tv Sebastian Junger Discusses Tribe CSPAN August 12, 2016 1:27am-2:21am EDT
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senior writer and columnist from the chicago tribune and today's interviewer rick cogan. [applause] >> thanks. this, if you don't know sebastián junger. it is not my place to do this but in light of the events of early this morning and this morning that we all do need to, if you pray, pray, but let's have a moment to consider those poor people in orlando. [silence] >> okay, before we get in deeply in this book, i need to know something about him.
rather more than capable harmonica player. >> that's only because of chicago, i was a young man in the 80's i lived near amazing blues heart player and he grew up in chicago, one of the best in the world and i was lucky enough right out of college i was working in an italian diner, all i remember that was three generations that worked there and they all screamed at each other all of the time and i couldn't deal with it at all and the tips were terrible and i would take all loose change, it was all loose change and bank store to the diner and trade a pocket full of change and get a lesson from jerry and he was amazing teacher and i started playing playing playing playing in blues band. >> if you had one up here, i will play it. >> if someone has a harp.
>> i'm always going to carry one from now on. you grew sebastián -- >> there is one. >> save it till the q&a. we don't want to start that away. you're right, you grew up, your father was immigrant, your mom was related to the grim family of grim's fairy tales but you write in here, i found this fascinating, i hardly ever been west of the hudson river after you graduate in fall of '86 and in my mind what waited for me in dakota but the real me as well, elaborate? what do you mean? >> i grew up in affluent suburb. i wasn't tested in any physical way. i think a situation like that, test people psychologically.
i don't know, if it's a male thing or not, maybe not but as a young man felt like i hadn't proved myself, i hadn't earned my eye denty and i needed to go through some stuff and the only thing i can think of to go through was to travel across this country sort of putting myself at its mercy, a young kid with a back pac out in this great land. >> when did journalism enter your life and why? >> i ran mile to mile cross country and i end up writing a thesis in the navajo
reservations, i trained with the best guys and came back to college and wrote the thesis and i got out of college, i did construction for a while, trying to figure out what to do and but i started thinking, well, that was pretty close to journalism, maybe i will try to be a journalist and sort of naive thought process. >> and this book for those -- how many of you bought this book already? it's pretty many but less than have so let's have a full house by the time it's over. how does that sound? it's not that long. we were talking about back
stage, the soldier story, anything but soldier play a part in this -- they thrive on it and and that's what this book is about and were told at the beginning this book is about a lot of people who have affected your life and many whom have you never met. talk about the american settlers, i found the beginning but first i start of book with it a total of a homeless guy living in gillette wyoming insisted he give me his lunch because he wasn't needed at the coal mine that day. so he forced
it on me backup that mynd i whole life he felt we were in the same tribe purple irises having an adventurere but he did not know that.riend h what i was that age i had a mentor figure he was half lakota in half a patchyellis, literally born on a wagon out west 1,929 all felt thee po, history people were always running off to join in the indians but the indians never ran off to join the white people . n [laughter] n the and i realized later we have the phrase to go native there is no phrase to
that white people ran off with domino can knock the other way around. it is the christian culture why were people not coming towards it? at subsistence low vol society. you cannot accumulate more than you can carry in the clearly that was not the case is a inc. for the great lot of peace based on the inalienable rights of individuals that
compounded the iroquois lot into the constitution and it was so exemplary as the justicai society constitution. >> my thought that your publishers were eager, another perfect storm, write about war again undoubtedly, this book has made "the new york times" best seller list as of today, i don't think this should be a tough sell. what was the catalyst for this book? was there a moment where you said to yourself, i need to write this book? >> i've been thinking about what six if
it was a brutal, brutal violent deprived place and when the tour was done, those guys couldn't wait to get back to italy where they based all kinds of activity that i won't go into detail but definitely prepared for a good time when they let's come up with the laughter words after that, i caught up with
them afterwards in italy, a lot of them said, you know, if we could go back to restrepo and we would all do it tomorrow and we thought, we don't wanting to back to america, we wanting to back to war and all of a sudden they thought about ellis and the captives and i thought, what is it about modern society that's so unappealing even for people that have enjoyed safety of its comforts. >> you say in here talking about war, when you receive your draft card vietnam had ended and you said that i had no problem with fighting a war, i just didn't trust, trust my government to send me to one that was completely necessary, you then quote your father and this is a quote i will remember forever saying i'm sure you know what it is, but you asked him about this and he was very antivietnam and
he said, you don't owe your country nothing, you owe it something and depending on what happens you might owe it your life. talk to me about your dad and the meaning of that quote. >> yeah, he grew up in france and he came here during the war as germans were rolling, he got to this country and try today join the military but he watched as hundreds of american soldiers fought and thousands and thousands died in his home country of france to liberate europe from fascism and thousands of american graves on french soil, his home country and always cognizant of that.
