Profile picture
Visakan Veerasamy @visakanv
, 73 tweets, 11 min read Read on Twitter
#nowreading Tribe, by Sebastian Junger
This book grew out of this 2015 Vanity Fair article about soldiers and PTSD…
Junger grew up in a Boston suburb. "Nothing ever happened in my town that required anything close to a collective effort."

"What I wanted wasn't destruction and mayhem but the opposite: solidarity."

"How do you become a man in a world that doesn't require courage?"
In 1986 he hitchhiked across the northwest US in search of adventure.

In Wyoming, a man living in a broken-down car asked him where he was headed + if he had food. Junger, worried abt being robbed, said he didn't have much. The man gave Junger his food.

Lifelong memory created
"Humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary."
Junger opens by drawing our attention to native Americans, and how for a long time the settlers and the natives lived in close proximity, with different cultures.

Apparently, many white Americans ran away to join native tribes, but the reverse almost never happened.
"Emigration always seemed to go from the civilized to the tribal, and it left Western thinkers flummoxed about how to explain such an apparent rejection of their society." Ben Franklin observed this phenomena in the 1750s. "They become disgusted with our manner of life..."
"Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become European. There must be in their social bond something singularly captivating and superior to anything to be boasted of among us." - Hector de Crèvecoeur, 1782
Junger warns against romanticization. "Virtually all of the Indian tribes waged war against their neighbours and practiced deeply sickening forms of torture" - disembowelment, slow burning, hacked alive.

"The Spanish Inquisition was also busy serving up just as much barbarism"
- hunting more varied+interesting than farming
- sexual mores more relaxed
- clothing more comfortable
- religion less harsh
- social status relatively classless &egalitarian, stemming from hunting & war
- personal property limited (so inequality minimal)
- women more autonomous
Study in 1960s found that !Kung bushmen worked as little as 12 hours a week, 25% of urban executives then. They hunt and gather in the day, pool their food in the evening - strong emphasis on sharing + high frequency of movement = minimal surplus accumulation, low inequality
!Kung, like our ancestors:

- nomadic bands ~50 people
- high levels of accidental injury&death
- domineering senior males balanced by coalitions
- v intolerant of hoarding & selfishness
- occasional hunger, violence, hardship
- extremely close&involved childcare
- never alone
After agriculture & Industry:

- increased accumulation of personal property
- more individualistic choices
- now possible to go through entire day (or entire life) surrounded by others yet deeply, dangerously lonely
- increased depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, suicide
- women in rural areas less likely to get depressed than urban ones (in both Nigeria and US)
- survey of 6,000 US lawyers found zero correlation between high billable hours/making partner & self-reported happiness
- public defenders who earn less and have less status seem happier
- Mexicans born in the US are wealthier than Mexicans born in Mexico, but much likelier to suffer from depression
- Amish have v low rate of depression

Modern society emphasizes extrinsic values over intrinsic, literally prioritizing wealth over health. The more you assimilate..
"In effect, humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences." - study in Journal of Affective Disorders, 2012
Infants in hunter-gatherer societies carried by mothers as much as 90% of the time (similar to other primates)

In 1970s America, skin-to-skin contact with mother was as low as 16% - might be considered child abuse by some societies.

Similar issue: isolating sleeping children
Reduced role of community seems related to increased role of authority

Ancestral-type societies punished "failure to share", "freeloading" and "bullying", starting with ridicule and shunning, all the way up to "assassination of the culprit by the entire group"

No bystanders
Subsistence hunters aren't necessarily more moral individuals, they just can't get away with selfish behavior because everything is so easily scrutinized. Modern society is a sprawling and anonymous mess. We know fraudsters are among us, but we can barely do anything about it
"The fact that a group of people can cost American society several trillion dollars in losses and not be tried for high crimes shows how completely de-tribalized the country has become."

(The British military executed cowards by firing squad as recently as WW1)
"The American public will probably continue to refrain from broadly challenging corporate leaders who compensate themselves far in excess of their value to society. This is ironic, because the political origins of the US lay in confronting precisely this kind of resource seizure"
"Both the most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in the countries that are called civilized." - Thomas Paine, 1795
Junger: I had no problem, personally, w fighting a war; I just didn't trust my govt to send me to one that was completely necessary.

