Cross-posted from the Peak Prosperity Podcast:
Peabody award-winning author Sebastian Junger joins our podcast this week. Junger is well-known for his NYT-bestselling books The Perfect Storm and War, the latter of which was written after a 15-month tour of duty in the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.
Based on his observations while in Afghanistan, Junger noted how much troops in combat valued the social solidarity of their units. In fact, he noted that the loss of this cohesive community, with its sense of purpose and shared responsibility, created prodigious psychological strife when these soldiers returned and tried to re-integrate into civilian life. This dynamic is not just limited to the military; any collection of humans working in tight-knit groups under stress, united in purpose, evidences similar behavior (Peace Corps volunteers, trauma care physicians, etc).
In his latest book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Junger explores our evolutionary wiring for community, and paradoxically, how our modern aspirations for “success” and “wealth” attempt to distance ourselves from it — making us unhappier and emotionally unhealthier in the pursuit:
When I was young I had mentor and uncle figure named Ellis, who was half Lakota Sioux and Apache. He was born literally on a wagon out West during the Depression. When I was young he said to me, that white people on the frontier were constantly running off to join Indians. But the Indians never ran out to join the white people. That the flow of humanity was towards the tribal. And I wondered about that; I thought about that my whole life. That even captives, people who have been captured along the frontier by Indians and were given the chance to go home…often didn’t want to.
Many, many years later I was with American soldiers in Afghanistan and I noticed a similar thing. After a very, very rough deployment, the guys I was with got back to Vicenza, Italy with their mates. They had a good time for awhile but then something settled in and a lot of them said that they didn’t want to go back to America. They actually wanted to return to the war.
And it reminded me of what Ellis said. What is it about civilization, about modern society that’s really so deeply unappealing even to people who have benefited from its wealth and from its stability? And so, my book is really about that. It’s about our ancient human preference for community and what happens when you lose that. What happens when you lose that in modern society, what happens to mental health, to PTSD, to social cohesion? Rampage shootings go up, just like the tragic one in Orlando. A lot of things fall apart when community falls apart.
Keep in mind that if you put soldiers in a platoon — it’s about 40, 50 men…at least the platoon I was with was all men — and you put them in a remote area in combat. Or even not in combat — most of the military actually doesn’t fight directly. But they’re sleeping soldier to soldier on the ground or in their barracks. And they’re eating meals together. They’re doing everything together, and they’re completely dependent on each other for their survival. That’s our human evolution, that’s what we evolved for. That’s the kind of life that humans are adapted to. So, when you put people in that environment, they respond incredibly well because in a kind of genetic sense, it’s familiar.
But it’s not just restricted to soldiers. Civilians also: people in London after the Blitz, reported that they missed the Blitz. Think about that. 30,000 Londoners were killed by German bombs; strangers were sleeping shoulder to shoulder in the subway platforms, digging people out of rubble. It was an awful, awful time. And yet, people said that they missed it. What they missed was the social solidarity, the sort of ‘us versus them’, ‘we can do this’. One lady told me ‘We would have all run out of the beach with broken bottles to fight the Germans if we had to’.
Humans are wired for and have adapted to surviving in extremely tough circumstances. We’re actually not adapted to stability and peacefulness in some ways. It allows us to pursue a kind of individualism that leaves us deeply unconnected to groups and being part of a group — the things that make people feel physically and emotionally safe. And when you lose that — although there are great benefits to individualism, obviously — but when you lose that, it makes people really quite vulnerable to all kinds of mental illness and sort of psychic disturbances.
Listen to the podcast below:
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson. It is June 13th, 2016. And as you know, our topics here at this show…they’re broad, they’re wide. But the common theme for us is taking an unflinching look at the way things are and being curious enough to wonder if we could do them better. My goal is to be fully alive and connected with life; with the grand mystery of it all. It’s why I engage in personal introspection…as difficult as that process is from time to time. Now, given all the violence, depression, obesity, addictions, and general unhappiness reported throughout the United States…perhaps a bit of self-examination is due at the cultural level as well. If we did that, what might we learn? What sorts of observations could we make that might indicate we could do better? And what sorts of things might we actually do to improve things? To talk with us today about that is the author of the new book Tribe: on Homecoming and Belonging. That author of course, is Sebastian Junger. The number one New York Times bestselling author of the books War, The Perfect Storm, Fire, and The Death in Belmont. Together with Tim Hetherington, he directed the Academy Award nominated film Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance. I’m quite excited to have him on the show with us today. Sebastian, welcome to the show.
