Humans are intensely tribal creatures.
Think about it. We automatically separate the world into people like us and people who aren’t like us. Manchester United supporters, for example, see themselves as separate from any other particular group of fans. This ranges from various SF fandoms to race, religion politics and sex. The tribes define themselves both by what they are and by their opposition to everything else.
It also tends to colour our thinking. We see ‘us’ as a group made up of individuals and ‘them’ as one vast hive mind.
Cold logic, of course, will tell us that that isn’t so. But when emotions are running high, cold logic has little to do with it. A British citizen may consider himself to be Scottish, rather than English or Welsh, but he may not recognise the difference between a Frenchman from Paris and a Frenchman from Toulon. But that Frenchman might be able to tell the difference between himself and someone born in Toulon, yet not be able to tell if the Briton is Scottish, English or Welsh.
In our groups, we tend to be sensitive to nuance. A Scotsman is not an Englishman and we recognise the difference, then determine it to be immaterial when laid against the French, Germans or Americans. But we are not so inclined to be sensitive to differences between Prussian Germans and Bavarian Germans. They are all, well, German.
This is how national stereotypes come into existence. Again, cold logic should tell us that stereotypes are at best misleading and at worst insulting, but they still exist. Why? Because it is much easier to regard ‘them’ as being all the same, at least on one level. British citizens see Frenchmen as inherently different from us, French citizens see Germans as not-French, Germans see Poles … etc, etc. The curse of European unity is that there is really no such thing.
Humanity’s willingness to tolerate differences has always been limited, not always without reason. Someone who was different could not be trusted to put the interests of ‘Us’ ahead of ‘Them’ or even work for both ‘Us+Them’. This tolerance reaches its limits when there is a real or perceived threat to ‘Us,’ hence the old phobia of black uprisings in the USA and the more modern bouts of Islamophobia. Generally, the greater the difference between ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’ the less willingness to tolerate differences.
This is pretty much the human condition. Smart groups think ‘me and mine first.’ People who think of others after themselves – when they have the luxury to think of others – are smart; people who are investing in others at the expense of their own people are dumb.
Can this be changed? One theory, put forward by well-meaning people, is that greater contact between the different tribes will slowly wear away those old stereotypes. There’s some truth in that, I must admit, but it can also reinforce them. Indeed, because we are conditioned to take pain more seriously than pleasure, encounters with bad ‘them’ can colour our thinking permanently, even though (once again) cold logic should tell us differently. A slap, as the old saying goes, is remembered longer than a kiss.
This is not fair. A hundred members of Community A who live next to Community B, a hundred people who are decent, friendly and hard-working, will have less impact on Community B than a single moron who acts badly. But it will happen, because humans are tribal and our instincts tell us to believe the worst of other tribes. The greater difference between Community A and B, the greater the chance for misunderstandings, obnoxious behaviour and ‘get them before they get us.’
How does this relate to Europe?
Historically, Europe was one of the most tribal places in the world. Indeed, Europe’s expansion overseas was powered by tribalism, both through a desire to outdo the other European tribes and simple inability to crush them. No would-be conqueror, not even Napoleon or Hitler, held Europe under their sway indefinitely. The sheer fury and bloodshed of both world wars, and the later war in the former Yugoslavia, pay testament to the depth of tribalism within Europe. No matter what the elites do, those currents remain below the surface.
And, when times are bad, they begin to surface.
The elites bear a large part of the blame for this problem. Their attempt to bury the hatchet of tribalism under a mountain of EU rules and regulations might not have been ill-intentioned. However, there was no attempt to either come to terms with the past or to examine the reasons behind tribalism. Instead, people who acted tribally were told to shut up, stop speaking and were often threatened with legal action. Charges of racism were hurled around freely.
And it was disastrous.
What people believe to be true is often more important, politically speaking, than what is actually true. If people believe that one tribe is being elevated above another tribe, they rapidly start to resent that tribe, even if it isn’t actually true. If people believe that their rights – like the right to protest – are being taken away, they give credence to those feelings. When people feel that their taxes are being spent to benefit someone other than themselves, they start hating the elites whose decide where the money goes. And their resentment, fuelled by a kind of helpless rage powered by a simple inability to tell people that the Emperor has no clothes, can be channelled into madness. What happens when that resentment finally finds a voice?
One thing we are told as writers is that it is better to show, rather than tell. A reader who notices the discrepancies between what we are told and what we are shown is a reader who will give up in disgust. If we consider Left Behind’s two heroes, we can see that we are told that Steele is a brilliant airline pilot, while Buck Williams is the greatest investigative reporter of all time. However, what we see is very different; Steele is someone of dubious competence, while Buck Williams seems not to have the faintest idea of how to do his job.
It’s a sad thing for a book, really, when the villain (the antichrist himself!) seems better than the designated heroes for the first three volumes.
How does this apply to real life? Simple. We are told that multiculturalism is right, tribalism is wrong, that immigrants do not pose a danger to Europe, the elites are always right … and anyone who suggests otherwise is a worthless racist/nationalist/sexist/etc. But real life tells us something different.
And the discrepancy between ‘show’ and ‘tell’ will eventually rip us apart.