Sebastian Junger on Tribe
Dec 31 2018

Tribe-1.jpg Journalist and author Sebastian Junger talks about his book Tribe with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Junger explores the human need to be needed and the challenges facing many individuals in modern society who struggle to connect with others. His studies of communal connection include soldiers in a small combat unit and American Indian society in the nineteenth century.

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Explore audio transcript, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Dec 31 2018 at 2:58pm

On the mark: People seek meaning and often that comes in tribal form.

Off the mark: Of course Junger attacks Trump (arguing he tried to exclude Obama from the American tribe) and ignores Obama’s attacks on the American tribe (apologizing for American sins that are by no means unique to the United States, attacking the “bitter clingers”, arguing that America needs to be fundamentally changed, his wife Michelle saying she’s never been proud to be American).  Yes, Trump says dumb stuff all the time, but his tribally blinded critics rarely if ever put these comments in the relative context of others doing the same thing not necessarily in form (crude remarks on Twitter) but absolutely the same in function (attempting to exclude or undermine the tribe, which Obama did far more in frequency, intensity, and breadth).  The presidents immediately before Obama for at least half a century rarely ever attacked the American tribe or its members.  While individual politicians certainly have, those at the presidential level did a great job of avoiding it until Mr. Obama took the Oval Office.

Personally, as a Christian, I see the rise of tribalism in other places (social justice warriors battling dogmatically for perceived justice regarding the environment, inequality, immigration, etc.) being a function of the decline of religion in the West.  As people have left Christianity, they haven’t lost their desire to belong to a tribe, and thus attempt to fill the God-shaped hole in their hearts through joining these other tribes that are a misguided attempt in giving them meaning in their lives.

I also dispute Junger’s criticism of the Western practice of allowing young children to sleep on the other side of the house, and promoting co-sleeping, a practice supposedly hundreds of thousands of years long.  To Mr. Junger I would say the deterioration of society in the United States did not begin with a reduction in co-sleeping, but rather with the upending of other much more important social traditions in the 1960s.  The West, along with its sins universally practiced, has also given many great unique things to the world, including Magna Carta, the eradication of slavery, common law, and institutions which have allowed mass prosperity.  The West has done things differently in such a way that has allowed for great achievements of mankind, so criticizing a lack of co-sleeping per se as some sort of Western failure seems lacking in evidence.

I thoroughly enjoyed the podcast, but take issue with what in my view are some misapplications of the principles.

Dec 31 2018 at 6:38pm

Jordan is right about the Obamas speaking against the tribe, only I don’t see in the transcript where Junger said that. Either way, inclusion and exclusion from the tribe seems like an area where a lot more could be said.  The appeal of universal inclusion should be obvious to all but but excluding those who don’t conform also has benefits. Junger touched on conformity with the hoarder on the boat but it goes much deeper. Just a few examples:

– There are many examples of how religious conformity can strengthen a group and make them more successful. A study communes of the 1800’s found that the ones requiring religious conformity mostly lasted a long time and the non-religious failed very quickly. (Haidt). Another better known example is the trust and resulting success of Jewish traders (particularly in diamonds) in the past. Maybe that even continues.

– Not long ago, parenthood out of wedlock was shunned. There wasn’t much of it. Today, we do far more to not only make such parents feel accepted but to also support them. We now have an explosion in single parenthood and a crisis of poor outcomes which we have yet to figure out how to deal with successfully.

Jimi Fiedler
Jan 3 2019 at 7:24pm

Jordan, thank you for your eloquence on this subject. I was considering getting this book but changed my mind after Mr. Junger commented on the president. He tried to be “fair and balanced” by saying both sides do it, yet was unable to think of anything off the top of his head that HRC or BHO, nor anyone else on the left for that matter, had done. He stammered until Russ saved his bacon by mentioning the “deplorables” comment by HRC.  It seems I cannot hear an interview of someone on the left without their having to take a jab at President Trump. They wear blinders when it comes to wrongdoing by their own side.

Thank you Stuart for counterpoints as well.

Great interview, as usual, Russ.

Andreas Loeffler
Jan 6 2019 at 12:19pm

In the for-what-it-is-worth category, I find myself very much of the same mind as Jordan and reach for the delete button when I hear how our tribal issues began with Trump.  Because I feel a part of the EconTalk tribe, however, I listen through, or maybe just reply out loud to myself in the car.

Thanks as always for the challenging discussion.

Richard Fulmer
Dec 31 2018 at 3:57pm

The Internet allows people to easily connect with tribes of their choice.  So, one would think that whatever “tribal needs” we have would be better satisfied now than before.  The fact that they’re not raises the question of why.  Two possible answers: (1) Virtual tribes are not as satisfying as real, flesh and blood tribes, (2) People are being ejected from their virtual tribes for acts of “heresy,” however the tribes define it.

Jan 1 2019 at 8:23am

Very interesting, Gents. I’ll just add this related quote on the love of danger from Alfred de Vigney’s Servitude and Grandeur of Arms (1835):

“I’ve been trying to account to myself for the essence of that attraction which resides for us in the blade of a sword. It’s an irresistible pull which keeps us in army service in spite of ourselves, and makes us be for ever waiting for a crisis or a war. I don’t know if it isn’t true to say, or write, that there inheres in armies a passion which is peculiar to them and gives them their life; a passion that partakes neither of the love of glory nor of ambition, but is a sort of hand-to-hand combat against Destiny, a struggle which is the source of a thousand delights unknown to the rest of mankind, and whose secret victories are replete with magnificence: in brief — the love of danger!

“What is it that sustains the sailor on the sea, pray? — that consoles him for the tedium of being a man who sees only other men? He sails, and says goodbye to the land; goodbye to women’s smiles, goodbye to their love; goodbye to his chosen friends and to the gentle customs of his life; goodbye to his cherished old parents; goodbye to the natural beauties of the earth, to the trees, to the greensward, to the sweet-smelling flowers, to the shady cliffs and the melancholy woods thronged with wild and silent creatures; goodbye to the great cities, to the endless activity of the arts, to the sublime eruption of thought into the idleness of life, to the elegant, mysterious and passionate relationships of the great world: to all these he says goodbye — and sails. He sails to encounter three enemies: water, air, and man; and every moment of his life he will have to do battle with one of them. This magnificent tension frees him from tedium. He lives amidst continual victories; it’s a victory in itself to sail across the ocean and not be swallowed up in shipwreck; a victory to go where one chooses, and to plunge through in the teeth of contrary winds; a victory to run before the tempest, and to make it follow like a servant; a victory to sleep in the midst of it and establish there a working place. The sailor reclines on the ocean’s back with a regal feeling, like St Jerome on his lion, and rejoices in solitude, to which he is wedded. And it’s the love of danger which sustains him, which means he is never idle for a moment, that he’s conscious of a struggle and has a goal.”

Russ Roberts
Jan 3 2019 at 8:52pm

These quotes are magnificent. Thanks for sharing.

Ronald Simmons
Jan 1 2019 at 5:07pm

Can anybody point me at the original source? Thanks!

Russ Roberts: …. I heard this great proverb recently: I’m not going to do it well in English. It’s Chinese, evidently: ‘No food, one problem. Lots of food, many problems.’ And–


Russ Roberts
Jan 3 2019 at 8:56pm

I overheard it in the last few weeks. Evidently Julian Simon liked quote it. Bjorn Lomborg likes to quote it. And I’ve seen it called a Buddhist proverb. I have a feeling there isn’t an attributable source.

Jan 1 2019 at 5:56pm

Dear Mr. Roberts, I do not agree with Mr. Junger on many fronts.  He speaks about war experience as if he a part of platoon.  There is a big difference between being a reporter in a platoon and actually carrying a weapon, firing and killing.  You do not have anybody’s back!  You are just a another body to feed, a dead weight.

Why did you let him get away with so many ungrounded comments.  Such as: “Material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness” Really?  What about Poverty?  I know a lot of people who make those silly comments and they always have money and they are very happy indeed!

Mr. Junger wants us to believe that we are not animals.  We are some special evolutionary being.  Really?  What proof does he have that we have evolved into something else?  As animals we seek sociability.  And his assertion that people live in cities are somehow more lonely than people who do not.

In the end, capitalism is the best system in the world to find meaning, autonomy, groups, invest, and innovate.  It all depends on Freedom.  It is the only system that a customer can fire the CEO.  It is the only system that where if you to accomplish something you have to work, listen and respond to the customer.


Robert Hatem
Jan 2 2019 at 5:22am

Why does the author say the right level of tribalism is national?

If we decide our nation is our tribe, then we cannot treat members of our nation with disgust and contempt. Does that mean we can treat other nations with contempt since they’re outside our tribe?

Maybe we have tribalism without contempt.

Jan 2 2019 at 12:32pm

I wrote my MA thesis in 2008 on the colonial Indian captivity narratives that Junger also explored, and came to many of the same conclusions.
This investigation has profound implications for the core assumptions of economics, which the interviewer skirts near but has his own bias about refusing to deeply question capitalism, alas.  I’d submit that, along with the recognition that material wealth doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness (which is easily provable, Mike), one should also recognize that free markets and capitalism are NOT the same thing, and in some ways are at odds with each other.  When you look at these issues through that lens, we can start to examine ‘pursuit of happiness’, and the implicit goals of our political and economic systems, in the context of creating/ providing not just material surplus, but also encourage/ make it easier to create/ join/ maintain strong/ self-contained community nodes of 30 or 300 people, even in a city.
Kibbutzim (I lived/ volunteered) were and are successful without any contradiction to participating in a larger market/ global economy, yet provide a space of communal sharing, meaning, and support.  There are good reasons for their ‘decline’, which have more to do with the differential incentives & supports offered by the government, which have changed dramatically since the early 20th century, as well as the sense of being involved in something new where one could co-create a world (kibbutzim building much of Israeli life in the 1920s-70s rather than fit in to an existing difficult-to-change framework (80s to today).
Thus the models are there which would address the shortages of connection, affection, and meaning which Mr. Junger aptly diagnoses.  It certainly would be better if we moved away from cars and social media, and it might not take a radical disaster to do so– positive incentives, like keeping shabbat or being able to join Burning Man (where cars and the internet are, shall we say, de-prioritized), might be enough.  I’d like to see economists put together these insights, which are not necessarily controversial nor profound anymore, towards a better theory of ‘utility’: community and meaning as well as material sufficiency, at appropriate scales of individual, ‘platoon’ (small group of 30) and ‘company’ (300- village).  What to call it?

Steve Scanlan
Jan 2 2019 at 9:35pm

Book Bought!

Jan 2 2019 at 9:43pm

I really liked this episode. Great guest and a timely topic. I particularly appreciated the point that tribalism can be a strength or a weakness, productive or toxic, and it’s how we collective manage it that makes it so.

I agree with some of the other commenters re: Obama, Trump, et al. Intra-national tribalism is as old as the United States, and it may be that the ruin of our nation was baked in from the beginning. The old South and North roughly correspond to an electoral map of blue states vs red states today. I often wonder if it would have been better for the South to peacefully secede so we could have two separate nations less politically divided. It may also be the case 340 million is simply too many people to govern.

For what it’s worth, Obama was the first President under which I felt I was not welcome in my own country. This palpable hostility from the left increased with the rise of SJWism, Black Lives Matter, and Gamergate. In certain respects, Trumpism might be an antidote to the factionalism. A tribe that anyone can enter without consent of its members is no a tribe at all. Without borders, we are not a nation. I also don’t believe the original inquiry into Obama’s birthplace was wholly illegitimate. Being born in Hawaii around the time it became a state to a non-citizen parent, having dual citizenship, and being raised in other countries created a foggy situation to casual observers. Given citizenship for the presidency is a Constitutional requirement, it was rational, at first, to inquire. Once the birth certificate was produced, however, that should have ended the controversy.

andy mcgill
Jan 6 2019 at 7:11pm

Before the myth of the birtherism grows further from the truth, remember that Obama himself deliberately stoked the birtherism by not making public his whole birth certificate, obviously because he thought the controversy worked for Obama and against his opponents.  In fact the pro-Obama media carried the story many times more often than the anti-Obama media.

Obama finally released his whole birth certificate in April 2011 at the beginning of his re-election campaign, saying that finally it was too much of a distraction.

Jan 3 2019 at 7:54pm

Another interesting discussion. I do have a quibble about one point that Mr. Junger made. He said:

“We know. Psychologists will tell you it is our connection to others that makes people live longer, have more meaningful, happier lives. That is what a happy meaningful life is — a connection to others.”

As an introvert, this comment did not sit well. I am not a misanthrope by any means, but I am one who recharges their batteries by spending time alone. I don’t completely avoid social contact, but I know that when I spend a lot of time with others it tends to drain me. A happy, meaningful life to me is not one that is centered on connections to others. I find happiness and meaning through my work and other activities that make up my life. Yes, some of these activities involve helping others, but many are more focused on self-improvement.

I’m fully aware that there is a stigma attached to living a more solitary life. It is not as bad as it was 30 years ago, but it still exists. Extroverts who thrive in social settings and desire to be lovely and loved can’t seem to imagine someone that does not share this way of thinking. I’ve accepted this. But I would still prefer to live in a world where others, especially opinion makers like Mr. Junger, can appreciate that some of the more “tribal” attributes are not truly universal.

He quotes psychologists, but they are not infallible. It was not that long ago that the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorder that warranted a therapeutic cure. It was not until 1987 that this classification was completely removed from the DSM. I’m sure that many people at the time presented evolution-based arguments that made just as much sense as those put forward by Mr. Junger. But not every attribute of every human is perfectly tuned to survival of the species.

Just something to consider.

Jan 3 2019 at 8:47pm

Good comment.

It’s as though baked into human group evolution is a penchant for nagging and trolling introverts, even though they represent a large % of the species. Maybe in the future, it will be LTGBTQI!

Russ Roberts
Jan 3 2019 at 9:02pm


This is an excellent point and perspective. We human beings have much in common but we are also different. What speaks to many of us will never speak to all of us. So important to remember the importance of letting each of us flourish in our own ways.

Jan 4 2019 at 11:42am

This comment resonated with me as I had a similar thought in response to Mr. Junger’s claim that having a connection to others is paramount to happiness & meaning in life. I’d be really interested in hearing his response to the experience of introverts. I wonder whether he would respond that our wont to be alone is because we need time to think — to rank, index, and live through some scenarios in our own mind — and that this action is ultimately for the wider benefit of the tribe, and that the ultimate goal is still to be “loved and be lovely”.

Although I consider myself an introvert, I find that under the right conditions, I really do enjoy the company of other people. Usually this feeling occurs when I feel I’m providing something of value: a joke that elicited laughter, an idea that started a good conversation, instruction that helped someone understand how to use something, etc. I don’t know if i’d be able to fill this niche to the same extent were it not for my burning desire to stay home and read (for example) versus going out to party with friends. I contrast myself in this regard to my gregarious wife who loves to fill our schedule with dinners, get togethers, and other social events with not much time for reflection. She seems to be able to thrive off the interaction alone.

Jan 6 2019 at 6:55am

I am introvert and keep to myself for large part of the day. That does not mean I am isolated or do not cherish connection with other humans like family and friends. I may not strike friendship with every one but I have few intimate connections that I need for emotional and psychological welfare. Basic point to remember is that introvert-ism does not mean total isolation from society. I wonder how many introvert can live that kind of life.

I can clearly see that cult of introvertism is now getting shriller and toxic after reading this comment….Like every other ism.

Jay Stannard
Jan 4 2019 at 10:48am

Dr. Roberts says near the end that economics has pretty much nothing to say about tribalism.

Has he forgotten the interview with Dr. Laurence Iannaccone? Dr I. models religions, specifically high demand religions, as club goods. In addition to the Econtalk, there’s also a good interview of Dr. Iannaccone on the now defunct Research on Religion podcast. In that podcast he mentions other institutions like the environmental movement may work in the same way.

Since we seem to be doing a lot of group/tribalism/etc podcasts lately, perhaps finding an Eric Hoffer scholar would be a good addition. True Believer is a textbook on fanatacism; moreover Hoffer’s papers are housed at the Hoover Institution.

Jan 5 2019 at 8:37am

It would be interesting to hear him discuss gangs in this regard.

Andy McGill
Jan 5 2019 at 6:44pm

At around the 56:00 minute mark, the guest is clearly trying to attack President Trump for “deliberately trying to hurt America”.  The following conversation is very mixed and complex with side comments about side comments and it is unclear to me whether Professor Roberts was agreeing with about the President’s motives, or was condemning the guest’s attempt to go beyond disagreeing with President  Trump and instead ascribing to him evil motives.

Since this has been a critical issue of Econtalk this year, I would hope Professor Roberts would clarify what he meant in that part of the discussion.

Frankly, I wish Econtalk would stay away from discussing Trump as it is done 24/7 everywhere else and it usually results in terrible discussions and mountains of hypocrisy.

Don Crawford
Jan 8 2019 at 12:03pm

When I was a teenager I was enlisted as part of a group that worked to lay a brick patio for a man with MS who needed to be able to get out of his home in his wheelchair.  I remember the exhilaration of doing something meaningful and GOOD at the time that was so much stronger than the similar feeling of being on a softball team.  No question in my mind that working together for the tribe provides meaning to the participants.

Often AA groups will have a similar tribal identity with the external threat being the disease of alcoholism that lurks outside every meeting.  People in AA have a sense that they have been driven to be part of that tribe and they share responsibility for trying to protect the group against that threat.

The sense of threat from the out group is pretty essential for providing the cohesion necessary for the tribe to hold together. For example, the queer community holds together by reinforcing the sense that they are discriminated against by the larger society as a whole.  Remember right after 9/11 all the “United We Stand” bumper stickers?  Absent that threat, the group tends to fall apart.  Absent a threat to America from an enemy I can’t see myself strongly identifying with the American tribe.  Although that identification grows stronger when I go abroad.

Another aspect of the tribe that help with cohesion is a requirement for behavior that marks one as part of the group, whether it is growing a beard, wearing a head covering, getting a tatoo, shaving your head, or wearing the gang or team’s colors.  The modern spirit of tolerance for all things and all behaviors is works against tribal identity because you can’t see who is in the group and who is out.

What if you could get excused from taxes based on taking care of members of a tribe that are selected at random but to be a proportional mix of people reflecting the larger society?  To the extent members of your tribe need help, your tribe has to provide it, so that helping everyone in your tribe become self-sufficient would be a permanent solution, and your tribe could really prosper.   Maybe that tribe could be identified by family ties?

Ultimately, re-creating the meaning provided through tribal cohesion in a world without threats (threats of scarcity or threats of prejudice or threats of attack from enemies) would be quite difficult.


Al McCabe
Jan 8 2019 at 8:04pm

You make some good points.  But it seems like “monks” and “abbeys” and other retreats try to create a sense of tribe without an enemy.  Maybe even the Boy Scouts and 4-H too.  Athletic teams create a sense of community WITH threats and competition, but that seems healthy.

Gregory McIsaac
Jan 8 2019 at 11:19pm

Cohousing communities might be an example of an emergent behavior  that brings people together into living arrangements that have some elements of prehistoric tribal living.

My understanding is that each cohousing community is a unique experiment, with its own goals and rules.  They tend to be relatively small.  Adult membership is voluntary, so there is a tendency for like minded people to form these communities.

Greg McIsaac

Anders Torvik
Jan 9 2019 at 1:16am

Thanks for the podcast! A bit sceptical about all the assumptions. What humans did in pre-farming period is probably not something to bring back today. Lifeexpectancy, health, suffering, violence, threaths and early death from both harsh times, wartimes and early times are empirically poor. What are the evidence that these circumstances have upsides that we possibly can learn from?

John H Penfold
Jan 9 2019 at 7:09am

Very interesting.  Thanks.  Insights from top to bottom deriving from things we already know, but applied in ways I’d never thought about.

However, the nation is not and cannot be the tribe.  We saw that happen in the 30’s in Germany and Italy.  We  aren’t a nation.  We are  a marvelously heterogenous collection of nationalities, ethnic groups, races and cultures held together by ideas about human dignity and freedom and made prosperous by that freedom.

The state is not only too big and abstract to be a tribe it’s  a threat to those ideas.  Rather our tribes are Burkes platoons and they cut across all the larger heterogenous groups as every example he gave reinforced.  I couldn’t believe after such an insightful discussion he’d embrace such a dangerous notion.

Jan 10 2019 at 12:07pm

Very interesting podcast.  I did, however, find myself thinking about how the tribe concept is in conflict with some of the other themes/concepts that have been explored on EconTalk over the years.  When the guest was talking about how people rally together in times of crisis and will ostracize (or eject) a person that does something selfish or that isn’t perceived to be in the best interests of the group, I found myself thinking about one of the interviews with Mike Munger, when they talked about “price-gouging” during a humanitarian crisis.  Under the tribe concept, it makes sense that people who raise the prices dramatically during a crisis in reaction to a large increase in demand should get the flak from the media, and from those who have to pay the higher price.  On the flip side, from the economic perspective, prices should go up, which could potentially avoid a shortage by attracting more sellers to the area in that suffered the crisis.  This probably just highlights the fact that the “rational” answer for many issues does not always align with the way we’re going to emotionally react to many of those issues.

As a separate note – it’s pretty funny to see how an EconTalk episode about tribalism bring out tribalism diatribes in the Comments section.  Just goes to show how hard it is to objectively provide feedback – many people just want to use the anonymity of the Internet to say why their way of thinking is right, rather than processing new information that could help them grow/evolve their perspective.

Gregory McIsaac
Jan 12 2019 at 1:20pm

Russ Roberts:  “…But, of course, Hillary called Republicans ‘deplorable’…”


Actually, she said “…to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables…”

Not all Trump supporters were Republican and not all Republicans were Trump supporters.  She was endorsed by several Republicans.  And later in the same speech she encouraged empathy and understanding of the half of Trump supporters who she did not put  in a basket of deplorables.

She later expressed regret for making the basket as large as half.  The original statement was not politically smart, but it doesn’t seem to have been an expression of contempt for Republicans in general.  One of the few newspapers to endorse Trump was the Ku Klux Klan’s newspaper.  Trump himself rejected that endorsement, possibly indicating his agreement that his campaign enjoyed the support of some people espousing deplorable ideas.

Gregory McIsaac

Gregory McIsaac
Jan 14 2019 at 5:47pm

Perhaps this is a small example of how tribalism can unintentionally snowball based on incomplete and/or inaccurate human memories.  A memorable phrase can be taken out of context, and even reduced to one word, and that word used to inaccurately characterize the intention of the speaker in a way that reinforces tribal beliefs.

A possible antidote might be to refrain from characterizing the intentions of others based on short phrases or single words.

Greg McIsaac

Jerry Harris
Jan 22 2019 at 12:13pm

Thank you for posting this; I thought the same when I heard Russ imply he felt the comment was directed at all Republicans.

Jan 24 2019 at 9:40am

Having listened to Sebastian’s book (I believe) 3 times, I was glad to listen to your conversation.  Thank you.


Around the 1:02:20 mark of the show Russ stated:

“I want to challenge the economists out there listening–students and faculty–to think about what economics has to say about this. And I think the answer right now in this discipline is: Precisely nothing. We have these strange models where people get utility–which is a vague term to mean satisfaction or pleasure or delight or meaning–out of stuff. And I think if you are not careful, you might study that and think it’s right. It is what people–it’s true that people strive for things. They do like, they do generally take jobs that pay more than jobs that pay less. But, this human connection idea, and the need to have social connection, I think is the weak spot of economics. Adam Smith was really interested in it. And around 1759 it was a big part of our field. But it seems to have gone away. So, I hope some people think about that. In terms of what people care about, I think it belongs in our utility function; but I don’t think necessarily that’s the right way to deal with it.”


I’m wondering what your take is on what Marx’s writings on “alienation” might contribute to this discussion.


Your thoughts?




Richard J Lowery Jr
Jan 27 2019 at 7:56pm


Thank you for the thought provoking podcast. Just FYI:  There were a few comments in the podcast alluding to  Adam Smith’s moral philosophy.   For a helpful and concise discussion of this topic, please see Irving Kristol, “Adam Smith and the Spirit of Capitalism”, Neoconservatism, Simon & Schuster, 1995. (article was originally published in 1976)

Jan 30 2019 at 4:33pm

Dear Mr. Lowery:

I was unable to find the book you referenced by Irving Kristol: ”
“Adam Smith and the Spirit of Capitalism.”  Would you know where I might find a copy?  Thanks.  -John

Comments are closed.


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TimePodcast Episode Highlights

Intro. [Recording date: December 7, 2018.]

Russ Roberts: My guest is journalist and author Sebastian Junger.... His latest book, from 2016, is Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, which is the subject of today's conversation.... Now, it's fitting--this is probably going to be the last episode of 2018, and might end up being the first one of 2019--we'll see. But, I took a rough look and counted--I probably read 25 or 26 books this year for EconTalk, and as you may have noticed, many of them and many of my guests have been a little bit different than in years past, going outside of economics, at least narrowly defined. Tribe is a pretty powerful way to end this year. It's a very short book: it's 136 pages, and the print is pretty big and the margins are pretty large, also. But it really is an extraordinary book, and I recommend it to everybody. Part of me just wants to read the book out loud. That wouldn't be so interesting. But you'll see why, because it brings together many, many themes that we've been talking about and I've been thinking about this year as part of EconTalk. So, let's get to it. Sebastian, your book starts with a crazy bit of anthropology. When America was settled by white Europeans in the 17th century, going forward into the 19th century, a lot of folks found the life of American Indians appealing; and for a lot of reasons found themselves in American Indian society, in tribes. And decided to stay there, and not go back to so-called civilization. But, very few if any American Indians found civilization appealing. Describe that phenomenon and what you've learned from it.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I mean, it really rankled a conservative Christian society that what they called the 'heathens in the wilderness'--sort of Satan's territory--the heathen society seemed to be more appealing to young people from Christian culture than their own culture was. And we know that because people like Benjamin Franklin and other writers and thinkers of the time would comment on it, with some real consternation: 'Why is it,' basically, they'd ask, 'why is it that our young people keep absconding from the settlements along the frontier and running off to join the savages?' as they called them. And the reverse never happens. But more interesting in some ways, even people who are captured along the frontier--my family dates back, one line of it dates back to the Pennsylvania frontier--and their little cabin in the woods was attacked by Indians in the woods and their two teenage boys were killed on their doorstep. The mother got away with a 4-year old and an infant. Escaped into a cornfield. So my family is also from that era; and that kind of situation. Often, on these Indian raids, what they were doing was trying to get captives to replace casualties of war. So, the tribal societies were constantly looking for young people, particularly young women, to sort of replenish their ranks. And, what's really interesting is that when these people are captured, often as teenagers, boys and girls both, within a year or so, if they are not re-captured, within a year or so they are often so established in their adopted society, their adopted tribe, that they don't want to be repatriated back to white society, to European society. They want to stay with their tribe--the people that captured them, right? and often killed the rest of their family. And, that was really disturbing to thinkers at the time. And, one of the explanations--I think it was Benjamin Franklin who put this forward--one of the explanations was that the basic egalitarian nature of tribal society was what was appealing. Of course, European society is not at all egalitarian.

Russ Roberts: And, of course, we have to not just talk about the egalitarian nature--it was dramatically, or even then, in in the, I would say, late 1700s, early 1800s, the lifestyle of Americans was, I think, my understanding of it was it was better than many Europeans' standard of living; but certainly way above in terms of material wellbeing the standard of living of the American Indian. And yet, they prefer it.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I mean, the truth is that material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. Doesn't lead to a sense of living a meaningful life. People want autonomy. They want respect. And they want good relations with their community. I mean, those things impart an incredible sense of wellbeing. And if you are living in a--of course, not all the native tribes were sort of at the hunter/gatherer level. But they were pre-, sort of pre-technology in the sense that we mean it. I mean, they had no metal work. They had very, very limited agriculture. They lived generally in close-knit small communities where everyone depended on each other. And there were no--because there was no real accumulation of wealth, there were not hierarchical rankings in society. There was no one who was more, who had more authority than anyone else, who could impose their will. Leadership wasn't imposed. It was won by the leader. And that, that really makes people feel good.


Russ Roberts: You also talk about--and I found this really thought-provoking--this one, brief set of remarks you make at the end of the introduction of the book. You say,

Humans don't mind hardship. In fact they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.

And certainly in that, "primitive society," less-developed society, everybody was pretty necessary.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. And you can see that in modern Western societies that experience a crisis, a catastrophe. All of a sudden, the hurricane, the tornado, the 9-11 attack, whatever it may be: a few things almost always seem to happen. People very, very quickly come together and share their resources. They offer cooperation and help to the group. They depend on the group for their own survival. And they, they start, very instinctively, they start putting other people first. They stop thinking about themselves. And there's a very good evolutionary reason for that. Humans are a social--we are social primates. Humans do not survive alone in nature. They die. They die almost immediately. The reason that we survive, and the reason in fact we thrive, is because we work in groups where the individual contributes to the common good and the group ensures the safety of the individual. And that basic reciprocal arrangement has allowed humans to thrive for hundreds of thousands of years. So, in a crisis, whatever the crisis may be, in a crisis--and I would argue that hunter, the hunter/gatherer economy is an ongoing low-level crisis of survival--in a crisis, people--and I've seen this in combat with soldiers--people put others first because their survival depends on the good will of others. There is no survival without the group. And so, all of a sudden, everyone is thinking in group terms. And you can see that in crisis after crisis in this country: 9/11 in New York, white, black, rich, poor--all those distinctions fell away in Manhattan right after 9/11. As a result, the suicide rate went down; after 9/11, the violent crime rate went down. People really stuck together, and they stopped making those ghastly distinctions of affluence and race that are such a curse on our society today.

