|Imagine David Brooks living in a one-room apartment for 400 people, on communally owned land. Via Wikipedia.|
In 18th-century America, colonial society and Native American society sat side by side. The former was buddingly commercial; the latter was communal and tribal. As time went by, the settlers from Europe noticed something: No Indians were defecting to join colonial society, but many whites were defecting to live in the Native American one.Well, not quite "defecting"; most of the cases on both sides appear to have begun as captivities of war. When a peace was signed or an exchange negotiated, liberated white hostages would refuse to come home, or run back to their Indian families if they were forced home, whereas Indian prisoners would abandon their French or English hosts to go back to their tribes at the first opportunity. All this according to James Axtell's essay on "The White Indians of North America" (William and Mary Quarterly 32/1, January 1975), which appears to have been Sebastian Junger's principal source for the opening chapter of his Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, released by Hachette on May 24, though Brooks writes,
I first read about this history several months ago in Sebastian Junger’s excellent book “Tribe.” It has haunted me since. It raises the possibility that our culture is built on some fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled.Less than three is not "several". What he means is, his assistant turned up the first chapter for him sometime yesterday morning, as a new hook for that communalism column he's been writing at regular intervals for a couple of years now, and now he wants us to think he picked up on it when it came out, without taking the trouble to find out when that was. He didn't need to say that, or make any excuses at all. I don't know why he keeps doing things like that.
Junger's use of the theme of the 18th-century white Indians is applied to the problems of returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, as I learn from Suzanne Gordon's Washington Monthly review, and dedicated to the idea that our society is too ready to give cash benefits to sufferers from PTSD, when what they really need is the affirmation of belonging to a warrior culture:
”While a diagnosis of PTSD may give veterans access to sympathy and resources,” he writes, it “also creates an identity of victimhood that can delay recovery.” Junger proposes to substitute current evidence based treatment protocols like Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy with a shared sense of purpose and sacrifice as well as rituals that welcome the returning service member. He recommends that veterans be invited to talk about their experiences on Veterans Day; points to the benefits of native American purification rituals which helped one Native American veteran he interviewed; and contends that veterans will also be helped by being allowed to “vent their feelings” to a wider community.
Presumably Brooks didn't get that far into the book, because his idea is that becoming more like Native Americans will be good for those of us who are too wealthy and surprised to find that it hasn't brought us happiness:
If colonial culture was relatively atomized, imagine American culture of today. As we’ve gotten richer, we’ve used wealth to buy space: bigger homes, bigger yards, separate bedrooms, private cars, autonomous lifestyles. Each individual choice makes sense, but the overall atomizing trajectory sometimes seems to backfire. According to the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression by as much as eight times the rate as people in poor countries.He thinks we have not too much PTSD but too much privacy:
There might be a Great Affluence Fallacy going on — we want privacy in individual instances, but often this makes life generally worse.When you give up yours, Davy.
As often happens when he's in his love mode, I feel some sympathy for his clearly projected distress. He's writing, really, about his own anomie, not society's, and out of a genuine mental pain, at the lack of personal relationship and purpose in his life, and it's serious. But his dishonesty in trying to make it all about us instead is really annoying, and the nostrums he always wants to propose—the rule-boundedness and stiff hierarchy of a traditional society that are meant to answer all those questions that frighten him—are just wrong.
And I certainly don't think that's what the white colonials that attached themselves to their Algonquian and Iroquoian captors were looking for, either. The New England villages may have been grasping and materialistic, but they also offered plenty of authoritarianism.
We Boomers had our own dream of being Indians, you know—a less Tory vision, focused on closeness to nature, of course, but also the social ideals of egalitarianism and emotional directness we associate with the Eastern Woodlands tribes, against stratification and hypocrisy. I suspect if today's Millennials are on the point of making what he calls a "Native American leap"—
Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, I get the sense a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements—it's more likely to be of that kind, and not the kind he's looking for. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
Driftglass offers A Visit from Pastor Dave.