Tribe. What images does the word evoke for you? A group of people? People like you? A bond? Something shared amongst a group? Journalist Sebastian Junger attempts to illuminate why tribalism has faded in modern society and why it was important to begin with in his 2016 book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.
Junger begins by discussing the Native Americans, whom he refers to as American Indians, and the roots of tribalism in North America. Unsurprisingly, given he was a war reporter, the theme of war is threaded through every chapter (of which there are only four in this short read). He writes that “If war were purely and absolutely bad in every single aspect and toxic in its effects, it would probably not happen as often as it does. But in addition to all the destruction and loss of life, war also inspires ancient human virtues of courage, loyalty, and selflessness that can be utterly intoxicating to the people who experience them” (77).
Junger blames modern disunity on society’s lack of tribalism. He highlights why many soldiers have difficulty reintegrating into civilian life after war; they go from a high of extreme brotherhood/sisterhood where each man and woman is willing to sacrifice his or her very life for the person beside him/her to a civilian life where no such sacrifices will likely ever be demanded. In essence, Junger argues that we (society) need something for which to fight – and we should be fighting for the well-being of one another.
Despite some interesting theories and intriguing vignettes, the book ultimately falls short. Junger makes many gendered distinctions but fails to flesh them out fully. He writes that men act heroically in physical situations (e.g. a burning building) more often than women, but that women more often put themselves in socially or morally dangerous situations to help others. He does not take into account that often, men are performing their sacrifices for an audience whereas women often sacrifice more silently; maybe as a result of the gender roles and expectations ingrained in American society.
Further, Junger toes a dangerous line in almost advocating for disaster so that people can have the opportunity to act communally and take care of one another. He goes on to mention examples (such as the Bowe Bergdahl case) to make a point, but simplifies the argument to the point of distortion. The book reads as though Junger simply wanted to finish, regardless of the expense to his narrative.
Tribe is a great jumping off point for exploring ideas like tribalism, military reintegration, PTSD, and modern American society, but leaves much to be desired as a study of the importance of tribes to humanity.
Benson Reviews: / 5