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Talking about tribalism, terrorism, touchdowns and the Us vs. Them mindset

Seattle Seahawks fans celebrate after overtime of the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. AP

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we’re talking about tribalism – the good, bad and ugly kinds. The word tribalism is often used as a pejorative, if not racist term, but it is arguably just a way of describing a very natural and not always harmful human tendency: Identifying oneself within a certain group. Arguably, most of us are more tribal than not. We identify ourselves as liberals or conservatives, as Christians or Muslims, as black or white or Seahawks and Patriots fans. Being part of a tribe can be a good thing, if it strengthens community bonds and makes people feel as if they truly belong.

But tribalism can also easily become pathological, of course. The news cycle reports regularly on terrorist attacks or threats based on ideological antagonisms. Ethnic conflicts appear to be on the rise around the world, even as we all supposedly are becoming more global citizens. Nationalism, often expressed as anti-immigrant sentiments, also seems to be getting more defensive and exclusionary as opposed to simply celebrating one’s own cultural distinctions. And even the most apparently benign forms of self-identification often sound kind of angry (e.g., this Seattle Times columnist’s definition of a true Northwest ‘native’).

So the Humanosphere gang, in a break from the standard routine of interviewing one person, assembled a group of folks to discuss this phenomenon – tribalism, nationalism and the many ways we tend to engage in the the Us vs Them mindset. Our guests this week are Alex Stonehill, co-founder of the Seattle Globalist (an online news organization that, like Humanosphere, is trying to help the world get along better), Daniel Chirot, a UW sociologist and expert on ethnic conflict and Imana Gunawan, a dancer and journalist who helps make this podcast thing work for us and who originally hails from Jakarta, Indonesia.

Our online salon confab aims to examine the terminology, the mindset of Us v Them and see if we can find a way to make it more Us And Them. Listen in!

And, as usual, Tom and I discuss news highlights including why he felt compelled to critique the 2015 annual letter from Bill and Melinda Gates, the great news that a horrible parasitic disease, Guinea worm, is getting close to eradication and a report of serious misconduct by an American aid and development group working in Iraq and Afghanistan – a notable reminder that when we talk about corruption in foreign aid it is also not just about them. Sometimes it’s US.

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About Author

Gabe Spitzer

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, after a year covering youth and education. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago.