Life Like This, In a Tribe
Excerpt from Johann Hari's Lost Connections
Why? There might be a good reason. Human beings first evolved on the savannahs of Africa, where we lived in small hunter-gatherer tribes of a few hundred people or less. You and I exist for one reason because those humans figured out how to cooperate. They shared their food. They looked after the sick. They were able to take down very large beasts, but only because they were working together. They only made sense as a group. Every preagricultural society we know about has this same basic structure. Against harsh odds, they barely survive, but the fact that they survive at all they owe to the dense web of social contacts and the vast number of reciprocal commitments they maintain. In this state of nature, connection and social cooperation did not have to be imposed. Nature is connection.
Now imagine if on those savannahs you became separated from the group and were alone for a protracted period of time. It meant you were in terrible danger. You were vulnerable to predators, if you got sick nobody would be there to nurse you, and the rest of the tribe was more vulnerable without you too. You would be right to feel terrible. It was an urgent signal from your body and brain to get back to the group, any damn way you could.
So every human instinct is honed not for life on your own, but for life like this, in a tribe. Humans need tribes as much as bees need a hive.
See also this from last year: “Deeply, Dangerously Alone Excerpts from Sebastian Junger's Tribe”.
There are all sorts of ways human beings can come together to do something as a group from a sports team, to a choir, to a volunteer group, to just meeting regularly for dinner. Harvard professor Robert Putnam has been gathering figures for decades about how much we do all these things and he found they have been in freefall. The collective structure has collapsed.
"In the ten short years between 1985 and 1994, active involvement in community organizations fell by 45 percent." In just a decade, across the Western world, we stopped banding together at a massive rate, and found ourselves shut away in our homes instead.
What this means is that people's sense that they live in a community, or even have friends they can count on, has been plummeting.
And it's not that we turned inward to our families. We've stopped doing stuff with them, too. We do things together less than any humans who came before us. We disbanded our tribes.