mothers know this, 18-year-old boys get a card in the mail from the government and we want to know where you live in case we need to draft you. girls do not. i got this card and every adult i knew was against vietnam and i said to my father, i'm not signing, this is ridiculous, no, you are signing. he said what he said to me, you don't owe your country nothing. if it's an immoral war, it's your morale duty to oppose it but it might be a necessary war in which cases is your duty to fight it. all of a sudden became noble and i realized my people might need me and i think the real loss in contemporary affluence society is you never get the feeling
feeling that your people need you. were affluent enough to not need the individual's in our society in order to get by. this is the first time in human history that's been true and actually a tremendous loss there. >> you make that point to that point, you make the point that sometimes we can overcome that burden, that's not self-imposed by disaster, you talk very articulate and talk about earthquake and you write an earthquake achieves what the law promises, but not in practice maintain the equality of all men. crisis and trouble sometimes elicits that, yes? >> let me just say it it it was
an amazing quake. >> right. >> 1916 or something like that. devastating earthquake, all of the survivor huddled together before help got there and there was a complete breakdown of social class. rich people, poor people, no distinction at all in society and said disaster produce it had quality of all men, even if law can't produce that. what you find in disasters and the reason people get nostalgic about them is there's massive societal breakdown but what's breaking down isn't the spirit of cooperation that humans are often known for, breaking down is the system, people come together during disasters, there's not chaos in the streets, it's the opposite. people act better in catastrophes and social class
breakdowns, rich and poor doesn't matter and brings the best in people and in london people -- strangers were sleeping shoulder to shoulder on the subway platforms bucket bre gaidz to put out fires in buildings, it was an -- 30,000 londoners were killed during this time and people missed afterwards and the authorities were shocked. there was -- they were prepared for mass psychiatric casualties because of the bombings and the opposite happened there. again, if you feel that your people need you, your community needs you, it literally is as simple as this, you stop thinking about yourself and your problems. one lady said, we would have all gone down to the beaches with broken bottles to fight the germans if you had to. when you have people thinking
about themselves, even though the society as a whole is under tremendous stress. >> isn't that interesting among the many reasons you should buy this book? i'm sorry i took your subjects quote and put it in your mouth. here is sebastián junger, eliminates situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good. i love that beauty and tragedy. >> thank you very much. what i don't want to do is write about modern society that doesn't acknowledge the incredible good that comes from it. >> sure. >> i mean, we have to all be cognizant of being incredibly lucky to live in an age of modern medicine, rule of law, philosophy and science. we have, you know, central heating and central air-conditioning and many most
people do in the modern society and this incredible blessing but the question is, what's the downside, why is it that as wealth goes up in the society the suicide rate goes up, why does the depression rate go up. i found a study that compared depression rates in nigeria to north america for some reason they were focused on women in this study, urban women in north america have the highest, wealthiest group in the study and they had the highest depression rate, rural women in nigeria, one of the poorest, most messed up chaotic countries in america had the lowest rates of depression. hardship and poverty along with all the stress of that, they actually do those things, hardships do force people into collaborative communal existence and that collaboration and the communalism of that life buffers
people against mental illness even though there are hardships that go along with that. >> the pressures and struggles and pains and trauma of war you have seen on the front lines as they say, it's a very moving portion of the book where you're writing on a subway after getting back from afghanistan about a year or so, i think, before 9/11 and something has happened, something happens to you. >> yeah, this was the fall of 2000. i never even heard p, -- ptsd and then in 2000. i was with northern alliance fighting the taliban. back then taliban had fighters, jet planes, tanks and so we got
