Diamond defines traditional societies as “small-scale, politically independent societies with a few hundred or at most a few thousand people, even if they are farmers rather than strictly hunters and gatherers.” The traditional societies he studied for his book mostly reside in New Guinea. However, he says that elements of these societal norms exist in North America as well. In places such as Montana, he says, it is not uncommon for people to try to hash out their disagreements themselves rather than involving lawyers or police. This is similar to how traditional societies operate in that they don't have a state government to intervene, and people want to get “emotional closure” from the person they disagree with. Instead of simply punishing the other person, they attain some level of forgiveness and acceptance by solving the dispute without an outside party intervening.
Diamond asks us to consider the first example of a tribe that left behind a sick, elderly woman because they were unable to care for her any more. He suggests that this is not all that different from what we do with our own sick parents when we are forced to decide whether to take them off life-support. What can traditional societies learn from our way of life? One of Diamond's subjects in New Guinea appreciated the anonymity that American life affords. While traditional society revolves on strong social bonds, these people sometimes want to be able to enjoy a cup of coffee without bumping into someone they know. As Diamond says in the book and in his talks, we have much to learn from the way that different societies live. And it seems that they can learn something from us, too.