His dad: US soldiers saved the world from fascism in WW2; 1000s of young Americans are buried in France. You owe your country sth, maybe your life
“Boys die by violence and accidents at many times the rate that girls do. They drive too fast, get into fights, haze each other, play sports, join fraternities, drink too much and gamble with their lives in a milllion idiotic ways.”
1915, earthquake in Avezzano, Italy, killed 30,000 people in 60 seconds. Rich and poor were all thrust into basic struggle for survival. “An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain,” one of the survivors wrote. “The equality of all men.”
“Communities devastated by disasters almost never lapse into chaos and disorder – if anything, they become more just, more egalitarian, and more deliberately fair to individuals.”
Sept 7, 1940 – German bombers started dropping thousands of tons of high explosives directly into residential areas of London, killing hundreds of people at a time. Throughout the Blitz, Londoners trudged to work. The police never had to intervene to maintain order.
“Ten thousand people had come together without ties of friendship or economics [...] At first there were no rules, rewards or penalties, no hierarchy or command. Almost immediately, ‘laws’ began to emerge – not enforced by police and wardens but by the shelterers themeselves.”
The badly wounded were often given morphine and left to die while rescue crews focused on those they could save. All manner of horrors. And yet – not only was there no mass hysteria, there wasn’t even much individual psychosis. Psychiatric hospitals saw admissions go *down*.
Emile Durkheim noticed that when European countries went to war, suicide rates dropped. This was true in Paris during both world wars, and during civil wars in Spain, Algeria, Lebanon, Northern Ireland.

Suicide rates dropped 50% in Belfast during riots of ‘69-70.
When the war turned and the Allies started bombing Germany – a million people killed or wounded. Firestorms engulfed whole neighborhoods, using up so much oxygen that those who didn’t burn were suffocated. And... morale went up. Industrial production actually rose.
“I do miss something from the war. But I also believe that the world we are living in—and the peace that we have—is very fucked up if somebody is missing war. And many people do.” –Nidzara Ahmetasevic, survivor of the siege of Sarajevo
“I missed being that close to people, I missed being loved in that way. In Bosnia, we don’t trust each other anymore; we became really bad people. We didn’t learn the lesson of the war, which is how important it is to share everything you have with human beings close to you.”
Junger asked Ahmetasevic if people had ultimately been happier during the war. “We were *the happiest*,” she said. Then she added: “And we laughed more.”
Junger spent 2 months in Afghanistan and witnessed some horrific things. He was deranged for a few days, then thought he was fine - until a panic attack in a subway station in NYC convinced him he was going to die. "I was more scared than I'd ever been in Afghanistan."
"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."
Iroquois Nation: parallel govts that protected civilians from warriors & vice versa. Peacetime leaders, often chosen by women, had complete authority over civil affairs until war broke out. Then war leaders took over. If enemies tried to negotiate, peacetime leaders made the call
Modern society alienates its soldiers- they're the only people who have to switch roles back and forth.
Sick Leave, by Siegfried Sassoon, wounded in WW1:

In bitter safety I awake, unfriended

And when the dawn begins with slashing rain

I think of the Battalion in the mud.
Iroquois warriors were surely traumatized by war too - but they didn't have to contain it within themselves. When your entire society goes through wartime trauma, it's a collective experience, and therefore an easier one.
1992 study: Almost all rape victims experience extreme trauma, yet almost half experience decline in trauma symptoms within weeks and months. This is a much faster recovery rate than for soldiers. Why?
It may have to do with the interwovenness of positive experiences with the trauma. (Reminds me of in The Body Keeps The Score: soldiers felt that overcoming trauma meant forgetting&disrespecting their fallen brethren.) The worst of times were also the best of times
Veteran suicide rate is often misunderstood

- most veteran suicides over 50yo; suicide likely unrelated to trauma

- deployment actually lowers risk of suicide for younger vets, bc soldiers with obvious mental health issues aren't deployed
- voluntary service leads to disproportionate # of young people who were sexually abused signing up for military service - easy way to get away from troubled home

- military men 2x as likely to report childhood sexual assault than civilians (AMA, 2014)

Danger and trauma aren't as connected as people tend to assume

Unmanned-drone pilots have the same PTSD rates as pilots flying actual combat missions in war zones

In 1973 Yom Kippur War, rear-base troops had 3x the psychological breakdown rate as frontline troops (elites)
High unit cohesion is correlated with lower rates of psychiatric breakdown

(We need each other goddamnit)

Sri Lankan special forces experience far more combat than line troops, but lower rates of all physical and mental issues (but they did lead in "hazardous drinking" 😂)
US military has the highest reported PTSD in its history, and probably the world. Some of it is error and fraud. But even people who didn't experience combat return alienated and depressed. The problem isn't battlefield trauma but reentry into society.