pounded a few times and i came home pretty altered psychically. one day i went down to the subway and i had a massive, massive panic attack. i never had one before. everything was going to kill me. lights were too bright, the mob was going to turn on me, the trains were going too fast, they were going to jump the rails and hit me. everything was a threat and i ran out of the station and the panic attacks kept happening and eventually decip -- desipated, i didn't get help because i thought i was going crazy. if i am going crazy, no one can happy me. i might as well do it in quite -- quiet dignity by myself. [laughter] >> there is much in the book about war and veterans and so
much more. this is just -- i've known a number of vets and onward, this is a sentence that haunts me and makes me unbelievably sad. today's veterans often come home to find that of though they're willing to die of their country, they're not sure how to live for it. >> could i read the next few sentences there? >> you don't like my reading. i'm like a professional reader for god sake. >> it's hard to know how to live for a country that regularly tears itself apart along every pausable ethic and general graphic boundary, the income gap between rich and poor continues to widen, many people live in racially segregated communities, the elderly are mostly
sequestered from public life and rampage shootings happened so regularly that they only remain for the news cycle for a day or two. to make matters worse, politicians accuse rivals of deliberately trying to harm their own country a charge so destruct i have to group unity that most past societies would probably have punished it as a form of treason. it's no wonder so many of them get depressed when they come home. >> it's coming home, donald trump would be -- there is. i think this book to me has kind of -- if you read it and take it to heart and mind, kind a ripple effect of contemporary society,
politics specially these days, there's something tribal about it to me specially mr. trump. do you agree because it really -- so many things in this book resinated in the current state of political affairs for me? >> yeah, to think about our survival adaptations as a species is that they all can be used for good and ill and when you talk about the tendency for tribe, that's great until it's used against another group and then it's not so great. and so is trump exploiting, i don't even want to put the finger at trump, do many politicians exploit a kind of tribalism as campaign tactic to mobilize their base, yes, and they're smart too, they're playing an human evolution, it works, clearly it works because some people got nominated doing it. what i would argue if we are going to talk about -- if we are
going to talk about that kind of fiercely affiliated community, we have to acknowledge that we are all part of one nation, we are part of a unity and that you really can't start doing that with subsets of americans in opposition to other subsets of americans. you're destroying the country. that kind of tribalism it is the thing that keeps human groups coherent and close if we are going to presume to be a nation and i think we should continue to, if we are going to presume to be a nation of 320 billion, we better have that tribalism applied to everybody. as donald trump once said, either we have a country or we don't. he was talking about illegal immigration which is a different conversation. in a weird way i kind of like that sentence, yes, mr. trump, either we have a country or we don't. that means that everyone in it including people of say mexican heritage or for that matter
german heritage. i mean, he was german, i believe, i think that was his -- all of those ethnicity are equally part of this country. either we have a country or we don't. let's start thinking in real ways like that. >> i also think it's hard not to think in chicago of the gang violence that besets and haunts this city and many other big cities here. the whole notion of gangs, the strange notion as gangs as tribes, i sort of understand people in depressed neighborhoods and disadvantage, they get family. but there's more? >> they get family, they get defense, psychological reinforcement. gangs provide everything that humans form groups for, defense,
identity, human connection, sets of -- emotional security, gangs provide that. the thing is if society doesn't provide and healthy groups for young men to belong to, and i say young men because they are particularly dangerous -- >> and vulnerable. >> and vulnerable, they can cause a lot of damage in society and if society doesn't provide good things for good groups for people to belong to, they will create bad groups to belong to but they will to something and one of the tragedies of high crime, poor high-crime neighborhoods. everyone wants to serve -- everyone wants to be useful to the community. many don't see the wider country as a community that they can serve. they just don't think they're part of it, invested in it or
that it's invested in them. >> you talk often in the book about the trouble that exists with the increasing and i think it's increasing, i think you do too, the economic disparity in this country is to my mind like a cancer. .. evolution area reasons for agent communally. >> i have a sax talking about how right-wing and left-wing approach to society, each have
