Posted on July 20, 2016
Ingroupism is a powerful innate primitive moral intuition shared by nearly all humans. It is “moral” because it leads us to sacrifice individual advantage to the benefit of the group, e.g. in warfare. It is a “primitive intuition” rather than an ethical belief or part of an ethical system because it is unbounded–it doesn’t take in account tradeoffs against other moral intuitions such as sympathy, or the duty of care, or share-and-share-alike fairness.
Of all the moral intuitions, ingroupism is I think the most ill-adapted and the most likely to run amok under modern conditions. It gives us ethnocentrism, racism, and xenophobia, and contributes to all forms of group bigotry. It helps give us wars and gangs and sports hooligans and scapegoating and demagoguery. In the form of group loyalty, it is among the four highest moral intuitions embraced by most conservatives. (The others are just-deserts fairness, purity, and authority.)
Ingroupism is an innate tendency we all share. However it is not destiny. We are all given an intelligence and an innate range of values that allows us to select our better selves and rise above ingroupism. Doing so is essential for dealing with all of the great catastrophes looming on our horizon: climate change, war, refugee crises, ecological collapse, inequality. Accepting that challenge is central to the post-enlightenment social project currently known as progressivism.
“Ingroupism” is very nearly a made-up word. It has very few Google hits. However almost everyone immediate gets what it means. And there is no other word that will do the job. Even very general words like “ethnocentrism” and “xenophobia” have more limited meanings. On the other side, “bigotry” on the one hand includes prejudices not related to group membership, and on the other hand excludes types of ingroupism that go beyond bigotry.
Ingroupism really is, in part, a positive and useful moral intuition. There are very good moral as well as selfish reasons to take an interest in and preserve and improve the social tradition you are born into. For example, your highest competencies usually come from that tradition, and it is good for the common welfare that people should tend to specialize in and improve upon their own highest competencies.