Sunday, December 4, 2016


_Tribe:  On Homecoming and Belonging_ by Sebastian Junger
NY:  Twelve, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4555-6638-9

(xiv)  What I wanted wasn’t destruction and mayhem but the opposite:  solidarity.  I wanted the chance to prove my worth to my community and my peers, but I lived in a time and a place where nothing dangerous ever really happened.  Surely this was new in the human experience, I thought.  How do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice?  How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?

(xvii)  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.

It’s time for that to end.

(17)  Genetic adpatations take around 25,000 years to appear in humans, so the enormous changes that came with agriculture in the last 10,000 years have hardly begun to affect our gene pool.  Early humans would most likely have lived in nomadic bands of around fifty people, much like the !Kung.

(19)  As affluence and urbanization rise in a society, rates of depression and suicide tend to go _up_ rather than down.  Rather than buffering people fomr clinical depression, increased wealth in a society seems to foster it. 

(21-22)  In fact, public defenders, who have far lower status than corporate lawyers, seem to lead significatly happier lives.  The findings are in keeping with something called self-determination theory, which holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content:  they need to feel competent at what they do;  they need to feel authentic in their lives;  and they need to feel connected to others.  These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far out weigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money, and status.

(22)  ….three pillars of self-determination - autonomy, competence, and community…
NB:  Motivational drivers:  unifying purpose, measure of autonomy, chance for mastery

(38)  To the extent that boys are drawn to war, it may be less out of an interest in violence than a longing for the kind of maturity and respect that often come with it.

(43)  If there’s an image of the Apocalypse, I thought, it might be a man in a business suit building a fire in the courtyard of an abandoned high-rise.  In different circumstances it could be any of us, anywhere, but it had happened to him here, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.  I nodded to him  and he nodded back and then I left him in peace.
NB:  seige of Sarajevo, a Ballardian moment

The one thing that might be said for societal collapse is that - for a while at least - everyone is equal.

(48)  The positive effects of war on mental health were first noticed by the great sociologist Emile Durkheim, who found that when European countries went to war, suicide rates dropped.

(49)  “When peopole are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose… with a resulting improvment in mental health,” [H A] Lyons wrote in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 1979.  “It would be irresponsible to suggest violence as a means of improving mental health, but the Belfast findings suggest that people will feel better psychologically if they have mroe involvement with their community.”

(53-54)  [Charles] Fritz’s theory was that modern society has gravely disrupted the social bonds that have always characterized the human experience, and that disasters thrust people back into a more ancient, organic way of relating.  Disasters, he proposed, create a “community of sufferers” that allows individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others.  As people come together to face an existential threat, Fritz found, class differences are temporarily erased, income disparities become irrelevant, race is overlooked, and individuals are assessed simply by what they are willing to do for the group.  It is a kind of fleeting social utopia that, Fritz felt, is enormously gratifying to the average person and downright therapeutic to people suffering from mental illness.
NB:  crisis thinking and politics in the age of Trump;  elite panic and the fear of egalitarian meritocracy

(56)  Men have to wait, on average, until age seventy-five before they can expect the same kind of assitance in a life-threatening situation that women get their whole lives.

(57)  The greater empathic concern women demonstrate for others may lead them to take positions on moral or social issues that men are less likely to concern themselves with.  Women tend to act heroically within their own moral universe, regardless of whether anyone else knows about it - donating more kidneys to nonrelatives than men do, for example.  Men, on the other hand, are far more likely to risk their lives at a moment’s notice, and that reaction is particularly strong when others are watching, or when they are part of a group.

(58)  In late 2015, a bus in eastern Kenya was stopped by gunmen from an extremist group named Al-Shabaab that made a practice of massacring Christians as part of a terrorism campaign against the Western-aligned Kenyan government.  The gunmen demanded that Muslim and Christian passengers separate themselves into two groups so that the Christians could be killed, but the Muslims - most of whom were women - refused to do it.  They told the gunmen that they would all die together if necessary, but that the Christians would not be singled out for exectuion.  The Shabaab eventually let everyone go.

(59)  The beauty and the tragedy of the modern world is that it eliminates many situations that require poeple to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good.

(64-65)  Canadian psychologists who interviewed the miners after their rescue determined that these early leaders tended to lack empathy and emotional control, that they were not concerned with the opinions of others, that they associated with only one or two other men in the group, and that their physical abilities far exceeded their verbal abilities.  But all these traits allowed them to take forceful, life-saving action where many other men might not.

