Tribe by Sebastian Junger


Tribe by Sebastian Junger is so difficult to put into words. I almost read it in one sitting. Junger states the book is not an academic examination of the topic. He takes many pieces of information, stories and presents theories and explanations for certain phenomenon in todays society.

Reading this book at the age of twenty-three seemed important as topics discussed (a sense of belonging, group cohesion, courage, societal interactions) are becoming increasingly interesting to me.

I read reviews of this book online and some people really went after the information and theories that are discussed (as they should). A lot of it was negative and defensive towards PTSD. He was not taking a shot people’s suffering, but he is offering a different explanation for the confusing statistics that arise when examining PTSD. He calls into question the way society (U.S) treats its veterans and offers ways to improve it.

This book was so compelling I could feel my heart beating faster as I got deeper into it.

It is almost ineffable. Please read.

“Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.”


How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage
“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
Accumulation of personal property allowed people to make more and more individualistic choices about their lives, and those choices unavoidably diminished group efforts toward a common goal
People can go through an entire day surrounded by complete strangers and can feel dangerously alone. Happiness is notoriously difficult to measure. Cross-cultural studies have shown that despite the massive jumps in technology and apparent well being our society suffers from high rates of depression, schizophrenia, poor health, anxiety, and chronic loneliness in human history.
White middle aged men currently have highest rate at nearly 30 suicides per 100k
self determination theory, conventional success in profession showed zero level of correlation with happiness (George Washington Law Review surveyed 6,000 lawyers in 2015). Public defenders (compared to higher paid lawyers) self reported greater levels of happiness. Human beings need three basic things to be contempt.
  1. competence in what they do
  2. authentic in their lives
  3. connected to others


“ in the Journal of Affective Disorders concluded in 2012. “In effect, humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-depreived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dir consequences.”

initiation rite, violence in young men in modern society may be more attributable to a longing for respect and maturity that come with violence and war than the actual violence of it.

“In that sense, plate tectonics under the town of Avezzano managed to re-create the communal conditions of our evolutionary past quite well. “An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain,” one of the survivors wrote. “The equality of men.”

According to German psychologists who prepared notes with their American counterparts after the war, it was the untouched cities who civilian moral suffered the most. Thirty years later, H.A Lyons would document an almost identical phenomenon in riot torn Belfast. American analysts based in England monitored the affects of bombings to see if cracks began to appear in the German resolve. To their surprise they found exactly the opposite. The more they bombed the more resilient the population became. The cities with the highest moral, like Dresden, were the ones that were bombed the hardest.

Fritz went on to complete a more general study of how communities respond to calamity. After the war he turned his attention to natural disasters in the U.S and formulated a broad theory about social resilience. He was unable to find a single instance where communities that had been hit by catastrophic events collapsed into sustained panic less anything approaching anarchy. If anything he found that social bonds were reinforced by disasters and the people overwhelmingly their energies toward the good of the community rather than themselves.

“Men perform the vast majority of bystander rescues, and children, the elderly, and women are the most common recipients of them. Children are helped regardless of gender, as are the elderly, but women of reproductive age are twice as likely to be helped by a stranger than men are. Men have to wait, on average, until age seventy-five before they can expect the same kind of assistance in a life-threatening situation that women get their whole lives. Given the disproportionately high value of female reproduction to any society, risking male lives to save female lives makes enormous evolutionary sense. According to a study based on a century of records at the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, male bystanders performed more than 90 percent of spontaneous rescues of strangers, and around one in five were killed in the attempt. “Hero” is generally defined as risking your life to save non-kin from mortal danger. The resulting mortality rate is higher than for most US combat units.) Researchers theorize that greater upper-body strength and a predominately male personality trait know as “impulsive sensation seeking” lead men to overwhelmingly dominate this form of extreme caretaking.”

