Revenge of the tribes: How the American Empire could fall

Yale professor Amy Chua on the identity of nations, why hardened tribes end up in civil wars, and why you can't just replace dictators with democracy.

Yale professor Amy Chua has two precautionary tales for Americans, and their names are Libya and Iraq. "We’re starting to see in America something that I’ve seen in other countries that is not good," says Chua. "We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to get to the point where we look at people on the other side of the political spectrum and we see them not just as people that we disagree with but literally as our enemy, as immoral, "un-American" people." Tribalism is innate to humanity, and it is the glue that holds nations together—but it's a Goldilocks conundrum: too much or too little of it and a nation will tear at the seams. It becomes most dangerous when two hardened camps form and obliterate all the subtribes beneath them. Chua stresses the importance of "dividing yourself so that you don’t get entrenched in just two terrible tribes." Having many identities and many points of overlap with fellow citizens is what keeps a country's unity strong. When that flexibility disappears, and a person becomes only a Republican or a Democrat—or only a Sunni Muslim or a Shia Muslim, as in Iraq—that's when it's headed for danger. In this expansive and brilliant talk on political tribes, Chua explains what happens when minorities and majorities clash, why post-colonial nations are often doomed to civil war, and why you can't just replace dictators with democracy. Amy Chua is the author of Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations.

Politics & Current Affairs

Do Humans Have Free Will, or Are We Programmed by Society?

Humans are a programmable species, and we live inside the most ancient operating system of all — ideology.

For many years, Joscha Bach could not understand why humans flock so strongly towards religion and ideology. Having grown up in communist East Germany and seeing the people around him buy into nationalistic narratives—that were to him obviously untruthful—made no sense. It was only when the wall came down that he came to understand that people everywhere are buying into various false narratives—as of 2015, 34% of Americans still reject evolution completely. The drive to believe whatever instructions come from above you is not a cognitive error, Bach realized then, but an evolutionary feature—as powerful as it is problematic. The ability for large groups of people to follow one set of rules, to cooperate, is how Homo sapiens established agricultural societies, and is ultimately how we outcompeted other now long-gone nomadic hominin groups. We are a programmable species, says Bach, and we need to belong and conform to a larger entity to survive. As such, Bach sees the debate surrounding free will not as a question of determinism or incompatibilism, but of social conditioning. Perhaps the free will relates to decision-making over physics: are you really free to act in a way that is true, or are you bound by a social code of responsibility that runs thousands of years deep in your genetics? Joscha Bach's latest book is Principles of Synthetic Intelligence.


Hey Bill Nye! Would the world be better without religion?

This week, Bill Nye tackles one of the most complicated hypotheticals of all time.

Would a world full of atheists be best? Some people dream of the day religion fades away, but for others the mere hypothetical is a form of blasphemy. Imagine, just like John Lennon asked us to: would it be heaven on Earth? Would it be complete chaos? No one can accurately answer this question, just as no one can really know whether or not there is a god—technically speaking, we're all agnostics, explains Bill Nye. What we do know is that community underpins religion, and communities are essential for humanity's progress and existence. God or no god, we need to understand that we're all in this together, urges Nye. Communities—whether they're anchored in faith, science, art, or altruism—are essential to the future of humankind. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.