From Solitude to Tribal Living (the Zoo Theory)

Communal living can be a better option

The Norms of Living In the Western Society

If you think like the most western people, you recognise three “normal” ways of living: 1. Living with your close family members. 2. Living with your partner. 3. Living solo.

There is of course the fourth option. One can live with flat mates or room mates. This, however, is seen as a necessary evil for poor people and students. It’s nearly always considered as a temporary state of living. We would rather live solo, or in the best case, with a partner or family.

At the same time, we have huge problem with loneliness and social isolation. The problem is highlighted in the Nordics. Especially young people, often singles, and elder people, often (actually or practically) widows, struggle to live thought the daily feeling of loneliness. In too many cases this erupts to society in destructive ways like suicides, violence or radicalisation. The society is only as strong as it’s weakest link.

Loneliness is a common problem

In many cases, single people are desperate to find a partner. Meanwhile, couples struggle to keep their relationship blossoming assuming that one person could and should fulfil all their social needs.

The society is so centred around romantic relationships that we’ve forgotten that other types of human relationships exist. Those relationships could be even more crucial for individual’s well-being.

Brain Is Not Prepaired for This Solitude

We take this state of society for granted. However, the society has been this way only for an eye-blink in the human history.

As evolution psychologists recognise, our human brain has developed to the current state mostly before the emergence of agriculture. Prehistory started about five million years ago and it took millions of years before we started farming. The modern society takes very short time period in the human history. Our brain hasn’t had time to adapt.

For millions of years human beings lived in packs, known as tribes. A tribe consisted of dozens of often loosely relative people. There were no houses with thick walls separating us from our tribe members. The canvas of our tent or a rock in a cave offered us the little privacy we had. No one lived solo or if they did, they didn’t live for long.

This is what our brain learned to crave for. Solitude meant danger. Loneliness is still known to increase stress levels and block the “happiness hormones,” like serotonin and dopamin.

We’ve Builded Our Cages

When agriculture appeared and we abandoned the hunter-gatherers’ nomadic lifestyle we also slowly abandoned the tribal communities. The modern lifestyle is the extreme form of this development.

We builded four thick sound proof walls to protect our privacy and to separate us from our own specie. The outcome is exactly the same as for zoo animals. Deprivation is a logical result of separating social animals from their tribes. Sadly, we have forgotten that things could be different. We forgot that the privacy we so highly value, is what keeps us caged up.

Lonely lion in a cage at zoo

We need other people to reflect our thoughts and perspective of the world. Without other people we lose sense of reality and meaning of life. We don’t necessarily need to be great friends or touch the other one or even talk. Just a sight of another human being brings us energy. This is how our brain was constructed to react.

Individual Differences

Individuals differ with the need of closeness and with the amount social life they need. Extroverts withdraw energy from being with others while introverts withdraw energy from solitude. You and I can be located to somewhere on this line between extrovert and introvert. Extremely introverts or extroverts are rare. We need each other’s more than most of us even realize.

Another thing that might affect on individual’s need for more social living, is occupation. A doctor may need to be social on her long work days. When she comes home, she simply wants to relax alone or with only the closest people. Holidays are another story of course.

I’m an entrepreneur doing digital marketing for companies. My company doesn’t employ anyone else at this stage, so I’ve gone a long way to find social groups and workspaces where I don’t go nuts from solitude. Lucky that I’ve met other people like me who would consider finding more communal solutions for living and working.

Personal Realization

Communal living is healthier

While I lived three years solo, I didn’t properly understand how much it affected me. I felt miserable every now and then but I didn’t question the norms of living. The realization came only when I moved to a hostel in Spain.

As the life of travellers often is, mine was also hectic and had lot of ups and downs. After certain devastating events, I noticed how well my new social circle helped me to avoid any depression. If I had been in Finland after those experiences, I might have struggled to get up from bed in the morning and find motivation. The hostel where I lived and worked, offered me company of like-minded people. Even those people who I didn’t particularly like, helped me to have a sense of existence and meaning.

I decided to never go back to solo living.

Tribal Living for Modern Housing

A tribe traditionally consists of dozens of people across ages. It can include families, couples and singles. A tribe often has some common rules and traditions. A tribe in the modern world could be like a family which goes beyond relativity. A group of people living under the same roof and sharing some common spaces. A group of people who basically see each others’ on daily basis on their normal routines.

Communal living outside of close families is very marginal in Finland. There are some communal options with usually always strongly related to hippie lifestyle. Some good experiences are made with communities of elders.

The modern architecture, legislation and housing providers could support more communal living. The attitudes need to change and new options be brought to housing markets. The new waves of shared economy, could be utilized: Sharing houses within a tribe could be worth of trying. A good amount of privacy and community should be offered.

I’m not saying that it was all better in the traditional societies. Surely, people have felt loneliness even in tribes and there will always be a certain amount of loneliness.

The tribes were mainly closed and isolated. Strangers were often greeted with aggression (source: The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond). We should pick the best parts of tribal living and implement them to the modern society. We could create a good amount of closeness within tribes without isolation from the society. It would pay off on individual and societal level and offer more human lifestyle.

Would you consider tribal lifestyle or communal living?

From Solitude to Tribal Living (the Zoo Theory)
Article Name
From Solitude to Tribal Living (the Zoo Theory)
Communal living is undervalued. During the million years of tribal living, our brain learned to crave for community.
Publisher Name
Nomadic Living Room

3 Replies to “From Solitude to Tribal Living (the Zoo Theory)”

  1. Living with like-minded people will not only help you be sane but also help your thoughts grow. I do agree with your point on picking the best parts of tribal living and implement them in today’s lifestyle, one of which could be finding the right balance between spending time being private and in the community, it can potentially help the society.

  2. Solitude is important… Because we have to learn how to appreciate our soul. If we have no ability to live alone, so we will try to find people to avoid solitude. You go inside realtionship to avoid solitude and no to stay with this man or woman. Its same with friend. When we accept our solitude, and we can live alone, so we can meet a lover, a friend, we are with them because them and not because we want to avoid solitude…
    You have to continue to write…

    1. Thank you for your comment and support Frank! You are right about that. Solitude and learning to be alone are important as well.

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