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Transcript

Episode 23: We Are Not Tribal Enough, With Sebastian Junger

Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Paul Kix:

Hello and welcome to another episode of Now That's a Great Story, the podcast where we discuss a single story of a single writer as a way to reveal an artistic worldview. I'm your host Paul Kix. Today's guest is Sebastian Junger, a Vanity Fair contributor and best-selling author of, among others, The Perfect Storm and a Death and Belmont. His documentary film Restrepo about a band of soldiers fighting in a remote Afghan outpost is searing and it stays with you long after you finish it. But my favorite work of his, Tribe, his latest book, an argument for a more tribal response to life, it is also more egalitarian, and even righteous. Tribe makes you sort of reassess everything you think you know about modern life and so Sebastian, it is my great pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for coming on.

 

Sebastian Junger:

My pleasure. Thank you.

 

Paul Kix:

You've been a journalist for 25 years and this this book seems very much a distillation of everything you've learned as an author, documentary filmmaker and war correspondent, why

did you decide to write it?

 

Sebastian Junger:

I was trying to explain some sort of disparate things that suddenly my mind seemed to have a kind of unified answer. I was told when I was young by a friend of mine, a sort of mentor figure who was half Apache, half Lakota Sioux -- grew up for the depression out west -- that along the frontier, white colonists, white frontiers people often ran off to join the Indians, but the reverse never happened. Indians ran off to join white society and that always stuck in my mind because of course our modern society is supposedly superior so why would flow be towards the tribal rather than towards the modern? That stuck in my mind and then I saw American soldiers face the prospect of going back to the United States with real reluctance, and often wished, once back here often wish they were back in combat and it suddenly struck me that maybe the same thing was going on, maybe society, modern society is really hard to return to or to live in, and that that might explain a lot of things like very high suicide and depression rates, things like that. So as I did research, you know, I studied anthropology typology in college and it to me it didn't. A society with a very high suicide and depression rate was deemed to be an ailing society that can't be the human norm. And indeed. What we know is it as wealth goes up in the society the suicide rate tends to go down. So all of a sudden I saw wealth identity in a completely different light. I saw in terms of… I saw it as a force that pull people apart, rather than something good, and. And that was the genesis for my embarking on the book

 

Paul Kix:

It’s a book full of so many great ideas and normally on this podcast we try to take the listener through a specific episode of a book but because Tribe is an ideas-based work I'd almost like to build the argument for it, Sebastian, much as the book itself does. So, you, you open Tribe with you hitchhiking as a young man in the western half of the US. Could you tell the listeners what happened that day is you encountered another stranger on the road because I think it's really revealing.

 

Sebastian Junger:

Yeah, I was young. I was 22, I guess it was after college, I decided to see my country,  I ran a marathon in Twin Cities, Minnesota and then set out after my legs recovered, set out hitchhiking and wound up in Gillet, Wyoming, which in late October was a pretty cold, windy place and pretty unfriendly, actually. And I was out on the highway outside of town and I couldn't get a ride. It was out there for hours, it was freezing cold. People were throwing beer bottles at me and stuff and I was the East Coast boy so I was totally overwhelmed by this huge Western landscape. And this guy came from town down the access ramp down the on ramp towards me. He looks pretty bad. he looked. You know, he had a very dirty parka on, and matted hair and he really didn't look like he was doing very well. He looked a little desperate, and I had a rucksack full of camping gear and I saved up my money and I was ready for an adventure and I had a lot of stuff with me and a bunch of food you, know, I was like well prepared for this. I was sort of camping out as I went and he came up to me and he said, “Where you going?” I said I'm going to California. He said, “Do you have any food?” And, you know, someone asked me that question and I think they're hungry, off course I'm going to share whatever I had. I found in my suspicious way, that what he was trying to do is get me to open my bag up to see what I had. And I felt I was about to get robbed. And so I said I just have a little cheese. And he said, “Well…” An he's carrying to lunch box, which is something you don’t see very often these days. But he was carrying old fashioned lunchbox, and he said, he said you can't get California and a little cheese. So I want to give you my lunch, and he said that he, he was living in an abandoned car in town. And I guess this is his old car that broke down and he was just sleeping it, and every morning he’d walk out of…. There was a coal mine outside of town, so every morning he decided to walk out there to see if they needed work. If someone was sick, he pick up a day's work. If not, he walked back. And he probably got his lunches and churches or in a church basement or something. He said they didn't need it today so I won't be needing my lunch. You need more than I do, and he opened up the lunch box and made me take a baloney sandwich and an apple and a little bag of potato chips and I realized that he was… He said he seen me from town and he was worried about me and I realized that he was an example of someone who was, like, taking responsibility for somebody else they didn't know, and that he felt in his mind, that people who were on foot in this great land that in some ways they were all part of the same tribe, we had to sort of look out for one another, and it was my first great lesson in generosity and in humanness.

