The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond
The bestselling author of Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel surveys the history of human societies to answer the question: What can we learn from traditional societies that can make the world a better place for all of us?
“As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond continues to make us think with his mesmerizing and absorbing new book." Bookpage
Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterday—in evolutionary time—when everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.The World Until Yesterday provides a mesmerizing firsthand picture of the human past as it had been for millions of years—a past that has mostly vanished—and considers what the differences between that past and our present mean for our lives today.
This is Jared Diamond’s most personal book to date, as he draws extensively from his decades of field work in the Pacific islands, as well as evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. Diamond doesn’t romanticize traditional societies—after all, we are shocked by some of their practices—but he finds that their solutions to universal human problems such as child rearing, elder care, dispute resolution, risk, and physical fitness have much to teach us. Provocative, enlightening, and entertaining, The World Until Yesterday is an essential and fascinating read.
Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan’s Cosmos Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize honoring the Scientist as Poet, presented by The Rockefeller University. His previous books include Why Is Sex Fun?, The Third Chimpanzee, Collapse, The World Until Yesterday, and Guns, Germs, and Steel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Table of Contents
List of Tables and Figures xi
Prologue: At the Airport 1
An airport scene
Why study traditional societies?
Types of traditional societies
Approaches, causes, and sources
A small book about a big subject
Plan of the book
Part 1 Setting the Stage by Dividing Space
Chapter 1 Friends, Enemies, Strangers, and Traders 37
Mutually exclusive territories
Non-exclusive land use
Friends, enemies, and strangers
Trade and traders
Traditional forms of trade
Traditional trade items
Who trades what?
Part 2 Peace and War
Chapter 2 Compensation for the Death of a Child 79
What if ...?
What the state did
New Guinea compensation
Other non-state societies
State civil justice
Defects in state civil justice
State criminal justice
Advantages and their price
Chapter 3 A Short Chapter, About a Tiny War 119
The Dani War
The war's time-line
The war's death toll
Chapter 4 A Longer Chapter, About Many Wars 129
Definitions of war
Sources of information
Forms of traditional warfare
Similarities and differences
Effects of European contact
Warlike animals, peaceful peoples
Motives for traditional war
Whom do people fight?
Forgetting Pearl Harbor
Part 3 Young and Old
Chapter 5 Bringing Up Children 173
Comparisons of child-rearing
Weaning and birth interval
Fathers and allo-parents
Responses to crying infants
Child play and education
Their kids and our kids
Chapter 6 The Treatment of Old People: Cherish, Abandon, or Kill? 210
Expectations about eldercare
Why abandon or kill?
Usefulness of old people
Better or worse today?
What to do with older people?
Part 4 Danger and Response
Chapter 7 Constructive Paranoia 243
Attitudes towards danger
A night visit
A boat accident
Just a stick in the ground
Risks and talkativeness
Chapter 8 Lions and Other Dangers 276
Dangers of traditional life
Responses to diseases
Unpredictable food shortages
Scatter your land
Seasonality and food storage
Aggregation and dispersal
Responses to danger
Part 5 Religion, Language, and Health
Chapter 9 What Electric Eels Tell Us About the Evolution of Religion 323
“As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond continues to make us think with his mesmerizing and absorbing new book. In The World Until Yesterday, he pushes us to reconsider the contours of human society and the forces that have shaped human culture […] Powerful and captivating, Diamond’s lucid insights challenge our ideas about human nature and culture, and will likely provoke heated conversations about the future of our society.” —Book Page
“Challenging and smart…By focusing his infectious intellect and incredible experience on nine broad areas peace and war, young and old, danger and response, religion, language and health and sifting through thousands of years of customs across 39 traditional societies, Diamond shows us many features of the past that we would be wise to adopt.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The World Until Yesterday [is] a fascinating and valuable look at what the rest of us have to learn from – and perhaps offer to – our more traditional kin.” Christian Science Monitor
“Ambitious and erudite, drawing on Diamond's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of fields such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, physiology, nutrition and evolutionary biology. Diamond is a Renaissance man, a serious scholar and an audacious generalist, with a gift for synthesizing data and theories.” The Chicago Tribune
“As always, Diamond manages to combine a daring breadth of scope, rigorous technical detail and personal anecdotes that are often quite moving.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Diamond’s investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues[…]is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience[…]A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.”Kirkus, Starred Review
“In this fascinating book, Diamond brings fresh perspective to historic and contemporary ways of life with an eye toward those that are likely to enhance our future.”—Booklist
“Lyrical and harrowing, this survey of traditional societies reveals the surprising truth that modern life is a mere snippet in the long narrative of human endeavor[…]This book provides a lifetime of distilled experience but offers no simple lessons.”—Publishers Weekly
“Jared Diamond has done it again. Surveying a great range of anthropological literature and integrating it with vivid accounts of a lifetime of visits—sometimes harrowing, more often exhilarating—to highland New Guinea, he holds up a needed mirror to our culture and civilization. The reflection is not always flattering, but it is always worth looking at with an honest, intelligent eye. Diamond does that and more.” Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing: and The Evolution of Childhood
“This is the most personal of Diamond's books, a natural follow-up to his brilliant Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond has very extensive and long-term field experience with New Guineans, and stories of these admirable people enrich his overview of how all human beings acted until very recently. Not only are his accounts fascinating, they will ring true to all who have experience with hunter-gatherer cultures. And they carry many lessons for modern societies as well on everything from child-rearing to general health. The World Until Yesterday is a triumph.” Paul R. Ehrlich, author of Human Natures
“The World Until Yesterday is another eye-opening and completely enchanting book by one of our major intellectual forces, as a writer, a thinker, a scientist, a human being. It's a rare treasure, both as an illuminating personal memoir and an engrossing look into the heart of traditional societies and the timely lessons they can offer us. Its unique spell is irresistible.” Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Wife
“An incredible insightful journey into the knowledge and experiences of peoples in traditional societies. Diamond’s literary adventure reflects on the problems of today in light of his exhaustive literature review and 40 plus years of living with rural New Guinean peoples.” Barry Hewlett, author of Intimate Fathers (with Michael Lamb)
“In the 19th century Charles Darwin's trilogy—On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals changed forever our understanding of our nature and our history. A century from now scholars will make a similar assessment of Jared Diamond's trilogy: Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and now The World Until Yesterday, his magnificent concluding opus on not only our nature and our history, but our destiny as a species. Jared Diamond is the Charles Darwin of our generation, and The World Until Yesterday is an epoch-changing work that offers us hope through real-life solutions to our most pressing problems.” Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of The Believing Brain and Why Darwin Matters
The Further Readings for my book’s Prologue, consisting of references applicable to the whole book and of some general interest, are printed at the back of my book. The remaining Further Readings, from those for Chapter 1 through those for the Epilogue, are not printed in the book in order to reduce the book’s length and cost; but are instead given here on this website. Users of this website Further Readings material should begin by reading the printed explanation of Further Readings for the Prologue; that explanation also applies to the Further Readings posted here.
Chapter 1. Friends, enemies, strangers, and traders
Three books provide accounts and photographs of first contacts by Australians in the central and western parts of the Highlands of what is now Papua New Guinea. Michael Leahy Explorations into Highland New Guinea 1930 – 1935 (Bathurst, Australia: Crawford House Press, 1994) is a first-person account by the miner who led the first explorations into those highlands. Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson First Contact: New Guinea’s Highlanders Encounter the Outside World (New York: Viking Penguin, 1987) describe the encounters both through the eyes of Leahy and his companions and of the Highlanders who met them as children and were interviewed 50 years later. Bill Gammage The Sky Travelers: Journeys in New Guinea 1938 - 1939 (Carlton, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 1998) describes the largest exploration patrol to operate in Australian New Guinea, the Taylor-Black Patrol. The quotation on my page 58, from a New Guinean describing 50 years later his memory of the moment of first contact, appears on page 6 of the Connolly and Anderson book. Robin Radford Highlanders and Foreigners in the Upper Ramu: the Kainantu Area 1919 – 1942 (Carlton, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 1987) summarizes the arrival of Europeans in the eastern part of the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Scott Wallace The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes (New York: Crown, 2011) gives accounts of first contacts in the Amazon Basin.
The Vitiaz Strait trading system that included Malai and the other Siassi Islands was described by Thomas Harding Voyagers of the Vitiaz Strait: a Study of a New Guinea Trade System (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1967). Another group of Siassi Island traders, those of Mandok Island, is the subject of Alice Pomponio Seagulls Don’t Fly into the Bush (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1992).
Theodora Kroeber Ishi in Two Worlds: a Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961) is an emotionally powerful classic that will move every reader.
Within the large literature on kinship systems and alliance through marriage, four standard accounts are Claude Lévi-Strauss The Elementary Structures of Kinship (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1969), Robin Fox Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective (Baltimore: Penguin, 1967) and The Red Lamp of Incest (New York: Dutton, 1980), and Bernard Chapais Primeval Kinship: How Pair-bonding Gave Birth to Human Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).
Pamela Swadling Plumes from Paradise: Trade Cycles in Outer Southeast Asia and Their Impact on New Guinea and Nearby Islands until 1920 (Boroko: Papua New Guinea National Museum, 1996) chronicles the trade in bird-of-paradise plumes, aromatic wood, trepang, and other New Guinea products that were carried by sea-going traders through Indonesia to Asia.
The references to accounts of 39 societies provided at the beginning of my printed Further Readings section are the sources of most of the observations about individual societies in this chapter, as in the succeeding chapters.
Chapter 2. Compensation for the death of a child
The legal literature on our state justice systems is enormous, and I shall cite only a few articles relevant to particular issues discussed in my chapter. Interested readers should also talk with lawyer friends, who can relate their experiences of how our justice systems functions in practice.
Some classical anthropological discussions of traditional justice systems include Leopold Pospisil The Kapauku Papuans and Their Law (New Haven: Human Relations Area Files, 1964), E.A. Hoebel The Law of Primitive Man: a Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), Bronislaw Malinowski Crime and Custom in Savage Society (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1926), and Sally Falk Moore Law as Process: An Anthropological Approach (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), and Social Facts and Fabrications: “Customary” Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880 – 1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
References for traditional dispute resolution among the Kaulong, Fore, Siriono, Mbuti, Piraha, and Nuer are the books by Goodale, Berndt, Holmberg, Turnbull, Everett, and Evans-Pritchard cited at the beginning of the Further Readings section printed in my book. Sorcery-related Ebola fever in Gabon is described by Barry Hewlett and Bonnie Hewlett Ebola, Culture, and Politics (Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008).
Two articles about the origin of disputes in American society are Richard Miller and Austin Sarat, “Grievances, claims, and disputes: assessing the adversary culture” (Law and Society Review 15: 525-566 (1980-1981)), and William Felstiner, Richard Abel, and Austin Sarat, “The emergence and transformation of disputes: naming, blaming, claiming…” (Law and Society Review 15: 631-654 (1980-1981)).
The following are examples of how some professions or groups within the United States or Western societies settle member disputes by themselves without court involvement, using tribal-like mechanisms. For Shasta County cattle ranchers in California: Robert Ellickson Order without Law: How Neighbors Settled Disputes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991). For Maine lobster fishermen: James Acheson The Lobster Gangs of Maine (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1988). For diamond merchants: Lisa Bernstein, “Opting out of the legal system: extralegal contractual relations in the diamond industry” (Journal of Legal Studies 21: 115-157 (1992)).
Apologies, admissions of blame, and expressions of regret by the perpetrator to the victim are associated with risks as well as with potential benefits within the American legal system, depending partly on whether the apology is full or only partial. Two relevant studies are Erin O’Hara and Douglas Yarn, “On apology and consilience” (Washington Law Review 77: 1121-1192 (2002)) and Jennifer Robbennolt, “Apologies and legal settlement” (Michigan Law Review 102: 460-516 (2003)).
The debate over whether the losing party should pay part of the winner’s attorney fees is discussed by Thomas Rowe, Jr., “The legal theory of attorney fee shifting: a critical overview” (Duke Law Journal 651-680 (1982)).
