The triumph of Individualism and the defeat of Tribalism part 2
The triumph of Individualism and the defeat of Tribalism part 2
- Sebastien Grynko
Let’s now look at a few examples of tribalism which are the observations gathered by Sebastian Junger in his excelled book : “Tribe”
Many early European colonial settlers lived with Native American tribes.
When the first English settlers arrived in America in the seventeenth century, they found a land utterly different from the country they’d left behind. Their new home was a vast wilderness populated by tribes whose lifestyles resembled that of an earlier age.
Many new settlers preferred the indigenous lifestyle. They emulated Native American traditions and married into their tribes. Sometimes they even fought alongside their adopted communities.
Movement in the other direction was rare. Contemporaries were perplexed that so few Native Americans left their tribes and took up European customs.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was among those baffled by this phenomenon. Native American children, he wrote, raised by Europeans rarely showed any great attachment to modern culture. In most cases, they decided to return to their tribes.
Americans who’d been captured by Native Americans, Franklin added, were a different case altogether. Many of them wanted nothing more than to continue living with the tribe that had taken them prisoner!
This was underlined in 1763 when a Swiss general named Henri Bouquet led an English sortie into Native American territory. The raid was a response to the frequent attacks mounted by various tribes on the rapidly expanding European settlements.
Bouquet’s mission was a military success. His first demand was that the defeated Native Americans return all European prisoners to the colonies.
But the news of their “liberation” wasn’t gladly received by the “captives.” They were sullen and confused. They had no interest in rejoining their old families.
The Native Americans were heartbroken at the loss of these recently adopted tribe members. They followed them on horseback as they were reluctantly led back to the Europeans’ settlements.
But a reunion wasn’t long in coming in many cases. Missing the tribal lifestyle, former prisoners often left the colonies behind and went back to their Native American families.
War often brings out the best in people and has surprising psychological effects.
During the Second World War, the British government worried about how the civilian population would respond to bombing raids. Its biggest concern was an outbreak of mass hysteria.
So what happened once the bombs started falling?
The response wasn’t anything like the gloomy forecasts. Many rose to the occasion. Paradoxical as it might seem, war can bring out the best in people.
German carpet-bombing of London began on September 7, 1940. The campaign targeted civilian areas and killed hundreds every day. But calm prevailed, and the city’s inhabitants remained upbeat. Looting was rare.
Londoners continued to go about their normal business in what became known as the Blitz. When the sirens sounded, they retreated to their air-raid shelters without any great commotion.
The psychological resilience of the British people was even more surprising. The government had predicted that around four million people would need to be admitted into psychiatric hospitals as a result of war trauma.
Psychiatric wards should have been overflowing during the Blitz. But something else was happening entirely – they were getting emptier! So what was happening?
Well, war can be psychologically beneficial.
Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist who carried out his research at the turn of the last century, was the first to notice this counterintuitive fact. Every time France went to war, its psychiatric hospitals became less crowded. The same effect was later observed in other contexts like civil-war-era Spain.
Suicide also tends to become much rarer during conflicts. The Irish psychologist H.A. Lyons reported that the number of people trying to take their own lives fell by a stunning 50 percent during the 1969 riots in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Violent crime also decreased across the city.
In peaceful areas, by contrast, depression among men became more common – presumably because they couldn’t take part in the fighting.
Identifying the positive psychological effects of war is one thing, finding an explanation is another. In the next blink, we’ll take a look at why conflict has this surprising effect on people.
War creates special bonds, and that makes returning to normal life especially hard for veterans.
We saw earlier that people’s psychological health often improves during extreme events like wars and natural disasters. So why do so many soldiers suffer PTSD when they return home from conflicts?
Well, tragedy and war cement deep bonds and bring people together in a way that modern society can’t match.
Take soldiers. Camaraderie defines their experience of the army. Their bond with fellow soldiers makes them members of a tribe.
For many of them, it was the first time in their lives that they were collaborating as equals rather than competing against one another. That’s one of the things soldiers love about the army.
Constant danger from a common enemy creates a degree of intimacy between people that’s unusual in other contexts. Survival means trusting others with your life.
Many elderly Londoners are nostalgic about the Blitz because of their memories of this kind of bond.
But that’s not something unique to war. Interviews with the survivors of the 1980s AIDS epidemic paint a similar picture. The disease’s devastating toll welded them into a tight-knit community. Many of them miss that sense of solidarity in today’s individualistic society.
The absence of tight social bonds also makes returning home hard for soldiers. There’s a stark contrast between their lives in the army and everyday life back home. They suddenly find themselves in a society divided into small and isolated family units lacking a communal spirit.
And that’s bad for mental health.
A number of studies have shown that a lack of social support doubles the risk of PTSD.
So it’s not just war itself that scars many soldiers. Often, it’s their experiences of normal life that are to blame.
To conclude we can see that the modern lifestyle, however comfortable, safe and affluent, has progressively and through a long process, lessened the bond we used to share with one another.
Not such a long time ago there was no individual outside of the group. Be it a small tribe bonded by survival or a congregation bonded by religion. We used to function as a group first.
We enjoy great technology and most of us in the West can enjoy a whole life without experiencing war, trauma and natural disasters yet it seems that this is counterintuitive to our DNA and our nature.
Primal societies such as the native Indians were more dangerous and less materially comfortable but they were also more egalitarian.
Being a nomad forces you to keep only the strict minimum which make members in the tribe more or less equal.
Women had the liberty to marry, divorce or remain single without any stigma or pressure they might have suffered from in the West.
Only a small portion of time was needed for the survival of the tribe. I do not include warfare in this statement.
A study carried out in the 1960s found that tribe members of the Kung people worked no more than 12 hours a week to support their lifestyle.
Soldiers and citizens who have experienced the war directly (battleground for the soldiers or bombing for the citizens) come to miss the trying times of war that brought people together.
This is not an attempt to romanticize native Indian tribes or war. The native Indians were not less cruel than the westerners during war. Betrayal of the tribe usually resulted in death.
The second world war was terrible and horrendous. We should be grateful everyday to be able to enjoy the safety we take for granted but it seems that we threw out the baby with the bath water.
Adversity makes us stronger and more caring for another, as a collective. Capitalism does not need minimalist groups of people who have their own identity.
Capitalism needs individuals who consume and adopt the identities of the brands who have poured millions in marketing propaganda.
This is also not a rant against capitalism or its excesses. We live with our times, with the good and the not so good.
The good we enjoy is safety, affluence, comfort and amazing technology. The not-so-good is perhaps the 9 to 5 routine of the malnourished, sun starved sedentary consumer men and women of the West ?
- Sebastien Grynko