I had just finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale and was staring headlong into two more fiction books on my 2018 Reading List. But with two already under my belt, I just couldn’t bring myself to dive into more fiction, so soon.
I don’t read a lot of fiction – or at least I haven’t in years. Most years I read ten to one nonfiction. It’s my thing, I guess. But when I asked for recommendations last year for books to read, I got as many fiction responses as nonfiction. And that was fine. I can tell you, recommended fiction is always better (for me) than found fiction. So, when I made my list I included an equal number of each. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed both books quite a bit. Actually, I enjoyed Atwood’s novel more, but that proves my point. I found Time Keeper; someone recommended Handmaid’s Tale.
But three fiction books in a row? I couldn’t do it.
Luckily, the next book on my list, The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, was unrecommended almost as quickly as it was recommended, by the original recommender. I was able to cross that off my list and find a replacement. For this, I went back to my own list and substituted Abundance, by Peter Diamandis. I did that for several reasons, most notably because I had already bought and paid for the book, hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet, was excited about its contents, and the author’s last name almost fit into my original intent (to read through the list alphabetically by author’s last name).
Well, since it almost fit, it really didn’t. So, that intent was thrown out. And since the rule was already broken I chucked the entire chain of thinking from the paragraph above and downloaded Tribe, by Sebastian Junger. I jumped right in, out of order, into nonfiction, to read a book that I really wanted to read. Hey, at least it’s on the list, eh?
It’s a short book, by the way. I mean, really short. Amazon lists it at 182 pages, which is short enough. It is not 182 pages. When you drop the source notes, the brief author bio, and the acknowledgements, the meat of the book is 132 pages. The math on that comes to about 10 cents a page which, in the scheme of things, ain’t so bad. I’d pay a dime for a page of your wisdom, too.
Is it a wise book?
I would say it is. Junger hit on some thought-provoking stuff, and I highlighted a lot of text to review and consider. For example, Junger claims in his book that the rate of veteran suicide in America is roughly the same as the rate of suicide among the general populace. He also claims that the national suicide rate has historically “mirrored the unemployment rate.” I could go all sorts of places with those bits of info alone, even if I found it difficult to conclusively prove either point.
My favorite phrase in the book, though, was this one: “protesting an immoral war [is] just as honorable as fighting a moral one.” This I agree with. A conscientious objector can do more to strengthen the heart of a free nation than a misguided combatant. My country isn’t always right. When it is wrong, it needs to be told.
But that isn’t the point of Junger’s book, just a point he made in it. The point of Tribe, as I saw it, was that modern life is lonely and depressing. We don’t have enough to do, with all these modern conveniences, and we are isolated from our neighbors like no other time in history. He’s right on both those points. Junger believes that the answer lies, perhaps, in a coming together. We need to realize how much we need each other, like the Native American tribes of old. Like soldiers at war.
Early in the book, while recounting his youth, Junger recalls how “the sheer predictability of life in an American suburb left me hoping – somewhat irresponsibly – for a hurricane or a tornado or something that would require all of us to band together to survive.” Shortly thereafter he laments that “Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Junger said. I found myself disagreeing with a lot of it, too. If the definition of a good book is that it teaches us something, provides us some affirmations, challenges our convictions, and makes us think of cold realities and viable alternatives, then Tribe is a good book.
If the definition of a good book, however, is that we get a solid three pages for every dime we spend, well it falls short of that. 😉
I enjoyed the read, enjoyed the book. Thank you, Dylan Andersen, for pointing me to it.
I don’t agree with Junger’s conclusions, however, anymore than I agreed with Daniel Quinn in Beyond Civilization when he made much the same point, about neotribalism. The answer to a better society isn’t to find a way to go back to some sort of modern version of tribal life. I almost never think the answer is to go backwards. Rather, I say we need to acknowledge and understand all of this and adapt to our new and coming environs.
The pace of advancement will continue to accelerate, and we will find ourselves, shortly, in a world that requires even less of us. The idea of jobs themselves will someday disappear. With any luck, they will take religion and borders and xenophobic hysteria with them. The future probably does not need us to depend on one another as much as we do now, and certainly not as much as we once did “back then.” At least not in the ways we currently understand.
We will not need, we should not need, to band together in tribes to face the world. Tribalism hints at division. I prefer my circle ever-growing.
The recognition of the trials of soldiers, upon returning home, is laudable. Junger deserves praise for his efforts in trying to get us to understand their plight. His desire to treat them no differently when they return, not to place them upon a pedestal or treat them with disdain, is interesting. Do we segregate people with deference as surely as with disregard?
But if community is our ultimate goal, I say that tribalism is the wrong notion to propagate it. In fact, it just might be the antithesis. Let me know what you think about that. Am I stuck in the semantics, or does the phrasing matter as much as the content? Am I missing Junger’s point?
Like Junger, sometimes I think it will take a disaster to bring us all together. Sometimes I hope for a common enemy. I think the next stage of humanity is to evolve beyond that need, to realize in times of peace we can be as united as in times of war. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking.
Either way, you owe me about 40 cents. 😎