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Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua
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“Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachments, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family. Almost no one is a hermit. Even monks and friars belong to orders. But the tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It is also an instinct to exclude.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“America’s continued existence as a super-group is under tremendous strain today. America is beginning to display destructive political dynamics much more typical of developing and non-Western countries: ethnonationalist movements; backlash by elites against the masses; popular backlash against both “the establishment” and “outsider minorities” viewed as disproportionately powerful; and, above all, the transformation of democracy into an engine of zero-sum political tribalism.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Group identification can powerfully reinforce these conformity effects. In experiments similar to Asch’s landmark study, subjects have been found to conform much more when presented with judgments said to come from members of an in-group, and much less when judgments are said to come from out-group members. And it’s not just that people tend to think what their fellow tribe members think. They will do what their fellow tribe members do—even to the point of savagery.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism. They close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them. In America today, every group feels this way to some extent. Whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, straight people and gay people, liberals and conservatives—all feel their groups are being attacked, bullied, persecuted, discriminated against. Of course, one group’s claims to feeling threatened and voiceless are often met by another group’s derision because it discounts their own feelings of persecution—but such is political tribalism.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Libya, Syria, and Iraq are all, like the United States, postcolonial, multiethnic nations, but none of them has a national identity anywhere close to as strong as ours. In countries like these, it can be a catastrophic mistake to imagine that through democratic elections, people will suddenly rally around a national identity and overcome their preexisting ethnic, religious, sectarian, and tribal divides. On the contrary, in sharply divided societies, democracy often galvanizes group conflict, with political movements and parties coalescing around these more primal identities. America has made this mistake over and over again.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Today, no group in America feels comfortably dominant. Every group feels attacked, pitted against other groups not just for jobs and spoils but for the right to define the nation's identity. In these conditions, democracy devolves into zero-sum group competition - pure political tribalism.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“America's elites today, especially progressive ones, often don't realize how judgmental they are. They disdain tacky things, and, not coincidentally, those tacky things--fake tans, big hair, pro wrestling, chrome bull testicles hanging from the back of a big truck--are usually associated with lower-income Americans.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Liberals have cried wolf too many times. If everything is racist and sexist, nothing is. When Trump, the real wolf, came along, no one listened.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“America's distinctive history - its ethnicity-transcending national identity and its unusual success in assimilating people from diverse origins - has shaped how we see the rest of the world and has deeply influenced our foreign policy. It's not just ignorance, racism, or arrogance that predisposes us to ignore ethnic, sectarian, and tribal divisions in the countries where we intervene. In the United States, immigrant communities from all sorts of background have become 'Americans'; why wouldn't Sunnis and Shias, Arabs and Kurds, all similarly become 'Iraqis'?”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“The Fourteenth Amendment was not only revolutionary in its own time. Birthright citizenship remains extremely rare even today. No Asian country grants it. No European country grants it. In fact, the United States is one of only a very few developed nations to recognize birthright citizenship (Canada is another). If anything, the trend is in the opposite direction. France eliminated birthright citizenship in 1993; Ireland, in 2005; New Zealand, in 2006.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“As a Coptic priest in New York put it, “[H]umility is a mediator. It will always be the shortest distance between you and another person.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“The United States spent over $1 trillion on the war in Iraq; some 4,500 American lives were lost. Yet fourteen years after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein, Iran’s power is ascendant, with Tehran now wielding more influence over Baghdad than Washington.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“The Left believes that right-wing tribalism—bigotry, racism—is tearing the country apart. The Right believes that left-wing tribalism—identity politics, political correctness—is tearing the country apart. They are both right.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“But in recent years, whether because of growing strength or growing frustration with the lack of progress, the Left has upped the ante. A shift in tone, rhetoric, and logic has moved identity politics away from inclusion—which had always been the Left’s watchword—toward exclusion and division.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“The impulse to form group identities and favor in-group members has a neurological basis. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists have scanned people’s brains while conducting experiments similar to the one just described. Their findings, as one writer puts it, suggest that: “group identification is both innate and almost immediate.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Humans aren’t just a little tribal. We’re very tribal, and it distorts the way we think and feel. But not all group identities are equally potent. Some have a much stronger grip than others and are more politically galvanizing. Very few people have ever given their lives for the American Podiatry Association. One of the most powerful forms of group identity—and the focal point of political tribalism and violence all over the world today—is ethnicity.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“It's not enough that we view one another as fellow human beings; we need to view on another as fellow Americans. And for that we need to collectively find a national identity capacious enough to resonate with, and hold together as one people, Americans of all sorts - old and young, immigrant and native born, urban and rural, descendants of slaves as well as descendants of slave owners.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Against a backdrop of stark group inequality, the most successful extremist groups offer their members precisely what existing societal institutions do not: a tribe, a sense of belonging and purpose, an enemy to hate and kill, and a chance to reverse the group polarity, turning humiliation into superiority and triumph. This is the formula that al-Qaeda and ISIS have exploited.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Many lower class Americans view protesters as disreputable and unhelpful, as ‘professional activists’ who are entirely disconnected from the working class because they’ve never experienced struggle in their own personal lives, and who protest mainly to find personal validation.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“But American group blindness abroad is also rooted in some of our noblest ideals: tolerance, equality, individualism, the power of reason to triumph over irrational hatred, and the conviction that all men are united by their common humanity and love of liberty.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“The great Enlightenment principles of modernity—liberalism, secularism, rationality, equality, free markets—do not provide the kind of tribal group identity that human beings crave and have always craved. They have strengthened individual rights and individual liberty, created unprecedented opportunity and prosperity, transformed human consciousness, but they speak to people as individuals and as members of the human race, whereas the tribal instinct occupies the realm in between.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Without taking anything away from their important contributions across the globe, U.S. elites often seem to have more compassion for the world’s poor than America’s poor, perhaps because the former are easier to romanticize.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“America’s elites today, especially progressive ones, often don’t realize how judgmental they are.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“In our foreign policy, for at least half a century, we have been spectacularly blind to the power of tribal politics. We tend to view the world in terms of territorial nation-states engaged in great ideological battles - Capitalism versus Communism, Democracy versus Authoritarianism, the 'Free World' versus the 'Axis of Evil.' Blinded by our own ideological prisms, we have repeatedly ignored more primal group identities, which for billions are the most powerful and meaningful, and which drive political upheaval all over the world. This blindness has been the Achilles' heel of U.S. foreign policy.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“If we want to get our foreign policy right - if we don't want to be perpetually caught off guard, fighting unwinnable wars, and stuck having to choose between third- and fourth-best options - the United States has to come to grips with political tribalism abroad. And if we want to save our nation, we need to come to grips with its growing power at home.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“America’s elites miscalled the 2016 election in part because they don’t understand—even look down on—what matters most to America’s nonelites.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Racism is group consciousness at its most repugnant, built on the premise that human beings can be divided by skin color into innately superior and inferior groups. Yet, paradoxically, racism is also a form of group blindness. Racial categories like 'black,' 'white,' and 'Asian' erase ethnic differences and identities. The original African slaves brought to America knew - and might have tried to tell their children - that they hailed from the Mandinka tribe or the Ashanti people, or that they were descended from a long line of Yoruba kings. But even as they were stripped of their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, America's slaves were also stripped of these ethnic identities. Slave families were deliberately broken up, and heritages were lost, reduced by the powerful to a pigment and nothing more. Even now, immigrants from, say, Ghana, Jamaica, or Nigeria are often stunned to discover that in America they are just 'black.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“This what's so peculiar about America. We have been both exceptionally racist and exceptionally inclusive.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“In a related context, Nigerian American novelist Teju Cole once tweeted, “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“Today, no group in America feels comfortably dominant. Every group feels attacked, pitted against other groups not just for jobs and spoils but for the right to define the nation’s identity. In these conditions, democracy devolves into zero-sum group competition—pure political tribalism.”
Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

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