For a discussion of impartial adjudication in light of the matter of Bernard Goetz, the man who was asked to undergo mediation with his mugger and, disillusioned with our legal system, several years later shot four men who were apparently about to mug him again, see Albert Alschuler, “Mediation with a mugger: the shortage of adjudicative services and the need for a two-tier trial system in civil cases” (Harvard Law Review 99: 1808-1859 (1986)).
The editorial that I quote concerning the Los Angeles district attorney’s desire to prosecute Roman Polanski despite the desire of his victim for him not to be prosecuted was published in the Los Angeles Times for October 31, 2009.
The Los Angeles Times for February 17, 2007 published an account of how restorative justice operated at the meeting of Patty O’Reilly with the man who killed her husband. Reviews of how restorative justice operates in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States include Mark Umbreit Victim Meets Offender: the Impact of Restorative Justice and Mediation (Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press, 1994); Jim Consedine Restorative Justice: Healing the Effects of Crime (Littleton, New Zealand: Ploughshares Publications, 1995); Nova Scotia Department of Justice Restorative Justice: a Program for Nova Scotia (Halifax: Department of Justice, 1998); Gordon Bazemore and Mara Schiff, eds. Restorative Community Justice (Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing, 2001); Allison Morris and Gabrielle Maxwell, eds. Restorative Justice for Juveniles: Conferencing, Mediation and Circles (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2001); and Kathleen Daly, “Restorative justice: the real story” (Punishment and Society 4: 55-79 (2002)).
A much-cited article about how the legal system affects negotiations and bargaining that go on outside the courtroom is Robert Mnookin and Lewis Kornhauser, “Bargaining in the shadow of the law: the case of divorce” (Yale Law Journal 88: 950-997 (1979)).
As examples of the hybrid systems now arising in many developing nations, combining traditional justice at the community level with state justice, such hybrid systems that evolved in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands are reviewed by Daniel Evans, Michael Goddard, and Don Paterson The Hybrid Courts of Melanesia (Washington, DC: Justice and Development Working Paper Series [of the World Bank], 2010 [www.worldbank.org/lji]).
The quote from Chief Justice Robert Yazzie about Navajo peacemaking comes from p. 320 of Peter Iverson Diné: a History of the Navajos (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002).
Chapter 3. A short chapter, about a tiny war
The three main sources for the Dani fighting described in this chapter are as follows. Broekhuijse’s doctoral dissertation is Johan Broekhuijse De Wiligiman-Dani: Een Cultureel-anthropologische Studie over Religie en Oorlogvoering in de Baliem-vallei (Tilburg: Gianotten, 1967). Heider’s book is Karl Heider The Dugum Dani: a Papuan Culture in the Highlands of West New Guinea (New York: Wenner Gren Foundation, 1970). Matthiessen’s book is Peter Matthiessen Under the Mountain Wall: a Chronicle of Two Seasons in the Stone Age (New York: Viking, 1962).
Robert Gardner’s film is Robert Gardner Dead Birds (Cambridge MA: Peabody Museum of Harvard University, 1963). Gardner and Heider together wrote Gardens of War: Life and Death in the New Guinea Stone Age (New York: Random House, 1969). More recent studies are Karl Heider Grand Valley Dani: Peaceful Warriors, 3rd ed. (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1997), Robert Gardner The Impulse to Preserve: Reflections of a Filmmaker (New York: Other Press, 2006), and Paul Roscoe, “Dead Birds: the theater of war among the Dugum Dani” (American Anthropologist 113, no. 1: 56-70 (2011)). The death toll quoted for Okinawa comes from George Feifer Tennozan: the Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1992).
Chapter 4. A long chapter, about many wars
For excellent accounts of tribal warfare in general, see Lawrence Keeley War before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). Steven LeBlanc Constant Battles: the Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003), and “Why war? Lessons from the Past” (Daedalus winter 2007: 13 - 21 (2007)). Samuel Bowles “Did warfare among ancestral hunter-gatherers affect the evolution of human social behaviors?” (Science 324: 1293 – 1298 (2009)). Azar Gat War in Human Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). I quote Keeley on p. 165, and LeBlanc on p. 130. A massive analysis of how violence has changed in recent centuries is Steven Pinker The Better Angels of Our Nature (New York: Viking, 2011).
For tribal warfare compared with chimpanzee warfare, see Richard Wrangham, “Killer species” (Daedalus fall 2004: 25 – 35 (2004)); Richard Wrangham, Michael Wilson, and Martin Muller, “Comparative rates of violence in chimpanzees and humans” (Primates 47: 14 – 26 (2006)); and Richard Wrangham and Luke Glowacki, “Intergroup aggression in chimpanzees and nomadic hunter-gatherers: evaluating the chimpanzee model” (Human Nature, in press). Wrangham’s paper includes an insightful discussion of why some human societies are more peaceful than are others; that is also the theme of Raymond Kelly “Warless Societies and the Origins of War (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000).
For wars of New Zealand’s Maori against each other and against Europeans, see James Belich The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict (Auckland: Penguin, 1986). James Belich Making Peoples: a History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century (Auckland: Penguin, 1996). R.D Crosby: The Musket Wars: a History of Intra-iwi Conflict 1806 – 45 (Auckland: Reed (1999)). For war in Fiji, see R.A. Derrick A History of Fiji, revised ed. (Suva: Government Press, 1950). For war in Roviana Lagoon and elsewhere in the Solomon Islands, see Judith Bennett Wealth of the Solomons: a History of Pacific Archaeology, 1800 – 1978 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987). For Auyana warfare, see Sterling Robbins Auyana: Those Who Held onto Home (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982).
The systematic compilations of cross-cultural comparisons in the Human Relations Area Files have been analyzed to understand warfare by Carol Ember and Melvin Ember, “Warfare, aggression, and resource problems: cross-cultural codes” (Behavior Science Research 26: 169 – 226 (1992)) and “Resource unpredictability, mistrust, and war: a cross-cultural study” (Journal of Conflict Resolution 36: 242 – 262 (1992)); Carol Ember, Melvin Ember, and Bruce Russett, “Peace between participatory polities: a cross-cultural test of the ‘Democracies rarely fight each other’ hypothesis” (World Politics 44: 573 – 599 (1992)); and Carol Ember, Bruce Russett, and Melvin Ember, “Political participation and peace: cross-cultural codes” (Cross-cultural Research 27: 97 – 145 (1993)). The role of sacred values rather than cold rational choices in motivating conflicts is considered by Scott Atran, Robert Axelrod, and Richard Davis, “Sacred barriers to conflict resolution” (Science 317: 1039 – 1040 (2007)).
For revenge, see Stephen Beckerman and Paul Valentine, eds. Revenge in the Cultures of Lowland South America (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008) and G.W. Trompf Payback: the Logic of Retribution in Melanesian Religions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
For Chumash warfare, see Lynn Gamble The Chumash World at European Contact (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).
For discussions of effects of European contact on tribal warfare, see R. Brian Ferguson and Neil Whitehead War in the Tribal Zone: Expanding States and Indigenous Warfare (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 1992) and R. Brian Ferguson Yanomamo Warfare: a Political History (Santa Fe: School of American Press, 1999).
A book in which anthropologists debate whether or not they should suppress publication of evidence for environmental degradation and/or warfare among indigenous communities is Richard Chacon and Rubén Mendoza, eds. The Ethics of Anthropology and Ameridian Research: Reporting on Environmental Degradation and Warfare (New York: Springer, 2012).
For tabulations of modern wars, see Lewis Richardson Statistics of Deadly Quarrels (Pittsburgh: Boxwood Press, 1960) and Micheal Clodfelter Warfare and Armed Conflicts, 3rd ed. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008).
For Sherman’s march through the Confederacy in the broader context of the American Civil War, see James McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom: the Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).
Sources on Dani warfare are cited under the Further Readings for Chapter 3.
For archaeological evidence of the massacre at Talheim, see J. Wahl and H. König “Anthropologisch-traumologische Untersuchung der menschlichen Skelettreste aus dem bandkeramischen Massengrab bei Talheim, Kreis Heilbronn” (Fundberichte aus Baden-Württemberg 12: 65 – 193 (1987)). A Bronze Age massacre is described by Detlef Jantzen et al., “A Bronze Age battlefield? Weapons and trauma in the Tollense Valley, north-eastern Germany” (Antiquity 85: 1 – 18 (2011)). A Spanish Neandertal massacre is described by Antonio Rosas et al., “Paleobiology and comparative morphology of a late Neandertal sample from El Sidron, Asturias, Spain (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 103: 19266-19271 (2006)) and by Carles Lalueza-Fox et al., “Genetic evidence for patrilocal mating behavior among Neandertal groups” (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 108: 250-253 (2011)).
Books cited under the printed Further Readings for the Prologue include those by Berndt, Chagnon (quoted on my p. 158), Burch, Kuegler, Evans-Pritchard (quoted on my p. 158), and Malinowski, about the Fore, Yanomamo, Iñupiaq Inuit, Fayu, Nuer, and Mailu Islanders respectively.
For comparisons of zealous warriors and milder men among the Waorani Indians in reproductive output, see Stephen Beckerman et al. “Life histories, blood revenge, and reproductive success among the Waorani of Ecuador” (Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 106: 8134 – 8139 (2009)). Chagnon’s corresponding comparison for the Yanomamo appeared in N. Chagnon “Life histories, blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population” (Science 239: 985 – 992 (1988)).
Portions of my discussion of vengeful feelings come from my article “Vengeance Is Ours” (The New Yorker pp. 74 - 87 (April 21, 2008)).
Chapter 5. Bringing up children
This chapter is well served by excellent recent books about childhood that make explicit comparisons among human societies, between humans and other primate species, or both: Barry Hewlett and Michael Lamb, eds. Hunter-gatherer Childhoods: Evolutionary, Developmental, and Cultural Perspectives (New Brunswick, NJ: AldineTransaction, 2005); Robert LeVine and Rebecca New, eds. Anthropology and Child Development: a Cross-cultural Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008); David Lancy The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Sarah Blaffer Hrdy Mothers and Others: the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); and Melvin Konner The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). The first two of these books are multi-authored edited volumes that offer the perspectives of many different authors about the societies that they studied individually, while the last-three-cited books are syntheses by single authors.
An earlier comparative study, based on a 1957 version of George Murdock’s cross-cultural sample, is Herbert Barry III, Irvin Child, and Margaret Bacon, “Relation of child training to subsistence economy” (American Anthropologist 61: 51-63 (1959)).
For many peoples whose child-rearing practices I discuss in this chapter, the references will be found at the beginning of the Further Readings section printed in my book. Those peoples are: the Ache, Agta, Aka, Andaman Islanders, Mbuti, Dani, Hadza, Iñupiat, Kaulong, !Kung, Mailu Islanders, Nuer, Siriono, Trobriand Islanders, and Yanomamo. Three other peoples discussed in this chapter are described in chapters of the Hewlett/Lamb and LeVine/New multi-authored edited volumes cited above. Two are from the Hewlett/Lamb volume: the chapters by Douglas Bird and Rebecca Bliege Bird on the Martu of the Western Australian desert, and by Bram Tucker and Alyson Young on the Mikea of Madagascar. The other is the chapter in the LeVine/New volume by Meyer Fortes on the Tallensi of Ghana.
Comparative studies by Barry Hewlett and his colleagues comparing Central African forest foragers and their farmer neighbors include: Barry Hewlett Intimate Fathers cited above; Barry Hewlett, “The parent-infant relationship and social-emotional development among Aka pygmies,” pp. 223-243 in J. Roopnairine and B. Segal, eds. Parent-child Relations in Diverse Cultures (New York: Abley, 1992); Barry Hewlett et al., “Culture and early infancy among Central African foragers and farmers” (Developmental Psychology 34: 653-661 (1998)); and Hillary Fouts, Barry Hewlett, and Michael Lamb, “Weaning and the nature of early childhood interactions among Bofi foragers in Central Africa” (Human Nature 12: 27-46 (2001)).
