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Us and Them [Hardcover]

David Berreby
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Feb 2006
"Us and Them: Understanding your tribal mind" reveals how and why we convince ourselves that we belong to differing human kinds - tribe-type categories like races, religions, classes, street gangs and high school cliques. Why do we see these divisions? Why do we care about them so much? Why do we kill and die for them? We see it every day on the news. Why have high schools in the US become killing zones? Why does strife continue in Northern Ireland? How do terrorists learn to torture and kill anyone who isn't one of them? Members Only answers these questions by looking at their common root in human nature. Politics and culture are invoked, of course, but the heart of the book is the individual mind. David Berreby describes how each person creates his own mind map, identifies others with similar mind maps and ostracises all those who are different. Based in solid scientific research, David Berreby exposes new discoveries about the mind and brain that will eventually overturn many of our familiar notions about human kinds and how we perceive them. This is a crucial subject that touches all of our lives in ways both large and small, obvious and subtle. Human kind thinking is part of human nature.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; !st. Edition : 1st Printing edition (2 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091801117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091801113
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15.4 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 115,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Publisher

Understanding your tribal mind

From the Inside Flap

Members Only: Understanding your tribal mind reveals how and why we convince ourselves that we belong to differing human kinds – tribe-type categories like races, religions, classes, street gangs and high school cliques.Why do we see these divisions? Why do we care about them so much? Why do we kill and die for them?

We see it every day on the news.Why have high schools in the US become killing zones? Why does strife continue in Northern Ireland? How do terrorists learn to torture and kill anyone who isn’t one of them?

Members Only answers these questions by looking at their common root in human nature. Politics and culture are invoked, of course, but the heart of the book is the individual mind.David Berreby describes how each person creates their own mind map, identifies others with similar mind maps and ostracises all those who are different.

Based in solid scientific research, David Berreby exposes new discoveries about the mind and brain that will eventually overturn many of our familiar notions about human kinds and how we perceive them.This is a crucial subject that touches all of our lives in ways both large and small, obvious and subtle. Human kind thinking is part of human nature.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Types, categories and groups 27 Jun 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover
"Prejudice", we are told, isn't "reasonable". "Race" is an "illogical" or "unscientific" concept. Christians tell us we must "love all others as our brothers" - and sisters in a more ecumenical world. Yet Chief Executives can label entire nations as elements of an "Axis of Evil" and make or threaten war with impunity. And masses of the population support them. Why should this be so? David Berreby sought out philosophers, psychologists and other scholars in an extensive quest for some answers. He found a good many and recounts them in this nearly exhaustive study. In a well organised and captivating account, he weaves together many threads in building a picture of how we view ourselves and others.

Biology tells us that our DNA makes us one with our fellows. Yet, somewhere between conception and our ability to distinguish ourselves from others, we begin to categorise those "others". We may find them acceptable, and join their company. In other cases, we deem the differences unacceptable. "Us" and "Them" become the basis for value judgements. Berreby recognises that the distinctions are in our minds. He asks how they come to be there in the first place. He examines the various forms of prejudice, both positive and negative, in tracing both their histories and manifestations. Heart disease, for example, was once considered more prevalent among the rich and powerful. Now, studies show that those carrying burdens of pressures from "above" feel more stressed. Hence, their bodies react and heart problems follow. Classes of people, often the poor and ill-considered such as the "cagot" peasants in France, were despised and relegated to menial roles in society. Over time, the classification fell into disuse. In Berreby's words, they were "recategorised".
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3.0 out of 5 stars Unfocused and limted 15 Mar 2008
Format:Hardcover
Berreby brings together a HUGE amount of research about our response to human kinds - and that is a great gift - but I found much of the book repetitive, the chapters weren't distinct enough and I finished this book feeling disappointed. It was a relatively quick read, but I found it a slog and had I stopped half way through I wouldn't have missed much.

Additionally, this book describes what we currently know about HOW thinking about human kinds operates, but it doesn't really explore WHY we tend to think in human kinds. It promises to look at 'why' but never delivers. There has been a lot of interesting work done on WHY we might have evolved to think in terms of Us and Them but Berreby does not cover this. Berry spends several pages describing the debate between evolutionary thinkers such as Stephen Jay Gould, G.C. Williams & David Sloane Wilson, but he hardly touches on what those different evolutionary perspectives contribute to our developing understanding of human-kind-thinking.