Russ Roberts: For some reason, I am reminded of Les Mis [Les Misérables], both the book and the musical. The characters of the Thénardiers, who is the "Master of the House," in that song--the comic relief of that. But he's also the nasty, grasping person who always looks for a chance to exploit an opportunity. And, we don't think of him as clever. He's despicable. And it's just interesting to me how those norms that you're talking about of putting the group first--and I would add, after reading your book--you didn't mention it, but taking a risk, physical risks, to enhance the group's security or the safety of individual members. Which economists might call irrational if they are bad at defining what rational really is; and I think that's a big problem for our profession. You know, acting in a self-interested way is often equated with rationality. And there are many times in life, as I like to point out, that doing what's self-interested is wrong. It might be better for you in the short run; it might even be better for you in the long run. But, it's immoral in certain settings--not all; many not. But I think ability to recognize that, especially in a crisis, and do what's "right" is--it's deeply fulfilling.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I think there's two--in evolutionary terms, two things going on here. It clearly is adaptive to think in group terms because your survival depends on the group. And the worse the circumstances, the more your survival depends on the group. And, as a result, the more pro-social the behaviors are. The worse things are, the better people act. But, there's another adaptive response, which is self-interest. Okay? So, if things are okay--if, you know, if the enemy is not attacking; if there's no drought; if there's plenty of food; if everything is fine, then, in evolutionary terms it's adaptive--your need for the group subsides a little bit--it's adaptive to attend to your own interests, your own needs; and all of a sudden, you've invented the bow and arrow. And all of a sudden you've invented the iPhone, whatever. Having the bandwidth and the safety and the space for people to sort of drill deep down into an idea--a religious idea, a philosophical idea, a technological idea--clearly also benefits the human race. So, what you have in our species is this constant toggling back and forth between group interest--selflessness--and individual interest. And individual autonomy. And so, when things are bad, you are way better off investing in the group and forgetting about yourself. When things are good, in some ways you are better off spending that time investing in yourself; and then it toggles back again when things get bad. And so I think in this, in modern society--in a traditional, small-scale tribal society, in the natural world, that toggling back and forth happened continually. There was a dynamic tension between the two that had people winding up more or less in the middle. The problem with modern society is that we have, for most of the time, for most people, solved the direct physical threats to our survival. So, what you have is people--and again, it's adaptive: we're wired for this--attending to their own needs and interests. But not--but almost never getting dragged back into the sort of idea of group concern that is part of our human heritage. And, the irony is that when people are part of a group and doing something essential to a group, it gives an incredible sense of wellbeing. And so what we're losing--and we have this great autonomy from the group and from the needs of survival; and that has a lot to say for it. But, what we lose is this basic human experience of, 'Wow, I'm needed. And I would do anything for these people. These are my people. I would do anything for them.' That--ironically, that feels very, very good. When you deprive people of the chance and the necessity of acting heroically and generously for other people, you deprive them of a fundamental part of what it means to be human, what it means to have a meaningful life; and a fundamental way of feeling content and happy in your life.


Russ Roberts: Yeah. I would phrase it as we have a longing to belong. And that--it's adaptive in crisis. Obviously, that longing. But it's still there even when there's not a crisis. And we ignore that, I think, at our peril. I think we'll talk later about the political implications of this, because I think there are quite a few. So, it's not just that in crisis people get along better. They have more meaningful lives. Which is ironic. I heard this great proverb recently: I'm not going to do it well in English. It's Chinese, evidently: 'No food, one problem. Lots of food, many problems.' And--

Sebastian Junger: [?]

Russ Roberts: that's our Western dilemma, I think, to some extent. I think we have lots of problems. That's the good news. But we don't have one problem. When you have one problem and it's food, it's--life's very hard. But it has a, a vividness, a crisis and challenge and hardship, to bring a vividness that we've lost. And of course we seek it in many ways, outside of our normal schedule of life, because we miss it.

Sebastian Junger: Oh, absolutely. And you can see that sort of grouping behavior in sports fans and in neighborhood communities, neighborhood watch groups. You know, whatever. I mean, people instinctively do it all the time. I mean, they long for it. And, you know, if you go to a coffee shop, the seats are not pointed towards the wall--that's where you can have your privacy. They are all pointed towards the middle. Because people go out partly to encounter other people and have even a fleeting sense of, 'Oh, okay, we are here right now. I don't know who these people are, but we're all having coffee in the same place. And maybe I'll meet someone nice.' You know, whatever. Like, that's just wired into us. And I've got to say, like, the most connected and, um, part of a group that I've ever felt was in the most dangerous circumstances I've ever been in, which was in combat. In war. I wasn't a soldier. I was a journalist. And I was with an American platoon of combat infantry in a remote outpost in Eastern Afghanistan called Restrepo, and, the closeness, both emotional and physical, in that little outpost--it was, you know, 20-odd men and we were in combat constantly--you were never further than a few feet from another human being. Ever. Right? So, it was this wonderful feeling of closeness and belonging and being needed, and needing, and all that stuff, and all that good human stuff. But, one thing I longed for in those circumstances was just to be alone for a while. Like, 'Just give me half an hour, guys.' But, of course, to be alone in that environment means you were in mortal danger. So, that's not--you just can't go for a nice walk up the mountainside.


Russ Roberts: Yeah. We want to be careful not to romanticize some of the nature of primitive crisis situations. We had Ran Abramitzky on the program talking about kibbutz life. And kibbutz life, in its heyday--less so now, it's not its heyday, and most of the kibbutzim that were purely egalitarian have stopped doing that. There are a few left. They tend to be religious rather than the secular, early days of the kibbutz movement. But, I think it was Ran's grandmother who said, after she left the kibbutz, when people would say, 'Where are you going?' and she has a modern life, when she'd say, 'None of your business. I stopped telling people that a long time ago'--

Sebastian Junger: Right. Right--

Russ Roberts: And there is an impressiveness[?]. The other example I would suggest is, you know, small-town life has that feeling of connection. The movie It's a Wonderful Life captures that beautifully. Most of us don't want to live there, or struggle to want to live there. And, small-town life can be oppressive. People know all your business. You don't have privacy. It can be very hard for certain types of people, and hard for lots of types of people.

Sebastian Junger: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. Let's not romanticize group life. My point is that, as a species, as social primates, our evolutionary heritage is that we evolved to live in small groups of 30, 40 individuals, exactly the size of a chimpanzee troop, by the way. And that we are clearly adapted to feel at our most safe and arguably most meaningful and content in the close proximity of others. That doesn't mean there isn't stresses that come with that. Of course there are. I would argue that there's even greater stresses that come with being isolated. And, we know that as affluence rises in a society, the suicide rate tends to go up; the depression rate tends to go up; PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] rates tend to go up; child abuse rates tend to go up; addiction rates tend to go up. And all these things that are bedeviling America right now, they all are partly a function of affluence. And affluence brings great things, too. So, the point is, you cannot actually have it all. That's the point. You have to be cognizant of what you are giving up and getting for whatever level, whatever kind of life in society that you're in.

Russ Roberts: You find it interesting how hard it is, though, for most people to make a different choice? So, the kibbutz movement is dying out. It's not growing in appeal as people become more isolated. I rode in on the Metro this morning: everyone is looking at their phones--no one's making eye contact, God forbid. It's frightening if someone makes eye contact with you. People aren't moving back to small towns. They are staying in them somewhat because rents are high in cities that don't allow more building to take place. But, I find it fascinating, but 'How're you going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree?' is the modern dilemma. With a few exceptions. The Amish, which you mention in your book, being an exception. Most people find the seductiveness of that more isolated, more lonely life very appealing.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I mean, I think it's possible to have a collective life in an urban setting. There's an urban/rural split which is different from a community isolation split. And so, my first marriage, which ended a few years ago, my wife Daniela was from Bulgaria. And she grew up under Communism. And the Wall fell when she was 17, something like that. And, you know, she lived in a communist apartment block outside of Sofia. I mean, in some ways the most sort of, like, impersonal, modern, sort of ghastly environment--except that it was socially very close. So, all the families knew each other. All the doors were open. The kids could run in and out of people's apartments. They--multiple generations living in one or two rooms in an apartment. I mean really close collective living. It had its stresses, but also was an incredibly rich and comforting and secure way for a child to grow up. There's always an adult around. There's always people to play with. There's an incredible sense of community. And children really thrive on that.


Russ Roberts: Yeah. Let's turn to that. It reminds me of a friend of mine who, a family of four, had a two-bedroom apartment; the parents said, 'I remember the two boys shared a room. And they would go out to the suburbs to visit their friends; and they would come back'--the boys were, I think about 8 or 9 years, 10 years old at that point, and they would say they felt sorry for them, the people out in the suburbs. 'Why?' 'Well, the kids have to sleep by themselves.' In your book, you mention that in passing to some extent; but it's more than just in passing that we raise children in a way--in the West--that's very different from our evolutionary heritage.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. You take a baby chimpanzee and put it in a cage by itself without its mother, and it will go crazy pretty quickly. I mean, it will develop obsessive, very, very anguished behaviors, really, really quickly. The young are vulnerable. They are vulnerable to predators. And they instinctively know that. So, a young child--I mean, that's how[?] I grew up--and a young child is put in a room by itself in a dark room at night. It knows--it's going to get eaten. It doesn't know that it's not in the jungle. It has no idea that it's in a suburb. The child is a year old, or whatever; and all of its wiring is telling it, like, scream till help comes. Because you are really vulnerable right now. What I tell people is that you really should--you should act with your children, in terms of sleeping arrangements and closeness and proximity and all of that--act with your children at home as you would if you were camping in the wilderness. Like, if you were camping in the wilderness, you wouldn't put your child in another tent--

Russ Roberts: 30 feet away--

Sebastian Junger: Right? No. The child would be with you in the tent. And if you tried to put the kid in another tent, it would be unhappy. And you guys wouldn't get any sleep, either, because you'd be worried. Right? And just the fact that you live in a safe--a physically safe environment--doesn't mean it's emotionally safe, and doesn't mean that that separation is, in evolutionary terms that it's psychologically sound. So, people generally sleep in groups. The bigger the group you are with, the safer you are. I mean, I've gone camping in the wilderness alone. And you don't sleep very well.

