangs of all races. Ironically, their very existence is evidence against the common White Nationalist claim that thuggishness is a black thing.
What would it take to foster a sense of white racial tribalism outside the world of street gangs, prisons, etc.?
One thing that can bind people together is the sense of a long shared history of oppression and fighting back against same. Thus, the more zealous racial nationalists try to create a sense of shared racial oppression. But, for White Nationalists, that's not easy. After all, most of the world's wealthiest nations are still dominated by whites. The worst alleged forms of "oppression" that White Nationalists can come up with, at least here in the U.S.A., are alleged "black crime" (sometimes alleged to constitute a full-blown "war of blacks against whites") and Affirmative Action. As for alleged "black crime," see my page on The myth of "black crime". As for Affirmative Action, even if one believes that it is totally unjust, it does not constitute the oppression of one race by another, more-powerful race, because the debate about Affirmative Action is largely a debate amongst the white majority over whether some of us should be willing to make some sacrifices so that black people and other non-white minorities will no longer be an underclass.
In a white-dominated country, the only way to turn white people's discontentments into a full-fledged sense of shared racial oppression would be to divide white people into two racial groupings, one of which is alleged to be oppressing the other. Thus, neo-Nazis and some (though not all) other White Nationalists cast white Jews as the fiendishly clever oppressors of all other white people. (But see my brief critique of anti-Jew racist ideology.) Not surprisingly, the most fanatical White Nationalists tend to be the ones who hate Jews.
Therefore, it seems that most White Nationalist ideologies hinge on scapegoating and slandering Jews and people of non-white races, contrary to the common White Nationalist claim that White Nationalism is primarily about love of one's own race and pride in one's own heritage, rather than hatred of other races.
Another problem with racial nationalism is that the necessity of a "cohesive culture" leads almost inevitably to a stifling cultural conservativism. Cultural conservativism and xenophobia aren't just stifling to the freedom of individuals; they also harm the nation as a whole, in the long run.
Throughout history, with only rare exceptions, the most advanced centers of culture have almost always been cosmopolitan cities. "Cosmopolitanism," the bringing together of people from all over the known world, is a dirty word to racial nationalists. But there are good reasons why, to most other people, "cosmopolitan" is a synonym for "sophisticated." A person does in fact become more sophisticated by getting to know people of a variety of cultures and points of view, other than what one was brought up with. So it should be no surprise that, for example, the ancient Greek philosophers were influenced by Eastern philosophy. (Pythagoreanism had a lot in common with Hinduism, and the philosophy of Heraclitus had some key ideas in common with Taoism. Obviously there must have been some cultural exchange going on between East and West back then.) More recently, modern Western civilization, with all its technological advances, managed to get off the ground only after Western Europe finally ended its centuries-long isolation from the rest of the world. The more isolated nbsp- hence racially "purer"  - societies have almost always tended to be relatively backward, other factors being equal. Even modern Japan, extremely racist and xenophobic though it is, has always borrowed a lot of ideas from other cultures and couldn't possibly have become the technologically advanced society that it is today without so doing.
Racial nationalists like to blame "cosmopolitanism" for the fall of civilizations. Well, that's indirectly true. A civilization can't fall if it didn't rise in the first place; and, for most civilizations including our own, cosmopolitanism played a significant role in their rise and especially in their cultural flowering.
In today's world, it can be argued that the idea of "multiculturalism" has been taken too far in some ways, e.g. those folks who pretend that every pre-colonial non-white society was a pristene paradise. Nevertheless, at least up to a point, the mingling of different cultures is essential to human progress.
- Satanism, individuality, and tribal instinct
Among Satanists, the most common argument against neo-Nazism is to contrast neo-Nazism's collectivism (emphasis on group identity) with most Satanisms' emphasis on individuality. Indeed, most forms of Satanism do emphasize human freedom and individuality to a degree clearly incompatible with neo-Nazism.
But humans, including Satanists, do have tribal instincts. Unfortunately, a weakness of most forms of Satanism is that they do not encourage deep thought about human tribal instincts. Given most Satanisms' emphasis on individuality, I suspect that, for many Satanists, their tribal instincts become their shadow, an unacknowledged part of themselves that they don't want to look at.
As a result, when tribal instincts do rear their head amongst us, they tend to manifest in incredibly crude, immature, and extreme form. Examples include (1) the extreme dogmatism of various Satanist groups including the Church of Satan, (2) a few groups' calls for Satanists to form a separate nation (!), and, of course, (3) the neo-Nazism advocated by a few Satanist groups. Despite all our talk about rising above the herd, some of us display worse mentalities than do many adherents of Christianity, which explicitly appeals to herd mentality (even going so far as to call its leaders "pastors," which literally means "shepherds"). In my opinion, a lot of us need to think more deeply about human tribal instinct and how to strike an appropriate balance between tribal instinct and individuality.
As I've said, tribal instincts can be essential to the individual's survival under some circumstances. In addition, tribal feelings can feel very good. So, there's no reason not to indulge them in a responsible manner, to the extent that we can do so without trampling on individual freedom.