The controversy about whether it is dangerous or desirable for modern parents to sleep in the same bed as their infants is discussed by James McKenna and Thomas McDade, “Why babies should never sleep alone: a review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breast feeding” (Paediatric Respiratory Reviews 6: 135-152 (2005)).
Sources of direct quotes in my chapter are as follows. From Daniel Everett, about the Piraha, on my pp. 176 – 177, 188, 197, and 198: pp. 90-91, 98, 89-97, and 89 in his book Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes cited in my printed Further Readings. From Kim Hill and A. Magdalena Hurtado about the Ache, on my pp. 178 and 199: pp. 375 and 219-220 in their book Ache Life History cited in my printed Further Readings. From Nancy Howell, about the !Kung, on my pp. 178 - 179: pp. 119-120 in her book Demography of Dobe !Kung cited in my printed Further Readings. From Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, about American child-rearing practices, on my p. 191: p. 65 in her chapter in the Hewlett and Lamb book Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods cited above. From Nurit Bird-David, about the Nayaka, on my p. 205: p. 96 in her chapter in the same book by Hewlett and Lamb. From Bronislaw Malinowski, about Trobriand Islanders, on my pp. 195 - 196: p. 30 in his chapter in the book by Robert LeVine and Rebecca New Anthropology and Child Development cited above. From Meyer Fortes, about the Tallensi, on my p. 196: p. 35, in his chapter in the same book by LeVine and New. From Colin Turnbull, about the BaMbuti pygmies, on my pp. 205 - 206: p. 129 in his book The Forest People cited in my printed Further Readings.
Chapter 6. The treatment of old people: cherish, abandon, or kill?
Five classic books comparing old age across many societies present many of the examples of specific tribal practices that I summarize. The books are: Leo Simmons The Role of the Aged in Primitive Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1945). Donald Cowgill and Lowell Holmes, eds. Aging and Modernization (New York: Meredith, 1972). Pamela Amoss and Stevan Harrell, eds. Other Ways of Growing Old: Anthropological Perspectives (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1981). Donald Cowgill Aging around the World (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1986). J. Keith et al. The Aging Experience: Diversity and Commonality across Cultures (City: publisher, 1994).
Conflicts of interest between parents and their offspring are explained by Robert Trivers “Parent-offspring conflict” (American Zoologist 14: 249 – 264 (1974)).
Some papers by Kristen Hawkes and colleagues about the contributions of grandmothers are as follows. Kristen Hawkes, James O’Connell and Nicholas Blurton Jones, “Hardworking Hadza grandmothers,” pp. 341-366 in V. Standen and R. Foley, eds. Comparative Socioecology: the Behavioural Ecology of Humans and Other Mammals (London: Basil Blackwell, 1989). Kristen Hawkes et al., “Grandmothering, menopause, and the evolution of human life histories” (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 95: 1336-1339 (1998)). Kristen Hawkes, “Grandmothers and the evolution of human longevity” (American Journal of Human Biology 15: 380-400 (2003)). Kristen Hawkes, “The grandmother effect” (Nature 428: 128-129 (2004)).
References for the Ache, !Kung, African pygmies, and Siriono are the books cited at the beginning of the Further Readings section printed in my book.
Sources for further information about some of the case studies that I mention or describe are as follows. For the disappearance at sea of the veteran Pacific navigator Tevake: David Lewis We, the Navigators (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1972). For the surveys of American attitudes about the elderly: Louis Harris and Associates, Inc. The Myth and Reality of Aging in America (Washington, DC: National Council on the Aging, 1975); Louis Harris and Associates Aging in the Eighties: America in Transition (Washington, DC: National Council on the Aging, 1981). For gerontocracy in Ireland: Conrad Arensberg and Solon Kimball Family and Community in Ireland (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1940); Robert Kennedy, Jr. The Irish: Emigration, Marriage, and Fertility (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973). For the battle of Tarawa: Joseph Alexander Utmost Savagery: the Three Days of Tarawa (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995). For the effects of Finnish and Canadian grandmothers on survival of their grandchildren: Mirkka Laadenperä et al., “Fitness benefits of prolonged post-reproductive lifespan in women” (Nature 428: 178-181 (2004)). For the experimental study of the effect of a job applicant’s age on the likelihood of being interviewed by a prospective employer: Joanna Lahey Age, Women, and Hiring: an Experimental Study (Chestnut Hill, MA: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 2006).
My account, on pp. 219 – 220, of traditional knowledge and the hungi kengi on Rennell Island is drawn from my account on pp. 122 – 123 of my book Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
Sources of direct quotes in my chapter are as follows. From Allan Holmberg, about the Siriono, on my p. 215: p. 226 in his book Nomads of the Long Bow cited in my printed Further Readings. From Kim Hill and A. Magdalena Hurtado, about the Ache, on my p. 216: p. 236 in their book Ache Life History cited in my printed Further Readings. From Jane Goodale, about the Kaulong, on my p. 216: p. 176 in her book To Sing with Pigs is Human cited in my printed Further Readings. From Codrington, about the Banks Islanders, on my p. 216: p. 347 in his book [quoted by Simmons on p. 236 of his above-cited book]. From Winston Churchill, about Japan’s Admiral Kurita, on my p. 217: p. 186 in his book Triumph and Tragedy (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1953). From Donald Cowgill, about the emphasis on family, attributes of old age, and Ireland, on my pp. 221 – 222, 223, and 230: pp. 46, 8, and 110 in his book Aging around the World cited above.
Richard Strauss’s reflections on changes with age in his abilities as a composer were recorded by Stefan Zweig Die Welt von Gestern (Frankfurt: S. Fischer Verlag, 1982).
Chapter 7. Constructive paranoia
Richard Lee describes how the !Kung drive lions and hyenas off of an animal carcass on p. 221 of his book The !Kung San cited in my printed Further Readings.
Ronald Berndt relates the story of Jumu, the young woman who was killed while traveling to visit her parents and brothers, on pp. 244-246 of his book Excess and Restraint cited in my printed Further Readings.
Chapter 8. Lions and other dangers
There is an enormous literature by psychologists, engineers, physicians, behavioral ecologists, insurance company analysts, and other scholars on risk, uncertainty, and related subjects. Some classic references in this area, to guide interesting readers to other sources, are as follows. For the relationship between safety, benefit, and acceptable risks: Chauncey Starr, “Social benefit versus technological risks: what is our society willing to pay for safety?” (Science 165: 1232-1238 (1969)). For uncertainty and decision-making: Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahnemann, “Judgment under uncertainty: heuristics and biases” (Science 185: 1124-1131 (1974)) and “The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice” (Science 211: 453-458 (1981)). For the discrepancies between our ranking of risks and the actual risks: Paul Slovic, “Perception of risks” (Science 236: 280-285 (1987)). For our irrational assessments of risks: Melvin Konner Why the Reckless Survive: and Other Secrets of Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 1990), especially the chapter with that same title on pp. 125-139. For unpredictable outcomes of behavior and decisions: Bruce Winterhalder, “Risks and decision-making,” pp. 433-445 in R.I.M. Dunbar and Louise Barrett, eds. Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Carol Goland’s study of field scattering by Andean peasants is: “Field scattering as agricultural risk management: a case study from Cuyo Cuyo, Department of Puno, Peru” (Mountain Research and Development 13: 317-338 (1993)). I discussed the relevance of Goland’s results for investors, hedge fund managers, and pension managers in an article “Foreword,” pp. ix – xiv in Steven Drobny The Invisible Hand: Hedge Funds off the Record – Rethinking Real Money (New York: Wiley, 2010).
I discussed the evolution of infectious diseases affecting human hunter/gatherers, compared with the crowd epidemic diseases that evolved since the origins of farming, in Chapter 11 of my book Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies (New York: Norton, 1997). A subsequent and more detailed analysis is by Nathan Wolfe, Claire Panosian, and Jared Diamond, “Origins of major human infectious diseases” (Nature 447: 279-283 (2007)).
The books cited at the beginning of the Further Reading section printed in my book provide references for the Ache, Agta, Ainu, Aka pygmies, Dani, Daribi, Fayu, Great Basin Shoshone, Iñupiaq, Kaulong, !Kung, Mbuti pygmies, Ngarinyin, Nuer, Piraha, Siriono, Trobriand Islanders, and Yanomamo.
Sources for further information about some of the studies that I mention or describe are as follows. For A.F.R. Wollaston’s encounter with New Guineans dying of starvation: his article “An expedition to Dutch New Guinea” (Geographical Journal 43: 248-273 (1914)) and his book Pygmies and Papuans: the Stone Age Today in Dutch New Guinea (London: Smith Elder, 1912). The Anasazi and Greenland Norse are described in my book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking Penguin, 2005), which provides many references. Rainfall records at Pomio are included in J.R. McAlpine, Gael Keig, and Karen Short Climatic Tables for Papua New Guinea (Melbourne: Division of Land Use Research Technical Paper no. 37, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia, 1975).
Food storage among the Itenm’i of the Kamchatka Peninsula is discussed by Victor Shmirelman, “The Itenm’i,” pp. 147-151 in Richard Lee and Richard Daly, eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
Effects of injuries and illnesses on foraging behavior are discussed by Lawrence Sugiyama and Richard Chacon, “Effects of illness and injury on foraging among the Yora and Shiwiar: pathology risk as adaptive problem,” pp. 371 – 395 in L. Cronk, N. Chagnon, and W. Irons, eds. Human Behavior and Adaptation: an Anthropological Perspective (New York: Aldine, 2000).
Sources of direct quotes in my chapter from books already cited in my printed Further Readings are as follows. From Sabina Kuegler, about the Fayu, on my p. 276: p. 312 in her book Dschungelkind. From Jane Goodale, about the Kaulong, on my p. 284: p. 43 of her book To Sing with Pigs is Human. From Marjorie Shostak, about the !Kung, on my p. 285: p. 75 of her book Nisa. From Kim Hill and A. Magdalena Hurtado, about the Ache, on my pp. 285 - 286: p. 162 of their book Ache Life History. From Richard Lee, about the !Kung, on my pp. 301 and 302: pp. 118 and 114 in his book The !Kung San. From E.E. Evans-Pritchard, about the Nuer, on my p. 301: p. 84 in his book The Nuer of the Sudan cited above.
The source for the direct quote from Don Richardson, about the Sawi, on my p. 16, is p. 34 in his book Peace Child, 3rd ed. (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1976). The source of the quote from Carol Goland, about Andean farmers, on my p. 30, is p. 335 of her paper “Field scattering…” cited above.
Chapter 9. What electric eels tell us about the evolution of religion
The scholarly comparative study of religions began in the 19th century. The book that I found most useful to sample the older literature until 1965 is William Lessa and Evon Vogt, Reader in Comparative Religion: an Anthropological Approach, 2nd ed. (Harper and Row, New York, 1965). That reader consists of 81 short excerpts of classics in the study of religion, plus some relevant studies that one would not expect to find in a book on religion, such as a chapter on “water witches” who search for or divine the presence of hidden underground water by means of a divining rod. Another shorter reader consisting of five longer excerpts is Michael Banton, ed. Anthopological Approaches to the Study of Religion (Tavistock, London, 1966).
Two classics of the older literature, responsible for the most frequently quoted definitions of religion in Table 9.1, are briefly excerpted in the Lessa and Vogt reader, and one of them is excerpted in the Banton reader. The full references to these classics are: Émile Durkheim The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, translated from Durkheim’s original 1912 French text by Karen Fields (Free Press, New York, 1995); and Clifford Geertz The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books, New York, 1973). The Lessa and Vogt reader gives citations to the originals of other classics in the literature on religion. Bronislaw Malinowski Magic, Science, and Religion (New York: Doubleday, 1954) is a classic work on the anthropology of religion and its relationship to uncertainties in a culture’s environment. Other classics include: Edward Tylor Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art, and Custom (London: John Murray, 1871), James Frazer The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1924), Mircea Eliade The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1957), and E. E. Evans-Pritchard Theories of Primitive Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965). Keith Thomas Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Scribners, 1971) traces the parallel history of the development of both religious beliefs and magical thinking and how one influenced the other.
