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Tribe Sebastian Junger Summary

Western society is built on respect for individual rights. Very few things are as highly valued as the freedom to pursue our own goals and ambitions without outside interference. That’s undoubtedly made the world a better place, but there are also limits. Individualism often looks better on the screen than it does in reality. We often forget that each of us also needs a community to thrive. And that’s the cause of all sorts of problems. In this book called Tribe, Sebastian Junger who has personally experienced the Afghanistan war, uses historical evidence to show us how a community-minded approach to life is essential to human happiness. The human tendency is to belong to a community and live as a tribe. In this summary, I’ll share with you three key lessons that I learned from the book.

Key Lesson #1: Tribal societies are more in tune with human nature

Western societies are very wealthy and people here are living in comfort and luxury. So they must be happy and at peace in their lives. But we know this is not the case. Let’s look at a tribal society, Kung nomads of the Kalahari desert in Africa. Tribe members there don’t need to work more than 12 hours a week and they take turns to hunt and gather food. Once they catch the food, they divide it between themselves. Nobody has very much but everyone has enough. Compare that to the western lifestyle where an average person works more than 40 hours a week. They might be richer than the tribe’s men but that doesn’t mean they are happier. In Kung, people live in the same way humans have lived for thousands of years. We know that it takes at least 25000 years to adapt to a new lifestyle. Although we live in industrial societies, we are hard-wired to be hunter-gatherers. We pay a high price for this mismatch. Just look at the loneliness and high levels of mental illness in society.

Key Lesson #2: War often brings the best in people

In the middle of the second world-war, German airplanes decided to bomb London day after day. They were targeting civilians and the British government worried about how the population would respond to bombing raids. They taught bombings will cause mass hysteria but they were shocked when they saw the people’s response. Paradoxical as it may seem, war can bring out the best in people. Londoners continued to live their normal lives and when they heard sirens, they would go to the shelters. The government predicted that more than four million people would go to the psychiatric hospital because of war trauma, but surprisingly these hospitals got emptier. In other peaceful parts of the country, by contrast, depression became more common because they couldn’t take part in the fighting. War usually creates deep bonds and brings people together in a way that modern society cannot match. Such deep connections enhances mental health and satisfaction of life.

Key Lesson #3: Natural disasters help bring people together

If you look at societies when they face a natural disaster, you’d see that people are more likely to help each other and their communities. That’s because disaster tends to simplify things and return people to a more natural way of living. Fritz in his theory argues that modern life destroys the social bonds that used to glue humans and their societies together. When natural disaster strikes, however, these bonds reappear. People realize that their survival depends on cooperating with others. In 1970 a terrible earthquake hit the mountains of Peru and killed 90 percent of the people in the city of Yungary. The earthquake sent up massive plumes of dust, and rescue helicopters were unable to land for several days. The survivors were on their own. If they wanted to make it, they had to work together. That’s exactly what they did. They pooled their resource and shared everything they had and forgot all about race and class division. But as soon as the rescuers were able to land, they went back to the old social order.

So in summary, in societies that honor individualism, many suffer from loneliness and isolation. Surprisingly at the times of war and natural disaster, people come together and forget their differences. That’s because extreme events simplify life and revive the social bond. To have a happier and more peaceful life, we need to find ways of creating a sense of tribal belonging in times of peace.

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