Beyond the Tribe

Tribe

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).

Almost.

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?

Perhaps.

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. 😎

36 comments on Beyond the Tribe

  1. Hey Tom!! You’ve done well highlighting some key points of the book. It’s been a while since I read it and it was a library book so no highlighting and underlining for future reference. I agree, the answer is NEVER to go backwards but progress forward and use what we learn. Raising awareness and the collective consciousness about human cohesion is growing and we have to adapt, as any species must learn, to changing environments and circumstances to survive WELL. I agree with you again in the third to last paragraph, for me, “if community is our ultimate goal”, I am striving to make my own network of face-to-face ‘circles of friends’ by volunteer work, joining social groups for a variety of activities, keeping in touch regularly with friends and family – again, face-to-face, and becoming more involved in either social or political activities locally. If we want our ‘world’ or culture to progress and not regress, we need to make ‘small’ changes closer to home, where we live and if we don’t want ‘tribalism’ (aka: division) we have to become a part of the solution. I think it is about belonging to a ‘human family’ and being relevant in those circles but we have to be conscious and active to accomplish this. I hope this is sounding like a lecture but eh.

    1. I didn’t find it lecturing, at all! In fact, I quite appreciate the perspective. I knew you had read the book (as Dylan had), so I was cognizant of your history with it when I asked the questions towards the end. Thank you for answering!

      I realize I could probably save a lot of dough by going library with all these books, but you’re right, I would miss out on the highlighting, which I love to have for review purposes. I would also love hard copies of each book, but electronic highlighting is easier to do, easier to find after, and can be called up from any device I own. I’m an electronic reader exclusively now! 😂

      I need to be convinced, I must admit, that “small changes closer to home” affect the larger world. Like the old adage “all politics is local,” I have become skeptical. I feel like small, local changes create even greater tribal disunity, and do not reverberate widely enough. I don’t say that to poo-poo local work, I just find it harder to get interested in it, myself, because of my skepticism. I think I say that as a means to convince myself, or get someone to convince me, that I’m wrong about it.

      Thank you for your contribution, my friend!

  2. Jesus, Tom. I love your perspective and admire your willingness to devour such thought-provoking pieces of literature. My brain just doesn’t have the focus to take them on. I am currently riding the Hogwarts train and am getting closer to knowing if Harry lives or dies. DON’T TELL ME. Miraculously, I really don’t have a clue what fate is in store for him. Thank you for sharing what you learn and keep being you. Cause you are, well, kinda totally cool!

    1. Thank you, Tanya! Making me blush over here. 😊

      Like anything, it’s a labor of love. We chase what we are most attracted to, and I’m just naturally attracted to controversy, I suppose. 🤣 Oops, I meant “big ideas,” not “controversy.” Did I say “controversy”? 🤫

      I really appreciate the feedback, sister, and don’t you worry about me revealing anything about Mr. Potter … I don’t have a clue what happened to him, either! 😂

  3. “The idea of jobs themselves will someday disappear. With any luck, they will take religion and borders and xenophobic hysteria with them.” Yes, yes, y’all. Time to try somethings we haven’t tried yet and leave tribalism in the past where it belongs. Thanks for the review of the book, seems worth a read considering the short length and price.

    1. My pleasure, sir, and thank you for the feedback. I’m amazed how often the answer seems to be going back to the “good old days,” which, quite frankly, weren’t all that damn good. 😕

  4. Tom, you have said we are the same….here is where you surpass me, by brother. The fact that you have attempted this reading mountain, and are climbing it, is itself a testament to your intellectual prowess. Then you digest such incredible works and can continue to ingest the information in the world around us. You are a cut above, my friend. A cut above!!!

    1. That is incredible praise, brother! Thank you! Somehow, I think there are some people around me who think I ain’t digesting the world around me, at all. 😏

      BTW, I did finally start Abundance, and I’ve digested the first 60 pages. Now this one has some radical optimism in it, and a preview of a grand future for mankind. I can’t wait to share it with you all! 😁

  5. The idea of wishing for a disaster or “something that would require us all to band together to survive”, as Junger puts it, is not as odd as all that. I think it’s why we’re so determined to watch the 24 hour news, waiting for it to happen.

    1. I agree, Pablo. I catch myself in that trap, too. Big event = big change, but not always for the better. That’s the thing I try to remember. The old Watchmen comic comes to mind, where Ozymandias faked an entire alien invasion to bring the earth together as one. Maybe we need a good “V” moment ’round here. 😉

  6. Tom, you never fail to teach me things and make me think in ways that are new for me. Unlike you, I am a voracious consumer of fiction – what can I say, I love the escape – but I am learning the importance of being more present and more thoughtful in that presence. I love this sentence, “Tribalism hints at division. I prefer my circle ever-growing.” This speaks to me so strongly about who you are and about the roles we, as humans, can play in our world if we truly think about things, rather than just take the first elevator going down. I am sure I will always be one for escape, but I am learning what it can mean to step out of the mist every once in a while, and for that I am grateful.