Sebastian Junger: Thank you very much.
Chris Martenson: Well, tell our listeners about the premise for the book Tribe and why you wrote it.
Sebastian Junger: When I was young I had a sort of mentor and uncle figure named Ellis, who was half Lakota Sioux and Apache. He grew up – he was born literally on a wagon out west during the Depression. When I was young he said to me, that white people on the frontier were constantly running off to join Indians. And the Indians never ran out to join the white people. That the flow of humanity was towards the tribal. And I wondered about that; I thought about that my whole life. That even captives, people who have been captured along the frontier by Indians, were given the chance to go home…often didn’t want to. And many, many years later I was with American soldiers in Afghanistan and I noticed a kind of similar thing. That after a very, very rough deployment, the guys I was with got back to Vicenza, Italy with their mates and they had a good time for awhile. And then something settled in and a lot of them said that they didn’t want to go back to America. They actually wanted to return to the war. And it reminded me of what Ellis said. What is it about civilization, about modern society that’s really so deeply unappealing even to people who are benefiting…who have benefited from its wealth and from its stability. And so, my book is really about that. It’s about our ancient human preference for community and what happens when you lose that. What happens when you lose that in modern society, what happens to mental health, to PTSD, to social cohesion, rampage shootings go up…just like the tragic one yesterday in Florida. A lot of things fall apart when community falls apart.
Chris Martenson: Well, absolutely and what you’re describing – and when you say modern culture obviously goes pretty far back if we’re talking about people wanting to run off and be with the Indian tribes from 100, 200 years ago. Now, Sebastian, I love the topic of this new book Tribe because it’s got great timing. Coming at a time of deep divisions in the American political landscape. And because the topic of cultural introspection like you’re describing…it’s a really difficult one to approach at any time in life. But you took your intimate experience with war to draw an especially stark contrast between life in a military unit and life at home. And found the home life wanting…so, to continue on that theme, I find that contrast astounding that something could be missing at home to such a degree, that some veterans report that they would actually prefer to take the risk of violent injury or even death, in the presence of their old unit…over returning to modern or what we might call, normal society. The topic becomes difficult to evade when presented in that way, doesn’t it?
Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I mean, keep in mind that if you put soldiers in a platoon – it’s about 40, 50 men…at least the platoon I was with, was all men. And you put them in a remote area in combat or even not in combat. I mean, most of the military actually doesn’t fight directly. But they’re sleeping soldier to soldier on the ground or in their barracks. And they’re eating meals together. They’re doing everything together, and they’re completely dependent on each other for their survival. That’s our human evolution. I mean, that’s what we evolved for. That’s the kind of life that humans are adapted to. So, when you put people in that environment, they respond incredibly well because in a kind of genetic sense, it’s familiar. But it’s not just restricted to soldiers. Civilians also, people in London after the Blitz…reported that they missed the Blitz. I mean, think about that. 30,000 Londoners were killed by German bombs; strangers were sleeping shoulder to shoulder in the subway platforms, digging people out of rubble. I mean, it was an awful, awful time. And yet, people said that they missed it. What they missed was the social solidarity, the sort of us versus them, we can do this.
I mean, one lady said we would have all run out of the beach with broken bottles to fight the Germans if we had to. And humans are wired with, adapted to surviving in extremely tough circumstances. We’re actually not adapted to doing…to stability and peacefulness in some ways. It allows us to pursue a kind of individualism that leaves us deeply unconnected to groups and being part of a group is what makes people feel physically and emotionally safe. And when you lose that, although there’s great benefits to individualism, obviously – but when you lose that, it makes people really quite vulnerable to all kinds of mental illness and sort of psychic disturbances.