Russ Roberts: It's not fun.

Sebastian Junger: It's not fun. Every crack of every twig, you wake up. I sleep great in the middle of a platoon in combat on a combat operation. No problem, right? I've got 30 well-armed guys around me. No problem. The physical threat is way less disturbing. The real physical threat is way less disturbing in a group than the imaginary threat is disturbing when you are by yourself in the mountains of New Hampshire.

Russ Roberts: Well, there's a lot of advice you get as a parent when you have your first kid. And then, when you continue to have kids, people still give you advice. And, sleeping is a big, big issue for most parents, how to deal with it. There's not a lot of good scientific evidence on it. There's not a lot of good randomized control trials. People run their own, and they are of course flawed by what the kid ate that night and whether there's lightning, or whatever. But, I thought that the most interesting casual piece of evidence that you provide in the book, and I'd never thought about it before, is infants' and children's' attachment to a stuffed animal. Which I always--I hadn't really thought about. It's like, 'They like stuffed animals. They like animals. Oh, what's weird about that? They like animals.' Maybe it's [?].

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I mean, Anglo-, Northern European, English society is really the only society puts children, shuts children in dark rooms by themselves to try to go to sleep. And that started pretty recently, a couple of hundred years ago. This isn't in my book, but I heard this since my book came out: It was the gin epidemic in London the 1700s, where people were going to bed drunk and sort of rolling onto their children and crushing them, that got doctors saying, 'Look, you should put the kid in a cradle. You should put the kid in another room.' To keep them safe. Because the doctors couldn't get people to stop drinking. So, the truth is: If you are not overweight, if you are not on sleeping pills, if you are not drunk, if you don't smoke cigarettes, if you are clear-minded and healthy, you will not crush your child in bed. Right? If you did, it's a wonder that we would have, that the human species would have survived. Right? Like, here we are. Clearly, co-sleeping couldn't have been a mortal threat to the young. And there's a wonderful website called Evolutionary Parenting that talks about our evolutionary origins and how do we incorporate norms that have been around for hundreds of thousands of years in terms of parenting--how to incorporate those norms in a healthy way into a modern society where, whatever: we have to deal with the world we live in. And, it's an amazing website, and they talk a lot about [?] being and all that stuff.


Russ Roberts: Well, let's come to what seems to be radically different topic, and yet you tied them together in the book. Which is, PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The horror that people can go through after a crisis, certainly after war. And I just--I just read a fascinating book called, I think it's called D-Day Through German Eyes--

Sebastian Junger: Oh, wow--

Russ Roberts: and it's a set of 1st-person accounts of the landings on D-Day from the German side. Which nobody pays any attention to--

Sebastian Junger: of course--

Russ Roberts: it's a loss[?] for starters: German soldiers don't have a lot of emotional sympathy in the last 60 years. But there are a set of very beautifully interesting coincidences. These interviews got done in the 1950s--ten years after D-Day--by a journalist who had interviewed them in 1944, right before D-Day.

Sebastian Junger: Wow.

Russ Roberts: So, 10 years later, this man comes back and--I have to say, I have a little bit of skepticism about it, because their accounts are so poetic and powerful, I just, I wonder how--

Sebastian Junger: You want to hear the tape.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. I'd like to hear the tape. But, put that to the side. It is--any account of war has, in the modern era and in the past as a matter, has horrific accounts of things that human beings can do to each other with weapons of death. And this is particularly powerful because it's extremely vivid. It's detailed and graphic. And, it's not from the people you are sympathetic to. And it's still unbearable. A lot of these were--I'm just going to mention in passing, because we are on the topic, but it's, it ties into the episode we did with your Yoram Hazony about Nationalism versus a more universal approach. One of the stranger parts of this, of these accounts, is that many of the soldiers were surprised that the allies were angry at them and fought with such ferocity. Because they saw themselves, they had been propagandized so effectively to believe they were defending Europe; and that they were part of something good. They didn't see the films that we saw.

Sebastian Junger: Right--

Russ Roberts: They didn't--in fact, they talk about an unimaginable thing. In all places, some of the prisoners get sent to Idaho. And they are talking about how incredibly well-treated they are, and how good the food is, and how guilty they feel because they know people back in Berlin, their relatives, are eating rats. And, he said, it was great until they showed the films. And they said, the interviewer said, 'What films?' 'The liberation of Auschwitz.' And when they saw what was going on with the concentration camps--first of all, they said all the American guards stopped talking in them. They wouldn't--they wouldn't--they weren't cruel. They just stopped talking to them. Stopped being friendly and treating them normally. And they had an inner debate about whether they were propagandized, whether they were effectively Photoshopped, because they were so horrific. And a couple of them said, 'No, the SS [Schutzstaffel, or Waffen-SS]'--that's really--so that's really powerful. And if you had lived through that, on either side--and you can watch the poor man's version, you can watch the first 5 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, and get the most trivial flavor of what this about. And you could understand: That would be very horrible. You can understand why survivors of concentration camps and Auschwitz and of the Gulag in the Soviet Union never talk about it. Because they can't. It's a classic thing in Jewish circles that children of Holocaust survivors never hear one thing about what they went through. So we all understand that. And yet, your book--sorry for the long intro--your book gives a very different take on why someone coming back from a horrible experience like that struggles to reintegrate into normal life. So, talk about that.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah, well, first of all, understand that our evolutionary past must have been filled with trauma and horror for individuals. And, if trauma was psychologically incapacitating for a majority of people for most of their lives, the human race would have died out. Right? You need someone around--after the lion attacks the camp, someone is going to have to go hunting the next day. And if they are in bed with PTSD, everyone is going to starve. So, clearly, as a species, we are wired to adapt to trauma pretty quickly, to recover from it pretty quickly. Trauma usually happens to groups of people. I mean, throughout human history. Because people live in groups. So, when trauma happens, it's often to a group. But then, recovery from trauma often happens in that same group. And what seems to be--like, if you take a rat and you traumatize it by exposing it to a cat in a cage, and you save it before it's killed; you take that rat and you put it into a cage by itself, the trauma reaction that it has will never go away. If you take a rat and expose it to a cat and save it before it's killed and put it into a cage with other rats, within a week, the behavior of the traumatized rat is indistinguishable from the other rats. So, I think what's happening in modern society is that people are going to war in a group; they are getting traumatized in a group--and, keep in mind, only about 10% of the U.S. military is exposed to combat. So, we're talking about that 10%. They are exposed to trauma in a group. And then they come back. And all of a sudden they are dispersed to their communities, which often are not very cohesive. And they are filled with people that didn't experience combat. And, you know, Auschwitz survivors don't talk about Auschwitz: They talk about it with other people who were in Auschwitz. Right? So, soldiers are coming back to a group of people who didn't go through what they went through. So, of course they are not going to talk about it. And, the thing is--I get this, too--I've lost some very, very close friends who I was in the war with. And I don't like to talk about war because you talk about it for more than 3 minutes, you are going to end up talking about people who love who died. And that, and no one likes to cry in public. And that's what happens, if you have a real conversation about war. So, they avoid it except when they are with each other. And, my--the woman I'm married to right now is the youngest of 12. And her father was 55 when she was born; and he fought his way through the entire, all of WWII, from North Africa, Sicily, Italy, D-Day on the South Coast of France--most of it on foot. He was combat infantry lieutenant and a captain. Wrote just a ghastly number of letters to parents. I mean, that was probably the most traumatic thing for him in the war, was writing those letters. You know, young men under his command--

Russ Roberts: kids--

Sebastian Junger: Kids who were killed. Yeah. Young men under his command. He was in his late 20s, and the boys he was commanding were 17. And he would have to write their parents. I can't even begin to imagine any loss--his entire platoon, over and over again, because they kept getting chewed up. And they'd replace them with new guys; and those guys would get killed. And on they went. And we ran out of--basically, the Germans ran out of tanks and men before we did. That's why we won the war. At any rate: The whole damn thing right into Austria. And he came back to Wisconsin, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and all his 6 brothers had all also served; and they all lived within a few blocks of him. And I'm sure every man in that neighborhood had served. And even the people that didn't serve, the families, they all--there were enormous sacrifices that were made by the public during that terrible time. And, you know, of course he was radically altered by those experiences. But he wasn't incapacitated. Right? He was the Mayor of Kenosha; and he ran a bank. You know? And I think he, in terms of honor and all that stuff--I don't know. He passed away--I never had a chance to meet him. But, I'm guessing that he saw his service to the community as the Mayor and in running this small community bank, he saw that as just as important as his service overseas fighting the Germans. I'm guessing that in terms of sort of honor and dignity and service to the country, he didn't draw--they are very different activities. But in terms of what the nation needs: Thank you for your service. I mean, we should be thanking school teachers for their service, in some ways. You know, I mean, it takes everybody to run this thing. So, I'm all for saying, 'Thank you for your service,' but what I would say is let's understand that it's not just soldiers. There's an awful lot of good people who are working very, very hard to keep this thing going.

Russ Roberts: Yeah; you talk a number of times in the book about that phrase, 'Thank you for your service,' which has a--it's supposed to add dignity, I think, to the status of a veteran; and in some ways it's unbelievably condescending. I say it a lot. I say it when I see soldiers; I say it when I see policemen, policewomen. But, it's cheap talk, to a large extent, for obvious reasons.


