I’ve been thinking about group dynamics recently. How are groups kept together? What makes them stronger and, more importantly, what breaks them apart? Attempting to answer these questions has been important to me due to the nature of my novel. For those of you who don’t know, my novel is centered around a group of nomads in North America a couple of hundred years after modern society has collapsed. This group has stayed together for hundreds of years and they fashion their societal structure after that of a wolf pack’s. They are ruled by two “Alphas,” a man and a woman who have almost complete authority over all others in the Pack. Theirs is a world of discipline, loyalty, and subservience to the Alphas.
Yet, I’ve begun to question the finer points of that ruling strategy. I’ve just started reading Tribe by Sebastian Junger, which looks at society’s ideas of community and brotherhood, especially in relation to veterans and civilians who have lived through wars. It’s been a fascinating read so far, as it examines groups such as Native Americans in the mid 1600s and Serbian civilians in the war torn Sarajevo of the late 20th century. Tribe reveals how these groups functioned in times of pressure and strife, and it also shows the reader why people were drawn back to these groups. Many European settlers in the 1600s converted to the Native American way of life while next to no Native Americans converted to the European way of life. A teenage Serbian girl was sent by her family to Italy to protect her from the devastation of Sarajevo, but she quickly found her way back into Sarajevo, as that’s precisely where she wanted to be. Why? It was there that she found true community and people who understood her. The war had brought her group together.
In regards to the Native Americans, Junger explains that the attractiveness of their society came from its communal nature. Much was shared and everybody would help each other whenever needed. Not only that, but authority was also a little looser. Leaders of a given tribe certainly wouldn’t have all-encompassing power as the “Alphas” do. Is this a point of weakness for the Alphas? Would their power be a push for members of the group to leave? Perhaps not, because much of what the Native Americans had in the way of rules, the “Pack” retains.
“A white captive of the Kickapoo Nation who came to be known as John Dunn Hunter wrote that he had never heard of even a single instance of treason against the tribe, and as a result, punishments for such transgressions didn’t exist. But cowardice was punishable by death, as was murder within the tribe or any kind of communication with the enemy. It was a simple ethos that promoted loyalty and courage over all other virtues and considered the preservation of the tribe an almost sacred task” (Junger 15).
This is exactly what the Pack would uphold. These are rules that will keep groups together and ready to defend themselves. If the Alphas couldn’t stand by rules such as those the Kickapoo nation kept, the Pack would indeed be in danger of falling apart.
Junger, Sebastian. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. New York, Twelve, 2016