Chris Martenson: Well, now relating that back to what you wrote about from…in particular, the combat experience. You wrote that after months of combat, during which you wrote, “Soldiers all but ignored differences of race, religion, and politics within their platoon. That they then return to the United States and find” as you say, “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, or the entire US government.” You continue, “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.” I found that really striking because certainly, part of that’s correct. That the US society is fractured, that it’s hard to rally around because you have to pick sides first. But what you just said before is that this society is kind of bland, it’s highly isolated, and maybe frankly…it’s boring.
Sebastian Junger: Yeah. And keep in mind, we evolved to live in a certain way and it takes 25,000 years for the human species to change genetically in any significant way. So, we’re still…we’re walking around as modern society and bodies, and using minds that are adapted to basically, I think Europe. Living in small mobile groups of hunters, and gatherers. You have to keep that in mind. So, when you look at modern society it’s quite clear the things that are going to stress people. And it’s the, everyone living by themselves in an apartment in a high rise. People not being dependent on those immediately around them for their physical and mental well-being.
I found one study extraordinary. They compared depression rates in North America to depression rates in Nigeria. And urban women in North America, the group in the study that had the highest rates of depression. And rural women in Nigeria, incredibly poor messed up country, had the lowest rates of depression. And of course, there’s great stresses to poverty and all that. But what you do get in a society like that, is incredible cohesion at the community level. And apparently, that more than makes up for the stress of poverty.
Chris Martenson: What an important topic because in our culture, in the US culture, many other western cultures…standard of living is equated with quality of life. As long as you have a higher standard of living, you’re this rich woman living in Manhattan, you should have this higher quality of life. And certainly, having the ability to buy what you want and buy experiences can add to your life. But not necessarily, I guess. And there have been a lot of studies about that. That showing happiness and stuff is not well correlated. In fact, it’s anti-correlated after a point. What you’re saying is that there are things missing from our way of life, which we often sell to ourselves as being the pinnacle standard. It’s worth not only fighting for but dying for…in fact, we’re going to spread it to other countries. It’s that good. You’re coming home and saying, “Hmm. Maybe not that good.” What kind of reception are you getting with that message?
Sebastian Junger: Well, first of all…the western society and the affluence that comes with it has generated incredible breakthroughs in medicine, in legal thinking, in technology. So, it’s an engine for amazing technological, artistic, and intellectual creativity…we can’t sell that short. But it’s not without its downsides. As wealth goes up in a society that…the suicide rate tends to go up, the depression rate tends to go up. Those are the costs of living in a modern society statistically. And, you know, people – and I think we’re sort of like, we’ve all been sort of…acculturated into thinking that our society is the best one. And if you look around, there’s a lot of evidence for that. I mean, look at us…we’re all driving cars, we’re not pulling water out of a dirty well. You know, things that are good in a lot of basic human ways; we’ve come a long way.
But also, I think there is really a deep discontent in society…and you can see it in large ways and small. I mean, there was one study that I cite in my book. They evaluate the happiness of lawyers, and they find that the more a lawyer gets paid, the less likely he or she is to report that they’re happy. And the more likely they are to be an alcoholic, to be depressed. Public defenders who are not involved/well paid relatively, and who are not high status in the legal world…are way more likely to report being content in their life and are much less likely to be alcoholics. So, again, there’s this trade-off. You have very high powered well-off people who are doing incredible things at enormous psychological costs to themselves. But in our society, we sort of venerate that accomplishment and we actually don’t value psychological health. So, we’re sort of exacerbating the problem.
Chris Martenson: Now, this is pretty interesting to me. This is topics that we talk about a lot at my site, which is about the ways in which the need for community is something that has been rediscovered and people are reexamining it. But I think you’re touching on something that goes just a touch deeper as well. I happen to know a gentleman who was out in the perfect storm. He was on a 104 foot dragger. He has spent a lot of his time as a fisherman out of Glastor and he talked about how that storm and his instinct for survival, and the bonding that happened with the eight other guys that he was on that boat with…surpassed any other experience he’d had in life and he’d been out, he certainly had plenty of harrowing moments at other times. But that storm was a defining moment and he said there was something about really being tested, really being alive, really being a part of a unit, where it mattered what you did and what the other people did, that there was a liveliness to that, that he hasn’t experienced elsewhere in life. And so, there is something to – I’m wondering if you could speak to that part of how we keep ourselves safe. I mean, heck, they put rubber mats under jungle gyms now so kids don’t hurt themselves when they fall off. We’ve created a lot of safety, but there’s something that’s reported, I think, particularly in your work. That being at the edge of life has a liveliness to it that’s kind of hard to match.
