Tribe | Sebastian Junger

Summary of: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
By: Sebastian Junger

Introduction

Dive into the powerful and thought-provoking essence of Sebastian Junger’s ‘Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging’ as we explore the significance of tribal lifestyles, the vital role of social bonds, and the impact of wars and disasters on human psyche. Within this summary, you will uncover the allure of Native American tribes for early settlers, uncovering the foundation of egalitarianism, freedom, and communal living. Along the way, we delve into the influence of tribal societies on modern times, the paradoxically positive psychological effects of war, and the potential for healing after experiencing trauma.

The Fascinating Allure of Native American Life

When the English arrived in America, they were awed by the wilderness and tribes whose ways of life resembled an earlier age. Cities grew by the nineteenth century, but Native Americans remained fiercely traditional. Europeans often emulated their way of life, while Native Americans rarely adopted European customs. Studies showed that Native American children raised by Europeans had little attachment to modern culture and usually returned to their tribes. Similarly, Europeans captured by Native Americans often became part of the tribe and rejected returning to their old families, preferring to live in familiarity. The contrast in lifestyle between the Europeans and Native Americans was not only intriguing; it was compelling enough to draw people to choose to live with Native Americans.

Native American Society’s Attraction

European colonists were drawn to Native American society due to its social structure, easy-going lifestyle, and egalitarianism. The tribal life provided freedom, pleasure, and autonomy, unlike the strict and hierarchical colonial society. The settlers found a mirror to Western society’s flaws in Native American life. The Native American egalitarianism and social recognition based on hunting and warfare attracted colonists, while women enjoyed more autonomy and fewer childbirth expectations. This captivating lifestyle of the Native American tribes, which reflected society’s flaws, made them irresistible to the settlers.

The Lesson Western Societies Can Learn from Tribal Societies

Today’s Western societies are affluent, but they lack personal freedom. The !Kung nomads of the Kalahari
Desert work no more than 12 hours a week to support their lifestyle. They divide the spoils equally among themselves, and nobody has much, but everyone has enough. In contrast, the average office worker toils more than 40 hours a week, with less leisure time and personal freedom. Although Western societies allow individual pursuit, humans are hardwired to be hunter-gatherers. The !Kung live as our ancestors did for thousands of years before agriculture, and it takes at least 25,000 years for a species to genetically adapt to a new environment. Material wealth allows independence, but our DNA craves communities, leading to pathological loneliness in Western societies.

The Surprising Effect of War

During World War II, the British government was concerned about the reaction of their citizens to bombing raids. However, the response was surprisingly different from their predictions – the citizens remained calm and resilient. Wars have been known to bring out the best in people, as seen in the decreased rates of suicide and violent crime. Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, had observed this fact a century earlier, where psychiatric hospitals became less crowded during times of war. This was also observed in Spain during its civil war. The positive effects of war on mental health are perplexing, but it is known that men who were not allowed to participate in war had higher rates of depression. This article dives into the psychology behind this phenomenon.

The Silver Lining of Natural Disasters

Natural disasters have the potential to bring a society closer by stripping away social hierarchies and returning people to their natural instincts to cooperate and support each other. Sociologist Charles Fritz discovered that survivors of natural disasters were more likely to help each other and their communities. This is because disasters simplify things and destroy the social bonds that modern life tends to tarnish. People realize that their survival depends on cooperating with others, and divisions based on wealth and race suddenly become insignificant. The idea was confirmed by the 1970 earthquake in Peru where survivors in Yungay worked together to pool their resources, share everything they had, and fight to stay alive despite the absence of external help. Natural disasters, therefore, serve as unifying forces that promote communal unity and strip away irrelevant social barriers.

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