I recently read Sebastien Junger’s book War. It was captivating because of the real life-or-death action and thought-provoking because of the deeper central idea. If you think about it, for the last 100,000 years, anatomically modern human beings have been struggling for survival. Many times, what was trying to kill them was other human beings. Junger quotes a statistic that 15% of pre-civilization human beings were killed by other human beings. Because of this, core to our culture and, to some extent, our nature, is the concept of the war party. Young men gathered together to go fight and perhaps die in defense of their people.
This is an interesting and powerful notion and Junger’s book brings it to life through the eyes of young soldiers stationed at remote outposts in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.
We see this instinct prevail in non-war ways, too. Men get together to hunt and fish, party or work and they bring to the dynamic these macho ideas of brotherhood and self-sacrifice that have been part of our existence since before we were human. To sacrifice for the tribe is the highest and most honored value. In spite of the seeming contradiction with “survival of the fittest” it appears that we are evolutionary descendants of those willing to sacrifice for tribe.
I’m going to Restrepo tonight, which is the documentary Junger made while writing this book, and I can’t wait. I’ll report back.