Sebastian Junger: Yeah, I mean again, we’ve evolved in an environment that was not safe. We’re adapted to that. So, if you take any kind of threat away, something’s not being utilized in our wiring. I mean, ADHD…attention deficit disorder basically, is the perfect state of mind for young men to be in when they’re hunting or at war. Constantly shifting focus, constantly moving, capable of great, great concentration, but with the kind of roaming attention span. So, you’re taking everything in. I mean, that’s hunting. That’s war. It doesn’t work very well in the modern classroom. But of course we’re not adapting to the modern classroom. And it’s very interesting that boys who are way, way more likely and every society in the world to engage in hunting more than girls are…that they’re the ones with the highest reports of ADHD and girls are not. So, I mean you can see our evolutionary past in every aspect of what we do.
And again, you don’t have to be a soldier, you don’t have to be a fisherman in the high seas in the storm to experience that. I talked to a woman who had cancer and she said her family, her people, her pride, her community, whatever you want to call it…rallied around her and sort of supported her during this terrible time. And she got through it; she survived. She beat the odds. And she said, “You know, now I miss being sick.” She misses that community around her. So, it’s not the kind of thing…I’m not talking about sort of, macho soldiers who like war. This is a far more profound problem that affects everybody.
Chris Martenson: Well, absolutely. I was down living in North Carolina in the ’80s. And in 1989, Hurricane Hugo came through and I was in the Piedmont area. And we just had four inches of saturating rain the week before, so the ground was loose. Hugo comes ashore. We’re three hours from the coast there. He just made pickup sticks out of the trees, really wrecked the area. It was two weeks before we had power back. Everybody in my neighborhood had to clean out their freezers before stuff went bad. We all dragged out our stuff. We helped each other cut our driveways clear. The black people, the white people, everybody was pulling together. And two weeks later when the lights went back on and the blue glows came from the living rooms, everybody wandered back in. And if I went back there today, Sebastian…we talked about that two week period. That would be what we ended up talking about. And our life wasn’t on the line, but it was the commodity and it was the pulling together around a shared sense of purpose. That’s our highlight and I’m wondering, how do we go about creating those highlights without necessarily waiting for an earthquake, a storm, an external forcing function to say hey…come engage with each other?
Sebastian Junger: Well, yeah. I mean, you’re asking…can we have it all? Which is a reasonable thing to want. Right? Of course. Can we have it all? Can we have the benefits of a modern affluent society without giving up the benefits of intense communal life? I don’t know. That’s never been done before. I mean, people act communally because they’re forced to by circumstances and then as soon as they can get away with it, they start acting selfishly. Which is also probably an adaptive behavior deeply wired into us. So, how can we do that? I mean, to be a little flip here and say ban the car. If we couldn’t drive, we would be forced to rely on the people immediately around us, in other words, walking distance for all of our life’s needs. We’d work in our own neighborhood, we’d form community bonds. That’s how we’re meant to live. I’m not suggesting we ban the car. But just as a thought experiment, it’s kind of an interesting thing to picture.
But sort of more broadly, I mean, realistically we’re not going to go back to living in lean-to’s and camping around the campfire. I get that, it’s not logistically possible for a modern society to do that, or it’s not desirable, obviously. But I think there are things we can do on the sort of, macro level. I think one of the things that’s affecting people is that not only are the actual communities a bit broken apart by the layout of suburbs, by the car, by all kinds of things…but at the macro level of the country, we don’t…we’ve stopped thinking of ourselves as a unity. If you ask people, what do you owe your country? They sort of look at you blankly. I remember when I was 18 and I had to sign my selective service card, which boys…not girls, but boys still have to do this. They get a card in the mail when they’re 18 from the government saying, we want to know where you live in case we need to draft you. And this was right after Vietnam and every adult I knew was against Vietnam. I said, what the hell is this? A service card for the draft, are you kidding? I said, I’m not going to sign this. My father had grown up in Europe and he explained that France, where he grew up, was saved, Europe was saved by the United States. Coming, literally wading ashore and sorting things out. He said, you don’t owe your country nothing. You might owe your country your life.