    1. Thank you, Susan!

      Fiction is a great release, one I highly recommend! I get it from comics and gaming, from movies and even football (and some other television). I even get it, a little, from book fiction, as well. I adore escape! I don’t know why, but somewhere along the way nonfiction in the written volume just became more of a passion for me. I’m honestly hoping that the mix I’ve chosen this year changes that on some level…I’ve missed a lot of good fiction over the years!

  7. If we ever meet in real life, I fear we might starve to death as our conversation would never come to an end. Tribes! Such a nice idea in theory, and so complicated in practice! I have a group of people I hang out with and they can be very cliquish! I never noticed it before but we recently took a trip together and at the prospect that someone wanted to visit someone outside the tribe while we were in Chicago was regarded with bizarre territorial weirdness. My sister can be the same way, she gets jealous if I have lunch with a specific girlfriend of mine. Another small group of my girlfriends get jealous of my sister. I think humans spend entirely too much time alone and I think they are way too formal around the other people, If you are at my house, I’m cuddling you. I’m touching your face and asking you about you. I think opposed to tribes, people need more people that they feel intimate with and that should always be increasing

    1. Haha! Starvation through dialogue; we’ve invented a new thing here!

      I think you’re right, in the fact that tribes themselves tend to be too isolated. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a set “tribe,” a mastermind group as Napoleon Hill might call it. (Dylan touched upon it below, and I can’t wait to respond!). It’s when that group becomes derogatorily exclusive that the problems arise. And I’m as guilty as the next guy at that sometimes!

      But I think the word tribe is either getting overused or attempting a vocabularic evolution. It’s starting to mean too many things to too many people, IMO. Maybe my argument with Junger is a semantic one (as I intimated in the second-to-last paragraph).

      I agree we’re all too formal with one another! Where does that come from? As a sales guy my first mission is to get everyone in the room to relax and realize we’re all in this together. Even if I have to break some sticks in some asses sometimes! 😂

      The only thing I enjoy as much as being around a group of revelers is my time alone, but I think I know what you mean by that. I think humans have to learn to be comfortable around one another, and have to learn how to be alone, too. Is that a paradox or a dichotomy? 😉

  8. Forty cents definitely in the mail, Tom. I appreciate the fun and thoughtful review. Trying to get people back into their neighborhoods, treating each other decently, communicating and just developing relationships… it’s tough. I’ve heard a lot of theories about that working to deter “lone wolves” from their desire to become insurgent against this country.

    We used to (before we had kids) regularly hold functions for our neighborhood, because, even though we don’t really like all of them, we do see value in us knowing each other and feeling like we could rely on each other in any event.

    I really appreciate the sentiment of letting soldiers return to being people. I DO always have the urge to shake a hand or buy a coffee or whatever to show my appreciation, but shy away from it. If I were in their shoes, I’d probably hate the attention. I don’t know, that’s just me.

    1. Thank you, Justin!

      I found that idea, about not treating veterans special (including NO veteran discounts or thanking them for their service!) to be one of the most fascinating topics that Junger touched upon. Maybe they DO just want to get back to normal life. Though, I suspect, that varies from veteran to veteran, just as everything else varies from person to person.

      I do hope I didn’t make the impression that I’m anti-community. But, the flip side of good neighbor relation (and I’ve seen it) is the over-involvement in each other’s biz. There is a fine line between caring who’s coming around your place when you’re not around, and pressing you on getting those hedges trimmed for “the good of the neighborhood.” 😉

      A happy medium, I hope, is look out for each other, but live and let live. Is such a world possible?

  9. “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.”

    I agree that tribalism in the sense of White Nationalist, or Jihadists, or ‘Hilary-people,’ or ‘Trump-voters,’ is gross, antiquated, unnecessary, and not a proper course of action to address the psychological traumas that we find ourselves facing in modern society.

    I also don’t think that Junger was even remotely hinting at such. There are several people, including Johann Hari who are writing about this need to feel a connection with our community and those around us; to build and obtain a sense of meaning from a distant and lonely world.

    I don’t think this line of thinking is at all regressive, nor does it move the dial backwards. You have a group of people – a tribe – that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning. They provide you with support, laughs, shoulders to cry on, conversations, etc. We call it church. That’s your tribe. Imagine not having that, knowing how it makes you feel to have it. It’s kind of a silly thought experiment, but I think that it will help understand the psychological need for togetherness and community that technology simply can’t provide.

    Cheers brother,

    Happy Valentines Day

  10. Happy Valentine’s Day, Brother!

    Awesome response; you answered the questions I was posing adroitly. I honestly do wonder if Mr Junger and I have a semantic problem and not a philosophical one. In order to answer that I’ll have to dig deeper into his works (or sit down with him over a beer; you’d be surprised how much that accomplishes 😉 ).

    If he means, as I do, that the world is one endless tribe, we’ve got no quarrel. If he, and Hari, are redefining tribe for the modern era (and all it means is the same thing that “posse” meant in the 90’s) we probably have little to quibble about there, either (except vocabulary). But when schools are defining tribalism one way, Quinn is redefining it another way, and Junger is redefining it in yet another, I think we all have a problem.