Also true for Peace Corps
"Modern society is mortally dispiriting to come home to."
"For the first time in our lives, we were in a tribal situation where we could help each other without fear." 15 men to a gun, no hopes of becoming officers. For the first time in their lives, a cooperative rather than competitive environment. No boundaries, no phony standards.
"I wouldn't mind having an evening like it, say, once a week - ordinarily there's no excitement." - a Londoner who missed the air raids of WW2
"I am an AIDS survivor. Now that AIDS is no longer a death sentence, I must admit I miss the days of extreme brotherhood - deep emotions and understandings above anything I have felt since the plague years."
"We are an antihuman society. Our society is alienating, technical, cold, mystifying. Our fundamental human desire is to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that." - anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz, Peace Corps volunteer during Ivory Coast 2002 civil war
"PTSD is a disorder of recovery. If treatment only focuses on identifying symptoms, it pathologizes and alienates vets. But if the focus is on family and community, it puts them in a situation of collective healing." - anthropologist Brandon Kohrt
Because modern society has almost completely eliminated trauma and violence from everyday life, anybody who *does* suffer those things is deemed to be extraordinarily unfortunate. This gives people sympathy & resources, but also an identity of victimhood which can delay recovery
3 factors affecting combatants' transition to civilian life

- overall social cohesion (do people generally look out for each other?)
- victimhood identity (do people feel sorry for you?)
- feeling necessary to society (do people need you?)

USA scores poorly on all these fronts
"Social resilience" - how much people communicate, share resources, look after each other, etc - is an even better predictor of trauma recovery than the resilience/resourcefulness of the individual!
Junger has a fun story about drinking in a Spanish bar- how some men fought over a toy helmet, and nearly ripped it in two when someone filled it with red wine. The helmet was passed around, and eventually all 5 men were drinking and singing together, the helmet forgotten
Junger likes this story because it reveals how close the energy of male conflict and male closeness can be. Two facets of the same quality, it just varies depending on whether men think their interests are in conflict or aligned
Modern society is a kind of paradise - and yet. There are costs and tolls on the global ecosystem all the way down to the human psyche - but the most dangerous loss may be to communities. And the survival of our species depends on communities.
The earliest and most basic definition of community/tribe: the group of people you help to feed, and defend. You make sacrifices for them, they make sacrifices for you.
The public is often accused of being disconnected from its military, but frankly it's disconnected from just about everything: farming, mining, gas&oil production, bulk cargo transport, logging, fishing, construction - dangerous jobs - mostly overlooked
More Americans die every year doing dangerous jobs than in the entire Afghan war. Over 90% are young men. These jobs are less respected and pay less.
When the Navajo were rounded up and confined to a reservation in the 1860s, they developed their own version of rampage shooters, called Skinwalkers. Murder and mayhem, perpetrated by isolated young men who rejected all social bonds and attacked the vulnerable and unprepared
Rampage killings happen predominantly in affluent or upper-middle class communities, or otherwise majority-white, Christian, and low-crime. Gang shootings in poorer urban neighbourhoods, in contrast, are rooted in a strong sense of group loyalty and revenge
The first wave of rampage shootings in the US was during the 1930s, when society had been severely stressed and fractured by the Great Depression. Rampage killings dropped during WW2 and rose again in the 80s.
Violent crime, suicide and psychiatric disturbances all dropped significantly in NYC following 9/11; no rampage shootings for 2 years
Junger spends some time talking about Native American ceremonies and rituals, and how ceremonies in general (weddings, funerals, etc) are designed to communicate the experience of one group of people to the wider community - and how veterans don't have any good way to do that
Junger suggests allowing veterans all over the country to use their town hall every Veterans Day to speak freely about their experiences. Communities should show up to support and listen - to whatever those veterans have to say.
Veterans are willing to die for their country, but they're not sure how to die for it. Politicians often accuse rivals of deliberately trying to harm their own country- a statement which makes no sense to a soldier in combat. People are contemptuous towards fellow citizens
Liberals and conservatives are both right: the perennial conservative concern about freeloaders has legitimate roots in our evolutionary past. And so does the liberal concern about being compassionate to the ill, elderly, wounded and unlucky.
Junger recommends that terrorists looking to destroy the USA should leave it alone - allowing it's ugliest partisan tendencies to emerge unimpeded by the unifying effects of war
Junger described the case of a US soldier who deserted his post - there was a massive search for him, which put other soldiers' lives at risk. His fellow soldiers felt deeply betrayed when they learned he simply left on his own. Junger contrasts this with the '08 financial crisis
And that's it! Great book, and only 71 pages really. Dense yet easy to read.
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Visakan Veerasamy
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member and get exclusive features!

Premium member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year)

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!