A Community of Individuals or just Tribal Gangs?

Jan 18




Helen Whitten

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A Community of Individuals or just Tribal Gangs?

It’s a long time now since I did my history degree at King’s London but I have been thinking about Hegel often over the last few years.  In particular his theory of thesis, antithesis, synthesis with its message that in order to hone the best ideas, perceptions and solutions one needs to have one’s theories tested through conflict, through listening and considering another or the opposite perspective.   Through this, one can develop the best synthesis of a solution, sometimes referred to as the “becoming”, or a moving forward that unifies, casting off that which is no longer useful.

He felt, if my memory serves me right, that this process, whether in state institutions or individuals, would result in the continuing enlightenment and development of humankind and how we live, through the combination of individual freedom of thought and government.  His term was ‘a community of individuals’. Therefore individuals who thought independently but nonetheless felt themselves to be a community.  Sadly I think he might be disappointed in our current situation of polarity and division where our sense of community appears to be under attack.

However much we have in common on a human basis we seem always to find ways to divide ourselves. Whether it is Brexit, Ukraine, gender, race, religion, empire, Trump or the Middle East, the reality is that groups have moved so far into their ‘tribe’ that they accuse everyone else of being wrong.  And not only wrong but also potentially stupid, ignorant, bigoted, racist, transphobe, fascist or any other unpleasant label that can be attached to justify their own point of view and shut the others up. So the result is that people just refuse to listen to any opposing arguments put before them, however much they are based in fact or historical context.

For what I am seeing and experiencing is that people don’t want to have their minds changed. They are often hesitant to have these conversations with friends or family in case it leads to conflict and equally are not willing to accept that they might have got some things wrong or put a bet on the wrong horse. It takes maturity and confidence to listen and learn and not get defensive or aggressive.

Watching interviews of those on recent marches it was distressing to observe how ignorant people were even of the banner headlines they were carrying, not understanding what ‘from the river to the sea’ or ‘social intifada’ means and having no initiative as to how a ceasefire or peace might be achieved. Watch:

It doesn’t help that the social media platform algorithms are set up to bombard us with posts that simply reinforce our own already biased perspective.  Surely X, Facebook, TikTok and others could learn from this dysfunctional situation and throw in the occasional post that is totally opposite to what the person usually ‘likes’?  It can’t be beyond the means of these IT experts to start to do this now.  If not, we are simply going to end up in increasingly polarised little echo chambers.

Another polarising factor is that there is a cynicism about the main media these days.  The BBC, ITV, CNN are all accused of being biased in one way or another or of giving erroneous reports.  So people go to the internet, to smaller providers and it ends up that masses of people are developing their own ‘truth’.  Quite possibly this is also because with 24/7 news channels we have the whole globe to cover and the complexities are enormous so it is inevitable that however hard the main media stations try they will never be able to cover it all.  I, for one, am interested by how much news I pick up on Twitter/X that is never covered on the BBC.

And this is leading to conspiracy theories because with Deep Fake and other faked videos one can’t necessarily believe anything one sees.  This is incredibly dangerous, I think, because we are having our minds totally confused by one propaganda source or another, such as the idea that October 7 never happened, or that the Israeli Government allied with Hamas rebels to make it happen, or to questioning whether any of the footage coming out of Gaza or Israel is true or simply concocted as part of this propaganda war.  I personally learnt a lot about the context of this war from Norma Perry’s insightful series The Fifty Years War on BBC Iplayer where she interviews all players with a view to not taking sides but to demonstrating the context of so many years of upheaval.

What gets forgotten in all these arguments is that there is more that we have in common than these disagreements. For we are a community of individuals but also of families, of friends, work colleagues, villages, counties, states, neighbours.  We may have differing political viewpoints but ultimately the majority of people want to live a peaceful life where they can bring up their children in safe surroundings and earn a decent living. Whether you are an Israeli or Palestinian most of their citizens want a simple life that reflects this goal – as do those who are marching for one cause or another.  They are, in the end, all marching for peace and for the end of the suffering of little children and private citizens. Well, I say ‘all’ but of course it isn’t all as some people do want intifada or wars of one kind or another – religion, class, race, gender – but I posit that the majority of us don’t.

Whether you vote Labour or Conservative, ultimately all parties aim to provide good education and an efficient health service.  Where they differ is in how they reach these goals but the ultimate goals are often the same. I’m not saying these differences of political perspective and approach don’t matter.  Of course they do. I’m just suggesting that they don’t have to polarise us in the way they do. It doesn’t have to be a war.  We can listen and learn from other opinions rather than block our ears to them because if we don’t remain curious to other perspectives we will surely never achieve that synthesis of which Hegel wrote.

To solve world problems, or, for that matter, any problems, we must define them accurately. Then we can develop a potential solution, the thesis.  From here, we can really benefit from opening our minds to the opposite conclusions, the antithesis.  As Einstein said “We cannot solve a problem from the same state of mind in which it was created”. Within this process we have the possibility of checking our original premise and of learning to look at things differently.

The problems we have in the world today require new thinking, in my view. We need creativity to solve what we face and we need to realize that the majority of us are on the same side, seeking peace, humanity, civilisation.  So we need to put on our problem-solving hats and work together, listen and discuss options, imagine a different world, develop lateral perspectives through collaborative debate, brainstorming and negotiation. This must be our best option.  We have, as human beings, the capacity to do this.  Can we create the will to do so?


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