The subject of the evolution of religion is well served by excellent recent books. David Sloan Wilson Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (University of Chicago, Chicago, 2002) discusses how religions compete with other religions, from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist familiar with group selection. (While many or most biologists deny the role of group selection in explaining evolved features of animal species, its usefulness in understanding recent human societies is undeniable, because humans do live in and often compete and survive as groups that tend to act in unity because of shared beliefs and behaviors). Two related books are Pascal Boyer Religion Explained: the Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (Basic Books, New York, 2001) and Scott Atran In Gods We Trust: the Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Oxford University Press, New York, 2002). Both books trace the origins of religion to the evolutionary psychology of the human brain, and both ask why we hold the particular types of supernatural beliefs that we do. That view is extended by Scott Atran and Joseph Henrich, “The evolution of religion: how cognitive by-products, adaptive learning heuristics, ritual displays, and group competition generate deep commitments to prosocial religions” (Biological Theory 5: 1-13 (2010)). Daniel Dennett Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Viking, New York, 2006) examines religion from the perspective of a philosopher aiming especially at American readers. Sam Harris The End of Faith: Religion, Terrorism and the Future of Reason (Norton, New York, 2004) and Richard Dawkins The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin Co, Boston, New York, 2006) critically examine religion, especially its harmful consequences, from the perspective of atheists. Karen Armstrong A History of God: the 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Knopf, New York, 1994) and Robert Wright The Evolution of God (Little Brown, New York, 2009) concentrate especially on the emergence of the major monotheistic Western religions. Jennifer Michael Hecht Doubt: a History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson (Harper Collins, New York, 2003) begins with a 13-question quiz that will enable you to grade yourself along a scale from hard-core atheist to believer. Jesse Bering The God Instinct: the Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life (London: Nicholas Brealey, 2010) considers religion as a sophisticated cognitive illusion bringing evolutionary advantages, rather than an irrational delusion.
The sociology of religion is well explored in Rodney Stark and W. S. Bainbridge A Theory of Religion (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987). James McClenon Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2002) discusses, among other topics, reasons why shamans and rituals produce medical cures for some illnesses. Michael Shermer How We Believe (New York: Times Books, 1999) places religion in a larger context of mythic beliefs with an evolutionary explanation that all such beliefs serve two purposes: explanatory and social. Carl Sagan Varieties of Scientific Experience (New York: Penguin, 2007) explores the relationship between religion and science and speculates about the origins of the religious impulse. Michael Shermer The Believing Brain (New York: Times Books, 2011) suggests a neurological basis for God beliefs. Robert McCauley Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) argues that “…religion has existed for many thousands of years in every society because the kinds of explanations it provides are precisely the kinds that come naturally to human minds.” Changes in religion over the course of human history are considered by Robert Bellah Religion in Human Evolution: from the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).
Among the many articles in this field, several are especially relevant to the discussion in my chapter. Elizabeth Brumfiel “Huitzilopochtli’s conquest: Aztec ideology in the archaeological record” (Cambridge Archaeological Journal 8: 3 - 13 (1998)) argues that the religion of the Aztec state was aimed not only at tribute-paying commoners but also at young nobles who might otherwise have been inclined to scheme against the emperor. William Irons ”Religion as a hard-to-fake sign of commitment” (pp. 292-309 in Randolph Nesse, ed. Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment (Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 2001)) asks why signs of commitment to religion tend to be costly and hence believable. Two papers compare the durability of religious and secular communes: Richard Sosis “Religion and intragroup cooperation: preliminary results of a comparative analysis of utopian communities” (Cross-cultural Research 34: 70 - 87 (2000)) and Richard Sosis and E. Bressler “Cooperation and commune longevity: a test of the costly signalling theory of religion” (Cross-cultural Research 37: 211 - 239 (2003)). Richard Sosis and W. Penn Handwerker, “Psalms and coping with uncertainty: Israeli women’s responses to the 2006 Lebanon war” (American Anthropologist 113: 40 – 55 (2011)) discuss recitation of psalms as a stress reduction technique. Explanations of suffering offered by different societies around the world are compared by Richard Shweder et. al “The ‘big three’ of morality (autonomy, community, divinity) and the ‘big three’ explanations of suffering” (pp. 119 - 169 in Richard Shweder Why Do Men Barbeque?: Recipes for Cult and Psychology (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2003)). Charles Blow, “Religious outlier” (New York Times, Sept. 4, 2010) uses data from a Gallup report to plot the relationship between religious devotion and poverty among the world’s nations. Gregory Paul, “Religiosity tied to socioeconomic status” (Science 327: 642 (2010)), provides a summary and bibliography of that relationship.
The functions and evolution of fish electric organs are discussed by Peter Moller Electric Fishes: History and Behavior (London: Chapman and Hall, 1995); Stanley Finger and Marco Piccolino The Shocking History of Electric Fishes (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); H.W. Lissmann, “Electric location by fishes” (Scientific American 208, no. 3: 50-59 (1963)); Theodore Bullock, “Seeing the world through a new sense: electroreception in fish” (American Scientist 61: 316-325 (1973)); Vielka Salazar and Philip Stoddard, “Social competition affects electric signal plasticity and steroid levels in the gymnotiform fish Brachyhypopomus gauderio” (Hormones and Behavior 56: 399-409 (2009)); Manuel Leal and Jonathan Losos, “Communication and speciation” (Nature 467: 159-160 (2010)); and Bruce Carlson et al., “Brain evolution triggers increased diversification of electric fishes” (Science 332: 583-586 (2011)).
Chapter 10. Speaking in many tongues
The standard reference listing all known modern languages of the world, giving their estimated number of speakers and status (secure or endangered or extinct), and mapping their geographic distribution, is M. Paul Lewis, ed. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 16th ed. (Dallas: SIL International, 2009).
Surveys and classifications of the world’s languages include: Merritt Ruhlen A Guide to the World’s Languages, vol. 1 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987); Bernard Comrie, ed. The World’s Major Languages (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); and Bernard Comrie, Stephen Matthews, and Maria Polinsky The Atlas of Languages: the Origin and Development of Languages throughout the World (New York: Facts on File, 1996).
For native languages of the Americas or else of North America, see Joseph Greenberg Language in the Americas (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987); Marianne Mithum The Languages of Native North America (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999); and Lyle Campbell American Indian Languages: the Historical Linguistics of Native America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). For New Guinea, see William Foley The Papuan Languages of New Guinea (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986) (note: New Guinea also has Austronesian languages not discussed in Foley’s book).
For discussion of how languages diverge and evolve, resulting in the hierarchical relationships of languages, three books present different views of the origin and spread of Indo-European languages: Colin Renfrew Archaeology and Language: the Puzzle of Indo-European Origins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987); J.P. Mallory In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989); and David Anthony The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).
Books and articles discussing the geography of linguistic diversity – i.e., why some parts of the world have more languages than others – include Daniel Nettle Linguistic Diversity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Johanna Nichols Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); and Thomas Currie and Ruth Mace, “Political complexity predicts the spread of ethnolinguistic groups” (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 206: 7339-7344 (2009)). The three books by K. David Harrison cited below discuss cryptic languages, dialect chains, and asymmetrical understanding of pairs of languages.
Besides the question of geographic variation in low-level language diversity that I discuss, i.e. the number of distinct languages, there is a separate question of geographic variation in high-level language diversity, i.e. the number of distinct language families or groupings. Low-level and high-level diversity are not tightly correlated. For instance, Vanuatu has high low-level but low high-level diversity: its 110 languages all belong to the same subgroup within the Austronesian language family. Again, Mozambique and Bolivia have the same low-level diversity (about 45 languages each), but Mozambique has much lower high-level diversity: all its languages belong to two subgroups of the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo language family, while Bolivia’s languages belong to at least 18 distinct groupings. For discussion of these questions, see David Harrison Language Extinction cited below.
Language steamrollers – i.e., the spreads of some languages at the expense of other languages, made possible by demographic, social, military, or technological advantages of the speakers of the expanding languages – are discussed by Colin Renfrew Archaeology and Language cited above; Jared Diamond Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies (New York: Norton, 1997); Jared Diamond and Peter Bellwood, “Farmers and their languages: the first expansions” (Science 300: 597-603 (2003)); and Peter Bellwood First Farmers: the Origins of Agricultural Societies (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005).
Multilingualism and linguistic exogamy in the Vaupes River area are discussed by Arthur Sorensen, “Multilingualism in the Northwest Amazon” (American Anthropologist 69: 670-684 (1967)), and by Jean Jackson The Fish People: Linguistic Exogamy and Tukanoan Identity in Northwest Amazonia (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Multilingualism among Aboriginal Australians at Cape Keerweer is discussed by Peter John Sutton Wik: Aboriginal Society, Territory and Language at Cape Keerweer, Cape York Peninsula, Australia (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1978). For comparisons of multilingualism among Montagnard and Wandala people in Cameroon, see Leslie Moore, “Multilingualism and second language acquisition in the Northern Mandara Mountains of Cameroon,” pp. 131-147 in George Echu and Samuel Gyasi Obeng, eds. Africa Meets Europe: Language Contact in West Africa (Hauppauge, NY: Nova, 2004).
For discussion of how speakers in multilingual groups decide which language to use depending on the audience and subject, see Kathryn Wollard, Double Talk: Bilingualism and the Politics of Ethnicity in Catalonia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989); Kathryn Wollard, “Codeswitching,” pp. 73-94 in A. Duranti, ed. A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004); and Philippe van Parijs, “Europe’s linguistic challenge” (Archives of European Sociology 45: 113-154 (2004)).
The many studies by Ellen Bialystok and her colleagues on effects of bilingualism, executive function, and Alzheimer’s disease include the following. Ellen Bialystok, “Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind” (Child Development 70: 636-644 (1999)). Ellen Bialystok Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy, and Cognition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Ellen Bialystok, Michelle Martin, and Mythili Viswanathan, “Bilingualism across the lifespan: the rise and fall of inhibitory control” (International Journal of Bilingualism 9: 103-119 (2005)). Ellen Bialystok et al., “Effect of bilingualism on cognitive control in the Simon task: evidence from MEG” (NeuroImage 24: 40-49 (2005)). Ellen Bialystok, Fergus Craik, and Morris Freedman, “Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia” (Neuropsychologia 45: 459-464 (2007)). Ellen Bialystok, “Bilingualism: the good, the bad, and the indifferent” (Language and Cognition 12: 3-11 (2009)). ). Ellen Bialystok et al., “Bilingual minds” (Psychological Science in the Public Interest 10: 89-129 (2009). Ellen Bialystok and Xiaojia Feng, “Language proficiency and executive control in proactive interference: evidence from monolingual and bilingual children and adults” (Brain and Language 109: 93-100 (2009)). Ellen Bialystok and Fergus Craik, “Cognitive and linguistic professing in the bilingual mind” (Current Directions in Psychological Science 19: 19-23 (2010)). Fergus Craik, Ellen Bialystok, and Morris Freedman, “Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease: bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve” (Neurology, 75: 1726-1729 (2010). Tom Schweizer et al., “Bilingualism as a contribution to cognitive reserve: evidence from brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease” (Cortex, in press).
Other studies on effects of bilingualism include Sarah Ellen Ransdell and Ira Fischler, “Memory in a monolingual mode: when are bilinguals at a disadvantage?” (Journal of Memory and Language 26: 392-405 (1987)); Carl Bankston and Min Zhou, “Effects of minority-language literacy on the academic achievement of Vietnamese youths in New Orleans (Sociology of Education 68: 1-17 (1995)); Stephanie Carlson and Andrew Meltzoff, “Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children” (Developmental Science 11: 282-298 (2008)); Albert Costa, Mireia Hernández, and Núria Sebastián-Gallés, “Bilingualism aids conflict resolution: evidence from the AMT task” (Cognition 106: 59-86 (2008)); and Janet Werker and Krista Byers-Heinlein, “Bilingualism in infancy: first steps in perception and comprehension” (Trends in Cognitive Science 12: 144-151 (2008)).