For example, it's fine to be proud of one's ethnic heritage and to do what one can to preserve it, short of forcing other people to conform to it or discriminating against people of other ethnicities in housing, employment, etc. Here in New York, we have annual parades for many different ethnic groups (including various European nationalities, most notably the Irish, so you shouldn't assume that multiculturalism is just for people of color). And there is certainly nothing wrong with keeping alive the literature, music, recipes, etc. of your ancestors.
It's also fine to engage in political activism to defend the rights of any unpopular minority you happen to belong to. Some Satanists have denounced even this sort of activism as contrary to individualism. But in fact it has, on the whole, helped to make the world a much freer and more tolerant place for many people. It can be argued that at least some sectors of various minority-rights movements have gone too far in some ways and have various other flaws, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. All these movements still do have valid concerns. Furthermore, political activism can be a lot of fun, depending on how you go about it.
One of the pitfalls of human tribal instinct is us-vs.-them thinking, which is an obvious necessity in time of war, but, in other contexts, can be a vastly oversimplified way of looking at the world, with very unpleasant consequences. For example, even some lesbians and gay men have been prejudiced against bisexuals because they would prefer to live in a world that is split neatly between gays and heterosexuals. People of interracial background have had to face a lot of hostility for similar reasons.
One aspect of us-vs.-them thinking is to see "them" as essentially all alike. Thus, for example. some Christians see all non-Christians aa "Satanists." Similarly, some Satanists and some Wiccans both see each other as "Christians." In politics, a political moderate, or a person with political views derived from all over the spectrum, will be seen by some left-wingers as "right wing scum." Conversely, back in the 1950's, anyone who wasn't a hard-line conservative was in danger of being accused of being a "communist sympathizer."
Some people blame us-vs.-them thinking on "Christian dualism" and believe that if it weren't for religions like Zoroastrianism and Christianity, "dualistic" thinking would just go away. Personally, I'm more inclined to believe that us-vs.-them dualism is a natural part of human war-instinct, often inappropriate in times of peace. The good-vs.-evil dualism of religions like Zoroastrianism and Christianity does appeal to human war-instincts but is not the source of those instincts. Some of the folks who blame "Christian dualism" exhibit some very blatant and silly oversimplified us-vs.-them dualistic thinking of their own. (For one example, see Isaac Bonewits and "dualism".) Those who blame "Christian dualism" or "Western dualism" rightly point out that various non-Western cultures have a more sophisticated view of duality, e.g. the yin/yang concept with its emphasis on complementary rather than antagonistic opposites. But, to me, this doesn't imply that Western culture is the source of all racism, patriarchy, etc., which have existed for a long time in plenty of other cultures too, independently of any Western influence. It just means that various non-Western cultures have developed a more sophisticated view of duality.
Politics has been called "war by other means." So, it's only natural that political activists would display war-instincts, including us-vs.-them thinking. In politics as in war, us-vs.-them thinking is valid up to a point. But, if one wants to remain intellectually honest and avoid harming innocent people - or, in some cases, just avoid looking like an idiot - then one needs to keep an eye out for the oversimplifications that us-vs.-them thinking can so easily lead to.
- My tentative predictions about human tribalism in the near future
Here are some web pages about tribal instincts from a variety of different political points of view:
- Mano Singham's Web Journal, "Why we must learn to see ourselves as others see us," parts 1 (August 08, 2006), 2 (August 09, 2006), 3 (August 10, 2006), and 4 (August 11, 2006)
- Variations on a racist theme by Derek Strahan
- Ethnic Violence and Economic Decline in Europe by J. R. Nyquist
- The race taboo by Brian Whitaker, about racism in the Middle East
(See also the Transcript of a Radio Debate between Jared Taylor and Tim Wise I mentioned earlier.)
Unlike some liberals, I don't believe that we humans will ever completely get rid of tribal instinct. But I don't see racism as its most natural form, and I certainly don't believe in trying buttress racial tribalism by forcing people to conform to a traditional ethnic culture. I don't believe that there is any one manifestation of human tribal instinct that is its most natural form in all times and places. Rather, the forms it takes will vary depending on circumstances.
Over the past several decades, the more fanatical forms of both Christianity and Islam have grown dramatically. (See The Next Christianity by Philip Jenkins, The Atlantic Volume 290, No. 3, October, 2002.) So, in the near future, I'm inclined to think the world's people will be divided more and more along lines of religion and on the basis of what they believe should be the proper role of religion in society. Both in the U.S.A. and elsewhere in the world, I see ever-increasing polarization between those who want a secular society, in which people of many different religions and of no religion all try to get along, and those who want to live in a religiously monopolistic society, dominated exclusively by one particular religion. And, of course, the religious monopolists will be at odds with each other over which religion should hold the monopoly.
As the world continues to polarize along religion-based lines, there will be more and more of a need for the people in each camp to put an end to the hostilities and inequities, within its own ranks, based on things like race.