Sebastian Junger, author of TRIBE:
We're primates, we're social animals, and we're wired for that close, communal connection. When you take people who've experienced the pleasure of that, and you pick them up and put them back down in the great American suburb, they're going to feel like something is missing because there is something missing. If you look at the rates of mental illness, suicide, depression, schizophrenia, in the modern American environment, they're sky high and climbing.
The suicide rate keeps going up, which is odd for a society that's this wealthy and well-off. It's not that the suicide is increasing among the very poor. It's actually increasing among the affluent. That, to me, says there's something literally deadly about social isolation, the kind of individualism that typifies our modern society.
I think on the whole we've gained a lot more than we've lost. My book is about what we've lost and how that has affected us, but we've got science, we've got medicine, we’ve got countless other luxuries. We know an enormous amount about the natural world, about the cosmos, and about our bodies. We've got rule of law, we've got a very evolved moral system, we've got books.
We've got this incredible heritage of learning and knowledge. Humans have never done this before. We never organized ourselves into groups of a million, 2 million, 3 million people; we've never done that. Humans have never done that before, and it has allowed us to build a robust, advanced civilization.
But there are downsides to the incredible affluence. I think it manifests in the individualization of society and in our chronic loneliness.
You can go out and proactively try to cultivate more of a community nature in your neighborhood, and maybe a victory garden, whatever, but it's all voluntary. There are a lot of people who are busy, and they've got a conference call at 10, and then they've got to get in their car and rush off to do this or that. Most people are just not going to participate.
The monetary rewards for putting your energy and time into yourself are greater than the monetary rewards of putting your time and energy into the community. That's a collective good; it's not monetized at all. It's a waste of time in monetary terms.
In a modern, capitalist society you're really not going to get people making decisions where they sideline something that actually pays quite well for something that doesn't — it's not going to happen.
If you step back and ask, are we a human society? In evolutionary terms, no we are not. We do not elevate the moral values that have always kept humans safe and happy and secure for hundreds of thousands of years. We do not elevate those qualities on a national level. In that sense, we are way outside of our evolutionary past and, in many ways, are an anti-human society.