For studies of bilingualism in children and infants, including ingenious methods of testing language comprehension in infants who cannot yet speak, see Ágnes Melinda Kovács, “Early bilingualism enhances mechanisms of false-belief reasoning” (Developmental Science 12: 48-54 (2009)); Ágnes Melinda Kovács and Jacques Mehler, “Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants” (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106: 6556-6560 (2009)); and Ágnes Melinda Kovács and Jacques Mehler, “Flexible learning of multiple speech structures in bilingual infants” (Science 325: 611-612 (2009)).
For the discovery and description of the kopipi, the Bougainville bird with the beautiful song, see Mary LeCroy and F. Keith Barker, “A new species of bush-warbler from Bougainville Island and a monophyletic origin for Southwest Pacific Cettia” (American Museum Novitates no. 3511 (2006)).
The following books discuss language disappearance and extinction, and how to combat it. Robert Robins and Eugenius Uhlenbeck, eds. Endangered Languages (Oxford: Berg, 1991). Joshua Fishman Reversing Language Shift: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages (Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 1991). Matthias Brenzinger, ed. Language Diversity Endangered (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2007). Nicholas Evans Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). K. David Harrison When Languages Die: the Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); The Last Speakers (Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2010); and Language Extinction (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Papers by Michael Krauss on the status of Eyak and other native languages of Alaska include “The world’s languages in crisis” (Language 68: 4-10 (1992)); “The indigenous languages of the North: a report on their present state” (Northern Minority Languages: Problems of Survival, Senri Ethnological Studies 44: 1-34 (1997)); and “Mass language extinction, and documentation: the race against time,” pp. 19-37 in Osamu Sakiyama, ed. Lectures on Endangered Languages: 2, from Kyoto Conference 2000 (Kyoto: Nakamishi, 2001).
David Laitin Nations, States, and Violence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) discusses the contributions of language differences and other factors to nationalism and violence.
Theodora Kroeber Ishi in Two Worlds: a Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961) tells the story of Ishi, the last Yahi Indian, as an example of how languages can be made to disappear by killing all of their speakers. Those of you who read this wonderful book will find a moving account of the collision of two worlds, and a grim story of a complete genocide.
The quotations from Winston Churchill’s speeches of May 13 and June 4, 1940, to the House of Commons come from pages 25, 26, and 118 of his book Their Finest Hour (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949).
Chapter 11. Salt, sugar, fat, and sloth
S. Boyd Eaton’s and Melvin Konner’s initial synthesis of the implications of our traditional hunter/gatherer diet for our health under modern lifestyle conditions was their article “Paleolithic nutrition: a consideration of its nature and current implications” (New England Journal of Medicine 312: 283-289 (1985)). This theme was then developed into a book by Eaton, Marjorie Shostak, and Konner The Paleolithic Prescription: a Program of Diet and Exercise and a Design for Living (New York: Harper and Row, 1988). Two papers focusing on obesity and on chronic degenerative diseases were S. Boyd Eaton, Melvin Konner, and Marjorie Shostak “Stone agers in the fast lane: chronic degenerative diseases in evolutionary perspective” (American Journal of Medicine 84: 739-749 (1988)) and Peter Brown and Melvin Konner “An anthropological perspective on obesity” (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 499: 29-46 (1987)). For many further references and a more recent reconsideration of the status of this field, see Melvin Konner and S. Boyd Eaton “Paleolithic nutrition: twenty-five years later” (Nutrition in Clinical Practice 25: 594-602 (2010)).
Some of this chapter is drawn from four previous articles of mine: Jared Diamond, “Sweet death” (Natural History 101 (1): 2 – 5 (1992)); “The saltshaker’s curse” (Natural History 100 (10): 20 – 26 (1991)); “The double puzzle of diabetes” (Nature 423: 599 – 602 (2003)); and “Diabetes in India” (Nature 469: 478-479 (2011). A book discussing many aspects of the mismatch between our bodies and modern conditions that is the theme of this chapter is Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits Our Bodies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). The constellation of health problems derived from the Western lifestyle, termed the metabolic syndrome, is discussed by Robert Eckel, Scott Grundy, and Paul Zimmet, “The metabolic syndrome” (Lancet 365: 1415 – 1428 (2005)).
An example of the current global epidemic of non-communicable diseases drawn from cardiovascular diseases is given by Bernard Gersh et al., “The epidemic of cardiovascular disease in the developing world: global implications” (European Heart Journal 31: 642-648 (2010)). Obesity, a major risk factor for health consequences of the Western lifestyle, is discussed in the following papers: Michael Goran, “Ethnic-specific pathways to obesity-related disease: the Hispanic vs. African-American paradox” (Obesity 16: 2561 – 2565 (2008)); Abdhalah Ziraba, Jean Fotso, and Rhoune Ochako, “Overweight and obesity in urban Africa: a problem of the rich or the poor?” (BioMed Central Public Health 9: 465 – 473 (2009)); and Richard Johnson et al., “The evolution of obesity: insights from the mid-Miocene” (Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association 121: 295 – 308 (2010)). An example of a natural experiment on non-communicable diseases resulting from migration is Thomas Robertson et al., “Epidemiological studies of coronary heart disease and stroke in Japanese men living in Japan, Hawaii and California” (American Journal of Cardiology 39: 244 – 249 (1977)). Two papers describing manipulative experiments on the effect of diet on non-communicable diseases are Frank Sacks and Martijn Katan, “Randomized clinical trials on the effects of dietary fat and carbohydrate on plasma lipoproteins and cardiovascular disease” (American Journal of Medicine 113: 13S – 24S (2002)), and S. Lindeberg et al., “A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease” (Diabetologia 50: 1795 - 1807 (2007)).
Some papers discussing non-communicable diseases or the lack thereof in New Guinea and Melanesia are P. Sinnett and H. Whyte, “Epidemiological studies in a rural Highland population, Tukisenta, New Guinea: cardiovascular disease and relevant clinical, electrocardiographic, radiological and biochemical findings” (Journal of Chronic Disease 26: 265 – 290 (1973)); Lot Page, Albert Damon, and Robert Moellering, “Antecedents of cardiovascular disease in six Solomon Islands societies” (Circulation 49: 1132 – 1146 (1974)); S. Lindeberg and B. Lundh, “Apparent absence of stroke and ischaemic heart disease in a traditional Melanesian island: a clinical study in Kitava” (Journal of Internal Medicine 233: 269 – 275 (1993)); S. Lindeberg et al., “Cardiovascular risk factors in a Melanesian population apparently free from stroke and ischaemic heart disease: the Kitava study” (Journal of Internal Medicine 236: 331 – 340 (1994)); and Gary Dowse et al., “Extraordinary prevalence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and bimodal plasma glucose distribution in the Wanigela people of Papua New Guinea” (Medical Journal of Australia 160: 767 – 774 (1994)). Papers on diet and health problems, especially diabetes, among Aboriginal Australians are Kerin O’Dea et al., “Traditional diet and food preferences of Australian Aboriginal hunter-gatherers” (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B334: 233 -241 (1991)); Kerin O’Dea, “Diabetes in Australian Aborigines: impact of the Western diet and life style” (Journal of Internal Medicine 232: 103 – 117 (1992)); and Kerin O’Dea, “Obesity and diabetes in ‘the land of milk and honey’” (Diabetes/Metabolism Reviews 8: 373 – 388 (1992)).
Three review articles providing good introductions to the complex subject of salt and hypertension are Pierre Meneton et al., “Links between dietary salt intake, renal salt handling, blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases” (Physiological Reviews 85: 679 – 715 (2005)); Ian Brown et al., “Salt intake around the world: implications for public health” (International Journal of Epidemiology 38(3): 791 - 813(2009)); and Feng He and Graham MacGregor, “Reducing population salt intake worldwide: from evidence to implementation” (Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases 52: 363 – 382 (2010)). A classic book on salt is Derek Denton, The Hunger for Salt (Heidelberg: Springer, 1982), while a more recent book is Graham MacGregor and Hugh de Wardener Salt, Diet and Health : Neptune's Poisoned Chalice: the Origins of High Blood Pressure (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
Epidemiological studies examining salt intake and hypertension in populations around the world include A. S. Truswell et al., “Blood pressures of !Kung bushmen in Northern Botswana” (American Heart Journal 84: 5 – 12 (1972)); W. J. Oliver, E. L. Cohen, and J. V. Neel, “Blood pressure, sodium intake, and sodium related hormones in the Yanomamo Indians, a ‘no-salt’ culture” (Circulation 52: 146 – 151 (1975)); Intersalt Cooperative Research Group, “Intersalt: an international study of electrolyte excretion and blood pressure. Results for 24 hour urinary sodium and potassium excretion” (British Medical Journal 297: 319 – 328 (1988)); and J. J. Carvalho et al., “Blood pressure in four remote populations in the INTERSALT study” (Hypertension 14: 238 – 246 (1989)). Manipulative experiments investigating the effect of diet on blood pressure are Frank Sacks et al., “Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet” (New England Journal of Medicine 344(1): 3 – 10 (2001)); William Vollmer et al., “Effects of diet and sodium intake on blood pressure: subgroup analysis of the DASH-sodium trial” (Annals of Internal Medicine 135: 1019 – 1028 (2001)); and Jing Chen et al., “Metabolic syndrome and salt sensitivity of blood pressure in non-diabetic people in China: a dietary intervention study” (Lancet 373: 829 – 835 (2009)). Two papers carried out a controlled clinical experiment in which newborn Dutch infants were reared for six months on a low-salt or normal-salt diet, and reassessed 15 years later: Albert Hofman, Alice Hazebroek, and Hans Valkenburg, “A randomized trial of sodium intake and blood pressure in newborn infants” (Journal of the American Medical Association 250: 370 – 373 (1983)); and Johanna Geleijnse et al., “Long-term effects of neonatal sodium restriction on blood pressure” (Hypertension 29: 913 – 917 (1997)). For a manipulative experiment on effects of variation in dietary salt intake on blood pressure in chimpanzees, see Derek Denton et al., “The effect of increased salt intake on blood pressure of chimpanzees” (Nature Medicine 1: 1009 – 1016 (1995)).
Three skeptical analyses disputing the relation between salt and blood pressure are J. D. Swales, “Salt saga continued: salt has only small importance in hypertension” (British Medical Journal 297: 307 – 308 (1988)); Gary Taubes, “The (political) science of salt” (Science 281: 898 – 907 (1998)); and Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek et al., “Fatal and nonfatal outcomes, incidence of hypertension, and blood pressure changes in relation to urinary sodium excretion” (Journal of the American Medical Association 305: 1777-1785 (2011)). Two studies of hypertension specifically in Africans, African-Americans, and Caribbean Africans in Britain are Feng He et al., “Importance of the renin system in determining blood pressure fall with salt restriction in black and white hypertensives: (Hypertension 32: 820 – 824 (1998)); and Srividya Kidambi et al., “Aldosterone contributes to blood pressure variance and to likelihood of hypertension in normal-weight and overweight African Americans” (American Journal of Hypertension 22: 1303 – 1308 (2009)).
Some other papers about salt intake and hypertension are Chisato Nagata et al., “Sodium intake and risk of death from stroke in Japanese men and women” (Stroke 35: 1543 – 1547 (2004)); Kevin O’Shaughnessy and Fiona Karet, “Salt handling and hypertension” (Journal of Clinical Investigation 113: 1075 – 1081 (2004)); Myron Weinberger, “Pathogenesis of salt sensitivity of blood pressure” (Current Hypertension Reports 8: 165 – 170 (2006)); Horacio Adrogué and Nicolaos Madias, “Sodium and potassium in the pathogenesis of hypertension” (New England Journal of Medicine 356: 1966 – 1978 (2007)); Andrew Bomback, Riley Bove, and Philip Klemmer, “Of snakes and men: the evolution of ACE inhibitors” (Journal of the Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone System 8: 1 – 2 (2007)); and Philip Klemmer, “Salt appetite” (American Journal of Kidney Diseases 55(4): xxxi – xxxii (2010)).