Once the escape attemtps failed, different kinds of leaders emerged.  In what researchers termed the “survival period,” the abilitity to wait in complete darkness without giving up hope or succumbing to panic became crucial.  Researchers determined that the leaders during this period were entirely focused on group morale and used skills that were diatmetrically opposed to those of the men who had led the escape attempts.  They were highly sensitve to people’s moods, they intellectualized things in order to meet group needs, they reassured the men who were starting to give up hope, and they worked hard to be accepted by the entire group.

Without exception, men who were leaders during one period were almost completely inactive during the other;  no one, it seemed, was suited to both roles.  These two kinds of leaders more or less correspond to the male and female roles that emerge spontaneously in open society during catastrophes such as earthquakes or the blitz.

(65)  To some degree the sexes are interchangeable - meaning they can easily be substituted for one another - but gender roles aren’t.  Both are necessary for the healthy functioning of society, and those roles will always be filled regardless of whether both sexes are available to do it.

(67)  "Whatever I say about war, I still hate it,” one survivor, Nidzara Ahmetasevic, made sure to tell me after I’d interviewed her about the nostalgia of her generation.  “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.”

(70)  Nidzara Ahmetasevic:  “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.  The best way to explain it is that the war makes you an animal.  We were animals.  It’s insane - but that’s the basic human instinct, to help another human being who is sitting or standing or lying close to you.”

I asked Ahmetasevic if people had ultimately been happier during the war.

“We were _the happiest_,” Ahmetasevic said.  Then she added:  “And we laughed more."

(79)  A 2011 study of street children in Burundi found the lowest PTSD rates among the  _most_ aggressive and violent children.  Aggression seemed to buffer them from the effects of previous trauma that they had experienced.

(80)  Many studies have shown that in the general population, at most 20 percent of people who have been traumatized get long-term PTSD.

…. and according to a 1992 study, close to one hundred percent of rape survivors exhibited extreme trauma immediately afterward.

(81)  “Treating combat veterans is different from treating rape victims, because rape victims don’t have this idea that some aspects of their experience are worth retaining,” I was told by Dr Rachel Yehudi, the director of traumatic stress studies at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

(82)  Statistically, the 20 percent of people who fail to overcome trauma tend to be those who are already burdened by psychological issues, either because they inherited them or because they suffered abuse as children.

(84)  Further confusing the issue, voluntary service has resulted in a military population that has a disproportionate number of young people with a history of sexual abuse.  One theory for this holds that military service is an easy way for young people to get out of their home, and so the military will disproportionally draw recruits from troubled families.  According to a 2014 study in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry, men with military service are now twice as likely to report sexual assault during their childhood as men who never served.  This was not true during the draft.  Sexual abuse is a well-known predictor of depression and other mental health issues, and the military suicide rate may in part be a result of that.

(87)  American soldiers appear to suffer PTSD at around twice the rate of British soldiers who were in combat with them.  

(92)  What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender.

(93)  Whatever the technological advances of modern society - and they’re nearly miraculous - the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.

“You’ll have to be prepared to say that we are not a good society - that we are an _antihuman_ society,” anthropologist Sharon Abromowitz warned when I tried this idea out on her.

(95)  In humans, lack of social support has been found to be twice as reliable at predicting PTSD as the severity of the trauma itself.  In other words, you could be mildly traumatized - on a par with, say, an ordinary rear-base deployment to Afghanistan - and experience long-term PTSD simply because of a lack of social support back home.

(97)  The Israelis are benefitting from what the author and ethicist Austin Dacey describes as a “shared public meaning” of the war.  Shared public meaning gives soldiers a context for their losses and their sacrifice that is acknowledged by most of the society.  That helps keep at bay the sense of futility and rage that can develop among soldiers during a war that doesn’t seem to end.

(101)  First, cohesive and egalitarian tribal societies do a very good job at mitigating the effects of trauma, but by their very nature, many modern societies are exactly the opposite:  hierarchical and alienating….

Secondly, ex-combatants shouldn’t be seen - or be encouraged to see themselves - as victims.  One can be deeply traumatized, as firemen are by the deaths of both colleagues and civilians, without being viewed through the lens of victimhood.

(102)  Perhaps most important, veterans need to feel that they’re just as necessary and productive back in society as they were on the battlefield.

…Recent studies of something called “social resilience” have identified resource sharing and egalitarian wealth distribution as major components of a society’s ability to recover from hardship.

(107-108)  What I liked about the encounter [a possible bar fight in Spain that resolved itself into drinking comradeship] was that it showed how very close the energy of male conflict and male closeness can be.  It’s almost as if they are two facets of the same quality;  just change a few details and instead of heading toward collision, the men head toward unity.  There seemed to be a great human potential out there, organized around the idea of belonging, and the trick was to convince people that their interests had more in common than they had in conflict.  I once asked a combat vet if he’d rather have an enemy in his life or another close friend.  He looked at me like I was crazy.

