Brett Williams's Reviews > Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Tribe by Sebastian Junger
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Tribe 4 stars

In Louis Dumont’s Essays on Individualism he compares those days gone by when neighbors gathered to rebuild the barn destroyed by calamity, with modernity, when insurance premiums are paid to strangers who contract strangers to rebuild the barn for a stranger. Likewise, Junger opens his book with a lamentation, “I’d grown up… where people’s homes were set behind deep hedges… and neighbors hardly knew each other. And they didn’t need to. Nothing happened that required a collective effort. Anything bad that happened was taken care of by police… fire department… or town maintenance crew.”

Junger’s book is about why for many, he writes, “war feels better than peace, and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing… Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.” Thus echoing Chantal Delsol in her Icarus Fallen: “Hardship makes a people. So does its absence.”

As Junger tells it, this started early. Benjamin Franklin puzzled over it, as did a Frenchmen in 1782 when he noted, “Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become European. There must be in their social bond something singularly captivating and far superior to anything to be boasted of among us.” Yet, Steven Pinker would be pleased that Junger makes clear the fictions of a Nobel Savage are not the reason. Instead, while modernity advertises individualism in the latitude of every “free choice” it can invent, modernity is hostile to freedom. Modernity, Junger writes, “created exactly the opposite of [surplus leisure time]: a desperate cycle of work, financial obligation, and more work.”

Junger claims the agricultural revolution, followed by Industrial Age (and now Information age), violated the kind of creature humans evolved to be. Rather than socially dependent creatures with feelings for our tribe, modernity made us asocial, isolated creatures often with hostility for others in a new imitation of tribe based on political ideology. While our political Right vilifies nonworking freeloaders, the Left promotes care for the needy. But according to Junger both coexisted in hominid social structure as part of a unified whole for hundreds of thousands of years. The former evolved from the reality of scarce resources with the threat to tribal survival a freeloader presents. The later evolved from a tribal mentality that values every member as a healthy defender of the tribe. Of America’s petty ideologies, this Afghanistan and Iraq war correspondent notes, “Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge combat outpost are deluding themselves.” The social system we built is based on abnormal psychology, and yet we assume its normal through habit. The stress we feel and daily tensions we experience say otherwise. Could there be another species so odd?

Good book. Short. 3.5 stars, rounded up.
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Reading Progress

September 25, 2018 – Started Reading
September 25, 2018 – Shelved
September 28, 2018 – Finished Reading

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