 

Paul Kix:

You grew up outside Boston, right? In the Boston suburbs? 
 

Sebastian Junger:
Yeah, that’s right.

 

Paul Kix:

And so, as our nation industrializes over the course of the last 300 or so years as manifest destiny, you know shapes the country and scalds the people who inhabited it beforehand, you write about this fascinating cultural clash that played out not only in New England but across generations and time zones, between natives and the white settlers. And that was this idea that you just hinted at a minute ago with this, this notion that white people when they would enter the culture of native peoples they oftentimes wouldn't come back. And that is, I mean, that's the first part of the book that really struck me. I'm like wow I did not know that at all. Sort of a technical question but when was it, you said that you heard about this from this friend of yours this idea from this friend of yours. What was your response when you began to see it as you were researching it as well in the anecdotes and the histories that you were pouring over for this book?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Yeah, I mean it struck me that we have a phrase, a nice phrase going native. Right? We all know what that means but there's no equivalent phrase that sort of going civilized. And so I started to look into this and a lot of writers at the time, people like Benjamin Franklin, French guy named Kafker, they remarked on this troubling tendency of people on the frontier running off to join the native tribes, and they didn't like it, because our society… Christian...in modern Christian society was supposed to be superior. And so what they ascribed it to was basically the work of the devil. Of course, what was really going on is that travel society was far more egalitarian, and merit based than Western society. It was sexually much more relaxed. And there was no authority in the way we understand the authority that people, they were leaders, of course every human group needs these leaders, but they lead by the permission of the lead. And, and, in a mobile society, it's very hard to impose arbitrary authority, because people could always just get up and leave until the night and when all you have as a stone a hunter gatherer society… really, what people's possessions they could carry with them, or load onto a horse or whatever, that means that it’s very hard to subject people to your will, because they can just leave in the moment and night and so in these groups, the leaders that evolved are ones that understood the lead through the permission of the group, and that's a very egalitarian system. Completely just different from the monarchies of Europe, and from industrial societies in general so what I saw in these early writings were people that.. men in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, sort of figuratively pulling your hair out and like what is it about tribal society that’s is so appealing? Like how embarrassing that, that the West can't hang on to it’s citizens in the face in the face of tribal society.

 

Paul Kix:

And you quote here, just so the listener can have a feel for this, there was a capture named Mary Jemison and I underlined a couple of quotes here, that she had gone to an Indian tribe and she said, “we had no master to overseer drivers so that we could work as leisurely as we pleased. No people can live more happy more happy than Indians did in times of peace. Their lives were a continual round of pleasures.” And then there's another colonial woman who was quoted by the Secretary the French Legation, she said here again and uses that same word, “I have no master, I am the equal of all women in the tribe, I do what I please without anyone saying anything about it. I work only for myself, I shall marry if I wish to be unmarried again when I wish. Is there a single woman as independent as I in your cities?”

 

Sebastian Junger:

Yeah, right. That's right, and some of the, you know, some of these people, many of them were taken captive on Indian raids, and brought back and adopted into tribal society, an incredibly traumatic thing to experience. And yet when given the chance to be repatriated later, they often refuse or would go into hiding and I mean literally hide in the woods so they wouldn't have to be returned to the settlements to frontier society that they come from.

