- Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger, author and narrator
I must admit that I thought this book was going to be about our men and women in the armed forces who have suffered from PTSD, and about other causes of that particular disability that has inhibited the normal function of so many with this affliction, and yet there is no adequate explanation, diagnosis or treatment. I hoped to learn about how they could be helped. Instead of that, I found a book that talked more about their, and our, basic inability to fit into a communal type society in which we all had a job and a purpose in a productive lifestyle. The theory sounds eerily like a treatise on Socialism.
The author decried our way of life as negatively impacting the environment and our relationships and interactions with others because we have created a society of people who consistently take more than their fair share and give less than he deems necessary to create a more egalitarian society for all. He minimized the trauma that is PTSD and glorified the trauma, tragedies and catastrophes that brought it on, by insisting it was a short term "illness". In early societies, he insists that extreme trauma and tragedy actually caused euphoria since it engendered the community to come together in selfless ways, rather than selfish ways which is what we are experiencing in the modern world. Essentially, he blamed modernity for acknowledging the problem that it inherently caused because of our own behavior.
When the book begins, Junger discusses the American Indian, but first he issued a disclaimer concerning his lack of footnotes and then discussed his controversial use of certain terms, one of which is American Indian vs. Native American. Then he sang their praises while basically trashing what he believes is our own selfish way of life. We, the author notes, have lost our sense of community, of sharing, of belonging. This, he eventually concludes, citing chapter and verse of instances I have never heard of, that it is our isolation and greed that are some of the reasons for our mental health issues. We have forgotten how to share. We have forgotten how to care. He judges and makes moral equivalents that make no sense simply because he wants to, in order to prove his point, often comparing apples to oranges, and then claiming his examples prove his point without adequately referencing his conclusions. It seemed as if he decided what he wanted to prove and simply chose only examples that supported his viewpoint.
He used Beau Bergdahl as an example of our habit of rushing into making conclusions and often drawing false conclusions. He admitted he was a deserter who left his post and caused the deaths of his fellow soldiers, who went to search for him, but he thought it was wrong to judge him more harshly than those who caused the collapse of the financial market which he blamed on banks and other institutions. He believes the consequences from the economic debacle led to far greater casualties. He failed to note the fact that the government regulations were deeply at fault, and if bankers should be punished, so should those in the government, like Democrat Barney Frank, who insisted on regulations which encouraged the sub-prime mortgages that were the underlying cause of the failures.
Junger’s progressive agenda becomes more and more apparent as he writes. His political views and ideology guide him rather than the facts, and his political leanings were obvious from word one. He used many single-minded, one-sided opinions to reach conclusions he preferred, and he found obscure bits and pieces of personal experiences or ideas which backed him up, but often defied general knowledge and the real personal experience of soldiers and others who had experienced war and lived through monumental disasters.
He lost me when he decided that chaos and extreme danger often engendered euphoria! He actually cited experiences like 9/11, to prove his point, but my own personal experience with family contradicted his conclusions. Perhaps those who were not directly in the actual tragedy of 9/11, were able to be euphoric, but those affected were not! PTSD is a serious problem, once referred to as shell-shocked and battle fatigue. It has been around a long time and is not a newly discovered dysfunction. In some, it may be short term as Junger believes, and that is lucky for those so minimally affected. In others, there is often a trigger which provokes a response that had remained hidden or submerged until that catalyst., like a memory, a sound, or a conversation, caused the disability to reemerge. There may be some that take advantage of the disability as some do in all areas of life, historically, but for many the experience of PTSD is disabling through no fault of their own for long periods of time. Those afflicted are not trying to take from society unfairly, as those who knowingly took loans they could not repay, or as Bergdahl did when he knowingly set out to betray his fellow soldiers. Even the bankers did not knowingly set out to destroy the economy; they followed the current banking requirements. Yet the author makes no mention of their culpability.
I think Junger may have been right about the failure of society, in that society does use people for its own ends and does take advantage of them for selfish reasons, but usually it is for the benefit of the larger society. When real harm is caused there are usually appropriate actions taken to correct them and alter the course. Junger seems to be espousing communal living, perhaps as I mentioned earlier, Socialism. I hope he will look further into the anecdotes out there that prove that his idea of a "collective" type of society fails as it expands, and then rethink his own Pollyanna approach to a societal problem which is, in his unfortunate view, the "ugly, selfish American"! He also seems to be trying to prove that bravery is a negative behavior, but depression can serve as a positive influence. I simply could not get my head around that premise.
I was very disappointed in the obvious political agenda this book seemed intent on presenting during our current contentious political environment. He seemed to want to encourage a world in which everyone and everything is equal, without recognizing that when the ambition to succeed declines, the amount of money to be redistributed declines, and everyone grows poorer together. The ultimate end result of economic equality turns out to be simply that everyone is poor rather than everyone is uplifted!
Disclaimer: This represents my own opinions from my own experience in much the same way as the author and his sources represent theirs. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts, so remarked Daniel Patrick Moynihan.