Emulating Tribes for mental health.

In his book ‘Tribe’, Sebastian Junger observes that many of the causes of our modern mental illnesses may stem from our departure from Tribal Practices. The very comfort that technological progress has brought is what makes us miserable. I thought it would be worth listing ways that we can recreate the elements of Tribal living mentioned in the book, while not necessarily heading back into the woods full time.


Handcrafts. –  The recently popularity of the Primitive Technology youtube channel is fairly self explanatory. The thought of being able to build like our ancestors did, holds an escapist fantasy over us as we hunch over our computers. In an attempt to begin this process I signed up for a Bow and Arrow making course. There are many other such courses in Western countries with many people opting for a bushcraft or basic survival course. If you like the idea but are feeling some resistance to it. I recommend The War of Art

Tribes don’t stockpile goods. – There have been many books and talks given on this modern problem. We don’t get much happiness from goods and we adapt to luxury pretty quickly, feeling disappointed when we have to have less. Tribes traditionally had to move around a lot and so couldn’t stockpile goods. Tricks to achieve this are to put your savings towards holidays or a fantasy experience that is even farther away. Any fantasy that allows you to save more, and spend less is a good one.

Raise Chickens – Joe Rogan has popularized this and while Tribes didn’t exactly do farming, in urban environments our options are limited. A chicken coop in the back garden has multiple benefits. It provides eggs of a knowable quality. It allows some interaction with animals. If you have children it will allow them to understand death in a similar way to having a pet does.

Eat meals with someone – Tribes eat together. This process of sharing their food is a very social one that can last a long while. If the modern equivalent is a dinner party. Have more of them.

There is very little inequality within Tribes. People share their goods. It is at the core of their interdependence. As societies get larger it is harder to maintain this. If there is general resistance to taxation of wealthy individuals the incentives should be better for giving money away. There should be tax breaks, big acknowledgements, plaques, whatever wealthy people want. I suspect that this is largely a generational problem. Most technology leaders have a better philanthropy track record than the wider business community. Therefore this may wash out over time.

Hardship – Tribes regularly encounter hardship. Lack of food, water, physical struggle. In the West we have the gym but it isn’t exactly the same.

Physical Pain – We generally try to avoid physical pain but know that we will probably endure it at some stage. Therefore regular doses of it make it more tolerable and less of a shock when the pain arrives. If you train at any sport regularly you will endure some pain. A sports massage is a good way to test your pain tolerance with the added benefit of muscular release.

Learning by doing – Tribes teach their children how to build tools, sew, hunt and other traits by bringing them with them at the appropriate age. Compare this to trying learn from a computer screen. If you can get a mentor, it as a better way to learn whatever it is you want to.

Cooking – Tribes cook for eachother. This is one area in modern society that we have realised is a very beneficial thing for eachother.

Physical contact. If you’re single in a city you will have endured the strange phenomenon of no physical contact for long periods. It isn’t good for us and maybe acro yoga might be a way to get around it.

Life and Death encounters. – This one is harder to replicate. Extreme sports are probably the best representation we have, and while safer than a fight with a bear they still have a reasonable chance of death. The trick is to find something that makes you feel this thrill or panic, but is relatively safe. Surfing in non shark infested waters with a strong companion might be useful.

Fighting – Tribes fight with other Tribes. The rise of MMA in the modern era is probably as close as we can get to lethal combat. But for some people serious head trauma is a risk not worth taking. I believe that Jiu Jitsu is the best alternative.

Jiu Jitsu – This martial art provides many of the above mentioned traits. Its social, has a fighting element, involves physical contact. There is a war type element of going to competitions with your team. You often lose in training and so your ego is kept in check. There is camaraderie, the obvious physical fitness and there is a finality that is illusive in other parts of life. When you tap out to an opponent it is clear who won.


These are a list of things that I have found to be healthy ways to emulate what our brains seem to desire from an evolutionary perspective.

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