“Oh, an enemy, a hundred percent,” he said.  “Not even close.  I already got a lot of friends.”  He thought about it a little longer.  “Anyway, all my best friends I’ve gotten into fights with - knock-down, drag-out fights.  Granted we were always drunk when it happened, but think about that.”

He shook his head as if even he couldn’t believe it.

(109-110)  Two of the behaviors that set early humans apart were the systematic sharing of food and altruistic group defense.  Other primates did very little of either but, increasingly, hominids did, and those behaviors helped set them on an evolutionary path that produced the modern world.  The earliest and most basic defintiion of community - of tribe - would be the group of people that you would both help feed and help defend.  A society that doesn’t offer its members the chance to act selflessly in these ways isn’t a society in any tribal sense of the word;  it’s just a political entity that, lacking enemies, will probably fall apart on its own.

(110)  Implicit in the slogan [No blood for oil] was the assumption that the Iraq War was over oil, but the central irony of putting such a message on a machine _that runs on oil_ seemed lost on most people.

(111)  The public is often accused of being disconnected from its military, but frankly it’s disconnected from just about everything.

(114)  Starting in the 1980s, the frequency of rampage shootings in the United States began to rise more and more rapidly until it doubled around 2006.  Rampages are usually defined as attacks where people are randomly targeted and four or more are killed in one place, usually shot to death by a lone gunman.

(115)  The first time that the United States suffered a wave of rampage shootings was during the 1930s, when society had been severely stressed and fractured by the Great Depression.

(116)  New York’s suicide rate dropped by around 20 percent in the six months following the attacks [9/11], the murder rate dropped by 40 percent, and pharmacists saw no increase in the number of first-time patients filling prescriptions for anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication.  Furthermore, veterans who were being treated for PTSD at the VA experienced a significant _drop_ in their symptoms in the months after the September 11 attacks.

(118)  American Indians, proportionally, provide more soldiers to America’s wars than any other demographic group in the country.
NB:  also most killed by police, proportionally

(120)  The sedentary Papago, whose economy was based largely on agriculture, considered war to be a form of insanity.  Men who were forced into combat by attacks from other tribes had to undergo a sixteen-day purification rite before they could reenter society.  The entire community participated in these rituals because every person in the tribe was assumed to have been affected by the war.  After the ceremony, the combatants were viewed as superior to their uninitiated peers because - as loathsome and crazy as war was - it was still thought to impart wisdom that nothing else could.

(123)  On Veterans Day 2015, the town hall of Marblehead, Massachusetts, was opened up to just such an event.  Several hundred people filed into the hall and listened for more than two hours as veteran after veteran stepped forward to unburden themselves of the war.

(124)  Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.  It’s hard to know how to live for a country that regularly tears itself apart along every possible ethnic and demographic boundary.

(125)  To make matters worse, politicians occasionally accuse rivals of _deliberately_ trying to harm their own country - a charge so destructive to gorup unity that most past societies would probably have just punished it as a form of treason…

I know what coming back to America from a war zone is like because I’ve done it so many times.  First there is a kind of shock at the level of comfort and affluence that we enjoy, but that is followed by the dismal realization that we live in a society that is basically at war with itself.  People speak with incredible contempt about - depending on their views - the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president, of the entire US government.  It’s a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime, except that now it’s applied to our fellow citizens.  Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker.

(127)  “If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different - you underscore your shared humanity,” she [Rachel Yehuda] told me.  “I’m appalled by how much people focus on differences.  Why are you focusing on how different you are from one another, and not on the things that unite us?"

(129)  For nearly a century, the national suicide rate has almost exactly mirrored the unemployment rate, and after the financial collapse, America’s suicide rate increased by nearly 5 percent.

(131)  Acting in a tribal way simply means being willing to make a substantive sacrifice for your community - be that your neighborhood, your workplace, or your entire country.  Obviously, you don’t need to be a Navy SEAL in order to do that.

(132)  According to the Times notice, Mr. [Martin H] Bauman called his employees [of his job placement firm] into a meeting and asked them to accept a 10 percent reduction in salary so that he wouldn’t have to fire anyone.  They all agreed.  Then he quietly decided to give up his personal salary until his company was back on safe ground.  The only reason his staff found out was because the company bookkeeper told them.
NB:  Gandhian trusteeship

(133)  “It was better when it was really bad,” someone spray-painted on a wall about the loss of social solidarity in Bosnia after the war ended.

(140)  A Cooperative Species:  Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Princeton University Press, 2011

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