Our Tribal Future: How to Channel Our Foundational Human Instincts into a Force for Good (Hardcover)
Winner of the 2023 Balsillie Prize for Public Policy
An astounding and inspiring look at the science behind tribalism, and how we can learn to harness it to improve the world around us.
What do you think of when you hear the word “tribalism?” For many, it conjures images of bigotry, xenophobia, and sectarian violence. Others may envision their own tribe: family, friends, and the bonds of loyalty that keep them together. Tribalism is one of the most complex and ancient evolutionary forces; it gave us the capacity for cooperation and competition, and allowed us to navigate increasingly complex social landscapes. It is so powerful that it can predict our behavior even better than race, class, gender, or religion. But in our vast modern world, has this blessing become a curse?
Our Tribal Future explores a central paradox of our species: how altruism, community, kindness, and genocide are all driven by the same core adaptation. Evolutionary anthropologist David R. Samson engages with cutting-edge science and philosophy, as well as his own field research with small-scale societies and wild chimpanzees, to explain the science, ethics, and history of tribalism in compelling and accessible terms.
This bold and brilliant book reveals provocative truths about our nature. Readers will discover that tribalism cannot, and should not, be eliminated entirely—to do so would be to destroy what makes us human. But is it possible to channel the best of this instinct to enrich our lives while containing the worst of its dangers?
About the Author
DAVID R. SAMSON is an associate professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Toronto. An interdisciplinary scholar investigating major behavioral and physiological transitions in human evolution, he has worked with a range of primate species and studied sleep in different types of human societies. Samson’s research has been internationally profiled in venues such as BBC, Time, the New York Times, The Smithsonian, CBC, NPR, and National Geographic. He is the author of Our Tribal Future. In his spare time, Samson is a practitioner of a medieval martial art in the Society of Creative Anachronism.
“We dwell, now, in a sea of information, much of it designed to manipulate our tribal instincts. As ‘influencers’ multiply, fear, outrage, and hate seem to be on the rise. David Samson, though, shows why it doesn’t have to be this way: instead, we can evolve our thinking and harness human tribalism for good. A richly suggestive work that charts a path to a brighter future.”
—Andy Norman, author of Mental Immunity
“Our Tribal Future is a riveting read. From the first page to the last, it's captivating, enlightening, and thought provoking. It deftly draws back the curtain on one of our defining features as a species…Understanding human tribalism is not just an intellectual exercise; in a world of borders, armies, and nuclear weapons, it might just be key to our species' survival.”
—Steve Stewart-Williams, professor of psychology, University of Nottingham, Malaysia, author of The Ape That Understood the Universe
“David Samson calls the quest for intentional community one of the oldest in human history, and his book explains why. He has shown with convincing clarity, on the basis of deep research, why human community is so important: in short, loneliness and alienation kill, and community is life.”
—Timothy Miller, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Kansas, coauthor of The Modern Utopian
“Samson does a masterful job of illustrating the tribal nature of our humanity and why these ancient tendencies matter just as much today as ever. Importantly, he also shows us how to avoid the perilous consequences of these very human tendencies, empowering the informed against those who wish to manipulate us by shaping our tribal predilections for their own gains.”
—Dan Pardi, MS, PhD, CEO of humanOS
“This amazing book gives the reader a thorough education in the literature of human connection and social isolation. It also has an unusual blueprint for a more connected future of intentional communities. Samson’s archive of examples from anthropology and sociology along with his own personal voice make his argument a joy to follow…An excellent read.”
—Jacqueline Olds, MD, professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, author of The Lonely American
“Drawing upon a marvelous array of sources, Samson visits some of the usual tribes: politics, sports, and religion. He also takes us to less familiar tribes: hunter-gatherer camps, Metallica in Moscow, the Society of Creative Anachronism, a chimpanzee party nesting for the night, and the broken social bonds wrought by COVID-19…A creative, fascinating narrative.”
—Peter Gray, professor of anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas