Why we’d rather be at war than be alone: How humans desire a tribal sense of belonging that is missing from modern life
The ideas below are far from new. Among others, they were voiced by Emile Durkheim around a century ago -- with his concept of "anomie". And I have myself argued for the importance of connectedness with others. French Anthropologist Emmanuel Todd, however, argues that connectedness is much less sought out in Anglo-Saxon societies.
I saw that myself once when I was doing a doorstep survey in an ethnically mixed area of Sydney, Australia. As well as people of Anglo origins, there were also quite a lot of Italians and Greeks. And one of the questions we asked was, "How often do you get together with relatives?" About half of the Anglos said "Never", while the Italians and Greeks nearly all replied "Most weekends".
Being part of a large genetically related group is the norm in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean societies. We Anglos are the odd ones out. And from what little I know about it, I gather that Northern Europeans isolate themselves in a way similar to Anglos. It may have something to do with the requirements of survival in a cold climate.
But at the end of the day, we do all need at least SOME degree of connectedness with others. It seems to be a psychological necessity. Man is a social animal so it follows that we should feel the need for social interaction.
I have argued that conservatives are in a much better position there. Because conservatives are NOT full of rage at the world, they feel free to enjoy whatever is around them. And one of the great satisfactions in human life is fellowship: Feeling part of a group of people whom you like or respect. So instead of screaming "racism" at every sign of group loyalty, conservatives can simply enjoy their group loyalties. They are untroubled patriots, for instance.
So American conservatives can feel warm inside to be Americans and they can greatly value the fellowship they find in their church. And where conservatives diverge most strongly from Leftists is that they can also feel a sense of fellowship, belonging and connectedness with their ancestors and forebears. We often see this very strongly expressed among American conservatives when they talk about the "Founders" of the nation and the wisdom the founders bequeathed in the Constitution etc. And such thoughts are of course often to the fore on Thanksgiving day. And I have put up a "Thanksgiving" edition of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH that shows how much hostility Thanksgiving now attracts from the Left. Thanksgiving is of course a continuation of traditional harvest festivals. Human beings have always joyously celebrated a successful harvest and given thanks to their Gods for it. It takes the hate-filled modern-day Leftist activists to find any fault with that.
When I was taking an interest in my genealogy, I got the impression that my fellow genealogy researchers had mostly conservative views. A connectedness with the past was obviously felt there.
And another common expression of solidarity with the past is of course the great respect that conservatives pay to those who have died in war in the service of their nation. In my country, Australia, that day of remembrance (which we call Anzac day) is our only really solemn national occasion. Leftists have tried to laugh at it from time to time but it goes from strength to strength, with young people as well as old participating in the services of remembrance.
And there is no doubt that the army is always one of the most solidly conservative bodies of people that exists in any community. And the degree of fellowship in the army must be very close to maximal. If you pass a member of your old army unit in the street, you always stop to say a few words at least. There is a lasting bond between men who have fought together that outsiders can only dimly understand. My time in the Australian army was most undistinguished (though very fondly remembered) but I was an army psychologist so perhaps I have a little more awareness of what the army is about than most. I am certainly pleased to say that I have worn my country's uniform.
All these sorts of fellowship that conservatives feel are generally felt pretty strongly. There is often a swelling of pride and gratitude associated with such feelings. And, because of his anger and dissatisfation with society, the poor sad old Leftist is basically left out of all that. His hate and rage bars him from sharing some of the most basic human connections and emotions.
But the poor old Leftist, with his hatred of the society he lives in, is isolated from all that. The normal human connections that conservatives enjoy are just part of the hated "status quo" for him. So when he finds a group that he can respect he goes overboard -- as in the Obamania of 2008 or the "Sturm Abteilung" of the socialist Hitler's movement. And Hitler certainly preached the oneness of the German people and that individual Germans must see themselves as less important than the whole. As he said from time to time: "Vor uns liegt Deutschland, in uns marschiert Deutschland und hinter uns kommt Deutschland" ("Ahead of us is Germany, in us marches Germany, and behind us comes Germany!). And from Hegel on, Communists have preached the primacy of the group too. The left makes the normal human need for connectedness toxic
So the State is the chief and rather dismal form of community that Leftism allows.
The writer below is right to mourn the loss of community and tradition that modernity has wrought but I think it is sheer romanticism to say that it could all have been avoided. I think the whole trend of history is towards de-localization of almost everything. Globalization of world trade is the clearest case in point. Division and specialization of labour has become more and more pronounced as time goes by and is part of the essence of modernity. And division of labour means ever larger and more complex organizations (businesses and factories) to make that specialization work.