It was an immoral war that it’s your moral duty to protest it, not fight it. But we don’t know that yet. So, what could we do short of war that binds us together? I think national service, mandatory national service, for the military option…so that you can serve your country without carrying – you can serve your country in any number of ways. In the peace corps, or working in the inner city or whatever. I think it would be an amazing experience for young people. It would also bring white, black, rich, poor, north, south, it would bring everyone together. Which, this country is slowly in need of. Finally, I think the rhetoric employed by people in power right now is extremely damaging to our sense of unity. For the first time in my life I hear politicians, really powerful people, talking with contempt. I mean, real contempt about their own president, about the government, about components of the US populations, the fellow citizens. And talking about these people as if they’re actually the enemy.
And I know from soldiers…you don’t talk with contempt about someone inside the wire. You may not like them, you may not agree with them, but boy, he might save your life tomorrow and you don’t talk with contempt about those people. And politicians are doing it right now. Not only is it a threat to our democracy, but it’s really demoralizing. It sends the message that there’s actually nothing to belong to. I think that has a really detrimental psychological effect on everybody.
Chris Martenson: I would certainly agree with that. I’ve been noticing, as well, that in scanning this and reading about what’s really going on with our veterans…in particular…a friend of mine is Dr. Jonathan Shay. I’m sure you’ve run across him. And he talks about the sort of injury some veterans return with. And I believe this ties into what you’re saying…that when you undercut the moral pinnings of our togetherness, the fiber that binds us…that you’re actually doing something much more damaging than you might expect, and scoring a few political points might not make it worth it. But he said that some veterans return with what he termed, moral injury, and suggested that we as a nation, we must welcome home the veterans in any way and say something along the lines of his words, “What you did was done in our name, at our request. We cannot bare your physical wounds or psychological scars but we can bare the moral responsibility with you. Your transgressions in war, they are our transgressions, too. We confess this together, we seek forgiveness together.”
And so, to speak to what you just mentioned…this sense of togetherness, this sense of unity that really…I think, you find obviously in the unit cohesion, you’re talking about at the political level that we’re losing our national cohesion. That’s a dangerous game to play. But I’m wondering if you could talk about this need to feel like we belong to something that, at a moral level, has integrity and makes sense.
Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I think the public is completely disconnected from everything that keeps it alive and safe. I mean, you have people who are ardent pacifists who are happy to live in town, that are protected by policeman who carry guns. I happen to think the police are a good idea. But how do you score your passivism with, basically, hiding behind armed people for your security and protection? There’s a rhetorical…philosophical problem. I don’t know what the answer is, but at least acknowledge the hypocrisy of it.
I was against the Iraq War, but I didn’t think it was for oil. I was against it for other reasons. But I was amazed to see – politically I’m liberal, I’m a Democrat. I really hate the hierocracy of the left. And I was amazed to see bumper stickers that said “no blood for oil” on cars. I mean, on machines that run on oil. And these people had no awareness of the irony. You put oil in an SUV that gets 12 miles to the gallon, probably driven by somebody who calls themselves an environmentalist. And so the public’s disconnected from everything. Of course it’s disconnected from the wars. There are wars. I mean as Shay and the other people pointed out, the country paid for them, chose them, and in some ways benefit from them. It’s really not the soldiers’ war. They were hired to fight them for us and we need to, for our own good and for the good of the soldiers, we need to own that stuff.
Chris Martenson: Well, beyond that I think we need to assure that the wars are being fought on proper terms. And let me confess, I studied the Iraq War intensely. I was against it right from the outset, not because I was a no blood for oil guy, but because I read the entire UNESCO report on Weapons of Mass Destruction and came to my own conclusion that it was impossible that Iraq had what was being claimed they had. And now we know that the Iraq War was founded on deceitful and even blatantly fraudulent intelligence. That must add…I mean, once you whoop up in patriotic spirit post-9/11 and you go off and fight for your country…that must be especially bitter to discover the true underpinnings of that particular war.
