Vancouver (Special to Informed Comment) – It is, unfortunately, not an understatement to say that our world that is becoming increasingly divided, increasingly tribalized.
Tribalism is also growing within the United States of course,: racism, homophobia, blue states versus red states, neo-nazis declaring, “Jews will not replace us!”, and simmering anger — dramatically illustrated by the January 6 attempt to violently overthrow the government in order to keep a demagogue in power.
There are increasing threats to elected officials, vote counters, and other public servants.
And in the first 150 days of 2023, “…there have been 263 mass shootings — incidents with 4 or more people shot — reported in the U.S., with 327 victims killed. Both those figures are the highest ever recorded this early in a year.” 
Of course, there are a host of factors that contribute to these dangerous trends, from inequality and “lives of despair” to toxic “masculinity”, internet silos, and Fox “News”, along with those politicians and their backers who employ the old tactic of “divide and conquer”.
At a rally in Charleston, South Carolina on Saturday, Senator Bernie Sanders explained that the ruling elite and monied oligarchy win, “when they divide the working class and those living in poverty.”
“In every way that you can think,” said Sanders, “there are really smart people—out there polling today—saying: How do I get you to vote against your own self-interest? How do I get black and white and Latino and Native American, Asian American, gay, and straight against each other so that the big-money interest laugh all the way to the bank.”
“So what our movement is about, is precisely the opposite of what the big-money interests want,” he continued. “They want to divide us up and we are determined to bring working people together—black and white and Latino—all of us together around an agenda that works for us not just the billionaire class!”
A related issue is “identity politics” – the tendency of people to identify primarily with “their kind” – whichever group that is – rather than humanity as a whole. (And no group is more focused on their racist “identity” than the Ku Klux Klan).
In fact, the whole idea that humanity is divided into “races” is a relic of European colonialism (as I explained in this essay).
This us-versus-them dichotomy is extremely flexible, however, depending on the circumstances. It is the norm, for instance, to see strangers work together cooperatively when they face a common threat, such as after a hurricane or an earthquake.
The challenge is to be aware of our tendency to “otherize” people and to resist this natural, but unhealthy, tendency.
One very powerful example of the triumph of humanity over identity is the story of the American heroes who literally put themselves in the line of fire to end the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson was 25 years old when he was piloting a helicopter along with two crewmates: Glenn Andreotta, 20 years old, and Lawrence Coburn, who was just 18. On March 16, 1968, they were on patrol when they noticed a number of wounded and dead civilians all over the area. They stopped several times to attend to the victims, and a short while later, they saw other Vietnamese being chased by a U.S. Army patrol. That’s when Thompson chose humanity over tribalism and did the courageous thing – he told his crew to land the helicopter between their fellow U.S. Army troops and the Vietnamese civilians. Thompson got out of the copter and ordered the soldiers of Charlie Company to stop the massacre – or else.
His men backed him up, and the killing stopped.
Thompson then radioed two nearby pilots to come to his aid, and around a dozen Vietnamese civilians were taken out of harm’s way.
It is estimated that up to 500 Vietnamese had been killed during this massacre – and almost all were women, children, and the elderly.
The bravery of Thompson and his crew saved hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Vietnamese lives.
As usual, the U.S. military tried to cover up the story, as they did with dozens of similar atrocities in Indochina. However, in 1969, U.S. freelance journalist Seymour Hersh’s investigation discovered the truth about the My Lai massacre. (In 1970 Hersh was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting).
In 1998, thirty years after their heroic actions, Thompson, Andreotta, and Coburn were finally awarded the Soldier’s Medal.
Along with their bravery, these heroes have provided a powerful example of how important it is to take to heart the words of Betrand Russell and Albert Einstein, who wrote in 1955 that it imperative to: “Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.”
And when we do remember our own humanity, we also remember the humanity of other people.
Given today’s problems, from wars to the climate crises to hunger to growing nationalism to epidemics and nuclear weapons, the only hope we have is that enough of us will take those words to heart and stand for the right thing against tribalism and conspiracy theories.