“Ring a ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.”
Camaraderie. Courage. Coping. A fractured society raises broken children and traumatized adults. Without a sense of connection, we humans fumble into the future, uprooted, unguided, and unstable. In his book Tribe, acclaimed journalist Sebastian Junger explores the consequences of letting go of our human bonds and the possible ramifications for generations to come.
“How do you become an adult,” Junger wonders in his introduction, “in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?” (xiv). The implications are condemning, suggesting a complete disconnect, for one can only sacrifice for the sake of another, muster courage for the good of the group. The driving force that propels man forward is the inherent need to survive-as an individual, as a family, and as a species. Junger describes the ways in which our technologically savvy lifestyles contradict those aims by severing natural tendencies to connect and cultivate community. Ultimately, the results are “deeply brutalizing to the human spirit” (93).
He is buffered by anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz’s conclusions that “[o]ur society is alienating, technical, cold and mystifying. Our fundamental desire, as human beings,” she argues, “is to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that” (94). This is what delivers the crisis of spirit and soul plaguing our people.
Delving into the experiences of war time and natural catastrophes, Junger dissects how soldiers and civilians benefit from the temporary tribe that assembles during a traumatic new reality. The tribe: “The group of people that you would both help feed and help defend,” at least until the conflict is settled and society returns to status quo – albeit with increasing levels of violence, depression and separation (110). A state where each man is confined to his own bubble of tragic isolation because “it makes absolutely no sense to make sacrifices for a group that, itself, isn’t willing to make sacrifices for you” (110). And so, we all suffer. Alone. And together.
The ray of hope lies in the knowledge that by creating communities where each individual has an opportunity to contribute, and is valued for that contribution, can affirm his necessity and integration. Together, the united tribe can chase away the demons of irrelevance and defeat the schism that threatens to overtake what makes us human.
Photo taken at JR’s exhibit Face to Face at the Brooklyn Museum, December 2019.
Junger, Sebastian. Tribe. Fourth Estate Ltd, 2017.