 

Paul Kix:

In your estimation Sebastian, why is it the modern societies fail to achieve this level of a egalitarianism, that's present in tribal societies?

Sebastian Junger:

Well, I think in mobile. I mean, not just the Native Americans were, were all sort of mobile hunter gatherers, there were tribes that were much more settled, but when you have a, a monetary system, a capitalist society with a monetary system you can accumulate wealth, and it's very hard to accumulate wealth, if the wealth consists of dear skin, for example or clay pots or whatever. When your wealth consists of things it's very hard to accumulate, and particularly if you're a mobile society you could really only accumulate what you can carry. And so as soon as Western society, essentially soon as agriculture was invented, all of a sudden people could accumulate great storess of grain and we involve her and things like that and that constituted wealth but if you're a mobile hunter gatherer society essentially living off the land, everyone's everyone's equal, like, there's no way to accumulate and pass on to the generations huge amounts of wealth. Likewise land ownership but I mean if you, if you could own land, you could pass it on to the next generation and you have the beginnings of what would be a wealthy family and that's certainly not true in an economy that's based on even hardly on hunting and gathering.

 

Paul Kix:

And that, of course, wealth accumulates over generations and centuries and the end result of this is now, all these generations and centuries later, I just want to quote from something else we find in the book which is itself you quoting the Journal of Affective Disorder. And it concluded in 2012 that, “the economic and marketing forces of modern society have engineered an environment that maximizes consumption at the long term costs of wellbeing. In effect, humans have dragged the body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep deprived, competitive, inequitable and socially isolating environment with dire consequences.” So, first, as the journalist in you, you're reading that and you're like, are you like holy shit! This is exactly what I'm talking about!

 

Sebastian Junger:

Right, yeah. That right. I mean, I just kept, you know, in modern studies of psychological disorders, and in these sort of older texts from colonial society I just kept seeing the same thing pop up,

 

Paul Kix:

But then the thing that you do in the book that furthers your own argument is you start to talk about suicide rates in developed countries, which I found just absolutely fascinating as well. Would you care to share some more about that?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Well, generally as affluence goes up into society, the depression rate and the suicide rate tends to go up and the theory here is that, that depression and suicide are partly a function of isolation, socialized isolation, and then we evolved to live in groups specifically groups of 30, 40, 50 people typically all this will tell you. And in that kind of group inclusion where you need the group and the group needs you in order to survive, that kind of group inclusion seems to buffer people against their psychological demons. And I think if you look at America right now and if you were just a sort of neutral observer, so you would see a country, an incredibly affluent country, but also with a really startling income disparity between rich and poor, which is not a hallmark of most human societies throughout human history. You know, up until the agricultural revolution 2000 years ago so a huge economic disparity in an otherwise wealthy nation, you have families living in single family homes surrounded by often by families that they're not really connected to or don’t know very well. Again, that's a new. That's a new experience for human beings. And you have incredibly high rates of suicide I think they've jumped 30% in recent years. Incredibly high rates of depression. I think one.. I'm going by memory here, but I think something like one in four teenage girls and young women are on antidepressants. It's insane, right, particularly for different country that has it so good, right? But you have to finally ask yourself, is having a good really having a good, if you look at the statistics it's actually not. You know, we almost every week or two, we seem to have a rampage shooting in this country where someone turns a gun on their colleagues or just random strangers in the street, and a massive, massive crisis of an opioid addiction, so you even look at that you think this is not a healthy society. This is a society that is dangerously ill, in some sort of spiritual or psychological or psychic terms. And I, in my opinion, that's a reflection of, ironically, ever wealth and the alienation and the social isolation that, that, that wealth allows you to indulge in.