Russ Roberts: What I want to focus on, though, in this conversation about returning veterans is--there are two things, it seems to me. One is, the society you return to as a, say, an America, is an individual, somewhat isolated--depending on your choices, but it can be very isolated and lonely. And the way I would describe it is potentially emotionally thin. A part of what we're talking about is missing--that camaraderie, the combination of doing something with people for a cause, something that's higher than yourself; depending on others, the way you talked about earlier about the need to be needed; and the vividness of everyday life. And, to come from that--even if you didn't have to endure horrible trauma--to come from that to the comfort of a life that most of us get to enjoy, which I really love--my life--it must be very powerfully difficult.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I mean, one of the things about combat is that even the smallest details can have catastrophically large meanings. So, if you tie your shoelaces or not, it's not really a big deal in society. If you trip on your shoelaces in combat, you might get killed or the guy next to you might get killed. So, for example, at night: Often the attacks would come early in the morning, and so you'd--we were up on this rocky hilltop, and if you got overrun, you didn't want to be running down the hill in your bare feet: it was pretty rugged terrain. But you also didn't want to be trying to tie and untie your shoes for 5 minutes during a dawn attack on the outpost, right? So, what I did, and think a lot of other guys did this, too, is that you would tie your boots but super-loose, so that the laces weren't trailing on the ground where you could dive your feet into them in a moment. Right? And be up and running, even if you were in your underwear. You could be up and running in seconds. That's just your shoelaces, right? And every single thing, every article that you own, everything you do in combat, potentially can make a difference in whether you survive or not. And that gives existence. And the things of existence: they literally, the physical world around you gives it an almost sacred glow. Because it all has to do with your survival. And it gives you a, almost a kind of Zen appreciation for--the moment-by-moment, the circumstances of your existence.

Russ Roberts: The mundane isn't mundane any more.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. Exactly.

Russ Roberts: Nothing is mundane.

Sebastian Junger: So these supposedly trivial objects suddenly are sort of glowing with importance. Everything you do, you think about and examine, ideally. And your connections to other people are your ticket to survival. And to be connected to other people, you have to act well, too. Right? You can't be selfish, cowardly, and a son-of-a-bitch. Right? You'll get kicked--like, whatever. You will not be part of the platoon. Right. So, those sort of norms of like, 'We're up against it. Everyone better act well. We all need each other.' That--it's a very ancient human adaptation. And when people go through it, it makes them feel very, very good. And they really miss it when they have to give it up. And so people experience, soldiers experience, coming back, as this: Oh, suddenly you have great sort of plentitude of material, of possessions; and they are safe and all these [?] nice things. But yet there's poverty of human connection. And that's the thing that actually makes, determines whether people feel good or not. And that's the thing that they give up. And there's a wonderful movie called The Best Years of Our Lives, about veterans returning from WWII--

Russ Roberts: Fredric March, I think--

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. Amazing. Amazing. And, so they land, these guys get to know each other in the transport plane; and they land at the airfield; and they decide before they disperse to their homes, are they going to get a taxi? And they share a taxi. And they are on their way. And of course they pass a bar. And like, 'Hey, let's just stop and have a drink?' They have a drink. They immediately get into a bar fight. They get back--so, their families don't know they are coming, right? There's no Facebook; there's no cellphones. There's nothing. Like, these guys would come home unannounced, and come walking up their street. Right? Which probably was interesting sometimes. And complicated. But, that's how it worked. So, then they drop one guy off. And then they get to the second guy. And they pull up in front of his house, and he doesn't want to get out of the car. And he goes, 'Can we just have one more drink?' And his buddies are like, 'Listen, your family is in there. They don't even know you're in the country.' Like, 'You have to go home and start your life.' And he takes a deep breath, grabs his bag, takes a deep breath and says, 'I feel like I'm about to hit a beach.' I feel like I'm about to land under machine gun fire to take an enemy position: that's what going home felt like to that guy. So, this is not a modern problem. I would say it goes back thousands and thousands of years.


Russ Roberts: You talk very poetically in the book about how people adapt to those crisis environments, despite their challenges. During the Blitz in London, during the bombing of civilians in the City of London, the British government was afraid that people were going to get hysterical, if they were bombed every night. Very reasonable thought, it seems to me. And yet, as you point out, people very quickly adapted to spending evenings in the Tube--in the subways of London, and makeshift bomb shelters, and other things. And, people died every day. Not in the numbers that people [?], but people died every day.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. They lost 30,000 civilians. So, 9/11 times ten. Right? And over the course of 6 months. And, yeah, the government was worried about mass psychiatric casualties. But, on the contrary: Admissions to the psych wards went down during the Blitz. And then back up when the Blitz stopped. Right? What it seems to be is that if you give people an urgent task, it gives them the opportunity to stop thinking about themselves. And when you do that, you cut short this sort of awful feedback loop of something that is called anxious rumination: If you give people enough--troubled people. I mean, people who have things on their mind. If you give them enough space to think too much, they think themselves into a circle, and they get more and more anxious and depressed. And so what a crisis does is pops them back into the present moment. And again, that sort of Zen idea, like, you are in the present moment right now. Be here right now. It pops them back into that, and they can forget about their personal troubles. One British official said in amazement, 'We have the chronic neurotics of peacetime driving ambulances.' That's what happens.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. There's a wonderful book called My Brother's Keeper, which is about American pilots who went to Israel to fly the early planes of the Israeli air force in 1948. Which were horrific. Horrible, horrible planes. I think they got them from like, Romania. I can't remember right now. They were literally dangerous, the planes. And they were primitive; and they didn't work well. And they didn't have supplies. And, these were people who had just been in a war 3 years before. And when I was reading the book--and there's a really nice documentary made about these soldiers, by Nancy Spielberg; the book's written by Jeff Weiss and his brother, I think it's Craig. But in the interview it says, 'Why did you do this?' Now they are 60-, 70-, 80-year-old men. And their answer is, they say things like, 'Well, I have a Jewish identity. I wanted to do something for the Jewish people.' But, part of it was: They missed it. They missed the risking their lives. It's hard for us to understand it.

Sebastian Junger: There's a great author, a veteran, combat veteran, marine veteran, named Elliot Ackerman. And he's coming out with a book in a few months that I just read. And he goes back to--you know, he was in Iraq, and Afghanistan. And then he got out of the service. And so then there's a civil war in Syria, and he goes back--not to fight it but to cover it as a journalist.

Russ Roberts: Yeah; journalists have this challenge, too.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. So he described the war in the Middle East as--he described going back there and his interest in the Syrian Civil War--he described it as the interest one has in an ex-girlfriend that dumped you. Like, 'How's she doing now? I want to just check up and see: Does she have a new boyfriend?' Like, 'What's going on with her?' Right. That was him going back to Syria, or to Southern Turkey actually, to just sniff around and see what it felt like again.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, we did an episode with Paul Robinson on the norms that emerge in these types of stressful situations. And, economists I think are prone to talk about the self-interested part, and the urge to, say, get a disproportionate share of a limited amount of food in a crisis. That gets punished very quickly. And, you talk in the book about how--and you need the police to take care of people during the Blitz. They don't need a handbook. People very quickly figure out what's right or wrong, and the group enforces it very quickly.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I mean, serving yourself at the expense of the group is a mortal sin. And in human society I think it was quite often punished with death. You know, you are hoarding drinking water and crackers on the life raft while everyone is dying--like, you are probably going to go overboard. Right? No one needs someone like that. And it's really interesting, because these--you know, these human norms aren't called upon very often in modern society, because technology and the Industrial Revolution has solved a lot of those immediate survival problems. But, once in a while there's a crisis. And even when there isn't a crisis, Hollywood--I mean, one of the things we do is we love to watch movies about communities where people are, communities that are facing a crisis. And we want to see this story told over and over again, of people, ordinary people, acting well in a crisis. We love that story. It's like a bedtime story for adults. Right? And I did some research--it's not in the book, but I did some research about this, because I felt that Hollywood movies are maybe our version of folklore, of tribal myths: It's what we have, as a mythology. And so I thought, 'Okay, let's look at the roles in a disaster movie,' whether it's the Martians invading or an earthquake or whatever it is--whatever Hollywood cooks up. What are the roles that people take on in these films? Because I felt like the scripted roles would actually reflect cultural values. And so, I found a company that does, like, market research, and they show films and get people to respond to films, and they tell the ending--whatever; it's Hollywood business. So, I talked to them about these sort of classic roles in these films. And, you know, of course, they will advise the studios to change characters or change endings depending on what people want. Well, what people want is--and this is going to be very un-PC [un-Politically Correct]--but this is what the audiences say they want. They want, if there's a physical threat to be countered, they want a man to do that. Right? A trustworthy, upright, good, courageous man.

Russ Roberts: Jamie Stewart[? Jimmy Stewart?]. Tom Hanks.

Sebastian Junger: Right. They want a woman, associated with him, who is sort of dealing with the group. Right? They are not literally with a machine gun facing death, whatever. But they are dealing with the group dynamics, and tending to the wounded. Which is equally important. Right? So there is no hierarchy of importance here. But one very common character in this is the selfish guy--

Russ Roberts: Right. It's the Thenardiers, yeah: that's the Master of the House--

Sebastian Junger: There is always a guy. And they always end up falling into the pit of lava or getting eaten by this sabre-tooth tiger or whatever. Like, that guy, the guy who puts himself before the community, always dies. And then there's a fourth--there's a final fourth character, very common, is the husband who didn't act well: is on the outs with his wife, his wife and kids; and he's been cast out for bad behavior. And then the crisis comes, and he comes home and saves the family and saves the day and she takes him back. And that's like the eternal[?] human story that we all love to hear told.

Russ Roberts: It's Star Wars. Harrison Ford in the first Star Wars--the selfish guy who doesn't do his duty, is irresponsible. But he comes back.

Sebastian Junger: He comes back.

Russ Roberts: And that's the right thing.

Sebastian Junger: Right.


