Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
by Sebastian Junger
Published by Hatchett Book Group (134 pages)
Available at Aitkin Library in hardcover and downloadable audiobook
Book Review by Marty Rheaume
In Tribe, Junger explores the social phenomenon of tribal membership. By diving into our psychological need for belonging, Junger discovers our most horrific experiences have a mysterious allure. In the aftermath of adversity, war, and national disaster, people look back nostalgically at the bonds they built and the intensity of being alive in the midst of threatening environments. This observation provides the canvas to trace these paradoxical feelings back to our tribal roots and show how our lack of connection and purpose manifest themselves in neurotic and pathological behavior.
Many of us suffer the ennui of modern life. Our basic needs are met with little direct connection to our daily tasks, so it can be hard to find meaning in our work. Families are spread out across the state, country, and globe disrupting familial bonds. Our human interactions are often reduced to social media and work, leaving people dissatisfied, lonely, and empty. Ironically, when fate interrupts and we’re put in a position of survival where we work with a small group of people, we find these experiences enrich our lives with meaning, despite the trauma we also experience.
Viewed through the perspective Junger provides, so many of our curious modern conditions make sense. The partisan bickering, racist resentment, addiction, depression, mass shootings, suicide and everything else can be viewed as failures in man’s search for meaning. People are looking for their tribe and looking for meaning. Even though societal affluence grows, we’re afflicted with alienation and angst, because our instincts and muscle memory are telling us to search for something that’s rapidly disappearing.
The allure for connection and meaning still has immense pull on our psyches. It helps explain human fascination with war. War acts as a pressure cooker for creating meaning and intimate bonds. As horrific as it can be, those who go through war can develop an attachment or even addiction to the intimacy, adrenaline, and sense of purpose war offers. Returning veterans are challenged with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a struggle to assimilate back into civilian life. As horrible as war is, at least they had a purpose and each other.
Junger uses his own experience, studies, anecdotes and statistics to support his observations. His narrative makes intuitive sense to the reader. Most of us can remember the camaraderie of a sports team, along with the feelings of pride we held after our collective suffering or the impromptu barbeques after a big storm when the power goes out. We’ve witnessed this in our own lives, and he makes it easy for us to extrapolate these observations onto society. He doesn’t provide us with any answers, but he holds up a mirror, so we can observe our intense search for meaning and connection. Maybe it’ll help us form our own tribes.