It actually seemed to me that Berreby is rather muddled in his thoughts about the role of evolutionary processes in explaining what he calls human-kind-thinking. For much of the book he argues that we have a specialised mental module for (unconsciously) thinking about kinds, but in the last couple of chapters he is critical of the evolutionary psychology paradigm that gave rise to the ideas of specialised mental modules.

If you have not thought about how we tend to divide people up into kinds, and the consequences of that, then you will probably learn a great deal from this book.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Types, categories and groups 27 Jun 2006
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Prejudice", we are told, isn't "reasonable". "Race" is an "illogical" or "unscientific" concept. Christians tell us we must "love all others as our brothers" - and sisters in a more ecumenical world. Yet Chief Executives can label entire nations as elements of an "Axis of Evil" and make or threaten war with impunity. And masses of the population support them. Why should this be so? David Berreby sought out philosophers, psychologists and other scholars in an extensive quest for some answers. He found a good many and recounts them in this nearly exhaustive study. In a well organised and captivating account, he weaves together many threads in building a picture of how we view ourselves and others.

Biology tells us that our DNA makes us one with our fellows. Yet, somewhere between conception and our ability to distinguish ourselves from others, we begin to categorise those "others". We may find them acceptable, and join their company. In other cases, we deem the differences unacceptable. "Us" and "Them" become the basis for value judgements. Berreby recognises that the distinctions are in our minds. He asks how they come to be there in the first place. He examines the various forms of prejudice, both positive and negative, in tracing both their histories and manifestations. Heart disease, for example, was once considered more prevalent among the rich and powerful. Now, studies show that those carrying burdens of pressures from "above" feel more stressed. Hence, their bodies react and heart problems follow. Classes of people, often the poor and ill-considered such as the "cagot" peasants in France, were despised and relegated to menial roles in society. Over time, the classification fell into disuse. In Berreby's words, they were "recategorised".

The author traces the mental patterns of how we "type" people. The process involves focussing on particular aspects while ignoring the rest. His favourite example is the motorist stopped by a police officer. The officer turns out to be a dark-skinned female. Does the motorist view the officer as a cop, as an Arab, as a light-skinned African or as a woman? For some of us, by the time we work it out, the ticket has been dispensed! The delay is due to our propensity to carry the "type" in our minds, then select characteristics that seem to fit. We generally select an essential characteristic and focus on that. Skin colour is an obvious "essential", but left-handedness or dress can be just as suitable.

These essentials, he argues, can be reinforced within ourselves, as well. In a famous study, Asian women were set into groups, some reminded that Asians are considered to excel in math, others that women are deficient in those skills. When tested, the ones who believed Asians are superior in math had higher test scores. "Type" reinforcement has many ways of developing and expressing beliefs. The best example of this is the military person. Recruits are trained to shed previously held categories, which are replaced with new values. Society at large dims as new loyalties to the squad are instilled. Sacrifice is raised in merit, and hierarchically, running from one's immediate mates, through the levels of the force and finally the nation as an entity. This training is not easily shed, as one marine demonstrated when he left his drinking chums to chat with a uniformed individual. Their shared experiences were more powerful than the friendship bonds.

How we acquire these in the first place is difficult to assess. It seems that it is essential for our dealing with the world at large. That condition dictates that the process is both universal and in the mind. Berreby offers a fine chapter on the areas of the brain involved in various body processes and emotional states. He briefly discusses the devices that indicate where in the brain various activities are recorded. PET and fMRI scanners are given their due, with some history of how the brain's "modules" were identified. He stresses, however, that seeking a "centre" for categorising others is fruitless. The mind's actions are too widely scattered and diverse. This situation may explain both why we may hold prejudices deeply, but can also shift them to lesser importance or even replace them with a new circumstance. With so many ways to "type" our fellows, emphasis can vary quickly and easily. While we like to think we can "top-down" direct our feelings about somebody, there may be equal signals from "bottom-up" to deflect or override our "reasoned" approach to others. Following this vein, Berreby examines the role of emotion as a driving force for categorising.