strong evolutionary origins and they're both necessary. both parties are right and they work well in conjunction with each other. we of to survive in groups of 40, 50, 60 people, the -- anthropologists look at situations where small nomadic groups put a member of their group to death for violations against the community. the typical crimes that ed the death penalty in these small stone-aged groups and mostly it was dominant male trying to take more than his fair share of resources. and the group would kill them. because that kind of behavior is so dangerous to group unity so my only point in the book is, by
allowing that kind of thing in this society -- i'm not saying we should or shouldn't. i'm a just just. i do say it runs contrary to two million years of human evolution and probably for pretty good reasons. >> one of the celebrated people in this book is not only studs terkel mentioned in passing, but i sure hope some of you people remember this guy. remember strock. >> a famous folk sing center that was sad to me. he was interview ford the good war, and he says this, the research for this book, is considerable, and you really picked out the best of the best. he wrote -- at the good war is about world were 2. for the first time in our live wes were in a tribal sort of situation where we could help each other without fear. the were 15 minute who were gone.
15 guys who for the first time in their lives were not living in competitive society, we had no hopes of becoming officers. i liked that feeling very much. it was the absence of competition and boundaries and all those phony standards that created the thing i loved about the army. the standards we live in now are to my minds, increasingly phoney. where it's the one percent. we all have to aspire to be part of that one percent so we can have everything and we can have guarded homes and guarded communities. trouble. >> here's the thing. everything has an upside and a downside. the sort of capitalism fueled i individualism of modern society is an incredible engine for invention and creativity, and accomplishment, and it is a great, great engine for human accomplishment, and individuals set out to invent the printing press or whatever it is, like
they set out to do that, not just for al altruistic reasons t because it permanently benefits them. so it's a great engine. the downside if you emphasize individualism, personal wealth, personal accomplishment to much, you wind up devaluing things that serve the common good, don't have social currency. don't have to go far back for things to be different. benjamin franklin, the bill gates of his era. he invented the franklin stove. this incredibly crucial piece of equipment that was soon in every home in america. it was very efficient stove. and fireplaces are not efficient lawsuit the franklin stove is. he refused to take out a patent on it because he felt that anything that was that good for his country should be owned for humanity, for that matter, should be owned by everyone. so the problem is that --
individualism isn't necessarily bad. it's also part of our evolution. it's their to a reason. but the problem is in that in this society, that ethos that franklin adhered to in that amazing act, with the stove, has been basically lost, and it's to our detriment. >> god love benjamin franklin. >> you say acting in a tribal way means being willing to make a substantive sackry identifies for community, be that your neighborhood, your workplace or your entire country. obviously people in the military are doing it for their entire country. what can become of -- i'm not trying to make you change the world but what can compel people
to think that way? because i see some out about in the city, people trying to help their neighborhood, their block, trying to help their billing, but i see this country moving further away from it. am i nuts? >> affluence is a wonderful thing but the more affluent we get, the less we need to help each other. it's just how it works. so the trick is, can we have it both ways? can we maintain the pleasures and benefits of an affluent society and also regain -- somehow regain the communal connections? i grew up in a suburb. the physical layout of the suburb made it hard for communities -- that community to coalesce. it was a sprawling town where you really needed a car to get anywhere significant. short of banning the car, how do we return to living in
close-knit communities of 50 or 60 people? it's not happening. we lift -- society is formed in a different way but we are part of a nation, and i think there are things we can -- i think when there's divisiveness and contempt at the very, very top levels of our government, our society, it trickles down and pollutes all of our feelings and experience of community. when very, very powerful people, who have a huge amount of control over our lives, when they speak with contempt and derigs and mockery about their president, about the government, about segments of the population, the message that we all receive unconsciously and that veterans receive when they come home is, there's actually nothing to belong to. it's actually a fiction. it's like children hearing they're parents fight. i think this country is having a period like children of divorce.