 

Paul Kix:

As you're digging up these modern statistics and poring over these historical accounts, what are they reaffirming about what you've seen anecdotally in your own life?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Well I you know I, in my experience and in my observations, it seems that people when they're in there in a functioning group they, they seem to get very happy, very fulfilled. And I think is one of the lures of sports teams, and certainly one of the floors of lures of natural disasters. It's such a funny thing that that I started to look into societal responses to natural disaster and calamity. So what happens, I mean we're sort of wired for this as soon as this hurricane or tornado flood or a war I mean I looked at the Blitz in London during World War II. What happens is people very instinctively sort of come together and offer their energy officers services to the group whatever the group needs. And in London, for example, during the Blitz, the English authorities were prepared for mass psychiatric casualties as a result of the almost nightly bombing raids by the German Air Force, that killed something like 30,000 English people, and the opposite happened. Admissions to psych ward went down during the Blitz. You know what amazed official said that we have, he said we have into the chronic neurotics of peacetime driving ambulances. So when, when it when it seems to be is that when there's a crisis, people suddenly are able to overlook their own psychological distress because they're needed by others and suddenly they're driving an ambulance or picking people out of the rubble or whatever it might be. And that as much as those circumstances are painful and terrible and tragic that there does seem to be a kind of relief from for many people from their psychological torment. There are a statistically from 1800s of European countries that were experiencing a drop in suicide rates. I know immediately after 9/11 for the next six months in New York City, there was a, a very steep drop in suicide rates, and eventually went back up. But there seems to be a societal response to disaster. That is, that includes an improvement in mental health,

 

Paul Kix:

The argument for the book starts to shift in the second half to some of… it starts with some of your own circumstances and your own anecdotes, can you describe how it is that you came to find yourself at age 31, I believe, in Sarajevo? 

 

Sebastian Junger:

Well, I wanted to learn how to be a war reporter. I was embarked on a project of writing about dangerous jobs. I had a job as a, as a climber for tree companies as an arborist. And I hurt myself pretty badly and I started writing about dangerous jobs. I wanted to be a writer and was sort of fumbling my way around that. And I went off to Sarajevo I got a backpack and put a sleeping bag in it, and some notebooks and the change of clothes and I think I got 5000 bucks and I went off to Sarajevo, which was a city under siege by desert forces. They are basically using the simulator for target practice for three years. They killed him loaded, one out of five people in that city, and everyone else basically stole or starved. And I went there, and there were a lot of other freelance journalists there and I learned from them ad I learned how to become a war reporter but I was also exposed to a very intense version of a community coming together to survive. And as tragic as the circumstances were there was something for a lot of people very gratifying. In the closeness that was required by those circumstances and having grown up in a, in a sort of affluent suburb, where there wasn't communal closeness at all, but maybe in a slightly romanticized way but what I saw in those circumstances was something that I'm very, very much wanted for myself.

 

Paul Kix:

You described in the book, just about the horrors of war, that there was this businessman you saw and it's this, you actually say in the book as well, like, this is one of the things that have stuck with me this whole time. And he is in a suit, if memory serves, and, and he's building a fire in this bombed-out office tower and he looks at you and you sort of look at him and nod and then you both go on your way so that's like, that's how bad, I mean, as you said one in five people are starving, human traffic, people being used as human shields. The war is horrendous. And yet as one of the survivors told you years later, “we were happier during the war and we laughed more.” So why was that?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Well, yeah 20 years later I went back Sarajevo, it’s a beautiful city, it has been largely rebuilt and I met this woman who had survived the war as a teenager to nearly lost her leg to a Sur tech round that hit her parents’ apartment. She was operated on without anesthesia to save the leg as you can imagine. Yeah. And she said, almost certainly that with embarrassment to sheepishly say, yeah, we missed a lot of us miss the war, and what they miss was the closeness was everyone sort of banding together to survive in all kinds of ways. And then after the war ended and the country became more stable and wealthier people sort of went on with their individual lives, but there was a loss, a net loss of happiness basically.