    I love my posse, my peeps, my community of friends, my extended family, my … tribe. I still struggle calling it that. It brings to mind a closed system and, somehow, a rejection of those who disagree with “the tribe.” Again, the problem there might be me, and my preconceived notions, more than the rebranding of the term.

    I do stand by my assertion that we “build and obtain meaning” in a “distant and lonely world” intrinsically, rather than from extrinsic forces, but we can confabulate on that one over tequila sometime. Tequila also builds meaning in a distant and lonely world. 😉

    Again, I agree with a lot of what Sebastian Junger is preaching here, maybe even most of it if we can solve our semantic divide, and I really appreciate the recommendation. Thank you again!!

  11. War-damaged victims owe their distress less to traumatic experiences during their deployments (which we shouldn’t underestimate, of course) and more to the terrible sense of alienation and isolation they experience on return. We all know that. The society rejects them, they can’t find a job, many end up poor, many even homeless, many kill themselves.

    So, Junger seems to be challenging us to take a look in the mirror and ask whether we can save ourselves, instead of trying to save/help war veterans.

    Lots of veterans worldwide are in the same boat but what sets the U.S. apart is that it almost as a rule takes the extremes of war (fought elsewhere) to spark lost values such as egalitarianism, self-sacrifice and solidarity back into life. Its toxic politics, yawning rich-poor divide and racial tension are anything but promising.

    Great job, Tom.

    P.S. I like both fiction and non-fiction and like you can’t read only one too long, so I resort to reading the other when I need refreshment. Or even worse, I often read a few completely different books at the same time. You do understand that, don’t you?

    1. Yes, I understand that. I currently have 3 (or is it 4?) in some degree of completeness in my nightstand (or on my tablet). The only difference this year is I’m dedicating my first 20 pages every day to the book I committed to (currently, finally, Abundance). After those 20 I can read from the others, if I wish. Most days, I get to the 20 and no more. Okay, most days I get to about 15. 😉

      You understand Junger’s point quite well. I did a little side research on him during the day yesterday (after the post; the post was about the book) and he’s taken the veteran-detachment thing on tour, it seems. Maybe that’s his niche.

      He also did admit in one interview that the word “tribe” was misleading, and that he he knows that, and that the word he means is “community.” He then (astutely) admits that the word “tribe” sold books, and that nobody would have bought a book called “Community.” 🤣

      Your analysis of the unfortunate mentality of America is spot-on. I don’t know why we remain so far behind in our evolutionary thinking. Perhaps that’s my next field of in-depth study. What makes America so exceptional(ly stupid)?

      1. lol. Love it already. I’ll be more than willing to join you in this analysis.

        Community? God no. I would never buy it myself. Tribe also sounds ironic. Though we’re moving forward, paradoxically we’re also regressing.

  12. Hi Tom, I risk being redundant here with the many intelligent comments you’ve received, but I totally get your point! I think we are on the same wavelength here because I just wrote a (long, possibly arduous reading) blog post just now much along similar lines, questioning modernity/globalization but not waxing poetic about the past. It is a hard line to walk, and can get misunderstood, I can feel the heat already!

    Perhaps we are biologically adapted to tribalism, but our world has changed so much that it would be unrecognizable/unacceptable to our tribal ancestors, I think it’s a matter of taking certain elements that worked in the past (community support, help with childcare, sickness, etc.) and developing new ones to avoid the negative aspects: insular thinking and warlike tendencies of the past.

    1. Hi MP! I can’t wait to read that; I’ll jump right into it when I get back from my errands (oh, the screeching siren call of real life!).

      I think you hit the nail right on the head, there, with what I was trying to say. I never meant that we must eschew the past; the past can teach us so many important lessons! We must take what was good, as you said, and then add to it, and develop a better way of life for all humans, and for the very planet. We evolved an adaptation for tribalism; and now we must evolve the very notion of the tribe.

      And if that is Junger’s larger point, I’m a big fan of Junger! 🙂

  13. The idea of going back to how something was, I agree, is quixotic and possibly detrimental. We’re faced with present realities and we need to be create and communal in finding solutions to improving the quality of the way we live now. The point about us being bored stuck with me. I was watching PBS yesterday and they have a show called American Woodshop. It fascinates me how everything required time and people got to develop art forms from daily life. Obviously some tasks were less glamourous than others, but I do feel like raising the value of crafts and craftsmanship for all people would help.

    1. First off, I love the word quixotic! I may change my middle name to THAT! 😎

      Lyz-Stephanie, thank you for stopping by! There is something incredibly admirable about the idea Junger has to create community, and I don’t want that to be lost in my (possibly semantic) criticisms of his ideas. This right here is an example of how critical community support truly is!

      I just popped over and read your About Page, and how inspirational! At the heart of every message I send (I hope) is the message that we must rise above the programming.

      “Maybe you bought what they told you to buy; you got the job they told you to get. And who you are and what you love have taken a backseat to the daily grind.”

      In my experience, that describes almost everybody, growing up. Why? If we can get that message to folks, and if they can learn it sooner rather than later, I think we have done our duty. Here’s to joining forces in spreading that message, to women, to men, to humans everywhere: Learn who you are; be who you are. The world needs exactly YOU!

      Thanks again for stopping by, and for spreading joy!

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