As for diabetes, an article summarizing its prevalences around the world as of 2010 is J. Shaw, R. Sicree, and P. Zimmet, “Global estimates of the prevalence of diabetes for 2010 and 2030” (Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 87: 4 – 14 (2010)). For the status of diabetes in Asia, see Ambady Ramachandran et al., “Diabetes in Asia” (Lancet 375: 408 – 418 (2010)). A detailed region-by-region review of the prevalence and symptoms of diabetes around the world is provided by Jean-Marie Ekoé et al. The Epidemiology of Diabetes Mellitus, 2nd ed. (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008). Discussions of diabetes include Gary Dowse et al., “High prevalence of NIDDM and impaired glucose tolerance in Indian, Creole, and Chinese Mauritians (Diabetes 39: 390 – 396 (1990)); Allison Hodge et al., “Dramatic increase in the prevalence of obesity in Western Samoa over the 13 year period 1978 – 1991” (International Journal of Obesity 18: 419 – 428 (1994)); Paul Zimmet, “Globalization, coca-colonization and the chronic disease epidemic: can the Doomsday scenario be averted?” (Journal of Internal Medicine 247: 301 – 210 (2000)); Paul Zimmet et al., “Global and societal implications of the diabetes epidemic” (414: 782 – 787 (2001)); and Paul Zimmet, “The growing pandemic of type 2 diabetes: a crucial need for prevention and improved detection” (Medicographia 33: 15 – 21 (2011)). For recent updates about the diabetes epidemic on Mauritius, see Jeremy Jowett et al., “Genetic influences on type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome related quantitative traits in Mauritius” (Twin Research and Human Genetics 12: 44 – 52 (2009)) and Dianna Magliano et al. “Mortality, all-cause and cardiovascular disease, over 15 years in multiethnic Mauritius: impact of diabetes and intermediate forms of glucose tolerance” (Diabetes Care 33: 1983 – 1989 (2010)). The surprisingly steep relationship between television viewing time and mortality from cardiovascular diseases, much of it related to diabetes, is documented by D.W. Dunstan et al., “Television viewing time and mortality: the Australian diabetes, obesity and lifestyle study (AusDiab)” (Circulation 121: 384-391 (2010)). Accounts of the Pimas include Frank Russell, The Pima Indians (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1975); and W. Knowler et al., “Diabetes mellitus in the Pima Indians: incidence, risk factors and pathogenesis” (Diabetes/Metabolism Reviews 6: 1 – 27 (1990)). The diabetes explosion on Nauru is described by G. Dowse et al., “Decline in incidence of epidemic glucose intolerance in Nauruans: implications for the ‘thrifty genotype’” (American Journal of Epidemiology 133: 1093 – 1104 (1991)), and by H. Rubinstein and Paul Zimmet, Phosphate, Wealth, and Health in Nauru: a Study of Lifestyle Change (Gundaroo: Vrolga, 1993).
Diabetes in India is summarized in the following articles by Dr. Viswanathan Mohan and his colleagues: V. Mohan et al., “Intra-urban differences in the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in southern India – the Chennai Urban Population Study (CUPSno. 4)” (Diabetic Medicine 18: 280 – 287 (2001)); R. Pradeepa and V. Mohan, “The changing scenario of the diabetes epidemic: implications for India” (Indian Journal of Medical Research 116: 121 – 132 (2002)); V. Mohan et al., “Secular trends in the prevalence of diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance in urban South India – the Chennai Urban Rural Epidemiology Study (CURES-17)” (Diabetologia 49: 1175 – 1178 (2006)); V. Mohan et al., “Epidemiology of type 2 diabetes: Indian scenario” (Indian Journal of Medical Research 125: 217 – 230 (2007)); V. Mohan et al., “Urban rural differences in prevalence of self-reported diabetes in India – the WHO-ICMR Indian NCD risk factor surveillance” (Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 80: 159 – 168 (2008)); V. Mohan et al., “Incidence of diabetes and pre-diabetes in a selected urban South Indian population (CUPS-19)” (Journal of the Association of Physicians of India 56: 152 – 157 (2008)); V. Mohan et al., “Can the diabetes/cardiovascular disease epidemic in India be explained, at least in part, by excess refined grain (rice) intake?” (Indian Journal of Medical Research 131: 369 – 372 (2010)); S. Sandeep, A. Ganesan, and V. Mohan, Development and Updation of the Diabetes Atlas of India (www.whoindia.org/LinkFiles/NMH_Resources_Diabeletes_atlas.pdf (2010)); and Rajendra Pradeepa et al., “Risk factors for microvascular complications of diabetes among South Indian subjects with type 2 diabetes – the Chennai urban rural epidemiology study (CURES) eye study-5” (Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics 12: 755 – 761 (2010)).
James Neel set out his thrifty genotype hypothesis in an article, “Diabetes mellitus: a ‘thrifty’ genotype rendered detrimental by ‘progress’?” (American Journal of Human Genetics 14: 353 – 362 (1962)). The following papers provide criticisms, extensions, or alternatives for the thrifty genotype hypothesis: C. Hales and David Barker, “Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus: the thrifty phenotype hypothesis” (Diabetologia 35: 595 – 601 (1992)); Andrew Prentice, Pura Rayco-Solon and Sophie Moore, “Insights from the developing world: thrifty genotypes and thrifty phenotypes” (Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 64: 153 – 161 (2005)); Daniel Benyshek and James Watson, “Exploring the thrifty genotype’s food-shortage assumptions: a cross-cultural comparison of ethnographic accounts of food security among foraging and agricultural societies” (American Journal of Physical Anthropology 131: 120 – 126 (2006)); J. R. Speakman, “Thrifty genes for obesity, an attractive but flawed idea, and an alternative perspective: the ‘drifty gene’ hypothesis” (International Journal of Obesity 32: 1611 – 1617 (2008)); and Reinhard Stöger, “The thrifty epigenotype: an acquired and heritable predisposition for obesity and diabetes?” (BioEssays 30: 156-166 (2008)).
Books describing famines include: Ancel Keys et al. The Biology of Human Starvation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1950); Andrew Appleby, Famine in Tudor and Stuart England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1978); John Post, Food Shortage, Climatic Variability, and Epidemic Disease in Preindustrial Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985); Robert Rotberg and Theodore Rabb, eds., Hunger and History: the Impact of Changing Food Production and Consumption Patterns on Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985); W. Gregory Monahan, Year of Sorrows: the Great Famine of 1709 in Lyon (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1993); William Jordan, The Great Famine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); and Cormac Ó Gráda Famine: a Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). Conversely, David Kessler The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (New York: Rodale, 2009) discusses modern Americans’ overconsumption of food, and what we can do about it. For the hormonal basis of the paradoxical observation that the more time you spend eating, the less you actually eat, see Alexander Kokkinos et al., “Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1 (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 95: 333-337 (2010)).
Epilogue: What can traditional societies teach us
Interviews with Aka pygmy women are reported by Bonnie Hewlett in her forthcoming book on the ethnography of Aka and Ngandu women of Central Africa. The observations of Ache Indians, of the Yahi Indian Ishi of Northern California, and of Sabine Kuegler and her sister come from books cited in my printed Further Readings: Kim Hill and A. Magdalena Hurtado Ache Life History, Theodora Kroeber Ishi in Two Worlds, and Sabine Kuegler Dschungelkind.
School of the World: Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Jared Diamond
The polymathic Jared Diamond ranks among the foremost writers of popular science. In Collapse:How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, he brought to bear his diverse background evolutionary biologist, expert on traditional societies, multilinguist to discuss why certain societies failed to gain a foothold and eventually disappeared. His best-known work, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, explored the circumstances by which European cultures developed the technologies, immune systems, and attitudes toward warfare that led to their later global dominance. These were complicated topics made palatable and digestible to a wide readership, and both books became bestsellers. Diamond's comprehensive expertise is once again in evidence in The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
Diamond, who has been visiting New Guinea since 1964, is intimately familiar with that region's social, political, and financial practices; they seem radically different from those of our society and yet resemble cultures that could be found around the globe through much of human history. There is much that modern readers can learn from such societies, Diamond writes; for example, in how they raise and treat their children; how they value their senior citizens; how they use "constructive paranoia" to survive dangerous situations; and how their multilingualism helps them stave off illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease.
But traditional societies Diamond cites dozens in this book, among them groups from Africa and South America should not be wholly romanticized. Some of their practices are better left to the dustbin of history: most notably infanticide, widow strangling, and persistent warfare.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Diamond discussed his long-held fascination with traditional societies and what they can teach us about human nature and the best ways to live. Cameron Martin
The Barnes & Noble Review: There's so much worthy of examination and discussion in this book, but I thought we might use as a starting point a quote from the middle of the book, where you concisely state that the book's purpose is concerned with "the whole spectrum of related phenomenon observed from the smallest human bands of 20 people to the largest states of over a billion people." Out of context, that stated purpose looks massive and unwieldy. What was the starting point for the construction of this book? Can it be considered the third part of a trilogy that began with Guns, Germs, and Steel and continued with Collapse?
Jared Diamond: Not at all. Each of my books has started from what I was interested in when I finished my previous book. This book was initially going to be an autobiographical account of what I have experienced and observed in New Guinea, but my editors wanted another big, worldwide book similar to Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse, and so it got transformed into an examination of small-scale societies around the world not just my anecdotal observations in New Guinea but also the published studies by anthropologists all around the world. To keep it manageable, I focused on thirty-nine small-scale societies that I kept coming back to so that readers could become familiar. And just as you say, it's a huge topic, and I could write a 30,000-page book summarizing all aspects of human society. But I had to pick. And to keep it manageable and affordable, I picked some aspects of traditional societies that we consider horrible and we don't want to emulate, such as being constantly at war and strangling widows. I picked some features that we can easily emulate for ourselves as individuals, such as carrying your baby upright and not in a baby carriage. I selected some features that we can't adopt as individuals but which governments have to adopt, such as a legal system. And so that's how I selected material for eleven chapters.
BNR: The first part of the book is called "Setting the Stage by Dividing Peace" and discusses how members of state societies differ from traditional societies in their relationships with friends, enemies, strangers, and traders. You mention something called a "conventional monopoly," a term and practice that I think would be of surprise and interest to Westerners. "This term refers to trade in an item which either of the two trade partners could obtain or manufacture, but which one side chooses to rely on the other partner to supply, as an excuse for maintaining trade relations." It's somewhat sycophantic, that practice, and definitely incongruous with capitalism as most Americans know it. Where is this practiced today and are you aware of any Westerners who practice it?
JD: It's practiced today among a lot of traditional societies. For example it's practiced among New Guineans and among Amazonian Indians. There are cases of one group who makes pottery and another group who makes spears and another who makes decorations. Each group could do all of those things, but they rely on each other so that they'll have trade partners who can be their allies in case of conflicts. As to whether there are any examples in the Western world, I can't immediately think of any examples. But in general, when I buy something from somebody, I buy it because somebody has it and I don't know how to make it or I don't want to go to the time to make it. I buy it because it's useful for me to do so. It's not the case that there's anything I abstain from making which I could very well make myself and which I buy from someone just so I can remain friends with that person.
BNR: That's such an interesting dynamic. It has a social and political aspect to it beyond the financial.
JD: That's right, you've hit the nail on the head. The social and political aspect is far more important than the financial aspect. In the case of the Dani of New Guinea, they buy net bags decorated with orchid fibers from a neighboring group. But they have orchid fibers and are completely capable of making their own fiber bags decorated with orchid fibers. The reason they buy them from the neighboring group is not for any financial reason whatsoever; it's to foster friendly relations with the neighboring group.
BNR: That's fascinating. In the "Peace and War" section, you discuss compensation for the death of a child and the traditional practice of "restorative justice," in which legal matters are handled face to face and justice is restored by the participating parties and not through courts.
JD: Restorative justice is not for every situation. It's instead for situations where both sides are willingboth the perpetrator and the victim or the relatives of the victim. It's especially important when the participants are going to have relationships for the rest of their lives. For example, because it's your neighbor or it's your sister or it's your spouse and you're going to get divorced. In those cases you want to establish at least a decent relationship so you can talk to your sister and your ex- spouse for the rest of life if you have to do it. I have plenty of friends who were victims or were involved in disputes with people they were never going to see again. Nevertheless, in the absence of restorative justice they were chewed up emotionally for the rest of their lives because they never got emotional clearance.