Sebastian Junger: Yeah, I mean I’m amazed…I’m very close to a lot of soldiers and have soldier friends who like my work, which I’m very honored by. But most of these guys are pretty conservative, right. I don’t hide the fact that I’m liberal but, whatever, it makes for some interesting conversations. I’m amazed, increasingly by the year…more and more veterans that I talk to will say something to me like, I’m a conservative…I voted for George Bush, but boy the Iraq War was an incredible mistake and I really can’t forgive the Bush administration for forcing us into that. And that’s a more and more…I mean, real mockery of the Bush administration for that decision. These aren’t sort of liberal wing nuts. These are like conservative, ex-military guys. And it’s really an amazing shift to hear in their voices.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, and I mean, anybody who studies it understands that mistake is a kind way to put it. It was really founded on something that I think…is a nation that’s a hairball in our throat we haven’t coughed up yet. You can’t just sort of say, oh yeah that was awkward…let’s move on, because there was something there that we did. We as a culture, whether we went off and fought in it directly…we have the responsibility, the shared responsibility for that. But that idea of national service you talked about, which is about shared responsibility…I think from my cat seat, I’m seeing a real lack of shared responsibility in this country. And I do note that countries that have some sort of national service, be it Israel, or Switzerland, or countries like that…that they do – and they’re smaller, more homogeneous, and have different issues – but it seems to be something that really could add a lot to this idea of…okay, maybe we can’t get back to the 150 unit tribal function, but at least we would have some larger sense of togetherness in this larger story.
Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I think that…I’m absolutely in agreement. I think it would be a tremendously powerful thing. It would do two things. It would make the country feel like it’s engaged in a united activity somehow. It would be sort of, a democratizing, and meaning it would expose every different category of American to every different category of America. I mean, the great thing about the military is it really is white, black, rich, poor…it’s the whole mix. I mean, you have people who dropped out of Harvard to join the Marines after 9/11 and you have people from a very poor segment of society, as well. The whole spectrum. National service would be…I think, a tremendous experience in that sense as well.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. I don’t really do holidays well when I’m told to do them. All the hallmark holidays and, I have to confess, the whole idea of Veterans Day where you get out and you wave a flag and you go, I support the troops…has always been hollow to me. And I want to note here that we do have a volunteer military today. It’s the lowest population percentage of any war time doing the fighting. Less than half a percent, if I got my numbers right. Which means there’s really no general engagement in the fighting by the general populous. In fact, many might think it’s just a job someone signed up for. So, really no sounding board on any level when you get home from a conflict nowadays. No hero’s welcome. I mean, some people of fighting age may not even be aware there’s anything going on in Afghanistan or Iraq, or Syria at this point. I’m wondering how that factors in and, if we were going to learn how other cultures have appropriately honored their warrior’s home after asking them to do the unthinkable, and to take the ultimate sacrifices for us…how would we refashion Veterans Day into something that was more than a day off from work?
Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I think, first of all, the one percent or half a percent or whatever it is…I mean, it’s an important thing to point out, but you have to understand that to change that number…to make it higher…five percent served or whatever, you wind up with a massive, massive military which we can’t afford. So, the question really isn’t changing that number. It’s changing the relationship between that one percent, that half percent, and the rest of the country. What came to me, having looked at some Native American ceremonies where those cultures draw warriors back from combat and then veterans back from America’s wars…with these communal, community-wide ceremonies. And they often involved a sort of recounting of when the warrior recounted his exploits on the battlefield. Saying them, danced, them, reenacted them.
And so, I had this idea…we’re de-ritualized society, but suppose we…maybe we could do that in our own appropriate context. The center of civic life in every town is the City Hall. Veterans Day, they’re not open for business and so, those buildings can be used. If you can open them up every Veterans Day – and we’ve done this…we did this last fall, last Veterans Day in Massachusetts – open them up, turn on the PA system, and a veteran of any war has the right to stand up and speak for ten minutes about what the war felt like. And there’s no, there’s really no boundaries. This isn’t an exercise in patriotism, this isn’t anti-war…it’s just, what did it feel like to fight for this country? Some guys will be extremely angry about the war they had to fight. Some will be very proud. Some will be crying too hard to talk at all.
