Why did European and American settlers refuse to return back to “civilization” after being kidnapped or captured by Native American tribes?
Why do numerous soldiers report, after returning home from deployments where they took part in extraordinarily violent combat situations, that they wished to return to those hellish settings?
Why, when pessimistic public pundits remark on potential future disasters, in which the people will naturally turn against each other and become violent once thrown back into the state of nature, do people do the exact opposite? Help each other out?
Both of these questions lie at the focal point of Sebastian Junger’s newest book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. With his past as an embedded journalist and documentarian with the 503rd Infantry Regiment’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which spawned the two award-winning documentaries Restrepo (2010) and Korengal (2014), Junger applies the lessons learned from war to answer the questions above.
At the heart of these questions, and Junger’s book, is a novel critique of civilization, particularly the American system that has been built around the stoic individual. In his conception, tribes, or strong communities of any sort, are central tenets in human psychology, leftovers from an evolutionary past that never quite went away. There is, thus, an absence in Western society that a deep part of human beings yearn for.
Which is why soldiers miss combat situations and early American settlers refused to return after being kidnapped. It isn’t the structures our civilization rests upon that are entirely to blame: human beings haven’t quite acclimated to the sort of society we built for ourselves. Soldiers don’t want to stay in perpetual violence: they wish to remain in a unit where they care and are cared for by the others in the unit. Those captive settlers? They were integrated into a well-oiled machine where they drew their identity from the group.
If one takes this central tenet as it is, Junger’s work brings with it important considerations beyond his exploration how this hypothesis–human need for a tribe–can aid in helping returning soldiers. This is why Tribe should be the next book you read: the absolute need for community.
As Mr. Junger notes, community can be anything from a town hall that holds projects for community rehabilitation, to troop groups on the front, to local businesses that hire veterans immediately upon their return in order to reintegrate them into society.
And yet, community can be anything that brings the individual out from solitude. Simply reading the posts on #AmReading gets you involved in a sort-of remote community. Taking these skills from the computer into the real world and building a tribe for yourself and everyone else is a natural phenomenon. Reading this book will help understand that phenomenon.
Similar book suggestions: (all by Sebastian Junger)
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