The Importance of Having a Tribe

A Man's Life, Podcast

Podcast #217:
The Importance of Having a Tribe

with guest author Sebastian Junger

In many modern, Western democracies, individualism reigns supreme. The goal of life is to be a man who marches to the beat of his own drummer and is unencumbered by others. Individuals who prefer tribalism or group belonging are either looked at with suspicion or disdain. But what if our quest for hyper-individualism is actually making us miserable?

What if belonging to a tight-knit group that requires loyalty and self-sacrifice is the key to feeling fulfilled and wholly human?

That’s the argument that my guest makes in his latest book. His name is Sebastian Junger. You may have read his account of being embedded with an Army platoon serving in Afghanistan in his must-read book Waror seen his visceral documentary about battle in the Korengal Valley called Restrepo.

In his latest book, TRIBE, Junger uses his firsthand experience as a war reporter as a starting point in exploring the vital human need to belong to a group. In today’s show, Sebastian and I discuss how humans are wired for tribalism, how males bond, and whether or not it’s possible to recapture tribe in a large and prosperous society.

"TRIBE" Podcast Highlights:

  • The most surprising thing Sebastian learned about war after being embedded in an army platoon for a year
  • Why men miss combat
  • Why men need a challenge or enemy to tightly bond
  • Why sharing feelings among men actually gets in the way of male bonding
  • Why early white settlers in America would run off with Indian tribes
  • How humans really react during societal breakdowns
  • Is it possible to create tribe during a time of prosperity and peace?
  • What the Amish can teach us about creating tribe in modern life
  • Why community has declined in the West during the past century
  • Why mental illness goes up when prosperity increases
  • Why mental disorders went down during the London Blitz
  • And much more!

“TRIBE” is about why tribal sentiment is such a rare and precious thing in modern society, and how the lack of it has affected us all. It’s about what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty and belonging and the eternal human quest for meaning. It’s about why—for many people—war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Humans don’t mind duress, in fact they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary. –Sebastian Junger


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SEBASTIAN JUNGER is the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of THE PERFECT STORM, FIRE, A DEATH IN BELMONT, WAR and TRIBE.   As an award-winning journalist, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a special correspondent at ABC News, he has covered major international news stories around the world, and has received both a National Magazine Award and a Peabody Award. Junger is also a documentary filmmaker whose debut film "Restrepo", a feature-length documentary (co-directed with Tim Hetherington), was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Visit his website here.