Women are more likely than men to display moral courage
“What would you risk dying for-and for whom-is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves.”
If women aren’t present to provide empathic leadership then certain men will do it
If men aren’t present to take action in an emergency situation, women will step in. Almost all of the women in the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission were in situations where now men we present.
Ahmetasevic on how they lived during the war in Sarajevo
“The basement of one of the buildings was deep enough to serve as a bomb shelter, and teenagers from the neighborhood led a kind of communal life down there that was almost entirely separate from the adults above ground. The boys would go off to fight on the front line for ten days at a stretch and then return to join the girls, who lived down there full-time. Everyone slept on mattresses on the floor together and ate their meals together and fell in and out of love together and played music and talked about literature and joked about the war. “The boys were like our brothers,” Ahmetasevic said. “It’s not like we girls were waiting for them and crying…no, we had a party. To be honest, it was a kind of liberation. The love that we shared was enormous. They’d come from the front lines and most of them were musicians and they would have small concerts for us. We didn’t believe in heroes. We were punk rockers. Our biggest hero was David Bowie.'”
I asked Ahmetasevic if people had ultimately been happier during the war.
“We were the happiest,” Ahmetasevic said. Then she added: “And we laughed more.”
“What I had was classic short term PTSD. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s exactly the response you want to have when your life is in danger: you want to be vigilant, you want to avoid situations where you are not in control, you want to react to strange noises, you want to sleep lightly and wake easily, you want to have flashbacks and nightmares that remind you of specific threats to your life, and you want to be, by turns, angry and depressed. Anger keeps you ready to fight, and depression keeps you from being too active and putting yourself in more danger….[flashback] “highly efficient single-event survival learning mechanism,” as one researcher termed it.”
Iroquois Nation, had parallel systems of government for peace-time and war. Sachems (peacetime leaders) were selected by women and had control in peacetime and in negotiating an end to hostilities during war. However, when war broke out, the war leaders took over to ensure survival of tribe.
2007 analysis from Institute of Medicine & National Research Council found that a persons chance of getting PTSD is greatly affected by their experiences before going to war.
Statistically, the 20% who have long term PTSD are already burdened by psychological problems.
2000 study by Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that you are at a higher risk of PTSD if you have an educational deficit, are female, low IQ, or if you were abused as a child.
“…but researchers have not yet found any relationship between suicide and combat. Combat veterans are, statistically, no more likely to ill themselves than veterns who were never under fire.”
unit cohesion theory, brought on by intensive training or danger creates strong bonds in company or platoon. Higher levels of cohesion is correlated with lower rates of psychiatric breakdown. In WWII, American airborne units had some of the lowest psychiatric casualty rates relative to numbers wounded.
Americans soldiers appear to suffer PTSD twice the rate of British soldiers that were in combat with them. U.S spends more than $4b annually in disability comp. for PTSD. Many vets will continue to receive compensation for lifetime. Despite billions spent on treatment roughly half or Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have applied for permanent PTSD disability. Since roughly 10% of our armed forces see actual combat, the majority of veterans claiming to be affected seem to be affected by a different cause (other than danger).
One study found that 1-in-4 PeaceCorps volunteers reported experiencing significant depression upon returning home. That number doubled when they had to be evacuated because of wartime or other emergency.
“What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often offer.”
Public meaning and understanding
“thank you for your service”, honoring vets at games, discounts at stores deepen chasm between vets and civilians. In Israel, where half of civilians take part in armed forces, thanking someone for their service is like thanking someone for paying their taxes.
3 factors of combatant transition, social resilience
“Anthropologists like Kohrt, Hoffman, and Abramowitz have identified three factors that seem to crucially affect a combatant’s transition back into civilian life…First, cohesive and egalitarian tribal societies do a very good job at mitigating the effects of trauma…Second, ex-combatants shouldn’t be seen—or be encouraged to see themselves—as victims. One can be deeply traumatized , as firemen are by the deaths of both colleagues and civilians, without being viewed through the lens of victimhood…Perhaps most important, veterans need to feel that they’re just as necessary and productive back in society as they were on the battlefield.”
“Recent studies of something called ‘social resilience’ have identified resource sharing and egalitarian wealth distributions as major components of a society’s ability to recover from hardship. And societies that rank high on social resilience—such as kibbutz settlements in Israel—provide soldiers with a significantly stronger buffer against PTSD than low-resilience societies.”
“If the human race is under threat in some way that we don’t yet understand, it will probably be at a community level that we either solve the problem or fail to.”
Rachel Yehdua pointed to littering as the perfect example of everyday symbol for disunity. You’re in it alone, not protecting something shared. The opposite of military.
Offering veterans the use of town hall, every Veterans Day to vets to talk about their experiences. Some will say war was the best, some will be angry, some will be crying so hard. A community ceremony like that can give the experience of war to the nation instead of just leaving it to the ones who fought. “I support to troops” means showing up to this to hear them troops out.
“Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.”
Focusing on ways we are similar, not different
Sergeant Berggdahl desertion, being connected to 5 deaths, 2008 crash being connected to approximately 5,000 suicides
(“It was better when it was really bad,” someone spray-painted on a wall about the loss of social solidarity in Bosnia after the war ended.) That sense of solidarity is at the core of what it means to be human and undoubtedly helped deliver us to this extraordinary moment in our history.
It may also be the only thing that allows us to survive it.

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