Russ Roberts: So, let's try to put this in a bigger perspective and think about some of the issues that we've been thinking about in this program about modernity, the Enlightenment, progress. You know, we had John Gray on here talking about there isn't any progress: We have material progress but socially we are struggling--as your book really is, when he says struggling, it's the nature of human beings. He would argue that we've made no progress on those fronts. And you are suggesting, actually, we're kind of falling behind a little bit. I want to read, rather a really beautiful summary of the way I've started to think about these issues, for better or for worse, having been a tremendous optimist for most of my economics career. Now it's a combination of life, age, 2018 , I don't know--reading too many of the wrong books. Anyway, here's what you say:

There's no use arguing that modern society isn't a kind of paradise. The vast majority of us don't, personally, have to grow or kill our own food, build our own dwellings or defend ourselves from wild animals and enemies. In one day we can travel a thousand miles by pushing our foot down on a gas pedal or around the world by booking a seat on an airplane. When we are in pain we have narcotics that dull it out of existence, and when we are depressed we have pills that change the chemistry of our brains. We understand an enormous amount about the universe, from subatomic particles to our own bodies to galaxy clusters, and we use that knowledge to make life even better and easier for ourselves. The poorest people in modern society enjoy a level of physical comfort that was unimaginable a thousand years ago, and the wealthiest people literally live the way gods were imagined to have.

And yet.

And that "And yet" really just blew me away. Because that's the way I've started to think about things. We've got, as listeners know, I think it's totally misunderstood what's happening to the standard of living to the average person in America in the last 50 years. I think it's gotten a lot better. Recently I had an essay on that on Medium--we'll put a link up to it--it's not just the rich; it's the average person and poor people. I think life is just better for almost everybody--not everybody but almost everybody. And yet. And I think what your book reminds us is that meaning doesn't come from stuff--which we all know. I mean, it's a cliché of clichés. We know that. And yet we strive for stuff; and we over-strive for stuff. We spend too much time on stuff. And, you don't talk about this, but I think one way to think about your book is: We want to be in a tribe. We need to be in a tribe. And, I think there's a temptation in modern political discourse to decry tribalism. I have. But it's naive to think, 'We just need to get people to stop feeling that way because it's unhealthy.' It's who we are. And it's where we get, to a large extent, our sense of meaning; and it's certainly where we get--sometimes we get our sense of meaning from hating people who aren't in our tribe. And that's just extremely unhealthy, to pretend that's just something we're going to--I don't know, change face: 'We just need to regulate Facebook so this tribalism thing'. We have some serious issues. I don't know if talking about it helps, but we have some serious issues.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. But I think technology and mass communication have made connection and division easier. You can post something on Facebook and you are reaching thousands of people instantaneously. That's new in human history. Until recently, the number of people you could persuade to your viewpoint was limited to the number of people who could hear you when you were shouting. Right? And those would be the people within your immediate community that you grew up with, some of whom you're related to, who you share an inherent interest with of survival and that you identify with. And there's them; and then there's outsiders. And it's all very, very simple. But with a modern, connected world, living in a nation of--340 million, is it? Something like that? You know, that's an experiment that's never been tried before. And so when you say that tribalism is hurting America--and I agree--the problem--yes and no. The problem is how you define the tribe. If we're going to bother living in a nation of 340 million, we have to define our tribe as that nation. Because we're not going to get rid of the tribal impulse. It's served us well; it's allowed us to survive. It has arguably distasteful or even toxic outcomes. It also has incredibly admirable and moving and generous outcomes--in equal measure. It's not going anywhere. So, if we're going to be tribal, we need to think of this nation as our tribe, or we should just stop this crazy experiment: It's been great but we should get out, and divide up into the groups that we consider our tribe, whatever that may be. I think that's a horrible, sad idea. And I think we can do it, but one of the things that has to happen is that we have an expectation--I mean, there's free speech in this country. It's one of our most precious liberties. You cannot take that away. But that doesn't mean that speech can't be censured--that it can't be criticized and condemned. And, when we have people who are incredibly powerful people, people we have given control of our very lives and society to, we have said, 'Take care of this problem. Society needs to be run by somebody. You've been chosen to do it. Take care of us.' When you give people that kind of power, it should not come with license to say whatever you want about other people in the tribe. And when politicians and media leaders talk about other Americans--demographic groups, political rivals, whatever it may be--not with criticism: criticism's great, right? Dislike? No problem. You don't have to like anybody. I don't care. But when you talk about those people with disgust and contempt, what you are really doing is you are communicating, 'You know what? Not only do I disagree with this person; they shouldn't even be in the group.' Like, 'They shouldn't even be in the country.' And when you're doing that--I mean, for example, when candidate Trump talked about Barack Obama as not being a U.S. citizen--I mean, just think about that. We're a country at war; we have hundreds of thousands of soldiers overseas, or tens of thousands of soldiers overseas. And someone is telling these guys and young women that their Commander in Chief actually is a foreign agent who is not an American citizen--I mean, what the hell? Right? He's free to do that because we have this wonderful thing called free speech. But the Republican Party is not free to stay silent. The Republican Party, if you sort of think in terms of national security, really must step forward and say, 'We do not espouse that notion. President Obama is an American citizen and we respect,' etc., etc. And likewise with the Democrats--the Democrats have their own [?] too. So my problem isn't so much with that kind of speech. It's that the political institutions remain silent while things like that are said. And that is a threat to our national security.


Russ Roberts: Yeah, you said it really well in the book. You said, basically--and I certainly see it on both sides. President Trump is a flamboyant figure. But, of course, Hillary called Republicans 'deplorable.' It's just not a word you should use for your political--

Sebastian Junger: Right. There's the contempt. [?]--

Russ Roberts: [?] the contempt. And, it's a high standard, in everyday life--we are judgmental human creatures. But we should demand a better standard of our elected officials. And our journalists, as well. One of the things that disturbs me about journalism today is that journalists have just given up any pretense of objectivity; and indulge in that precise emotion: Contempt. And that's just--it's not healthy. But you point out in the book: what you're really accusing people of, frequently, in those settings is treason. Not, 'I don't like your public policy. I don't think it's good for America.' But, 'You're bad for the country.' That's crazy.

Sebastian Junger: Right. Not only bad for the country: you actually are intending to harm the country.

Russ Roberts: Correct. That's your point. That's your point. I never thought of it that way; and it's exactly what's bad, I think one of the things that's really unhealthy about--there's a lot of things unhealthy about our political discourse. But the idea that you are trying to harm--that you are deliberately--not, 'Well, your policy wouldn't work out, I don't think,' but rather, 'Oh: you are deliberately trying to harm the country.'

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. I mean every society, and we are no exception--every society has to, first and foremost, take care of two things. It has to physically defend itself from enemies if there are any; and it has to keep itself together. It has to remain cohesive. If it doesn't remain cohesive, there's nothing to defend. And if there's no defense, no amount of cohesion in the world will save you from an enemy. So, you have to do both things. And if you don't, nothing else is really worth doing. And, the United States is militarily so powerful that I would argue the only threat to what we sometimes call our freedom--right--in fact, I don't think American soldiers are defending our freedom. They are defending some other very important things. Freedom is something that we gave ourselves. That's not something that can be[?] taken away. Freedom is a political contract. Al Qaeda cannot destroy our freedom, because it's self-given. Only we can do that. And the only way we can do that is through words. No one's going to come shooting their way into America and take our freedom away. Take our political process away, our liberty, our democracy away. No one's going to do that. It's not possible to do it with bullets. But it's very easy to do with words. In that sense, I feel that that kind of awful rhetoric, which, as you say, both sides indulge in, is actually a far greater security threat to this country than Al Qaeda and ISIS and all those other people.


Russ Roberts: So, a related issue, which doesn't seem related but I think it is, and it's strange that I think right before I read your book I wrote an essay about rampage killing and shooting sprees that seem to be on the rise in America. And, you wrote

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.

My essay was called "The Lonely Man with a Gun." It's a man. It's almost always a man. It's a lonely man. And after the--they go to interview the neighbors: 'Oh, yeah, he kept to himself.' So it's a person who has been disconnected. There have always been people who have been disconnected. There have always been people with guns. The idea of training a gun on a bunch of strangers and killing them for--I think for notoriety. For a feeling that you matter. Listeners know I love this quote from Adam Smith: 'Man naturally desires not only to be loved but to be lovely.' By that he meant we need to matter to other people. If we don't, we're going to find a way to achieve it. I'd love it if we didn't cover these tragedies and didn't name the names of the people who did these things. That's not going to happen in a free society. So, I think we've got to think about why these happen and what needs to change. Or just accept it. Because, I think it's part and parcel of our freedom, that we allow people to live by themselves. We let people live on the street. We don't put our noses into other people's lives. It's a great thing. It's also a not so good thing--that we let people be on their own, and miserable, lonely. We say, 'It's up to you. Your problem.'

Sebastian Junger: One of the interesting things about the mass shooting phenomenon--I did a sort of limited analysis of it--there's never been a mass shooting--I mean, there's gang shootings, all kinds of ghastly stuff. But there's never been a mass shooting, that kind of intentionally nihilistic act where you kill as many people as possible before you kill yourself or get arrested--there's never been a mass shooting in a high crime urban neighborhood. They almost always happen in otherwise safe, low-crime, Christian neighborhoods--I mean, sort of like traditional America Christian, white Christian middle class towns that have very low crime. And, it's possible--I mean, yeah, correlation isn't causation--but it's possible: If you look at the breakdown, a sudden escalation in mass shootings in, I think it was the late 1980s; and then all of a sudden they tripled in 2006, right around when Facebook hit. And social media sort of took over. And social media--it connect people; it also disconnects people. And I think ultimately the net result is we should be calling it 'antisocial media.' I think it's actually terrible for human relations. But, regardless: the timing is interesting, but the rate of mass killings has just kept doubling in the last 20 years. And I would say the rate of alienation and loss of community has also done so. But it seems to be a phenomenon of comfort and affluence and served[?] otherwise safe little towns.