are mom and dad going to split up? i thought we were a family. one thing we can do as, we the people, such a wonderful phrase, all of us, conservatives and liberals both. what we can do, hugely beneficial, is to insist that people who lead us speak with respect. about each other. and about everyone in this country. [applause] >> that is kind of what this book is all and one of the reasons you should buy this book. it may not be the book you were expecting from him, but he has more books in him. he also owns a restaurant in chelsea, makes documentaries. i'm telling you, folks, this is not just thought provoking, it actually could be dish hate to put this heavy burden on you -- life-changing, too sebastian
junger. >> now you get to and some questions and don't let think be the variety i was once in a storm on lake michigan -- that's mott what we're looking for. >> big fan 20 years ago if come from north carolina. we're a big military community, try to employ veterans in my very small business. a question is this. kind of square up, if you can, your thought on the seriousness of the events that you believe
led to these tribal communities, be it in the frontier era, you have tribes that are fighting each other constantly, and are facing starvation, things like that, and then the idea being that world war ii, the civil war, world war i, these types of environments, where the entire fabric of the world was at -- in the balance so to speak, and i think that part of what i'm hearing and part of what i've read is that -- these kind of small wars, vietnam, not to say that this is a small war but in terms of world history, afghanistan, things like this -- are leading our country to have great dissent about being there so veterans are coming home and saying -- nobody came home from world war ii saying, why was i there? so the idea of 300 million
person tribe, how do we create that important conflict, as it were, artificially, so that we can form tribes? how die form a tribe? -- how do i form a tribe? >> a great question. keep in mind we're trying to do something modern -- i don't just mean america -- modern society is trying to do something which has never been attempted the human history which is to have a feeling of group purpose, and the group is millions -- hundreds of millions of people. we may not be able to pull it off. and there will always be tensions in that, but i should say no matter how big or small he war is, it's experienced -- soldiers experience it in very intimate ways. experience it basically in groups of 40, 50 people. that's what a platoon is, a maneuver element. and they sleep together, eat
together, do everything together. that is exactly what we evolved for. that's what humans evolved for, to live in groups that size. and that's why i think the military experience can resonates so deeply in soldiers. it plays to our evolutionary past precisely. how do we create a tribe of 300 million people? we can't in any recognizable sense, meaning what the word tribe is meant for two million years. we will never mean that in a society that is this size. what we can do is insist on certain modes of conduct. even in the larger scale, that we know facilitates connection and community in the smaller scale. so as one of the soldiers said to me, there are guys in the platoon straight up hate each
other but we would all die for each other. what i never saw in that plot tan, conflict, guys hated each other, humans are messy. hum relations are messy, but i never saw anyone speak with contempt and derision about someone inside the wire. someone they might have to depend on for their life. they just didn't do it. when you could it in a large group, like 300 million, -- we could be turned into a combat outpost overnight. we don't know. on september 10, 2001, we had no idea what was coming and we still don't, and we might remember this day as, like, end of on era for western civilization. we don't know. you can't act like that with people inside your camp. if you do, they're not in your camp. get rid of them. that's not a what wear doing. we're an inclusive country so we have to change our behavior. they is the only way i can think of to effect a group that size
in a positive way. >> you also just before your question, there's some incredible observations and revelations, and you hear about the reaction of people in new orleans to katrina. it flies in the face of what i would call the conventional wisdom only people stealing television sets and stuff. you should read the book for that part and all the other parts. sir? >> do you think mandatory service would be an address, a way to dress this, or is that too artificial? >> i mean, people think that the draft will keep the country from going war too easily. history clearly shows that's not the case. don't use the draft to stay out of war. the problem is it only creates a collective action during wartime. what about the rest of the time? i think -- it also suggests the only way to serve your country is with a gun in your hand.
