‘Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging’ by Sebastian Junger

“There’s no use arguing that modern society isn’t a kind of paradise. The vast majority of us don’t, personally, have to grow or kill our own food, build our own dwellings or defend ourselves from wild animals and enemies. In one day we can travel a thousand miles by pushing our foot down on a gas pedal or around the world by booking a seat on an airplane. When we are in pain we have narcotics that dull it out of existence, and when we are depressed we have pills that change the chemistry of our brains. We understand an enormous amount about the universe, from subatomic particles to our own bodies to galaxy clusters, and we use that knowledge to make life even better and easier for ourselves. The poorest people in modern society enjoy a level of physical comfort that was unimaginable a thousand years ago, and the wealthiest people literally live the way gods were imagined to have.

And yet.”

Sebastian Junger, Tribe

That quote above from Sebastian Junger’s 2016 book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, kind of says it all. For all our advancements and everyday comforts, something feels…missing. We’re growing ever more disconnected and alienation from one another all the time, with no signs of stopping.

The closest thing many of us have to a “tribe” anymore is just a bunch of strangers on the internet who happen to align with us politically and shout all the same ideas into the void. This has huge ramifications from the personal level to the societal one, because as social creatures, we’re programmed to work with one another in groups to survive. Wars and calamaties have a way of uniting us toward common goals, but in the (hopefully continued) absence of those, how do we truly stay connected with one another?

In Tribe, Junger — who you may know from previous bestsellers like The Perfect Storm and War — argues that the dissolution of tribalism in our culture, and thereby our growing lack of concern toward the collective good, is behind many of society’s ills. Everything from clinical depression to income inequality to environmental destruction to the vilification of one’s fellow man…it all stems from the modern world’s tendency to make us asocial and isolated from one another, and we must get that part of ourselves back before it’s too late.

From the description:

Decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitational pull on Westerners for hundreds of years, and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species. The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.

Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, Tribe explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Tribe explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.

Tribe is a quick yet highly illuminating read, and we’d all do well to absorb its core message.

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