How interesting from Jared Diamond

\”We have virtually abandoned living in traditional societies,\” explains Diamond when we meet. \”But this was the only way of life that humans knew for their first 6m years on the planet. In giving it up over the past few thousand years, we have lost our vulnerability to disease and cold and wild animals, but we have also lost good ways to bring up children, look after old people, stave off diabetes and heart disease and understand the real dangers of everyday life.\”

One of those methods of dealing with the elderly:

The Kaulong people of New Britain used to have an extreme way of dealing with families in mourning. Until the 1950s, newly widowed women on the island off New Guinea were strangled by their husband\’s brothers or, in their absence, by one of their own sons. Custom dictated no other course of action. Failure to comply meant dishonour, and widows would make a point of demanding strangulation as soon as their husbands had expired.

We\’ve lost so much of value with this civilisation shit, haven\’t we?

Other habits have included infanticide and outbreaks of war between neighbours, though these are balanced with many cases of care and compassion, particularly for the elderly, and a concern for the environment that shames the west.

\”Concern for the environment\” eh? It is hunter gatherer societies that ravage it more than any other when population pressure rises. Vide the extinction of all of the edible megafauna where ever mankind emigrated to.

22 comments on “How interesting from Jared Diamond

  1. I think the African (attr.) thing about it taking a village to raise a child makes a lot of sense. Now we have just two (or one) stress bunny trying to do everything for a whole brood, while we’re rich enough to fulfil more childish avarice than ever before. Other people (except closest family at times of urgent need) are largely locked out for fear of peejerfiles.

    And we don’t strangle granny any more, but we do often lock her up in a careless home – and sell her house to pay for it rather than indulging in it once she’s dead.

    Basically larger family units mean the labour that goes into making the family work is used more efficiently. Extend that through several households that you actually trust with the occasional care of your sprogs and it’s even more so.

  2. I have not read the book, but various reviews and your quote imply that we can learn from primitive societies how to look after old people. But primitive societies do not have many old people. It is only in modern times that we have had an increased life expectancy.

  3. Humans date from about 200K years ago, not 6M. And we know virtually nothing about Homo Erectus “society”.

  4. JamesV – “I think the African (attr.) thing about it taking a village to raise a child makes a lot of sense.”

    Oh God.

    “Now we have just two (or one) stress bunny trying to do everything for a whole brood, while we’re rich enough to fulfil more childish avarice than ever before.”

    Two stress bunnies, plus a bunch of school teachers, plus some doctors, and a few nurses, plus the local policeman, plus a raft of local services from Libraries to creches, plus the local Church Youth group and so on. Actually if you look, children in the West are raised by hundreds of people to varying degrees.

    “And we don’t strangle granny any more, but we do often lock her up in a careless home – and sell her house to pay for it rather than indulging in it once she’s dead.”

    That is true. But what do you expect? The Left said that the family was a prison and the liberals said that we are all free individuals with no obligations to anyone.

    “Basically larger family units mean the labour that goes into making the family work is used more efficiently. Extend that through several households that you actually trust with the occasional care of your sprogs and it’s even more so.”

    Which is interesting but has precisely nothing to do with traditional African societies. Where even your own step-siblings can be reasonably expected to try to do you in. Much less the neighbours. Go read Colin Turnbull’s The Mountain People.

    The fact is Jared Daimond had one good idea. He expanded from this into a worrying love of autocracy and dislike of democracy. He has now decided to engage in a stereotypical First World naive love of the quaint practices of dusky skinned people that he would not for one second tolerate for himself and his own. As can be seen by the fact he does not live in PNG. He praises what he does not understand because he hates what he has. In other words, he is a weapon’s grade cock end.

  5. I agree it’s largely bullshit, if only because of the oft-abused “traditional”. What is “traditional” was of course once avant-garde, the “traditional” society he harks back to was preceded by something else, ultimately something that was a not-society, as we would recognise it.

    As for child rearing, I still suspect that western children today consume a far greater proportion of their parents’ output than, say, 200 years ago. At least, the Voice of Public Opinion expects of parents that this shall be the case.

  6. Primitive societies avoid diabetes, heart disease and chronic diseases of old age by arge numbers of people dying young, whether from easily preventable disease or internecine tribal warfare.

    Apparently that’s better, but as SMFS points out, he has inexplicably chosen to continue to live in the awful Western hell.

