(Book) Tribe – Sebastian Junger

Kurt.nzBooks read, Lifestyle, family, community


An interesting take on how we live in the modern world compared to how our ancestors lived. Individual vs. tribal societies and the role of war and initiation rites. Tribe – Sebastian Junger.

These are the ideas that I took away:


How do you become and adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice. How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?

A tribe may be the people you’re compelled to share the last of your food with.

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. It’s time for that to end.

The men and the dogs

In the US, immigration almost always went from civilised to tribal, not much movement the other way.

Personal property of Indians was limited to what could be carried, so gross inequalities of wealth were difficult to accumulate.

As societies become more affluent, they tend to require more, not less, time and commitment.

It’s possible to live most of your life encountering mostly strangers, feeling deeply, dangerously alone.

Increased wealth and affluence seems to foster higher rates of clinical depression. Poor people are forced to share and rely on others, as a result they live in closer communities.

In tribal societies, anyone who tries to arbitrarily dominate other members or take more than their fair share of resources is punished, banished or killed. In western society there are many who dominate or take more of their fair share and nothing is done.

War makes you an animal

In tribal societies there are initiation rites into manhood. We don’t have that so kids tend to make their own, driving too fast, drinking too much etc.

In Italy after a devastating earthquake, all were equal for a time. All needed to rely on each other to survive, rich and poor. The earthquake achieved what the law promises but does not maintain, the equality of all men.

During the blitz on London, suicide and depression rates went down. People banded together, helped each other, and unwritten societal rules came into effect. Nothing like the anarchy and mental illnesses forecasted by the government.

When people are actively engaged in a cause, their lives have more purpose, with a resulting improvement in mental health.

What would you risk dying for – and for whom – is perhaps one of the most profound questions we can ask ourselves.

In a disaster two types of leaders emerge. The ones that take action first and don’t worry about what other people think. They lack empathy and are able to make quick decisions that save lives. Once the disaster drags on, other leaders who have empathy and are able to keep morale up, come to the fore. They often conform to male/female roles. But in single gender groups certain people will take the opposing role.

Catastrophes seem to turn the clock back on social evolution, from self interest into group interest.

In bitter safety I awake

War inspires ancient virtues of courage, loyalty and selflessness that can be intoxicating to the people that experience them.

The Iroquois had wartime leaders and peacetime leaders, two completely different roles that didn’t overlap.

High unit cohesion corresponds with lower rates of psychiatric breakdown.

Whatever the technological advances of modern society, the individual lifestyles they spawn are brutal to the human spirit. We are intensely social creatures.

Veterans need to feel like they’re needed back home, not victims otherwise they may never reintegrate properly.

Calling home from Mars

A tribe is a group of people you would help feed and help defend.

The public is often accused of being disconnected from the military, but it’s actually disconnected from almost everything. Fuel production, farming etc. All the primary industries that keep things going are virtually unacknowledged but the people most reliant on them.

It seems Western society needs to help war veterans as a community. Community rituals help them reconnect and heal.

Communities should focus on things that unite them, not their differences.

A community needs a shared purpose, shared hardships (and enemies), connectivity and everyone willing to sacrifice something for the community in order for it to thrive.