 

Paul Kix:

And that segues fairly well into something else that you bring up next, which is that you divide the book, if I may, among a couple of different ideas from that point on, it's sort of what it's like for soldiers to fight a war alongside their buddies and what it's like for them to return from war, so let's take that first idea first. What is it like for soldiers to fight a war, alongside their buddies?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Well, warfare is not just a mob of individuals fighting their own fight. It's a very closely coordinated endeavor. And that puts men, in the case of the platoon I was with, it was all men, in very, very close circumstances with each other,  sleeping shoulder to shoulder in the dirt and sharing their food and tasks and missions and that essentially it replicates our evolutionary past quite, quite closely. The guys I was with rap in a very remote area Korengal valley of eastern Afghanistan, and what they were experiencing is that just the sheer proximity to each other and the experience and their interalliance with each other, they were experiencing, our evolutionary past, and it made them very happy. I mean, it also, you know, there was a lot of things they missed obviously as young men that society has to offer so it's not as if it was some kind of utopia there, but…

 

Paul Kix:

Just real quickly because this is interesting, to dwell on that -- about what they loved about it even amid all of their deprivation. So, if I have this right, they didn't have a change of clothes, right? There were no girlfriends are women around, there weren't any cell phones, right? There was a lot that they didn't have there, right?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Yeah. They were filthy. I mean they couldn't bathe for a month at a time. They wore their combat fatigues until they sort of rotted off their bodies.  And there was no cooked foods, they were existing on MREs, a sort of miserable rations, basically. There was no TV, there's no internet, there was no entertainment of any sort, there were no women out there. There was nothing that young men want and or enjoy in this society, except combat, right? It was the one thing that young men seem to sort of gravitate towards, that there was plenty of. And it was each other. And so they wound up with this in this very closer and communal society, engaged in this very intense endeavor to sort of cat and mouse game with an enemy that really drives men into a very intimate closeness with each other because they need each other to survive. And that creates a bond that's so intoxicating that, that, that, a lot of young men will really miss combat when they come back home and this life is sort of slack. I mean, the stakes are very, very low. Nothing really matters, they're not closely connected to other… they’re not part of a group of young men that is engaged in the act of survival. And so it makes, you know, makes life sort of an interesting but I think the main thing here is that they existed in a small group, which again is what we evolved for, and that's replicated by the circumstances of combat. And as much as they wanted to get back to them for sort of modern world with its, you know, young women and its various pleasures, as much as they wanted to get back to those pleasures, once they had those things was there back in Italy where they're based, many of them that I talked to really missed the sort of stark reality of Restrepos – the name of the outpost -- they did not want to return to the US.

 

Paul Kix:

You found something interesting as a quick aside because this idea of longing for a brotherhood and this moment that is greater than your own individual life really, right? Because each of these guys is giving up… It's basically saying, my life is not more important than the Collective's. In fact I will do my best to make sure that my friends are safe, before I make sure that I myself am safe. So there is this deep, deep brotherhood among these guys. You also found that depression among people who returned from the Peace Corps, or depression among people who had survived the AIDS epidemic. These guys, these people were saying the same sorts of things, which is, it's almost like it's, it was there was in fact there was one survivor of AIDS who said I almost missed the plague, right? So, when they get back to this supposedly advanced economy and society and culture, and life returns to normal… What is it Sebastian that's behind this depression, this longing?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Yeah, I mean one statistic I found was that Peace Corps volunteers struggle with depression when they come home. They're going from a close communal society in a developing country where they spent two years. They're going from that to the great American suburb, and in human terms that's a brutal transition. It's much easier to deal with physical hardship than it is to deal with societal, social distance, and likewise for soldiers and then even one man who remembers the AIDS epidemic in New York City in the 80s, and there was a funeral every weekend and the gay community in New York was extremely close because they were all facing... They're all facing death, and that he missed, that he missed those days. I mean I talked to a woman who survived cancer. I mean I gave a talk, you know, I was on a book tour I think, I gave a talk and a young woman came up to me said she survived cancer and she spent, you know, weeks or months on a cancer war, but she survived she was one of the lucky ones. And she said, she looked at me really sadly, she/ said now I miss being sick. Because once she healed. She left the hospital she left the cancer Ward and they were... And she no longer had her community around there. So obviously that communal connection is as important if not more important than actual physical safety and comfort. 

