Sebastian Junger is famous for writing the book, The Perfect Storm, but also has been a war correspondent involved in the making of several documentaries. In his newest book, Tribe, Junger makes a fascinating hypothesis about the exploding number of returning war veterans who are mentally damaged – specifically, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Junger lays the groundwork for his hypothesis by contrasting the stressful, worrying life in modern American society against the relatively calm, satisfying lifestyle of the American Indian in frontier days. According to Junger, the communal life of the American Indian encouraged cooperation and harmony, whereas the capitalistic life in modern America creates self-reliance and selfishness. (Junger doesn’t glamorize uncivilized Indian life and notes that it was in some ways not much advanced past the Stone-Age.)
Junger’s great insight is that the current spike in PTSD results not from the horrors of modern war, or even the improved diagnosis of the problem, but rather from the fact that people in the military gradually learn the more fulfilling communal way of life and then their mental system goes into shock when the person returns to the selfish, polarized lifestyle that currently is prevalent in America. People in the service become accustomed to working toward a common good, but in civilian life things are more dog-eat-dog, and this is exacerbated with the political lefties and righties at each other’s throats:
- “The ultimate betrayal of tribe isn’t acting competitively – that should be encouraged – but predicating your power on the excommunication of others from the group. That is exactly what politicians of both parties try to do when they spew venomous rhetoric about their rivals. That is exactly what media figures do when they go beyond criticism of their fellow citizens and openly revile them. Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge outpost are deluding themselves.”
Junger is not an academic expert, and this small book is only the general musings of a well-read and well-rounded guy who seems to be imbued with a lot of common sense and good judgment. And his musings are food for further thought and review. The military is one of the most respected institutions in America, and perhaps the civilian way of life could adopt some of its best practices.