Russ Roberts: I want to challenge the economists out there listening--students and faculty--to think about what economics has to say about this. And I think the answer right now in this discipline is: Precisely nothing. We have these strange models where people get utility--which is a vague term to mean satisfaction or pleasure or delight or meaning--out of stuff. And I think if you are not careful, you might study that and think it's right. It is what people--it's true that people strive for things. They do like, they do generally take jobs that pay more than jobs that pay less. But, this human connection idea, and the need to have social connection, I think is the weak spot of economics. Adam Smith was really interested in it. And around 1759 it was a big part of our field. But it seems to have gone away. So, I hope some people think about that. In terms of what people care about, I think it belongs in our utility function; but I don't think necessarily that's the right way to deal with it.

Sebastian Junger: If I can jump in on that--

Russ Roberts: Yeah--

Sebastian Junger: I think I have something that might be interesting to people. So, in an environment of scarcity, which of course is the environment that the human race spent most of its history in: That, sort of compulsively acquiring, hoarding behavior or free sources makes perfect sense. Likewise, a taste for sugar--eating as much sweet stuff, as much fat--all those things make perfect sense in an environment where there's not often a lot of food, not often a lot of resources. It makes perfect sense. Like: While it's there, consume as much as you can because you don't know when you are going to eat again. Right? It's adaptive. The problem with modern society, I think, in that sense, is that we have these adaptive behaviors that are tuned to a low-resource, high-activity, high-intensity environment. We're attuned to that. Our metabolisms, as it were, are attuned to that. And now we have a surplus of everything. So, we are wiring, we'll have us continue to acquire and consume and acquire and consume. But what we're not adapted to, is a situation where there's infinite resources, and we don't know how to stop. And so, I just want to say that that's sort of like utilitarian principle of get as much stuff as you can. It has great evolutionary roots. Like, it got us here. But we are not a slave to our wiring. Right? We have to understand that's a trait that was adaptive and useful. And we have to know when it must be overridden. Or, it's actually going to start damaging us. And that's true for material goods, for sort of commercial, culture, sort of material world; it's also true for food. And at the end of the day, if that's where your energy's going, it's probably not going towards other people. And we know--psychologists will tell you--it's our connection to others that makes people live longer, have more meaningful, happier lives. Like that is what a happy, meaningful life is, is connection to others.


Russ Roberts: Well, listeners know that I keep the Jewish Sabbath--which is one way to insulate yourself from over-gadgeting and connecting via very sterile--I think somewhat sterile--modes of connection, social media. So I take a 25 hour break once a week. Maybe it should be longer. But be live in a time--and religion historically has played some role in tamping down and tempering both the self-interested urge and the material, the pursuit of material things. And yet, we live in a time when religion is, I think, very much on the wane. Waning and getting less persuasive to most people. And I think about David Foster Wallace's fabulous quote that 'Everyone worships.' And he says, 'There's no atheism'--this is David Foster Wallace; this offends atheists, of course. But I think what he is saying is correct: We all worship something. It may not be God. It may be beauty. It may be art. It may be your looks. It may be money. It may be various forms of addiction that we find ourselves in. We are sitting here complaining, to some extent, about the flaws of modern Western society. No one's in charge of it, of Western society. It has emerged through the Enlightenment, through our creativity, through free market capitalism, most of which I think has been phenomenal in eliminating poverty. And at the same time we've had trouble maintaining our connection to something larger than ourselves traditionally. Which was religion. And we've looked for other things. Sports is one of them. You mentioned it earlier. People are into sports in a way that, 50 years ago, people would have said, 'Well, that's not healthy. That's weird.' I mean, sports weren't a thing, really, in 19[?], fandom in sports. So, you raise the question: What's next for us? Is it--other than observing this, which is fascinating to me: Is there anything we can do about it? Anything positive we can say?

Sebastian Junger: I mean, to return, wholesale, modern society to a more communal, small-scale, connected society, you'd have to turn off the Internet and ban the car, basically. And, essentially, it would be a natural disaster that wiped out the grid. And just, and the grid stayed wiped out. And eventually we'd blunder our way back to--a more human and connected, and much poorer way of living. And so no one--

Russ Roberts: shorter life spans. Lots of negatives to be--that's the challenge here. It's the other side of 'and yet.' We'd have a lot of meaning in our life, but a lot of suffering.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah, right. Exactly. Like I said: You don't get to have it all. No one gets to have it all. But I think what we can do as a modern, wealthy society is understand the dangers of modernity and wealth. And work very hard to counteract them. So, for example, I think is--I read a story in Japan that older women--Japan is pretty hard on the elderly, I think--and older women were shoplifting so they could be put in prison and have the company of other older women. Right? That's an awful solution to a problem. Right? But, also in Japan, what they started--I think it's Japan--what they started doing is putting middle schools and nursery schools next to old folks' homes. And that the people in the old folks' homes would go visit the schools, and vice versa. And that the sort of cross-pollination--of course, you know, young children, they don't make any distinctions of race, or age, or anything. It's just how you treat them. And that's wonderful. And so that the sort of cross-pollination of youthful and older energy was great for both groups, right? So, I think society is starting to come up with solutions, small-scale solutions, that actually work, where people--there are now I think in San Francisco and New York there are buildings you can buy into, you can get a bedroom in a building that's basically a huge collective space with collective living areas and your own bedroom. And you are basically buying into a concrete village. It's basically a village of 30 or 40 people which is a typical human group in our evolutionary past. It's a village of 30 or 40 people with common areas but your own privacy. And so, people are starting to--developers are actually starting to develop buildings and develop projects that attend to that basic human need of [?] privacy and communality. You do have to balance them. No one wants to sleep in a barracks for the rest of their lives with a bunch of other people, right? But, having those common spaces where you can interact with other people--not just people that you know really well. Those are friends. People that you just kind of recognize. Like, 'Hey, how're you doing? What's your name again? Oh, yeah. Nice to see you.' That kind of connection with someone that you know is part of your group but you don't know them really well--like, people love that. That's why people go to coffee shops. I mean, everyone can make coffee at home. But they don't. They pay $5 for a coffee at Starbucks. It's partly so they can be in a small, a brief, small community.


Russ Roberts: One thing we haven't talked about, except very much in passing, is marriage. It's hard to believe--it's tempting to disbelieve this but I think it's a true fact, as opposed to a fake fact--in 2014, there are fewer households with two earners than in 1980. And that's shocking, because women's labor force participation has increased dramatically. So, you'd think there would be a lot more households with two people working. It's not a big difference. It's down from 33% to 31%. But that it's down at all is shocking. The reason it's down is because it's true that married women are much more likely to work than they did before; but there are much fewer marriages. So, very few--a lot more single people, people--a lot more divorce. A lot more people not getting married to start with. A lot more people not re-marrying. So those village structures and urban life for young people is very different today than it was 30 and 40 years ago when people married at a younger age, started. And, you know, marriage is kind of dying as an institution in some--it's not dead, but it's definitely also waning. As religion is. Which is just another way that we would get human contact: coming home to a spouse is another way to feel connected to humanity. Sometimes it's not a good marriage, so you are not so happy to see the spouse, maybe. But there's someone there in your life. And I really--your point about people who, your acquaintances--again, Adam Smith talks a lot about the different ways we interact with intimate friends, somewhat friends, people we recognize, strangers. And that's all part of a rich social life.

Sebastian Junger: Yeah. Right. And understand that 'community' also includes people you might not even like; but you understand that, because you need the community, you need that person. And that's just a fact of life. That you may not like the blacksmith, but every village needs a blacksmith. And once in a while you are going to have to go to him to get your axe fixed, right? And so, that experience of community--there's overlap, but it's different from sort of gradations of friendship. And so what humans--what humans are adapted to, is to be part of a community that also includes people they don't particularly like. But we all understand, 'Without this community, I'm screwed.' And so, it keeps people invested in good, basically in good, pro-social behavior.


Russ Roberts: One of my hopes, one of my sources of optimism, is the way that culture and free markets--they give us what we want. And if we want to live with other people and interact with other people, we'll find ways of doing that, whether it's that developer develops a building that's a little bit different or where we choose to live. Do you see any examples of that in terms of cultural norms emerging that recognize the importance of our tribal past, that help us connect to other people, that things changing that might be a little source of optimism?

Sebastian Junger: I see it all over the place. I think the whole mirage of social media is that if we followed it, it will lead to a sort of blissful community we can all be part of. I think it's a mirage and a lie. But we clearly are, at least thought we were pursuing something healthy. You know, you see in advertising--I mean, I don't have a TV [television] but when I see advertising on TV, like: You know, there's groups of people are having a good time, and being, like, nice with each other, and like drinking a beer, and over, around a barbecue. I mean, it's just this constant re-enacting of like ancient, ancient human behaviors of communal life. And it is clearly--that's, you know, you show that, and whatever it is people are eating or drinking while they are having a good communal time, people will go buy it. Because they want to be part of that experience. So, I--we see it all the time. And I think we see it because it's so lacking in a substantive form in our society. So, all that it takes--you just have to go the next step and say, 'Oh. This is actually something--I don't need Coca Cola to give me this.' Right? I don't need Facebook to give me this. I can get this. Right? But I just have to know it's something that I want. And I have to deliberately set out to try to create it. To try to make it happen. We're not going to completely restructure modern society back to some sort of small-scale tribal norm. It's not happening. We'd have to give up too much stuff. Too much good stuff. But, I think within our society, if we are at least aware of what's paining us--of what we're missing, of what we're lacking, what we're longing for--at least understand it, bring it to our conscious mind, we can seize on these opportunities where the chance presents itself to act like that, to experience that, and hold on to it. And develop it. And I think if we do that, I think it will lead, like these developers with these buildings, like the genius in Japan as putting a nursery school next to the old folks' [?]--I mean, these things will happen. And as they become norms in our society, our society will change incrementally. I really think that, not only can it happen, I think it must happen. Because clearly our society is in an enormous amount of pain. We look at the addiction rates and murder rates and suicide rates, and mental health. I mean, you just look at that list: We are in agony as a society. And we need to save ourselves. And we are only going to do that by connecting to each other.