BNR: You mentioned in passing in the booknot serial killers but definitely repeat murderers in traditional societies who exhibited sociopathic tendencies. What's your experience or knowledge of serial killers in traditional societies? Or what are the factors that maybe are not in play that would otherwise produce them?
JD: I don't personally know of any serial killers, but there are lots of anthropological accounts of serial killers. For example among the Yanomamo Indians and various New Guinea groups. In our society a serial killer is someone who is pathological and who is rejected by the rest of society it's not the case that their behavior would ever be acceptable to society. The contrast is that among the Yanomamo Indians and other New Guinea groups that have serial killers, it's often that serial killers are doing something that's admired, and they get prestige for doing it because it's something that the society aims to do. For example, if a group of Yanomamo wants to kill a neighboring group of Yanomamo, a member of your group who is successful in killing a relatively large group of people on the other side is doing what your group wants and is approved of, and that person gets prestige that translates itself into getting more wives and having more children.
BNR: That's an interesting dynamic. They basically have an outlet for their sociopathic tendencies and then they're lauded for it.
JD: Well, for them it wouldn't be considered sociopathic or pathological tendencies. For them it's a widespread human instinct that we get talked out of, because from the age of two or three forward we're taught "Thou shall not kill." But among all traditional human societies, from age two or three onward you're taught you shall kill these particular people under these circumstances and you shall be praised for it.
BNR: Which leads to another thing you mentioned in the book, how in World War II and other well-known conflicts, more than half of Western soldiers couldn't bring themselves to shoot the enemy because they'd been indoctrinated with the idea that killing is wrong, whereas in traditional societies there is no such reluctance and they don't feel guilty afterward.
JD: Right. For example, my wife is a clinical psychologist out here in Los Angeles who works with soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and also with soldiers preparing for the wars. They are getting training, months of training beforehand, where they're out in these camps in the desert outside Los Angeles getting training. They're given targets to shoot at. And then the targets become humanlike targets, so that the soldiers are slowly getting desensitized and brought to the point where they're slowly willing to shoot another person. But when they're out in Iraq and Afghanistan, if buddies of theirs end up getting killed, and if they end up shooting a child or a woman or a man, they'll come back and be really upset with post-traumatic stress. Because even with that desensitization in the desert east of Los Angeles, they spent 18–25 years of their life being told "Thou shall not kill" and now they've done it.
BNR: In the section devoted to "Young and Old," you discuss how children are brought up in traditional versus state- governed societies and also the disparity between their attitude toward older people and our own. "American ideals push old Americans to lose self-respect, and push their younger care-givers to lose respect for them." How does that contrast with traditional societies, and what can we learn from them in terms of how they treat young and old?
JD: How traditional societies treat the young varies among traditional societies just as it varies among industrial societies. In Sweden, for example, it's a criminal act if you spank a child. In Germany fifty years ago, you were regarded as a bad parent if you failed to spank a child. So there's diversity in modern societies just as there's diversity in traditional societies. Some of them beat children much more severely than we do. In others of them, it's considered utterly unacceptable to hit a child. Among really small traditional societies, the hunter-gatherer societies or the small-farming societies, the usual pattern is that children are not hit. For example among the Aka Pygmies, you do it once and that's considered grounds for divorce by the co-parent. There are differences with children with traditional societies. You allow them freedom of choice to do what they decide to do. You hold them all the time when they cry and you immediately respond to the cry, and you don't put them in a crib and let them cry themselves out for twenty minutes. So those are some differences as regards children.
As regards old people, again there's diversity. We have modern societies that are kinder to their old people than other modern societies. Among some traditional societies, some actually kill their old people or abandon them or encourage them to commit suicide. But a lot of traditional societies maybe the majority of them gave their people much more satisfying lives and got more value out of them and treated them much better and maintained better relationships with them than in the modern United States or Europe.
BNR: What's your own take on the "spare the rod, spoil the child" approach?
JD: My own take is that that is a bad idea. I'm the parent of two children who are now in their mid-twenties and never, not once, did I hit my kids. I never found it necessary to hit my kids. I was always able to get them to do what I wanted them to do and to prevent them from doing what they shouldn't do by means other than hitting them. I see no good to hitting a child. I see a lot of harm to hitting a child.
BNR: In "Danger and Response," you discuss the benefits of constructive paranoia, using the example of New Guineans who would not sleep under a rotted tree as you were prepared to do. And you mention how traditional people have no concept of being macho, whereas we of course do. Can you discuss what contributed to that disparity?
JD: The !Kung, the Kalahari San people of the southwestern African desert, they do things that for an American teenager or a gang member would be considered the ultimate macho. Namely, there'll be lions on a carcass and you stand there and you throw stones at the lions or wave sticks to drive the lions off the carcass. Boy, that's something that you would really boast about if you were an American. But among the !Kung, it's part of how they make their living, part of their everyday lifestyle, and they don't boast about it. And again, if they kill an antelope with sharp horns. And if their child runs away from anantelope with sharp horns, they're not ashamed of it [laughs]. That's a child, and they think it's very smart to run away from a dangerous antelope.
BNR: And as you pointed out with the !Kung, they're very adept at recognizing whether the lions are sitting over prey that they've already feasted on or whether they're eating prey that they've only recently taken and that they are prepared to defend.
JD: That's right. If you see lions whose bellies are bulging and there's blood on their faces because they've been feasting, then those are lions that you drive off a carcass. If you see a lion with its ribs showing that's really hungry, you do not fool around with that lion and try to drive it off a carcass, because you know it's going to stand its ground.
BNR: What were some other instances in your own life in which "constructive paranoia" was beneficial to you?
JD: I'll give an example of something that happened to me three hours ago and which happens to me every day. I took a shower. Our shower here in the house has a marble floor. And it's got some of these frictional strips, but it's slippery. And I've learned that taking a shower is the most dangerous thing I'm going to do today. And every time I take a shower, I'm really careful, because I know particularly at my age I'm seventy-five the risk of falling in the shower is high. We Americans, what we are really worried about is terrorism and nuclear radiation and stuff like that. But the reality is that very few of us are going to get killed by terrorists or get hurt by nuclear radiation. But tens of thousands of us per year get crippled or die as a result of falling in the shower. For example among my wife's friends are two women over eighty who have fallen within the last month and a half. The likelihood is that one is not going to walk again, and the other seems to have survived. But all you have to do is read the obituary page of any newspaper any day, and on any page you find accounts of people who died as a result of a fall. I am really, really ultra- careful about slipping in the shower.
BNR: In the last section, devoted to religion, language, and health, you discussed the benefits of being multilingual. Namely, that people who are possessed of many different languages are constantly having to make snap decisions about what words to use in what context, and so they are better adapted to dealing with the myriad problems that daily life can unexpectedly present. Can you just elaborate a bit on the benefits of being multilingual?
JD: Oh, we could talk for several hours on the subject [laughs].
BNR: That's no problem!
JD: But two sorts of benefit. Just the personal benefit and the personal pleasure that has nothing to do with health. Personally at one time or another, I've spoken or read thirteen languages. I read Italian every day. I love learning other languages. It's given me a lot of pleasure, it's given me other ways to express myself. It means I have friends who I get to know in their own languages rather than just through the medium of English. It means that I can read all of this wonderful language. Not just Shakespeare, but I can read Dante and Goethe in the original. So it's something that has personally enriched my life. So that's the personal. The health benefits are something that are just being appreciated in the last half dozen years. Increasingly we're learning about Alzheimer's and the dimensions of old age, and as more and more Americans live to older ages, eventually about 15 percent of Americans will end up with Alzheimer's, which is a terrifying prospect. If you're multilingual, you're less likely to develop Alzheimer's. The reason is it exercises the brain. For the same reason I do pushups every morning, because it keeps my shoulders strong, one could argue that one keeps one's brain strong by being multilingual, because you're having to shift back and forth between languages literally every second. You have to think about the words, mentally work through and recognize.
BNR: You discussed the evolutionary irony of those ancestors who were equipped to get by with limited amounts of salt, and who are now at the highest risk of developing high blood pressure and hypertension. Likewise, there are people who are now more prone to diabetes, even though in the past they were able to subsist with less sugar. Is there any way for those traditional societies to more gradually adapt?
JD: The way to adapt is not to take in more salt and hope your body will adapt. Your body has genes and your genes are not going to adapt in your lifetime. Instead what some governments have done is to gradually adapt by reducing the salt in the food that's widely available with the help of food manufacturers. In Finland, if they were going to announce next year that there'd be no salt in food, everyone would notice it and people would complain and say, "I want my salty food." Instead the government of Finland got manufacturers to agree to lower the salt 10 percent. Nobody notices that. Two years later you do another 10 percent, and nobody notices. At the end of 30 years, the salt in Finnish food is way down, and lo and behold the frequency of heart disease and hypertension is down by 70 percent. So that's an instance of how to gradually adapt.
BNR: What was it about New Guinea that first attracted you to that area?
JD: It's simple. When I first went out there at the age of twenty-six, unmarried, lusting for adventure, I went to New Guinea because it was a wild and adventurous place. It's also famous for its diversity of beautiful birds. And when I went there for the first time in 1964, I loved it, I was fascinated, and I've been going back ever since.
BNR: When was the last time you were there?
JD: Four years ago, in 2008. Since 2008 I've made three trips to Indonesia, to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which are big tropical mountainous areas like New Guinea. But within the next twelve months I'm hoping to return to New Guinea.
BNR: You mentioned that this book could have been a 30,000-page tome. What were some main aspects that you didn't include that you maybe wanted to?
JD: Oh, there were so many. I would love to have had a chapter on the effect of language and how we think. It's a debated area. There's a theory that the language that you speak affects your ability to perceive something. For example, if your language only has two words for colorsdark and lightyou're not going to have the words for colors and you may not be able to distinguish colors as well as someone who speaks English, a language with a number of color terms. I would have loved to have a chapter on that, but we just don't know enough about it.
I considered having a chapter on the role of women. In fact I tried out this book by giving lectures in an undergraduate class at UCLA, to see what my students thought of the various material in the book. And for a couple of years I gave a lecture on the role of women. I decided not to have a chapter on the role of women because the fact is in traditional societies women are not treated equally. In fact they're often treated rather badly. And the female students in my class were so angry and upset and disbelieving, that I felt it was best not to have a chapter.
I also don't have a chapter on art. I don't have a chapter on how you select your spouse. I don't have a chapter on kinship terms. There are so many things if I had written a 30,000-page book that I would have had chapters on.
BNR: Are these omitted chapters going to be the basis for future books or articles?
JD: No, I already have the basis for my next book, and it's not going to be the other 30,000 pages.
BNR: Can you disclose what the crutch of your next book is going to be about?
JD: I think the next book is going to be about change in individuals and change in countries like the United States. I'm still thinking about it, and I think that's about all I can safely say about it now.
BNR: What are you hoping readers will take away in particular from The World Until Yesterday?
JD: The first thing I hope that readers will take away is just how fascinating it is to learn about how different societies deal with universal problems like bringing up children, staying healthy, and religion. I'd like readers to share my own pleasure, fascination, and excitement about other societies. There are things we can learn from them. Things as banal as not slipping in the shower. Things like settling disputes in a way that you're not churned up emotionally for the rest of your life. Staying healthy and not getting heart attacks and strokes and not getting diabetes. Learning the benefits of other languages, and bringing up your children in ways that result in your children being curious and self-confident and happy, rather than so many American children who have been micro-managed for so long and told what to do so much that they don't make their own decisions.
BNR: Jared, thank you very much, it's been a pleasure. Good luck with the book.
JD: Thank you. And thank you very much for your interesting questions.
The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? 4 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, January 14.