what i think could be healthy and very positive for this country is to have mandatory national service. [applause] and you can have a military option but as my father said, don't owe your country nothing, and when i try -- when i ask people, a roomful of people, what would you owe your country, everybody, other than your taxes? no one knows what to say. the nation hasn't come up with an answer to that. right? national service would actually provide a ready answer that it think would be very sort of binding for the society. i think it would create the feeling we're all in something together. who knows what but we're in something together. >> yes, sir. >> thank you for coming here to speak. like this fellow said before me, i'm long-time fan. i agree with mandatory national service. just -- there's a quote in the
book about -- i belief it was one of the the lakota tribes, he joined the service because wanted to found out what he was made of. certain areas in america, if you're not a high school super star, sports, athlete, or a youtube sensation, for a lot of kids and a lot of communities, one, the military is the only path to a solid education, and then after that they think it's the only path to a solid job. was in middle of college, getting great grades, thought i was on the path to a good job when september 11 hit, and i quit school and joined the marine corps and for no other reason than that. like the bruce springsteen line, i'm going to go out tonight and find out what i got, and i don't know if that exists anymore. you don't have to go back as far as benjamin franklin. i believe jonas salk refused a patent on the polio vaccine. >> right.
>> and got the pharma boy charging $1 million for a life-saving drug. i don't know the specifics but that's how you be achievement. become a youtube sensation, get rich, and that's the crux of this book. there's millions of americans, not just this latest generation. there's a lot of people that don't know what we're needed for anymore. >> yeah. >> walking around like i'm going to make some money today and spend it tonight. >> well, thank you for that and thank you for reading my book, and, the gentleman you were mentioning was named gregory gomez. from the apache nation, and he was a vietnam era veteran. he was in the marines in fort recon, and an intense unit, and they would spin behind enemy lines in groups of four.
didn't even have a medic, incredibly intense guys. he said he joined the military during vietnam, he sad i had nothing again the vietnamese and no allegiance to the u.s. government. they killed most of my family, it just wanted to see how i'd do. amazing. >> yes, sir. this could be the last one. >> yes. speaking of national service, i did exactly that. wanted to see how i would do when i joined the thing called the peace corps, and the thing that strikes me is just to look at our values. when i joined the peace corps the fact that this kind of frightened me or is the military bands had a larger budget than the peace corps did, and in some way is would say my service was even harder. i served in this country called yemen, and i was out there by myself. and so there was no camaraderie.
so in fact, my service in some ways was harder than not belonging, and even coming back. it's always about the veterans and the service and i go back, i -- i was needed there so greatly provided me that feeling of being needed and that spoke to me there. >> something like a quarter -- thank you for that. and for your service over there. >> thank you. >> in yemen. [applause] >> something like a quarter of the peace corps volunteers struggle with depression when they come home. it's tough to transition from a modern society to a small village in cameroon or in yemen or whatever, but once you make that transition you're living -- i don't note what your particular experience was but often you're living in a tight communal society, which is what we're wired do toe do, and then the transition home is brutal. you get picked up and dropped back down in the great american
suburb, and rough lay quarter of the peace corps volunteers just slide into depression. one of the puzzling things about post-traumatic stress disorder right now is that a far greater percentage of veterans have ptsd than were in combat. only 10% of the military experiences combat and ptsd is much more i widespread in the military, and i tack in my book what they're actually experiencing is the trauma of transition home to modern society, and if that's the case, then we're all experiencing that trauma. during my book tour i met a young woman who had cancer and she said her family and her people and her community and her tribe all rallied around her, and got her through it, and the beat -- she said i beat the odds. i survived. i made itself. and now i miss being sick.
because she missed her people. just like soldiers missing war. if people are missing cancer and missing war, there's obviously something missing here. the question is, can we somehow regain that connection without having a catastrophe, without going to war. can we do it and retain the wonderful benefits of this amazing society? i don't know. it's never been done before. but we never walked on the moon before, either. >> well, just before you go out and line up to buy this book, how about a round of applause again. >> thank you very much. >> thank you all for coming. >> thank you. [applause] >> please visit printers row litfest.org.