Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger – Book Notes

Posted: January 26, 2017 by Todd in Books, Culture
Started 12/26/16
Heard about it on Tim Ferriss Show podcast
Junger desired for some calamity just so he could be part of a band coming together to survive. (xiv)
STORY – Man gives Junger his lunch; Man took responsibility for Junger (beyond generosity). (xiv-xvii)
“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary.” (xvii)
The Men and the Dogs
“It may say something about human nature that a surprising number of Americans – mostly men – wound up joining Indian society rather than staying in their own.” (2)
When liberated from “Indian captivity,” many white setters tried to escape to return to their Indian homes.
“As societies become more affluent they tend to require more, rather than less, time and commitment by the individual, and it’s possible that many people feel that affluence and safety simply aren’t a good trade for freedom.” (16)
“As affluence and urbanization rise in a society, rates of depression and suicide tend to go up rather than down.” (19)  According to the WHO, wealthy countries experience depression at about 8 times the rate of poorer ones. (20)
Self-determination theory suggests humans need 3 basic things to be content: (1) feel competent at what they do, (2) authentic in their lives, (3) connected to others. (22)
Quote from Journal of Affective Disorders: “In effect, humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences.” (23)
Page 24-25 – Discussion about babies/children sleeping alone, Junger claims it is an affluent, Western phenomenon.
Fraud and cheats are always punished harshly in tribal societies; not so in our own
War Makes You An Animal
Junger describes the experiences he has as a war journalist in Sarejevo.
“The one thing that might be said for societal collapse is that – for a while at least – everyone is equal.” (43)
“Despite erroneous news reports, New Orleans experienced a drop in crime rates after Hurricane Katrina, and much of the ‘looting’ turned out to be people looking for food.” (44)
WWII bombing campaigns seemed to reinforce social bonds, promote productivity, and decidedly did not incite widespread hysteria.
“Disasters create a ‘community of sufferers’ that allow individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others.” (53)
Men are more likely to rescue someone; women are more likely to be recipients of rescue. (56)
Women are more likely to display moral courage. (57)
STORY – Muslim women refuse to separate themselves from Christians in a stop by Al-Shabaab in Kenya that ultimately prevented the Christians from being killed.  (58)
In male only groups, like a coal mine disaster, some men function in the role of women providing empathic leadership. (65)  Women can step up in rescue roles when no men are present as well.
Many soldiers miss the clarity and importance of their wartime duties.  In Bosnia, many children/youth were happier during the war from the comradary that developed during that time.
In Bitter Safety I Awake
Junger found himself thinking everything was a threat (in America) after intense wartime experience in Afghanistan. (72-73)
PTSD would seem to be an evolutionary advantage, assuming you stay in the stress causing environment. (74)
“The human concern for others would seem to be the one story that, adequately told, no person can fully bear to hear.” (76)
In addition to all its bad, war also “inspires ancient human virtues of courage, loyalty, and selflessness that can be utterly intoxicating to the people who experience them.” (77)
Iroquois had a radically different system of governance under wartime (78).
A 2011 study of street children in Burundi found the lowest PTSD rates among the most aggressive and violent children.
One thing that makes PTSD difficult to recover from is that there are aspects of combat that are positive and worth retaining.  (81)
“A person’s chance of getting chronic PTSD is in great part a function of their experiences before going to war.” (82)
“Among younger vets, deployment to Iraq of Afghanistan actually lowers the risk of suicide, because soldiers with obvious mental health issues are not deployed with their units.”
“Studies from around the world show that recovery from war – from any trauma – is heavily influenced by the society one belongs to, and there are societies that make that process relatively easy.  Modern society does not seem to be one of them.” (90)
Part of the trauma of war seems to be giving it up.  “For the first time in [our] lives…we were in a tribal sort of situation where we could help each other without fear.” (91)  Likewise, “after WWII, many Londoners claimed to miss the exciting and periolous days of the Blitz.” (92)  “What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender.” (92)
“Northern European societies are among the few where people sleep alone or with a partner in a private room, and that may have significant implications for mental health in general and for PTSD in particular.” (95)
“Lack of social support has been found to be twice as reliable at predicting PTSD as the severity of the trauma itself.” (95)
PTSD is a disorder of recovery. (95-96)
“The closer the public is to the actual combat, the better the war will be understood and the less difficulty soldiers will have when they come home.” (96-97)
“Lifelong disability payments for a disorder like PTSD, which is both treatable and usually not chronic, risks turning veterans into a victim class that is entirely dependent on the government for their livelihood.  The US is a wealthy country that may be able to afford this, but in human terms, the veterans can’t.” (101)
“When they come home they find themselves being viewed so sympathetically that they’re often excused from having to fully function in society.” (102)
Calling Home From Mars
<story> of drunk guys arguing over a plastic viking helmet.  Resolved by filling it with wine and sharing.  (104-107)
“What I liked about the encounter was that it showed how very close the energy of male conflict and male closeness can be.  It’s almost as if they are two facets of the same quality.” (107)
“A society that doesn’t offer its members the chance to act selflessly in these ways isn’t a society in any tribal sense of the word.” (110)
“When they come come they realize that the tribe they were actually fighting for wasn’t their country, it was their unit.” (110)
<story>tearing legs off a spider (113)
Every culture seems to have a version of a myth where someone attacks the tribe from inside.  In our society, it seems to be lone shooters. (114-115)
“A rampage shooting has never happened in an urban ghetto, for example; in fact, indiscriminate attacks at schools almost always occur in otherwise safe, predominantly white towns.” (115)
“Rampage shootings” seem to correlate to the flourishing of a comfortable culture where citizenry is not asked to make sacrifices or demonstrate courage.  Interestingly, there were no rampage shootings for 2 years after 9/11.
“The effect was particularly pronounced in NYC, where rates of violent crime, suicide, and psychiatric disturbances dropped immediately.” (116)
“American Indians, proportionally, provide more soldiers to America’s wars than any other demographic group in the country.” (118)
“In all cultures, ceremonies are designed to communicate the experience of one group of people to the wider community.” (121)
“People speak with incredible contempt about – depending on their views – the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president, or the entire US government.  It’s a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime, except that now its applied to our fellow citizens.” (125)
“The US is so powerful that the only country capable of destroying her might be the US herself.” (128-129)
Final words: “That sense of solidarity is at the core of what it means to be human and undoubtedly helped deliver us to this extraordinary moment in our history.  It may also be the only thing that allows us to survive it.” (133)
<story>Junger ties things together with story about an anthropologist who was with an Indian who gives all his flour and lard away at significant personal cost.  When asked why, he says, “just dead inside.”  This was Junger’s answer to why a very poor many gave him his lunch 30 years ago.  “It was the one thing that, poor as he was, he absolutely refused to be.” (136)
  • Try to facilitate the building of strong communities.  This is what is good about “tribalism,” even the “red” of Spiral Dynamics/Integral.
  • Facilitate and engage in acts that allow for personal courage.
  • Put greater value on “rites of passage”

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