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Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

#147: June - Aug. 2016 (Non-Fiction)
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Chris OConnor

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Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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THE MEN AND THE DOGS

Please use this thread to discuss the chapter "THE MEN AND THE DOGS."
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Dexter

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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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Alright, I'm in, I read the first chapter.

From the intro,
[This book is] 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.
Very interesting insights into human nature and modern society

The first chapter is the story of how some English settlers in the US didn't want to leave their Native American captors because they preferred their tribal lifestyle.
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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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Just got my copy today.
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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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Dexter wrote:Alright, I'm in, I read the first chapter.

From the intro,
[This book is] 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.
Very interesting insights into human nature and modern society

The first chapter is the story of how some English settlers in the US didn't want to leave their Native American captors because they preferred their tribal lifestyle.
I had never heard about whites who were abducted by Native Americans, who ultimately preferred to stay with their captors than return to civilization.

It reminds me of the movie Avatar, directed by James Cameron of Titanic fame. Some fans said they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because it awoke some kind of deep longing within. After enjoying the immersive, pristine beauty of the alien world Pandora, it was hard to return to their mundane lives. Maybe it's that sense of belonging that we yearn for. The movie gives you a sense of what tribal existence must be like just as the movie's protagonist feels when he plugs into the virtual reality of this world and becomes part of the tribal community.

That feeling may itself be an elusive longing that cannot be realized fully in real life. But maybe living amongst the Native Indians was a little closer to that ideal existence than what the cold world of industrialism wrought in the early 19th century. It might be relevant to point out that the Native Indians (Junger's preferred term) lived more attuned with the natural environment, while the Industrial Revolution was itself a transplant from Europe, a mode of life that merely serves to extract natural resources from the environment to support a life that is really quite separate from nature, thus the sense of loss we see in the Romantic literature of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, etc.
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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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That's right, I remember that story about Avatar, they did portray a very appealing village life. I mean, who wouldn't want to have their own dragon thing, and chill out in those hammocks.

I wonder if the story of the Indians is overstated given how relatively primitive (by modern standards) the English settlers lived as well.

However, what struck me about the descriptions of life among the Indians was not just that they preferred it, but one person described it as just extremely pleasurable all the time.

Also, it seems surprising how willing the Indians were to accept outsiders.
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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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I just received this book from the library and was surprised at its thinness--even in the large print version they gave me. Not complaining, though. Junger does acknowledge that American Indian life involved cruel, hideous torture of enemies, but in general he paints a rosy picture of its psychological environment. He also admits that affluence might be a good thing in itself. It's just that there was a trade-off in the transition to agriculture-based society that isn't always admitted.

There is a contrast here with Stephen Pinker's much longer book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker shows that injury or death through violence was more common in hunter-gatherer societies that in the more complex societies that came afterwards. So Pinker wants to tell us that the march of civilization brings us safer, more peaceful lives. Accepting his data on this for the moment, that still doesn't rule out Junger's claim that more "primitive" social organization better serves our psychological needs.

It wasn't so long ago that an entire generation took up the ethos of tribalism in rebellion against the individualism and materialism of its elders. I speak of the Hippies, of course. That was just a blip, as it turned out.
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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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Thinking about Stephen Pinker again, I think it might be true that being safer, less exposed to violence, in modern societies because war and assault are, statistically, less common, isn't the whole story. Is a longer life so great if we lack some deep psychological connection to each other? That's the question Junger raises. He puts it bluntly: "The alienating effects of wealth and modernity on the human experience start virtually at birth and never let up." Yet I think it is human nature--and the nature of all animals--to seek safety and security, the instinct to preserve life being the strongest in us. In the desperate situations that Junger tells us about, in which people report having the most intense feelings of being alive, the objective is nevertheless to get back to the state of security and lower intensity. I mean, no one who is in the middle of a disaster says, "Let's keep things like this, isn't this the way we want to always live?" People do report missing something when the situation normalizes again, but I doubt that they yearn for the continuation of death and privation. It's the degree of close, emotional contact that's missing, as well as the feeling that when engaged in helping others in trouble, you were doing something truly important.

So the trick is to have it both ways, to some extent. Maybe some societies today succeed at this better than others do. Junger thinks that in the West and especially in the U.S. we don't. We "emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones, and as a result mental health issues refuse to decline with growing wealth."
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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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DWill wrote:So the trick is to have it both ways, to some extent. Maybe some societies today succeed at this better than others do. Junger thinks that in the West and especially in the U.S. we don't. We "emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones, and as a result mental health issues refuse to decline with growing wealth."
I didn't read Pinker's book, but one of his arguments is that war and violence are less prevalent today than in our past. According to William Blake, the role of the poet or artist is to render a vision of the world that is "habitable, and meaningful, by virtue of beauty and truth; a vision of the freedom brought about by the release of our pent-up energies, so pathetically spent in fighting the wars of a much lesser world that tears itself apart, dulls and degrades itself futilely, mindlessly, for nothing that is of any worth."

Those aren't Blake's exact words, but a paraphrasing of them.

http://www.blakesociety.org/2014/11/02/ ... e-is-open/

It could be that humans were forged in perpetual struggle against other tribes and that we don't quite know what to do with ourselves in times of peace and prosperity. Most of us live today as kings did a few hundred years ago. But we don't get along very well and it seems that we fight over stupid things. Seemingly we splinter into divisive groups, manufacturing dissent. As Blake feared, we tend to tear ourselves apart when we are not united in a larger cause.

By the way, here's an interesting article by John Gray, who refutes some of Pinker's "orthodoxy."

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/ ... -declining
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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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Hi geo, good find with the article by John Gray. Always good to consider the counterweights to arguments that seem to be carrying the day, like Pinker's that we can count on the moral progress of our species. I was surprised to see that Gray is the author of Men Are from Mars.... I didn't read that book and prejudged it as mere pop psychology. I accept Gray's central point in the article that the statistics Pinker produces tell less than the full story about the moral state of the advanced world. Gray seems to be a deep skeptic and that is usually a good thing. His latest book, The Soul of the Marionette looks intriguing.

Are you becoming interested in William Blake? I remember that lit survey courses never went beyond Songs of Innocence and Experience. The rest of Blake appeared esoteric and imposing. He was truly a mystic, as the piece you linked to demonstrates. I wonder if his longer works might be more accessible than I've always assumed. Have you read any of them?
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Re: Tribe: THE MEN AND THE DOGS

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I got Tribe on my kindle today and look forward to reading it. Some general prior points, it reminds me of the argument that Jared Diamond made in The World Until Yesterday that a small clan was the normal scale of social organization for by far the longest proportion of human evolution, so we have a challenge of replicating the social networks of a clan within the anomie of a mass industrial urban civilization. That is partly what churches and other social organizations and clubs try to do, but these networks are nowhere near the intensity of bonding of soldiers in war. The culture of individual competition promotes isolation, loneliness and depression.

Hillary Clinton also raised related themes in her 1996 book It Takes a Village. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Takes_a_Village
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