 

Paul Kix:

So in the end, what does this say about the US and its integration of… because really, it's the US and its integration of soldiers as they return? That's probably the easiest way to study a group of people who face together some sort of singular conflict and face death, right? And they come back from that. What does, what does your argument reveal about the US and its integration of soldiers and where our soldiers well integrated. If not, here in the US?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Yeah, well, I mean again as an anthropologist, I just thought in the beginning of this project I thought that it doesn't make sense that trauma would be psychologically incapacitating to a large number of people for their entire lifetime, because if so we never would have survived our, our evolutionary past, which had to be extremely traumatic and difficult. So you know one lion attack into the camp and all of a sudden everyone's for the rest of their lives can't get up and hunt anymore and everyone dies, right? It just doesn't make sense, but that's basically how we're treating our soldiers. Oh, you have PTSD okay you got 100% disability for the rest of your life, you don't have to do anything. You're just a ward of the state, basically, and so you know what's going on there. I mean I think there's some institutional sloppiness. I think there's a certain amount of myth-making among the best of the soldiers. I think there's some real trauma. But again, the human animal certainly has to be wired to recover from trauma, I mean, I mean I think some people get stuck in a kind of loop. But for the most part if we, if we couldn't recover from trauma pretty quickly, we wouldn't be the species would be or so. But, but, but one component of it I think is that people are traumatized in groups, often soldiers are traumatized in groups. And until recently in human history, they would then recover in that same group, right? The Apache, the Comanche, the Iroquois guy, the Mongols and the Ghengis Khan, I mean whatever, like, the you know, the Roman cohorts. The norm for the human experience is whatever you go through, you're going through with other people and you're recovering from that with other people I mean that's the human norm and so now you have soldiers are going through something together, it is they're getting shipped home, and they're living probably in a single family home or by themselves surrounded by families and households that they're not connected to. They’re certainly not dependent on. They're basically struggling in isolation. And that's not what humans are meant to do so what they found is that there are much higher PTSD rates in wealthily… as wealth goes up, suicide depression go up, like, PTSD rates go up with wealth. I'm guessing that with that what's going on is that wealth allows for more individualistic lifestyles, which in turn do not foster mental health and recovering from trauma. It's not like, you know, people like American soldiers are less tough than other people. Israelis have a PTSD rate of 1%. American soldiers aren’t less tough than the Israeli, but they live in a very different type society and when there's far less collective PTSD, as a phenomenon, it really is unheard of among the Afghan and Iraqi soldiers and civilians who, you know, arguably go through much worse than American soldiers do.

 

Paul Kix:

And that's it's just stunning to me because, you know, you're arguing that the problems with the soldiers Isn't the soldiers, it's not even the war. It's us. It's the society that they're coming back to.

 

Sebastian Junger:

Yeah, I think that's right i think the, I think the critical thing… I mean, we can assume that humans were regularly traumatized in our evolutionary past. That trauma is not the exception it's the norm. So presumably we are able to recover from it and continue functioning. The problem, I think, is that it's hard to recover from things and certainly if you looked at depression and suicide rates in this country or in any modern society, it's hard to recover from life's stresses and traumas, in isolation. They did want to experiment with rats where they would traumatize a rat, and it keeping them in a cage by itself or keep it or put it back into the cage without the rest. Within a week, rats that were traumatized and put in a cage with other rats within a week they had recovered. And the ones that were put in isolation never recovered from the trauma. So essentially what we're doing to ourselves right now,

 

Paul Kix:

