My most recent book was a recommendation by a good friend of mine, T. Lawrence (not the author, sadly…) We met through a Crossfit gym, and in addition to fitness we bonded over a mutual love of a good book.
We pondered the idea of a real, physical book club where we meet up to discuss texts of note and interest, and though that has yet to materialise his first recommendation to me was “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by Sebastian Junger.
Junger explores why Americans kidnapped during the wars with the American Indians didn’t want to return, why natural disasters bring a community together in unity and why warriors long to return to the battlefield (discussed further in my thoughts on Col. Hackworth’s book – On Leadership).
He talks about the massive benefits engendered by modern society to a citizen especially in the First World (the subjects covered in his book mostly are based around the United States), but at the same time the isolation and loneliness resulting from our disconnect from each other.
Our tribe was once our entire local community, and inter-reliance dictated that we lent upon each other for specific reasons and skills. Gathering and hunting for food and water, construction, repair of everything from clothes to buildings, raising and schooling of children and defense against other tribes were all required contributions as a societal group. We required a village-worth of people around us to even reach the Basic Needs depicted in Mazlow’s hierarchy.
Now-a-days, that is accomplished with reliance on generally no more than one’s nuclear family. The average Western child acquires such gifts from their mother and/or father, and grows accustomed to them to such an extent as to take them for granted before they are even old enough to even think for themselves. Security and safety needs are taken care of with no input required from the community, aside from the occasional babysitting request to a neighbouring teen hoping to earn a few quid.
Junger explores the historical examples outlined above to drive home the importance of this point in our social dynamic. He suggests that it may be one of the greatest losses of the developed world, and cries out for the restoration of that inter-reliance on others.
He discusses a series of natural disasters and uses his recordings as a travelling journalist to document the way in which the communities of destroyed towns come together in a shared sense of sufferance and unity. The ability to bear that which is occurring becomes greater in parallel with the sense of oneness from the community around you – it has the ability to shatter all class and privilege barriers and almost press reset on a community’s isolated nature.
Junger also delves into the American-Indian wars of the 18th and 19th Century. He outlines the differences between the colonising European settlers that became the American people of the modern day and the indigenous Native American population, both in lifestyle and in the subsequent satisfaction. His discussions follow nicely along the Generals of the war and outline many of the events, but the deeper emphasis is on the comparison of lifestyle.
Though the Native American people may be seen to live a backwards life, with tribal ritual, community contribution, passing-of-age and food supplied by hunting and gathering as opposed to a shop quite openly the norm, these people’s exposure to hardship and the nomadic lifestyle actually leads for a more satisfying and fulfilling life. He backs this up with statistics that although many Native American people were subjugated by the colonists (in the form of defined reservations of land which did not support their lifestyle), they were almost always found to be attempting to either escape or migrate back to their original location. It was a reluctant change resulting only from power.
The opposite way round however made for the more interesting observation. Colonial Americans were found to be welcomed into Native communities if they so chose, and many were found to slip away and join them. They seemed more content with the life the tribes led, in its concurrent simplicity and challenge so far removed from the conventional European/Western way. In some ways it was almost a romanticised step backward through time.
Finally he discussed the mutual bonds formed in the cauldron of war. Soldiers form a brotherhood under fire that is stronger than their desire to hold onto their own lives, and leads to the ability of a leader to make demands of their discipline that someone outside of that environment would shy from. The soldier’s love for his comrades-in-arms transcends that of his fear, and therefore he will take the action he is trained to do.
Relationships formed under such hardship are hard to leave behind, and many of those who have seen combat opine through rose-tinted spectacles how much they miss those days and wish they were back. Indeed, many go back for further tours due to dissatisfaction upon their return.
A human tribe is something worth seeking, even in the 21st Century. It has contributions to your emotional well-being that one may think modern people were immune to or no longer needed, judging by how many interactions occur from behind glaring screens. Personal connection is a requirement of a healthy existence – don’t forget it.