The main argument: The onset of agriculture and farming some 11,000 years ago (termed the Neolithic Revolution), is arguably the most significant turning point in the history of our species. Agriculture induced a major population explosion, which then led to urbanization; labor specialization; social stratification; and formalized governance--thus ultimately bringing us to civilization as we know it today. Prior to the Neolithic Revolution--and extending back time out of mind--human beings lived in a far different way. Specifically, our ancestors lived in small, largely egalitarian tribes of no more than 50 to 100 individuals, and hunted and foraged for their food.
The transition from our traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle to civilization as we know it now (which, on an evolutionary time-scale, occurred but yesterday) has certainly brought with it some very impressive benefits. Indeed, many of us today enjoy comforts and opportunities the likes of which our hunter-gatherer ancestors would never have dreamed of. However, it cannot be said that the transition from traditional to modern has left us without any difficulties. Indeed, some would go so far as to say that the problems that civilization has introduced outweigh the benefits that it has brought; and even the most unromantic among us are likely to agree that our experiment in civilization has not been an unmitigated success.
This then brings us to the problem of solving the difficulties that civilization has left us with. Now, when it comes to solving our problems, it is without a doubt the spirit of our age to look ever forward for solutions--by which I mean we tend to look for new technologies and hitherto undiscovered arrangements to help us out of our current predicaments. However, when we consider that our traditional lifestyle served us well for millennia on end, and that it was under this lifestyle wherein we underwent much of the biological and psychological evolution that lives with us to this day, we can begin to see how it may be fruitful to look back at this traditional lifestyle for possible solutions to the problems we now face.
Also of interest here--and deeply connected to the more practical goal mentioned above--is that investigating our traditional way of life promises to shed light on our underlying human nature in a way that is not possible when we look at ourselves through the obscuring artifice of civilization. It is these things that we stand to gain by learning about traditional societies, and it is this very project that geographer Jared Diamond takes up in his new book 'The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?'
Diamond has made a career out of studying the traditional societies of New Guinea, and is therefore a very credible authority on the subject matter at hand. What's more, his wealth of experience has left him with a trove of interesting and illuminating anecdotes to draw from, and these are on full display here. Finally, I felt that the author always maintained a very sober and balanced view with regards to the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional and modern societies. Altogether a very good book. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, January 14; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
More than 1 year ago
The book is an anthropological romp comparing paleolithic type societies with Western societies. Diamond presents evidence from various studies and from his own experience with New Guinea tribal groups. The underlying point of the book is tha Diamond is trying to present scientific evidence for the reader to use in building a better world. Topics vary. Wars. Are small tribal killings worse than modern wars? Is our treatment of the elderly better than in primitive societies? Religion, multilingualism, diets and constructive paranoia is discussed in this mix. One drawback is the book spends too much time on New Guinea tribal groups. Many of those sections could be condensed to main points. The book is a good buy.
More than 1 year ago
Socrates said "know thyself". One of the best ways to 'see' your own culture is to immerse yourself in someone else's. Diamond opens that window for us, just without the plane ticket and lost baggage. Very readable, informative and enlightening.
You don't need to be an anthropology student to enjoy this book.
More than 1 year ago
I am just about the middle of the book at this point: it is enthralling! The way Mr Diamond compares our societies with those of yesteryear is both eye opening and educative. How they "trade" by giving each other "gifts" while expecting other "gifts" in return, how they resolve conflicts (no lawyers, judges, police, files, etc., how they establish relationships among groups, how they protect territory . . . I stay until 2 o´clock in the morning reading: I cannot put it down!
More than 1 year ago
Well written book on an unusual human-interest subject!
This book explores the everyday lifestyle of diverse remaining traditional tribal societies (it’ll show you why the term “primitive society” is wrong) vs the modern ones. Author based it on his own experiences in New Guinea and many other countries as well as work of others in Africa, Asia and Americas. It is not an encyclopedia on the subject but rather a broad, well thought-through and insightful review of common features of such people, from child-rearing to eating habits to resolving conflicts. The book is perhaps a little more patchy and less global than “Guns, Germs and Steel” or “Collapse”, since it is focused on small scattered and diverse societies . It reports a myriad of facts you will find interesting regardless of whatever you agree with the conclusions and suggestions the author draws from them. As all Diamond’s books, very readable, un-boring, and frequently funny .
I grade books as Buy and Keep ( BK), Read a Library Copy (RLC) and Once-I-Put-It-Down-I-Couldn’t-Pick-It-Up (OIPD-ICPU). This one is RLC at very least.
More than 1 year ago
as with Diamond's other books, this one has wide scope and brings together information from disparate sources. But I have to say it is just not as gripping as collapse or guns germs and steel. His main theme is what we can learn from precivilized societies. If these lessons are modest ones, it is good to be reminded that by far the greatest portion of human history has not been lived in civilization -- well under 10%. So there is no reason to think our current way of life is in all ways superior.
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I was quite disappointed with this book upon reading it. Unlike Diamond's other two most famous books (Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse) this book seemed to be devoid of any kind of clear narrative or point to make. Rather, it very much read like a conglomeration of some of Diamond's notes and thoughts about hunter gatherer societies. I expected him to be making some central grandiose point the way he did in the others. Missing on that point, I put down the book rather frustrated. However, with time to reflect, I can praise this book for so wonderfully catalogs human development with contrasts between the past and present. Essentially, it is an excellent lay-person's introduction to anthropology and serves as a basis for excellent questions in sociology and moral development. Excellent work.
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Some years ago there was much speculation about the respective contributions of nature and nurture to humans' thoughts and behavior. I remember such questions as what would happen if we dressed baby girls in blue and boys in pink and gave the boys dolls to play with--would the boys grow up behaving like girls are supposed to and vice versa? That set me to toying with ideas for a book about what Diamond calls "the world until yesterday" to provide at least a partial answer. His book, even with its quite different emphasis, incidentally provides more insight into what is natural to our species than anything I might have written.
There was a time when Europeans used to speak of hunter-gatherers or small-scale farmers such as Diamond describes as “naturals”. They were seen as living in the state of nature--their behavior being a direct expression of their natures, whereas that of civilized people was the result of deliberate design. Its very unnaturalness--rising above our animal natures--was considered a virtue.
Of course, no human societies live in an actual state of nature--every society has adapted to its own conditions through its own culture and no one's behavior is simply instinctual. Nevertheless, there were extensive similarities in the conditions to which all hunter-gatherers had to adapt and in the resulting behaviors and the cultures built around them. And hunter-gatherer conditions persisted for many thousands of years--a period during which the biological (and psychological) adaptations that define our species occurred.
What we're left with today are the kinds of peoples that Diamond describes--the few hunter-gatherers who have survived in the margins of today's world supplemented by the more numerous small-scale agriculturalists. The cultures of the latter are still broadly comparable.
And so the kinds of behaviors described as representing "the world until yesterday" come as close as any we're going to find to those that are natural for our species--those for which we are adapted.
All of the additional complexities that we know today are attributable to food surplus--to individuals being able to reliably produce more than enough food to feed themselves. This meant that there were no periods of starvation (at least for key segments of the population). It also meant that not everyone had to spend their time in food production--some were thus freed to pursue other activities.
A very conspicuous difference between yesterday's world and our modern states is the concentration of power in the hands of an authority with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Such an authority with police powers capable of imposing peace within the society was, of course, impossible until there was a sufficient surplus to feed those who would impose the peace.
The absence of peace as we know it was an aspect of yesterday's world that always struck me as particularly disturbing. At some level people must never have been free of an awareness of potential dangers that we no longer face. And of course this was the inevitable state of affairs until there was concentration of power in the hands of a government with police powers capable of imposing peace within the society.
One could hardly say that the attitudes and behaviors that were natural yesterday have left no traces in today's world. First of all, on the international level there is no authority capable of maintaining peace between nations, and although negotiation can play a complicating role, in the end the relations between nations continue to follow very much the old pattern.
Something else that has seemed to me to reflect the same aspect of our nature is the street gangs, especially in some areas in big American cities with limited police control. These gangs are engaged in a constant battle to gain and maintain respect for their ability to defend themselves and retaliate for any offense against them.
Another institution of modern society that seems to have its antecedent in yesterday's state of constant (active or latent) war is sports. It's easy to see sports as reflecting a sense of groups in a continuing contest for survival.
Maybe this seemed clearest to me in the conditions where I grew up. That was in an area with towns small enough that, typically, each town had a single high school, and there was a lot of town pride associated with their athletic teams. This was especially true of the football teams. Football being seen as the most "physical" (=manly) of the sports made those teams and their players particularly appropriate to be seen as the town's champions.
I do have to admit that other sports seem to play this role less well. What about women's and the less physical men's sports? And what about even football teams above the high school level? Certainly, teams that don't rely on players from the communities they represent but recruit from anywhere in the world would seem to have a more tenuous claim to community pride.
But in any case the avidity of the interest in sports seems to cry out for explanation: I would suggest that its antecedent is yesterday's warfare.
It's not surprising if we moderns pride ourselves on our invention of law and the police powers that support it. It might be tempting to attribute this achievement to some moral superiority on our part, but of course this achievement is to be found only in societies with a food supply sufficient to feed individuals to constitute and run a government.
Of course, a reliable food supply provides enormous advantages of many kinds. Moderns are likely to feel revulsion at Diamond's descriptions of infanticide and the abandonment of elders when resources were insufficient to maintain any who couldn't maintain themselves. And of course moderns may be particularly inclined to evaluate these practices in terms of morality, but it’s important to remember that the effective exercise of morality presupposes adequate resources.
Further examples of the difference a reliable food supply can make appear in Diamond's descriptions of infanticide and the abandonment of elders when resources were insufficient to maintain any who couldn't maintain themselves. Of course moderns may be particularly inclined to evaluate these practices in terms of morality, but it’s important to remember that the effective exercise of morality presupposes adequate resources.
His discussion of child-rearing practices is enlightening. One very general observation is that small children are permitted to experiment much more in ways that expose them to risks--such as handling sharp knives or approaching fires--than in our more protective approach.
Some particularly interesting observations came from children of Western missionaries who lived for some years in New Guinea societies before being thrust into schools in Australia or the US. The most difficult adjustment, they report, was that from a previous emphasis on cooperation and sharing behavior, they were now expected to be competitive.
Diamond takes on the challenge of religion. Religion is of particular interest partly because it, along with art and language, are institutions without apparent antecedents. They are universal in human societies but nothing in the other closely related species suggests their origin. Diamond doesn't look for antecedents for religion, but he does propose an explanation. He sees religion as having evolved along with human culture. During our cultural evolution he sees religion as having performed a total of seven different functions as it evolved with those that were most important at some stages being less so or even absent at others. I find this a quite plausible scenario.
He also takes on language, though not its origins. He argues for the preservation of languages and the advantages (including psychological) of knowing more than one language. I would agree with what he says, but to my mind there is a more important reason for individual multilingualism and for preserving as many languages as possible.
I'm convinced that there are subtle differences in reality as different languages represent it to us. However, we have never found a satisfactory way of talking about these differences. In fact, it seems to me that people are very chary of even broaching the subject. And I think much of the blame for that can be attributed to the myth of a "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis".
This myth was invented in the early 1950s or thereabouts by the linguistic establishment of the time who were concerned that the surge of interest in the writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf was likely to divert funding away from what was then the dominant line of research. They effectively attacked the threat by representing it as a quite extravagant hypothesis that was much too vague to be tested and thus left nothing further that could be done. The implication was that there were either profound ontological differences between languages or none at all. This ploy continues to this day to be a harmful constraint on linguistic discourse.
Anyway, I feel that there are subtle differences in the emphases and interconnectedness that different languages give to reality, and that the sum of all of these adds up to an accumulated understanding, an accumulated wisdom, a sort of intellectual patrimony of our species. But this matter still awaits its Darwin or Newton.
Of course, many more subjects are covered in this quite impressive book. Diamond is uniquely equipped to write such a book, his extensive experience with a great variety of New Guinea societies is a rare asset. This is well up to the high standard he has set in previous works.
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Jared Diamond is very thorough in his analysis of groups, tribes, nstions etc.
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