You write,” I know what coming back to America from a war zone is like because I've done it so many times. First there is a kind of shock at the level of comfort and influence that we enjoy. But that is followed by the dismal realization that we live in a society that is basically at war with itself. People speak with incredible contempt about the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign born the president or the entire US government.” I think you're dead on. So Sebastian, how do we try to address this?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Well, I mean there's different levels to the problem of lack of community, I think we…

first of all people live in homes in neighborhoods where they're not interdependent on their neighbors for their lives and there's not much you can… it’s a systemic problem, there's not much you can do about that, I mean, they get in their car and drive 50 miles to go to work. their economically and socially isolated from those around them. So, what do about that? I mean as soon as there's a disaster, all those people in that neighborhood will immediately band together to survive. I think they'll do it instinctively So, but I don't know, I honestly don't know how you change that without the disaster. The Amish, of course don't drive cars and they have very low rates of depression and suicide. So I'm guessing that if you want I mean, these are not acceptable solutions but if you're just asking for solutions, I would say that banning the car would be a pretty good start. That would force communality in Americans. There would be huge downsides to this, but he really if you're really just asking how do we fix thi,. I think banning the car would be not a bad start. Short of even that, I think national mandatory national service -- I don't mean the draft I mean, young people putting a year or two of their lives into this.

 

Paul Kix:

Yeah, it's interesting that you mentioned the Israelis because that's where my mind is going to. Go ahead, finish your thought.

 

Sebastian Junger:

Yeah, so, so, you know, at the sort of lower level, at the local level, we don't live in neighborhoods, but at the sort of macro level we live in a nation, right? So we can either have a nation that functions as such, or is sort of at war with itself and I think one way, one way to promote a sense of national unity, which I think would trickle down as it did during World War II… would trickle down even into the actual neighborhoods that we live in, that sense of national unity would come short of there being a war like World War II, I think would come from mandatory national service. Which has the advantage of putting all different classes of Americans into the same pot and stirring them up: black, white rich, poor, atheists, religious, or whatever. It stirred everybody up and, and I think that would go a great way in breaking down, who would go quite far in breaking down the partisan divisions that are clearly becoming kind of toxic in this country. But also I think we need to make it an active positive virtue, to think about and talk about this country in unified ways. And when politicians are able to rally their base by creating enemies within the country, you know, when you when you say that the Republicans or the Democrats, or this or that racial group are actually enemies of the country, not just people you're in disagreement with, but actually a threat to the welfare of the country. When you talk like that about fellow citizens, I don’t care who they are, you're basically rejecting the premise of the nation as a nation. You're saying we're not we're not the nation we actually are a group of people with conflicting interests, and only one group will survive and, and it will, it will survive because it's defeated the others. I mean that's the implication of using that kind of partisan rhetoric. And so I you know we have, we have, we have free speech in this country, thank God ,so you can't you can't prohibit speak partisan speech but you can sanction it. You can say to that very, very strongly that united Congress is really falling down on the job. I think they need a committee. Study Group and a committee that looks at the effect of partisan rhetoric on national unity and looks at it as a national security threat. And no other country is going to destroy this country. If our democracy is destroyed, it will be from within and it will be done with words, and that process, sadly I think is already started as a little bit.

 

Paul Kix:

Son in your mind is that a rebuke of say when President Trump calls the press the enemies of the people, right? Is that what you're talking about or what form with this.

 

Sebastian Junger:

Oh yeah, I mean, I didn't vote for President Trump. But I, and I think he's are many things that that sort of violates this idea of a unified nation. Yes, saying that, that the press are enemies of the country, you know, chanting locker up about Hillary Clinton and you know things like that. I wasn't a huge fan of Hillary's either but, but, and then she, she violated her own, you know, the basket as deplorables is pretty bad. Yeah, it's pretty, pretty unfortunate and that's enough of the left wing… I mea, I'm a Democrat, and so I view the left with as much cynicism as a few the right that you know frankly I think both are sort of insipid and horrible in their own way but, you know, Trump really exemplifies that approach which works, I mean that's the problem is they're rallying your base by creating enemies within the country. It works at the ballot box, right? I mean if it didn't work we wouldn't be talking about this. So, and I think Democrats are just as just as capable of doing that, I think, I think it's, I think that the republicans are the ones transgressing the most right now but as I like to say, you know, I think the pendulum swings back and forth, and I think the Democrats can commit those sins as well. I think they're really… Either way, committed by either side they're in a very real threat to this country,

 

Paul Kix:

This idea of sanctioning, I just want to sort of close it on this, in your estimation would it be like…. help me understand this. It's not necessarily curtailing free speech, it's not limiting it but what would it be in your estimation?

