by Sebastian Junger
America is rich . . . and depressed. We are surrounded, yet alone. What gives?
In Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger make a case against isolation and for belonging. He highlights the power and benefits of collaborative community and the perils of those without it. His argument is compelling.
Junger chronicles the solidifying power of tribes among American Indians. He also notes the way war and natural disasters suspend our isolationism and actually help us live more collaboratively and communally. Junger writes:
The question for Western society isn't so much why tribal life might be so appealing--it seems obvious on the face of it--but why Western society is so un>appealing.
Part of the "unappealing" nature of Western society stems from our technological advances.
Whatever the technological advances of modern society--and they're nearly miraculous--the individualize lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit. p. 93
The implications, both for how we treat veterans (see "In Bitter Safety I Awake") and Americans far lower on the social ladder, gives cause to pause and reflect. Junger says, "It may be worth considering whether middle-class American life--for all its material good fortune--has lost some essential sense of unity that might otherwise discourage alienated men from turning apocalyptically violent." 116
Politics is partly to blame here, "when they spew venomous rhetoric about their rivals" (128), but so is a lack of personal responsibility to simply reach out and care -- especially when that care is extended to those you do not know.
In the end, Junger left me disappointed. He certainly addressed the problem, but I didn't see the better vision or how we get there, other than simply, "try harder." His final illustration -- moving as it was -- was isolation meeting isolation, at least it seemed that way to me.
I would encourage pastors and churches to read Tribe>. Apparently, Junger has felt little of the spirit of community present in many churches. That is both sad and a challenge for the church to live out James 2:14-17,
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.