To provide some context for my question, societal collapse (of America in particular) was due to a combination of war, infected creatures, and additional destruction by civilians. Let's say much of the infrastructure was destroyed, too few people survived to restore/maintain cities, and the few people who survived in bunkers/arcologies/etc haven't yet reclaimed their surroundings:

Would the less fortunate survivors become tribal (e.g chiefdoms, nomadic, etc) within a decade or two, given America's size and arduous landscapes?

I'm not imagining an equivalency to tribes of a pre-industrial world as I suspect some modern knowledge, technology, and norms would persist and be implemented accordingly, nor am I intending for every group to be tribal; a few groups have established neo-feudal societies.

Environmental factors have also been considered. I suspect people on the eastern U.S. (especially the southeast) would be more vulnerable to natural disasters without advanced warning systems, thereby burdening their recovery and hastening the decay of infrastructure; that agriculture in the southwest (and comparable areas) would be greatly scaled down without advanced irrigation, presumably encouraging more nomadic lifestyles and conflicts; and that hunting and conflicts would be more present in regions with short growing seasons and cold winters.

I've also considered the impact of (additional) carnivores that escaped zoos though I'm skeptical if they could propagate fast enough to be anything other than exotic meals briefly present on the continent; the infected are the main non-human threat.

Do correct any underlying misconceptions, and apologies for the American bias in the inquiry; some survivors are stranded tourists though :)/:(. Any understanding of your comparable biomes is welcomed.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 7:02
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding! I think this question would benefit from some additional information: Approx. how many people survived throughout the US? And: This apocalypse is global, i assume? $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki Thank you for the response. Yes, the apocalypse was global. I haven't gone into the specifics of how many people survived. I'm thinking of having about 10,000 people in the (multiple) bunkers and maybe a million or two people dispersed throughout the country, although that even reads low compared to 330+ million. $\endgroup$
    – user39368
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ It is worth pointing out if you ask me that this has happened in the past. Countries have collapsed (Venezuela most recently) and apparently (I wasn't there) this resulted in gangs becoming very influential. A gang is just another word for tribe if you ask me. Family clans are ruling certain districts for example in countries I have been to because the local police is powerless. Maybe one should take those examples on how modern tribal structures would look like at how they might evolve. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ ...Become? (-2) days $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 12:54

3 Answers 3


There would not be tribes in "Native American" sense, but there would be some attributes of those.

People would get organized into groups, and these groups would fight each other for resources. You can call leaders of these groups "chiefs", however I presume most of them will be well educated and trained former army officers.

Nomadic lifestyle is different from simple people's movement. Nomads typically keep livestock, but not crops. They move because their animals need new grasslands. In a postapocaliptic world, without tractors and fertilizers, I imagine that cattle raising can be superior to growing crops, but only in some areas. I don't believe many people turn into true nomads, they would keep their ranches and herd their cattle only so far.

On the other hand, "simple" people movement can take form of "plague swarms", (which is different from nomadic lifestyle). Displaced people would form large groups, which will move around, causing much trouble to smaller settled groups. Eventually these swarms would settle in a suitable territory and become settlers themselves.

Religion also can be an important driving factor. Christianity and all other major religions may collapse, or transform to completely different cults. It is unlikely, but possible that some groups will turn to shamanism.


Life is all about energy. human life even more so. We need energy in the form of food, but also in the form of fuel. In most places and most of the time we need (or at least benefit greatly from) an external source of heat. We could maintain our body temperature by using more food, but we cannot eat dead trees. We can burn them, though, which means we can get some of our energy requirements from a source that would otherwise be useless for us.

Obviously we also use lots of energy for making things and for transporting things (and ourselves, too)

So however your society or tribes are organized, first of all they will need food to eat and fuel for heating.
Modern agriculture relies heavily on machinery and on fertilizers. The production and maintenance of both (including the fuel for the machines) is non-trivial and cannot be kept up for any length of time by small groups of people.
As a result, you should expect a massive drop in agricultural efficiency. This in turn will lead to a great increase in the workforce required for agriculture. Also, you will want to reduce the need to haul stuff (like food) over long distances.

You may want to look at life in the middle gages in europe or elsewhere, where cities, often as small as 5000 people, required huge rural areas to provide them with food.

So what does that mean for your setup?

Initially, people will cling to what they know, and stay in the environment they know for as long as they can. They will go foraging in abandonned shops first, later in abandonned homes. Only when the food sources around them are depleted will the bulk of them ove on. Interestingly enough it is safe to assume that a lot of people will plunder any cash they can find, and will take a while to accept the fact that the only value it has is the fact that it is made of paper.

Most people (at least those that survive for any length of time) will form groups, to share workload, and help each other. This will start pretty soon, before they start forming agricultural communities.

Eventually, those groups (although not necessarily all members together) will decide to move on. Most of them will gravitate towards operational farms. Since those previously relied on the availability of fertilizers, pesticides and diesel, and now have none of that available, they will probably reluctant to have hungry mouths in their vicinity, but will eventually value the availability of a bigger workforce.

So, your society will most likely break down to smallish groups of farmers and some artisans or craftsmen, often in the vicinity of small cities, that might become the home of libraries and the places where people try to preserve as much modern tech as possible. Your society will turn more and more middle age. I would expect local feudalism emerging, and i would expect small wars and skirmishes, so most settlements will be fairly well defended. Especially in the US, with it's insane supply of firearms, i would expect groups or marauding bandits, but that lifestyle is not very sustainable, so this should mostly be a passing phenomenon.

About carnovores from zoos: they may be the reason for some isolated and very unfortunate encounters, but they should be far too few to be any major threat.


We live in tribes today. Thanks to the communications offered by the internet, our members are often scattered, but we daily interact with only a handful of people that are part of a group that we belong to. Civilization has been mainly convincing people to belong to larger and larger groups. We have went from family to a groups of families (clans) to cities states, to nations, to groups of nations. Humans have a need to belong to some group. Unfortunately today it seems like instead of evolving our civilization we somewhat going backwards. Our groups are becoming less tolerant of the differences between them.

A common trope in science fiction is humanity uniting when faced with an alien threat.


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