Tribes by Sebastian Junger, 2016

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Junger believes that in our modern society, connectedness and meaningful interdependence has become difficult to find or build.  In the military, where soldiers are constantly called to defend and support one another, where they share a common mission and enemy, tribes are still the norm.  The excitement and comradery that soldiers share is unparalleled—which may draw many men into military service, and pull them back even after destructive and traumatic experiences.

Furthermore, veterans often face a striking change upon leaving the service.  Not only are their connections with their tribe severed, but they return to towns and relationships where, in general, no one else has similar military experience, and therefore cannot understand their feelings or provide a sense of belonging.  Tasks seem trivial and devoid of meaning, and isolation is normal.

Junger argues that we must find ways to rebuild tribes within our society, for everyone’s good, but specifically to help soldiers readjust to civilian life after they have given so much on society’s behalf.

Perhaps the most interesting sections of the book discussed how people banded together during what seem like objectively terrible times—bombing raids in England during World War Two, for instance.  People remember feeling purposeful, connected, other-centered during these periods.  And medical records also show significant declines in mental health treatment during those times.  I’ve also read that divorce rates dropped, and active divorce proceedings were postponed in the wake of 9/11, for similar reasons.

It does raise the question of how much material/economic/technological progress has increased well-being, and how much it has simply brought about “mismatch diseases” (health conditions brought about by a mismatch between our current environments and our evolutionary environments).

Ideas per Page:1 4/10 (lower)

Related Books: The Story of the Human Body by Daniel E. Lieberman; The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond; The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant

Recommend to Others: Not strongly, unless you’re interested in PTSD and soldier reintegration and loneliness

Reread Personally: No

1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.


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