There are a number of problems in our modern world. One major issue, the focus of Tribe by Sebastian Junger, is the lack of community and purpose in our society.
Junger begins this book with anecdotes of white colonials abandoning the American colonies to go live with the Indians. It was observed that while the colonists would run off, Indians, on the other hand, virtually never voluntarily joined white society.
One would at first believe it would be the opposite. Why wouldn’t Indians want to live in the comforts of the civilized world? The reasons for this phenomenon make up the subject of the book.
Why War Can Bring Us Happiness
The deep bonds that should exist between humans aren’t just seen among tribal societies. They can be seen in our modern world, but usually only in times of misfortune. War, famine, and natural disasters are just some of the tragic scenarios that, while they bring destruction, are powerful in uniting communities.
In fact, some people even miss the horrors of war, not for being sadists, but that war can often bring out the best in a community. For example, Junger cites a young woman who was injured in the Bosnian War. She was evacuated to Italy, and although safe from the war, she longed for home. She was lonely and depressed. Even with war rampaging on, having intimate bonds with friends and family trumped the horrors of war.
We see this with modern war in america manifesting itself in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Men are thrown in the heat of battle, told to make great sacrifices. They bond with their fellow men in the barracks and field of battle. They have a profound mission to defend themselves, their platoons, and most of all their families and the defense of liberty at home. Thus when their deployment is finished and they return home, many men suffer from PTSD because much of the meaning they had is lost. Instead of serving a clearly defined role, they are treated as victims—coddled by our society only exacerbating the issue and can’t fulfill a greater purpose.
The Importance of Social Responsibility
One major point Junger hits on is the importance of social responsibility. In many Native American tribes, there was social pressure when it came to carrying one’s weight in hunting and sharing food. Those who would try to steal or cheat others could face death.
Junger points out that welfare abuse, for example, costs taxpayers massive sums of money. This abuse would carry brutal punishment in a tribal society, but today it simply goes under the radar and enables this terrible behavior.
The same goes for the big bankers that caused the Global Financial Crisis. Their greed went unpunished, which again, in a tribal society, would never be permitted. Though legally they may have not done something wrong, their greed cost people their savings, jobs and general well being.
Many non-fiction books these days are pumped up with anecdotes to get a certain page length and satisfy big publishing houses. A lot of these books, like Deep Work by Cal Newport, have fantastic premises, but are bogged down by too much story telling.
In Tribe, the anecdotes, however, work perfectly. Junger has a number of excellent stories from his time as a war reporter—from taking artillery fire in Afghanistan, to reporting on the war in Bosnia, civil war in Africa and more. Not to mention hitchhiking out west in the 1980’s.
A Few Pointers of Advice
One simple thing all non-fiction books like this should do is provide some actionable advice. The problems Junger outlines are clear and should be dealt with, yet, there isn’t much in the way of advice for the average person to implement in their lives. These issues don’t just plague soldiers— they plague millions of Americans and people across the world.
We must improve our sense of community. There are tons of ways to do this from joining clubs, churches, sports teams etc. But yet, it isn’t mentioned. I realize it is not a self-improvement book, but still, it would be much welcomed.
Tribe by Sebastian Junger is indeed a book that espouses masculine virtues. It’s a powerful, much needed book that lonely men, wandering aimlessly through the world could use. Really, everyone could use it.