Sebastian Junger:

Well, for example the political party of a defending politicians should not. They don't need this remain silent when they're when their politician says something detrimental to the unity of this country. So for example when candidate Trump started to repeat this sort of like stupidity about President Obama was not even an American citizen. He was within his rights to say that, right? I mean, it's for this free speech in this country you can say whatever you want. But the GOP, he was a Republican candidate, Trump, the Republican candidate. The GOP, I think, morally and I would say, politically, really should not have stood by silently, they really should have come out and said we repudiate that sentiment. President Obama absolutely is a citizen of this country and no good will come from saying otherwise. Like, they, they should have said that and they did not,

 

Paul Kix:

There was something really remarkable.. Do you remember John McCain's concession speech in 2008, because I don't know if you do or not, but it was basically… There were people  who were starting to say that during that speech and, and, and he stopped it and said, no, no, you know, I've lost fair and square. And there's moments throughout the last closing months even leading up to that concession speech where he sort of realized that he should not be giving in to this hateful faction because it's far more harmful to the collective tribe then the smaller tribe of the GOP. It's interesting that we have, we've now reached a point where that is encouraged to a certain extent. t's been a couple of years, I want to end on this note, it's been a couple of years since your book is published and I'm wondering, do you, because it in some ways, it, it talks about some of the very things that have happened. Are you discouraged by the turn the nation is taken in the last couple of years and perhaps to ask that another way, is there anything that is encouraging to you about what has happened in the last couple of years as it reflects upon your own work?

 

Sebastian Junger:

Well, I think the political parties, particularly Republicans, have latched into sort of partisan interest rather than holding the welfare of the country foremost and that's a real threat to democracy, but our democracy has an immune system in some ways. I mean it has it has antibodies. And so what I would say is in this digital era where people are acting, and speaking, people -- very, very powerful people -- are speaking in deeply undemocratic ways. One of the things that's doing is promoting a reaction, which is entirely focused on the unity of the country, despite his political debate… I mean, there's nothing wrong with political difference, right? I mean, there's left wing and right wing thinking are firmly rooted in our, in our DNA. I mean, there's a lot of evidence that our political beliefs are about 650% determined by our personal genetics and about 50% is experience and exposure during their lifetimes. So if the, if our political belief is rooted in our genetics, that means that conservatism and liberalism adaptive and had survival  value in our evolution, so clearly we need both, right? So political arguments, no problem. But when you start talking about the political, the other side as an enemy of the state, then you have the beginnings of the end of democracy. So for example there's a group called With Honor, and it’s is a political action committee, and they will fund your campaign. If you're a veteran and running for government, running for Congress, they will fund your campaign regardless of what political party you're running under. And they might even fund opposing candidates, or in different parties running for the same office. As long as you take a sort of pledge of allegiance to non-partisanship and there's a whole list of things you sort of pledged to: that you will socialized with people from the other party, that you won’t engage in parts of rhetoric, etc., and so on. So this group With Honor will help you in your campaign as long as you agree to adhere to these sort of lofty words, which, which is what democracy is, and at its best to be. And that did not have to exist ten years ago because that kind of democratic thinking was not under treat. Now it is And so I so I'm exceedingly optimistic because I think the things that are happening in this country that are disturbing are actually producing reactions that will ultimately keep us safe from the, the ultimate negative outcome of what's going on.

 

Paul Kix:

Thank you, Sebastian for coming on. Tribe is just an amazing book. 

 

Sebastian Junger:

Thank you.

 

Paul Kix:

Now that's a great story is produced by Jeff Willett. Our music comes from him as well. If you'd like to know more about anything we discussed today, head over to Paulkix.com where I've posted notes from this episode. Also on Paul Kix calm is an overview of my latest book, the Saboteur, which is available wherever books are sold. If you liked this podcast please don't forget to rate and review it on iTunes or Stitcher, or wherever it is that you're listening to me right now. Have a good one.

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