A reality which some find rather difficult to swallow is that human beings are, for all intents and purposes, animals. We strive to cover up our base instincts with intellect, reason, and those lovely human qualities like compassion, love and kindness. We are mostly successful. However sometimes, the mask can slip. Fear overrides intellect. Passion outstrips reason. Our tribalistic instincts overcome compassion. And I believe this is why we are now facing what can only be labelled as a global crisis.


Let’s start with the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe. Over the last decade, the far right has gained significant traction across Europe. Nationalist parties have been gaining record numbers of seats in representative assemblies and in some scary cases, even rising to power.

For example, in April, half of Hungarians voted for ‘Fidesz’, a conservative-nationalist party which has surreptitiously been sliding further and further to the right. Meanwhile, the current Austrian Government is littered with far-right ministers, and the Swiss People’s Party has slowly but surely been on the rise, having gained almost 30 per cent of the popular vote in 2015.  In recent regional elections in Italy, Lega Nord won the highest number of votes in a number of regions — a party characterised by its resentment for Southern Italy.  Neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville in August last year — which went unrebuked by Trump. And — well — Brexit speaks for itself.

So what makes the nationalist ideology so attractive? If people applied reason, they would probably come to the conclusion that in a globalised world, insularity, protectionism and xenophobia are rather irrational concepts. But it seems that people are becoming less and less rational and reasonable by the day.

Perhaps people are just nostalgically clinging onto some forgotten ideal of national glory. Perhaps people really do believe foreigners are stealing their jobs. Or perhaps we are subconsciously succumbing to our tribal instincts. In the same way that sheep flock, bees swarm and penguins huddle, human beings crave belonging and security. And maybe we find it easier to identify with our nations than with ourselves.

We also prefer to mould an identity from what divides us from the rest, not what binds us to one another. In 1978, Edward Said coined the concept of ‘Othering’ in his fantastic book Orientalism. This can be defined as claiming that an identified group poses a threat to the favoured group, thus allowing them to identify themselves against this subordinate group.

‘Othering’ is not, however, a new concept; from prehistoric tribes, to pinning the blame on the Jews for the Black Death, to anti-Catholic hysteria in Britain in the seventeenth century, we have always harboured a tendency to put labels on others.

And I believe that this process of ‘Othering’ ultimately lies at the heart of the justification behind anti-immigration stances, Western resentment of the East and ultimately, the nationalist ideology. Moreover, its roots can be found — who would have guessed? — in human nature.

In October 2016, Theresa May stated that:

‘if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’.

This remark epitomises this irrational need we possess to pigeonhole ourselves and forge an identity which is rooted in that of a group, not our individual selves. I, evidently, am speaking from a liberal perspective; but if any ideology has a shot at combatting and overriding the nastier aspects of human nature, it’s liberalism.

During the French presidential campaign, Marine Le Pen made the claim that today’s political contest is ‘between globalism and patriotism’. Obviously on the side of patriotism, Le Pen’s attitude exemplifies the arguably dangerous tribalistic view of the world which is evidently attractive to so many Europeans.

Similarly, one of the reasons thousands of young, impressionable men and women have flocked to the Middle East to join Islamic State is an inherent need to belong. They run from free, open, Western societies to the supposed ‘Caliphate’ in Syria and Iraq, hoping to find a sense of belonging, identity and religious purpose.

Along with belonging, we also crave security. Human beings — like animals — naturally fear the unknown. This is why ‘traditional values’ are appealing; this is why politicians can use the threat of terrorism to their advantage; this is why Trump came to power.

One of Trump’s biggest promises to the American people was to protect them by fortifying national security. This is all very well and good, but of course it soon emerged that his version of strengthening national security involved a ‘Muslim ban’, building a wall between the US and Mexico, and upping America’s nuclear game.

Most likely subconsciously (because Trump isn’t particularly smart), he appealed to the worst elements of human nature in the American people. Large numbers of Americans fear Islam, globalism and immigration. Trump successfully used these fears to his advantage during his campaign. These largely popular attitudes at the time (rooted in human nature) gave Trump the leverage he needed to win votes.

So can we avoid allowing human nature to get the better of us? Can we start to see ourselves as individuals with our own personal identities, not ones embedded in that of a group? Can we stop pigeonholing and ‘othering’? Can we strike back against our primal instincts?

I’ll leave that to you.