We all just want to be­long

Many of mod­ern so­ci­ety’s ills are due to the loss of tribal sen­ti­ments ly­ing deep in our evo­lu­tion­ary past.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - By DAVID TER­RANT

WHAT caused Amer­i­can set­tlers to run away to join Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes, and what does that have to do with re­cent US com­bat vet­er­ans re­turn­ing home to find them­selves miss­ing life in the war zone?

Best­selling author Se­bas­tian Junger ex­plores the hu­man need for the kind of strong, in­ti­mate bonds that can be found in tribal so­ci­eties in his book Tribe: On Home­com­ing And Be­long­ing (Twelve, 2016).

What led you to write about this topic?

I started think­ing about th­ese is­sues 30 years ago while grow­ing up in a great Amer­i­can sub­urb. We didn’t know our neigh­bours very well and didn’t care much about them. Every­one I knew lived that way, and every­one I knew wasn’t happy about it.

How did you first start think­ing about the in­trin­sic value and at­trac­tion of tribal life?

My adopted Un­cle El­lis (a close fam­ily friend) used to tell me how white peo­ple were con­stantly run­ning across the frontier to join In­dian tribes and tak­ing up with them. And then the light bulb fi­nally went off when I kept en­coun­ter­ing vet­er­ans who’d say they missed the war and wished they could go back. And that, to me, was ex­actly what my un­cle was talk­ing about ex­cept in a mod­ern con­text.

With the United States as po­larised as it is, do you see it as one tribe or many dif­fer­ent tribes?

When we live in a na­tion, by def­i­ni­tion it’s one huge na­tional tribe. But when one can­di­date or leader cre­ates fac­tions in the United States by say­ing there are en­e­mies of the state within our borders, they’re ac­tu­ally act­ing un-tribal.

If we don’t want to live as a na­tion, that’s fine. We should just di­vide up. But as long as we’re liv­ing red and blue un­der one tent, we have to act that way.

The fac­tion­al­ism of the re­cent (pres­i­den­tial) elec­tion, it was just get­ting go­ing when I started to write Tribe. And I was so re­volted by it, mostly be­cause it seems an­ti­thet­i­cal to any kind of na­tional unity, which we all de­pend on so­cially, eco­nom­i­cally, mil­i­tar­ily, and psy­cho­log­i­cally.

In you point out that ma­jor crises, such as the re­lent­less bomb­ing of Lon­don dur­ing World War II by the Nazis, have the op­po­site of the in­tended ef­fect to shat­ter a coun­try’s morale. Why is that?

If you be­lieve in evo­lu­tion, we’re ob­vi­ously de­scen­dants of our suc­cess­ful an­ces­tors. As fang-less, claw-less apes that can’t run very well, we de­pended on tight sol­i­dar­ity within the group. We are the de­scen­dants of an­ces­tors that did that very well.

If hard­ship, ad­ver­sity and dan­ger trig­gered an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour, we wouldn’t be here to­day. An­other way to say that is we’re the de­scen­dants of those that acted in proso­cial ways be­cause that’s how our sur­vival could be en­sured.

How do you see ex­am­ples of that play­ing out in mod­ern life?

You don’t have to go to such ex­tremes as war. Any­time there’s a bl­iz­zard, and you see a 10-year-old help­ing to shovel out a neigh­bour’s drive­way, that’s proso­cial be­hav­iour. It could be ex­tremely mun­dane – help­ing an old per­son across the street is proso­cial be­hav­iour.

In a larger con­text, there’s some sense that a com­mu­nity has to take care of its own, and I owe some­thing to that ef­fort.

How do you see that hap­pen­ing in mod­ern so­ci­ety?

Mod­ern so­ci­ety has so com­pletely elim­i­nated hard­ship and dan­ger in ev­ery­day life that the in­di­vid­ual is al­most never called upon to step up. If there’s a cri­sis, like a hur­ri­cane or a bl­iz­zard, there is enor­mous

Tribe

amount of proso­cial be­hav­ior on dis­play and those hard times are ac­tu­ally looked back on with an enor­mous amount of nos­tal­gia and fond­ness.

You’ve spent a lot of time around sol­diers. How does mil­i­tary life re­sem­ble the val­ues of tribal life?

The vast ma­jor­ity of sol­diers never see com­bat. They’re in sup­port units. But just the close na­ture of that work plays to all our evo­lu­tion­ary adap­ta­tions as a species, so it feels in­cred­i­bly good.

You saw this first­hand as a war cor­re­spon­dent?

In the city of Sara­jevo (dur­ing the Bos­nian War in the early 1990s), there was an ex­treme sense of com­mu­nity. It was a civil­ian com­mu­nity be­sieged by a mod­ern army and I re­ally missed that when I left Sara­jevo. I didn’t want to be any­where else but Sara­jevo.

In your book, you’re crit­i­cal of the way post trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) is viewed as a chronic con­di­tion with war vet­er­ans. Why do you see that as a prob­lem?

PTSD is an in­cred­i­bly com­mon thing. If you have a car ac­ci­dent or if you’re as­saulted on the street. You don’t have to be a sol­dier. Trauma is a part of life and vir­tu­ally every­one will get PTSD at some point in their life as a healthy adap­ta­tion to trauma.

What’s not healthy is long-term, go­ing on decades and decades. That’s where the dis­or­der comes in, in that di­ag­no­sis.

As a species we wouldn’t have sur­vived if a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of trau­ma­tised peo­ple re­main non-func­tion­ing for the rest of their lives. That doesn’t make any evo­lu­tion­ary sense.

One of the prob­lems with the VA (US De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs) now is that be­cause PTSD is con­sid­ered a life­long prob­lem, the VA is in­cen­tivis­ing peo­ple to see them­selves as bro­ken be­cause they will get a life­long dis­abil­ity check. In this weird way, vet­er­ans are in­cen­tivised to not get healthy.

You want to make the per­son func­tional and use­ful as fast as pos­si­ble. But when you ac­tu­ally ware­house them in a dis­abil­ity des­ig­na­tion and give them just enough money to live on, it’s not a healthy thing. It doesn’t re­turn them to func­tion­al­ity, and func­tion­al­ity is men­tal health. – The Dal­las Morn­ing News/Tri­bune News Ser­vice

In his time as a war cor­re­spon­dent, Junger has seen how com­mu­ni­ties – ‘tribes’ – pull to­gether when se­verely stressed. — TIM HET­HER­ING­TON/se­bas­tian­junger.com

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