And when you say “I support the troops”…it doesn’t really mean anything, it doesn’t really help anybody. But what that would then mean is showing up for a couple hours and just hearing a few of these guys, these veterans talk. And when we did it in Massachusetts last fall, it was incredibly powerful…including an older woman who stood up, she said, I fought in Vietnam as a guy and I came home and got a sex change. Boy, did that rock people. They were not expecting that, and it was quite transformative.
Chris Martenson: I would completely support the idea of giving that public airing, because it means that we’re actually listening to the experiences, and I’ve done some inquiry into looking into how alcoholics anonymous does what it does. And, low and behold, it turns out there is something deeply cathartic, very human about being in a group of people and being able to share your story, no matter how painful, or shameful it might be. And that that’s wired into us. This idea of we can have this togetherness and it’s interesting to talk to many people who’ve been to AA. Many of them describing that they know people who they only know by first name in that room, better than they know their own family. And so, what you’re really talking about is something I think Brene Brown has been talking on in her work…is that we need greater openness, greater vulnerability, greater ability to share at the deeper levels, and that there’s something in being in closer approximation with each other…that’s part of it. And the rest of it is that we get to share more intimately with each other…life, and that’s something we’re actually wired for, and that’s something for better or worse, is recreated in the unit experience in a war time situation. But there are other ways that people can consciously create that if they want to.
Sebastian Junger: That’s right. And again, we evolve to live in small groups in a dangerous environment and those are the bodies and minds that we’re lugging around with us, and we’re never going to escape that. You can have an iPhone, you can enjoy air conditioning, whatever; you’re never going to escape that heritage that we have, and it’s a wonderful heritage. It got us here. There’s basic human needs of contact and connection starting from infancy. I mean, carrying rate, the skin on skin contact rates for human infants is incredibly low compared to other primates, I mean in modern society compared to traditional societies and other primates. And it’s not good, it’s not what infants need. But we live in a complex world where people need to work and be away from home, and what are you going to do? It has consequences.
Chris Martenson: I’ll tell you Sebastian, this really caught me off guard and I still have it on the top of my desk here. It’s a Wall Street Journal article in their Living section and it was all about how you can get your baby to sleep through the night as early as two months. And they pulled out a pediatrician and some other experts and really, there was coaching people to just let the kid cry it out as early as possible…no where in there did they suggest the idea that kids, infants cry for a reason other than they’re trying to manipulate you…they’re crying because they have a need that’s unmet. At any rate, this is just what I consider to be an atrocious piece of advice and, what was funny about it, ironic to me is that the companion article that shared the slide slot on that same page of the newspaper was, “How to Recover Your Ability to be More Empathetic as an Adult.” I just thought that was a wonderful, ironic juxtaposition.
Sebastian Junger: That’s right, that’s great. That really says it all. I mean, all this affluence has given us this wonderful independence, and we put a huge amount of energy into that, figuring how to reconnect again. Infants cry because they’re in danger when they’re alone. I mean, primates that are alone in the jungle are in danger. They are a carnivore, a predator’s meal immediately. Human primates, I mean babies, are wired with that knowledge and they don’t like being put in a room by themselves at all because they know that their life’s in danger.
Chris Martenson: So, Sebastian, what’s next for you…what’s got your eye now?
Sebastian Junger: I’m just doing this book tour for Tribe and after that…I don’t know. Hopefully a more communal existence somewhere in the world. I grew up in a suburb and I’ve been looking for that my whole life. So, we’ll see.
Chris Martenson: All right. Well, I certainly hope you find that. Thank you for your time. The book is Tribe: on Homecoming and Belonging. It’s available everywhere, you should read it. And we’ve been talking with Sebastian Junger. Sebastian, thank you so much for your time today.
Sebastian Junger: Thank you, it was a pleasure.