A Sense of Community

In Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger proposes that lacking a sense of community is the source of the alienation so many individuals feel today. He argues that while all our technological miracles have delivered many benefits, they have only deepened the individualistic trends in modern society and isolated us from the wider community.

“First agriculture and then industry changed two fundamental things about the human experience. The accumulation of personal property allowed people to make more and more individualistic choices about their lives, and those choices unavoidably diminished group efforts toward a common good. And as society modernized, people found themselves able to live independently from any communal group.”

Junger supports his claim from a range of sources. He points to the way individuals come together in disasters—earthquakes, civilians in wartime, troops on the battlefield.

“What catastrophes seem to do—sometimes in the span of a few minutes—is turn back the clock on ten thousand years of social evolution. Self-interest gets subsumed into group interest because there is no survival outside group survival, and that creates a social bond that many people sorely miss."

Junger also discusses at some length the experience of soldiers returning from recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is nothing close to civilian life that can match the deep social bonds formed on the battlefield. He suggests that Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) may reflect the estrangement soldiers feel when they return home, rather than a serious psychological breakdown

“A modern soldier returning from combat—or a survivor of Sarajevo—goes from the kind of close-knit group that humans evolved for back into a society where most people work outside the home, children are educated by strangers, families are isolated from wider communities and personal gain almost completely eclipses collective good.”

It’s important to note that Junger’s claims are speculative, based on historical examples and anecdotal evidence, with few statistical measures. At the same time Tribe is an important call for a stronger collective society, one based less on individualism and more on group solidarity.


Stefanie said...

This sounds really interesting. I can agree with some of it but I am not so sure about the PTSD bit. I must say thought that all tech is not bad an alienating. I have made quite a few friends online and am also part of a global cycling community that I never would have been part of if not for the internet and social media. That said, local community is extremely important and I think will become more and more necessary as we move into a future of climate change and social and economic upheaval.

Richard Katzev said...

Thanks Stefanie. My comment about the book was quite brief, but you sure read it carefully. I agree, its a provocative book.

Linda said...

I have not read the book, but am aware of Junger's opinions on modern society. I believe he is right about modern society's fragmentation, but I would never want to give up the personal independence and individuality that we have today. Solidarity is a good thing - we need more of it, but I am wary of communal living. This is definitely a topic for an extended discussion!

Richard Katzev said...

Linda, I don't believe Junger is in favor of communal living, but rather a greater emphasis on the needs of the "commons" as opposed to those of the individual. Clarity on this issue really requires discussing a specific problem or concrete issue.

Linda said...

I should read the book. Have you watched his film Restrepo about a group of soldiers in Afghanistan? I have it queued up in Netflix. I also liked his book The Perfect Storm. All seem to have the theme of people coming together in times of disaster.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: I've seen the film version of The Perfect Storm, but haven't read the book. And I've not seen Restrepo, but I will now. Thank you for your suggestions. How distressing that it takes a disaster or something similar to bring people together, when normally we scarcely know our neighbor. Richard