Tribe by Sebastian Junger

So I read the book Tribe by Sebastian Junger. It is one of those eye opening books, one that shows a mirror to you and you see whats actually happening. So let me just attempt a really bad summary of the book:

What is happening?

Whats happening is that modern human society has made us isolated which is making us sad in many ways. Let me explain. Today, we are more comfortable, safe, live longer lives. Most of us don’t have to fight for survival or food, our basic needs get taken care of easily. The fight that we are engaged in is one for money, status, power, materials, more comfort etc. This fight unfortunately is not enough to give our life the three values considered intrinsic to happiness, which are competence, autonomy and community. Especially community. It is also making us work more. Hence sadness and depression. To show this the author obviously presented statistics on depression and other mental illness in urban population compared to tribal population. He also presented several cases of what urban population feels when modern life is taken away from them. For example in war or natural calamities. Obviously frightened at the time, but what was interesting was that people recall such a time in their lives as one of the happiest period. Thats because they loved living in a community, having a clear purpose etc. In fact they are sad that it was taken away and they go had to go back to their isolated lives after things settled down. So yeah, modern life is sad and depressing because it is lonely.


This is more interesting and mind boggling to me. Why do we crave for community? Community comes with giving away individual freedoms. Do we really think that communities deciding our jobs, our life partner and what not is a much better system than what we have today? No we don’t. We don’t think its a better system. Then why do we crave communities? The answer? Evolution. Yes evolution. According to the book, genetic adaptations take 25000 years to appear in humans. Our ancestors lived in communities for millions of years, before the agriculture revolution that happened only 10,000 years ago. Not enough time for the changes to have an effect on our gene pool. Hence we still have the psychological and physiological effect of community that helped us stay alive in our hunter gatherer years but are not as important now. For example release of chemicals in our brains when we do something in community. And this is what blows my mind. How little control we have on ourselves and how much we are connected to the past. Imagine yourself sitting in your luxury apartment with all the wealth in the world but sad. Sad why? Because your body is reacting to your loneliness and making you sad. Because even though you have never had the experience of living in a closely nit community your body remembers how things were 10,000 years ago and it is reacting. This is amazing to me.

What now? Well obviously we are much better off now than we ever were. We have abundance of food, we know a lot of things about ourselves and the world, we have made a very comfortable life for ourselves on this planet. Lets not go back. Lets go forward. It is a good realization that we want a certain level of community in our lives. Without that no amount of material and comfort can make us happy. Fair enough. Lets take that realization and design our systems such that we become more communal than isolated.


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