Is Berreby aiming to dislodge prejudice from our brains? Nothing so simplistic. Does he think training will deter a child from associating with an errant group? Not likely, since one of his primary examples is that of a group of boys who might have been social and ethnic clones dividing them into hostile groups. The separation grew intense until adults stepped in. Berreby is a realist, and provides a plausible structure for how we view others. Unfortunately, the thrust is sociological rather than cognitive, which is where he might have gained further insights. Although he spoke with many researchers, he ignored Daniel C. Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" which might have provided him with an expanded framework for how the process evolved and now works. While that shortcoming is serious, it doesn't detract from the value of this work's theme. Prejudices are not rigid dogma, and with a little effort we can examine and assess them in ourselves as well as in others. We can rebel against their dictates if we wish. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks Focus 26 Jun 2006
By J. Butler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Us and Them by David Berreby is an attempt to understand the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of intergroup conflict. As such, it is only partly successful. Berreby begins with a discussion of "human kind" which covers everything from race to nation to a happenstance group of strangers in a woman's restroom. This is an overly broad definition that conflates true social groups with temporary collectives or "aggregates." The former develop identity, structure, and rivalries, while the latter do not. This broad beginning foreshadows a book that tends to lose its focus from chapter to chapter. Berreby leaves his thesis for pages at a time, often to discuss irrelevant though admittedly interesting neuroscience research. Nevertheless, the reader is often left wondering what happened to the tribal mind. Truth be told, neuroscience cannot yet explain the area of group conflict. Don't let yourself be dazzled into persuasion.

In addition to being overly broad and unfocused, at times Berreby is simply wrong. On page 36 he refers to the "flawed" research on similarity and interpersonal attraction, suggesting that people may join a group and then begin to act like them. This may well be true (due to various social influence effects), but the observation that people seek out similar others is one of the most robust and replicated findings in social psychology. Berreby is a little too eager to prove his point, and this leads him to distort and go beyond the evidence throughout the book.

I don't want to be completely negative in this review. Certainly, Berreby is a competent writer, and to some extent, this book fills an important niche. Still, I wish he had gone about it in a different way. There is plenty of good research on group relations that he ignores. His neuroscience approach is clever, but ultimately futile as an explanation.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's wrong with footnote numbers? 30 Dec 2006
By P. J. Jordan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As an academic researcher and a lawyer, I admit I am biased in favor of a more scholarly presentation. I agree that this book is informative and I have found it helpful as a gateway to the professional literature. However, Berreby has made my task doubly difficult by his inexplicable failure to use footnote numbers for his references, instead organizing the references by page number and phrases at the end of sentences; thus giving no indication in the text that a reference even exists, and forcing the reader to labor mightily to locate his authority. Further, some studies he discusses are not even given a reference -- at the very least, a footnote should indicate the study is unpublished and where it might be located if a person needed it. If this information is summarized in any other book, I would buy it instead of this one.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars groundbreaking & engrossing for life and work 17 Jan 2006
By Kare Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The book is a sleeper hit that is so timely and valuable to our understanding of why we do what we do (make enemies or friends) in the midst of the world today (wars, loneliness, isolation, craving for community, smart mobs, the "power of us" trends made possible by technology ...) ... like Freakanomics it offers breakthrough insights on how our behavior gets in our way and protects us...... I bought ten of these books as holiday gifts, wrote about it in my newsletter and speak about it. Along with Learned Optimism, Blink, Smart Choices, Illicit and other books it offers insights on how we can be more capable and caring, wise and collaborative in this seemingly disjointed world.

- Kare Anderson, author of SmartPartnering, LikeABILITY, Resolving Conflict Sooner, Getting What You Want, Walk Your Talk and Beauty Inside Out and publisher of the Say it Better newsletter
23 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond 5 stars 11 Dec 2005
By Dustin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found this book after reading the phrase Us and Them in Jared Diamond's Third Chimpanzee (After slogging 1/2 way through Guns, Germs and Steel ; DVD is easy to watch ; Collapse audiobook long but good too) not long ago which got me wondering about this phrase. Lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised and overjoyed to find a book just published about this phrase. (Ponder that coincidence)

While the writing is clear, this book really makes me think and thus I have only been able to read 20-30 pages at a time as I digest it. The devil in understanding why the world is the way it is - today and in the past - is in the details. David Berreby has figured out and articulated a crucial reason. He brings meaning to that phrase - "Everything is Relative." While growing up as an Asian minority in America and traveling to over 35 countries I have sensed and known it, but didn't have a language to define it. Now I do.

Someday David Berreby will be remembered as one of the greatest men that ever lived. This book is that profound. As much as the last one I finished - Why We Lie by David Livingstone Smith.

Both of these titles have transformed how I view the world and myself. You can't trust all bald men, but you can trust both of these authors named David.

I also recommend Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress.
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