There are so many ways to sort people. We all do it, all the time. From
everyday decisions (whom to invite to dinner?) to life choices (whom to marry?)
to the great turning points of history (whom to war against?), we're guided by
an ever-present sense, in any situation, of who belongs with whom, and what that
belonging means. Everyone is part of many groups at once, of course - you might be
a woman, a parent, a Republican, an American, and a Hindu. So, how do we decide
which identities matter? Why do they matter so much? What makes people willing
to die, or to kill, for a religion, nation, race, or caste?
In this groundbreaking book, David Berreby shows how science tackles these
questions of group identity. Drawing on new findings from anthropology to
neuroscience, he argues that this "tribal'' sense is a part of human nature,
expressing itself in every aspect of life.
The effects run deep, shaping our lives and opportunities. Us and Them
elegantly explains how this tribal sense:
Alters our thoughts. Show older people a negative image of the aged, and
they act more feeble. Asian women reminded of their Asian heritage did
better on a math test than those who were reminded they were women. In a
small room, the lone holdout against a group's opinion usually gives in and
changes - even when it's obvious that the group is wrong.
Affects our health. People's sense of their place in society directly
links to measures of stress, depression, and cholesterol levels.
Affects our society more than we realize, because it can be manipulated
for good and for ill. Tribal rhetoric has made people feel that injustice
and oppression are perfectly normal, for instance, while at other times, it
has led them to set aside hatred in favor of reconciliation. One
experimenter made a group of young summer campers into warring "tribes'';
and, just as easily, he brought them back together. Us and Them explains how
and why the tribal "buttons'' are pushed.
We can't live without our tribal sense. It tells us who we are and how we
should behave. It frees us from the narrow confines of the self, linking us to
others and the past and the future. Some condemn this instinct, as if it were
only a source of evil. Others celebrate it, as if loyalty and faith were never
misused. David Berreby brilliantly describes a third alternative: how we can
accept and understand our inescapable tribal mind.
An impressively well-researched work ... may not break any new intellectual ground, but it does offer an entertaining survey of a vast, and vastly important, topic of study.
A provocative investigation of the tribal mindset.
... fascinating ... Not since Gordon Allport's Nature Of Prejudice has
. . . belonging and not belonging received such serious treatment.
Booklist - Carol Haggas
At a time when everything from high-school initiations to ethnic genocide can trace its root to such segregationist tendencies, Berreby's thought-provoking analysis is essential.
David Berreby says, "Us And Them is a book about research and ideas. But I suppose its emotional
roots are in my struggles to cope with people who think their way of dividing up
humanity must be the only one around."
If you enjoy the except at BookBrowse, you might also enjoy Berreby's
Us and Them
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