Is tribalism an unalloyed “bad?” Do we need to be a part of a tribe? The standard of living nearly all of us enjoy today far surpasses that of royalty from only a few generations ago.

How should we understand the pitfalls of modernity and wealth, and what should we do about them? This episode was a powerful way to end the year on EconTalk, as host Russ Roberts welcomed bestselling author Sebastian Junger to talk bout his book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

Why do people get along better in times of crisis? Why do we crave movies and TV shows that depict crises and their resolution? Have you faced real crisis in your life? How did it change your outlook, and how did it change the way you interact with others?


1- Junger starts Tribe with what Roberts calls a “crazy bit of anthropology” from early America. What is this phenomenon he describes, and what’s so striking about it? What do you suppose the appeal to the way of life of “heathens in the wilderness” was?


2- In describing western societies’ experience in times of crisis, Junger asserts that we instinctively  put other people first at such times, for good evolutionary reasons. What does he suggest about human evolution to explain this, and to what extent are you convinced by his thesis?


3- Why does Junger believe PTSD is so much more prevalent in soldiers returning from combat today than in the past? Is saying, “Thank you for your service” cheap and/or condescending, as Roberts hesitantly suggests? (Roberts and I do it; do you?)


4- Do current trends in technology and urbanization make it more or less difficult for individuals to find their tribe? Is it possible to have a collective life in an urban setting? What about social media- does it build or destroy community? What’s been your experience?


5- What does Junger mean when he says, “freedom is a political contract”? He finds a threat to national security in political discourse today. What’s the nature of this threat, and what might be done to mitigate it? Is the threat as serious as Junger suggests? Explain.


Super nerd bonus question: To what extent is it possible to include our apparent need for human connection in individual utility functions? Roberts calls this absence “the weak spot of modern economics.” What can be done to fix it?