The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

A speakers bureau that represents the best original thinkers,
writers, and doers for speaking engagements.

Why Traditional Societies Have Stood The Test of Time: Jared Diamond [VIDEO]

“Tribes constitute thousands of natural experiments in how to run a human society,” Jared Diamond says in his new talk at The New School. “They constitute experiments from which we ourselves may be able to learn.” In his new book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, Diamond unpacks this idea further, arguing that tribal societies of the past and present may have more to teach us in the industrialized world than we think. In an event presented by Lavin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and scientist compared our way of life to those living in New Guinea. Using the research he compiled from living in these societies firsthand, Diamond says that his new book is his most personal, and practical, to date.

While we are used to living in a society with the Internet, centralized government, and food grown by someone other than ourselves, these staples of industrial culture are recent evolutions. As Diamond explains. “the ancestors of all of us here were living under traditional, tribal, conditions until virtually yesterday measured against the time-scale of human evolution.” Although we have made many advances as a society, the fact that traditional societies have been living the same way for hundreds of years gives them experience that we don't yet have. They have learned certain strategies and ways of living that have stood the test of time—something that we can certainly learn from no matter how different these strategies may be from our own.

Diamond is currently a professor of geography at UCLA. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and his groundbreaking work answers some of today's most pressing questions about the nature of human development. His talks are eye opening and comprehensive. Diamond shows us a history of where we came from, how we can learn from our past, and what direction we will take as a species in the future.

Jared Diamond In Maclean’s: Don’t Despise, Or Idealize, Traditional Societies

What can we learn from traditional societies, and how should we view them? According to Jared Diamond, we must maintain an objective approach, and “we should neither despise nor idealize [them].” In an interview with Maclean's, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and geographer discusses themes from his new book, The World Until Yesterday. In the book, he explains that traditional societies live very differently than we do. While some practices (leaving the old/sick behind while the rest of the group moves on) may seem inhumane to us, he suggests we look at these actions through those people's eyes. In certain instances, they have no choice but to engage in decisions that we see as horrifying. That's why, he says, we shouldn't be quick to judge their way of life.

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.