The tribal gene is the source of much of collective human behavior. We may certainly decry acts of savagery, genocide and other atrocities committed by groups of our fellow human beings against other groups. But is it possible to alter such behavior? In his NYTimes piece http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/the-myth-of-universal-love/ philosopher Stephen T. Asma discusses the possibilities and essentially says “no!”.
He discusses the philosophical notion of such utilitarian philosophers as Jeremy Rifkin and Peter Singer who believe it is possible to expand the tribal attitude to include all of humanity as well as the entire biosphere of life on this planet. His arguments are convincing. He refers to neurobiological studies as well as common sense. We just are closer to those we regard as family and friends. We do understand that there are differences between an inner circle to which we have history and affection and those who exist, for us, in ever expanding orbits of emotional distance from us. Empathy, he points out, is not a concept but a natural biological event with a neurobiochemical basis. He further explains that preferential treatment, nepotism, loyalty are not just choices but inbred human behaviors. He also refers to the concept of “eudaimonia”, the good life that the psychology of happiness attempts to describe, as requiring a small circle of loved-ones who represent powerful ties. The are not, he takes note, Facebook friends or distant strangers. Would it be “better” if we could embrace all of humanity as if they were truly family? Asma agrees. But is it realistic? Will it happen? Unfortunately not.