And, after that, large and complex networks of people to distribute the fruits of that specialized labour are needed. Doing everything locally is as obsolete as the spinning wheel. So big, complex organizations have inevitably replaced small, local organizations. So the State was just one of the things that destroyed localism and community.
I cannot see that we will ever get the same sort of community back under any circumstances but we are also forming new communities all the time. We may no longer live in villages but, for many people, those they work with are an important community and most of us are part of various communities connected with our leisure activities. So I think that conservatives at least will always have about as much community as they want
During John Ford’s celebrated western film The Searchers, John Wayne’s character spends years hunting for his niece Debbie, kidnapped as a child by Comanche Indians.
When he finally finds her, she initially wants to stay with her Comanche husband rather than return home.
Although shocking in the film, it’s historically accurate. White people captured by American Indians (author Sebastian Junger’s preferred name for Native Americans) commonly chose to stay with their captors - and the book cites a case of a captive woman who hid from her would-be rescuers.
Even more astonishingly, from the earliest days of Europeans in America, settlers of both sexes ran away to join Indian tribes. This wasn’t just a few people, it was hundreds and hundreds. The practice was so rife that in the early 1600s settler leaders made it an offence with harsh punishments, but over the following centuries people still ran off in huge numbers.
And it hardly ever happened the other way. Indians didn’t want to join white society.
The attraction, argues Junger, was the sense of community, the importance of the tribe, evident in other primates and in primitive human societies. The superficial attractions of American Indian life were obvious: sexual mores were more relaxed, clothing was more comfortable, religion less harsh.
But mostly it was the structure of Indian society that appealed. It was less hierarchical, essentially classless and egalitarian. As the people were nomadic, personal property hardly mattered, since it was limited to what you or your horses could carry.
What changed this natural way of living for humans was first agriculture, then industry. Accumulation of personal property led to people doing what they thought best for themselves, rather than for the common good. But, suggests Junger, we’re not happy like this. We’re wired to the lifestyle of the tribe.
Take the London Blitz during World War II. Before it began the government feared there would be riots and maybe even revolution as people fought one another for space in bomb shelters or for food.
In fact, exactly the reverse happened. People from different classes mixed in a way they hadn’t before and joined together in the face of a common enemy.
Historians credit the ‘spirit of the Blitz’ as the cause of the Labour landslide victory in the 1945 election, its strong feeling for community leading to the foundation of the NHS and a robust welfare state.
Junger, an American journalist and former war correspondent, gives many examples of what our modern way of living has cost us. In a modern city or suburb you can go through an entire day meeting only strangers. As affluence and urbanisation rise, rates of suicide and depression go up. According to the World Health Organisation, people in wealthy countries suffer eight times the depression rate of those in poorer ones. But when we revert to the tribe, things improve.
Those caught up in the bloody conflict in Bosnia often say they were happier during the war. The reason, they say, was they all pulled together, felt connected and part of something bigger than themselves.
Junger spent time embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and says he was never alone there. Soldiers slept a dozen to a shelter. You couldn’t stretch out an arm without touching someone. Men of all colours, classes and creeds bonded as they had to look out for one another.
In a tribe the survival of the individual depends upon the survival of the group. The lack of this brotherhood is what makes it so hard for returning combat veterans to reintegrate into contemporary, fragmented societies.
Above all, people need to feel connected with others. It’s a good starting point for rethinking the way we live our troubled modern lives
Community spirit in the U.S. rocketed after 9/11. The suicide rate dropped dramatically. There were no rampage shootings in public places like schools and colleges for two years.
Interestingly, such shootings happen only in middle-class rural or suburban areas. There has never been one in a poor inner-city location, where gangs provide a tribal sense of belonging.
This sense of bonding with the larger group begins almost at birth. In less developed countries, children sleep with or in close proximity to their parents and often an extended family group.
It’s only in Northern European countries (and the U.S.) that small children sleep alone. It’s only here that they go through a well-known developmental stage of bonding with stuffed animals or so-called ‘comfort’ blankets.
In Junger’s small, but convincingly argued, book he quotes the self-determination theory, the things necessary for contentment:
People need to feel competent at what they do. They need to feel authentic in their lives. Above all, they need to feel connected with others. It’s a good starting point for rethinking the way we live our troubled modern lives.