  7. I rather enjoy the irony – researchers are apparently learning that modern, learned societies have much to learn from the ancient, unlearned societies.

    Perhaps we should be striving to unlearn much that we have learned so we can behave in a learned fashion once more.

  8. Stella, spot on.
    Poor, disease ridden and murderous societies may have much to teach us, but in an entirely negative way, like showing your kids the payslips of street sweepers.

    But I think Diamond is too intelligent to believe his own bull. Being sentimental about savages is what ethologists call a signifier. “I am kind to the poor, so I’m good in bed”.

    Fatty Lean, with his stuff about turning ploughshares into windmills, on the other hand…

  9. If the Kaulong strangle widows, how on earth do they cope with divorce? Partially strangle them?

  10. I always thought Diamond’s analysis of Easter Island with its supposed lessons for the rest of the world (see Collapse) was a bit of a stretch. What happened there, I believe, was an expansionary society overreached, both in terms of distance and a slightly different environment that didn’t suit their traditional practices. But this statement really indicates he’s lost the plot totally

    “Most traditional societies give their older folk much more satisfying existences than we do and let them live out their last years surrounded by their children, relatives and grandchildren,” says Diamond.

    After all the counter examples he gives, couched in the usual “of course, some don’t do that” pretense of balance? Name one that did? If anyone lived to old age that is.

    Wealth and Poverty of Nations is a much more persuasive read. And a much better book than any of Diamond’s crap.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Wealth-Poverty-Nations-Some/dp/0393318885/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357487230&sr=8-1&keywords=wealth+and+poverty+of+nations

  11. Stella Baskomb – “I rather enjoy the irony – researchers are apparently learning that modern, learned societies have much to learn from the ancient, unlearned societies.”

    I don’t because it has become such a cliche. Magic Negro indeed. Rather people ought to point out the obvious – people who haven’t invented toilet paper yet don’t have a whole lot to teach us. We are better off concentrating on societies that work, that actually function, rather than ones that do not. But who says that these days?

    13 Dizzy Ringo – “If the Kaulong strangle widows, how on earth do they cope with divorce? Partially strangle them?”

    Perhaps Sicilian-style: shotgun at close range.

    14 Ltw – “What happened there, I believe, was an expansionary society overreached, both in terms of distance and a slightly different environment that didn’t suit their traditional practices.”

    Except given we have little to no evidence, it is a blank canvas on which we can write anything we like. Myself, I am inclined to think the last words spoken as the locals cut down the last tree was probably “there, that ought to fix that bloody Global Warming problem”.

    “Most traditional societies give their older folk much more satisfying existences than we do and let them live out their last years surrounded by their children, relatives and grandchildren,” says Diamond.

    Perhaps what he means is that the kids never call anymore?

    Look, I don’t mind people being arses. But what really gets me is that Diamond is so stupidly dishonest about it. If he wants to say he has read the Old Testament and wants us to return to a more patriarchal society where families are strong, children live in fear and women remain bare foot and pregnant in the kitchen, by all means do so. I mean, I do and not only when I am trying to annoy my sisters-in-law. Who can look at the Romney family and not think that is a better model for America than Obama’s own natal family? But he doesn’t. He wants to run with the wolves and pretend he is a dolphin. He needs to come out as a social conservative and piss off all the hippies that buy into his crap.

    Because this is what he is calling for – that all the social reforms since the Married Women’s Property Act be undone. But of course it is cute when dusky people do it innit?

  12. I blame that J J Rousseau and his invention (or more likely theft, since he was an inveterate plagiarist) of the myth of the Noble Savage (c. 1770)

    Half the schools in France are named after the little shit.

    Makka:
    Even Steven Pinko has some doubts later in the book, watch out for some grade one BS.
    You might like Clark’s Arms for Oblivion (my spelling may be a but dodgy on an amoazon search) which advances the theory that it’s downward mobility that makes gentility spread in society, and upward mobility can take care of itself.

  13. Except given we have little to no evidence, it is a blank canvas on which we can write anything we like.

    Can’t disagree with that. Which is another reason not to try and extrapolate lessons for the world out of it.

  14. You don’t have to go back to the Stone Age. Just read Jane Austen with a critical eye and ask yourself: How would I like to be a woman in this society? A manservant? A stable hand? A peasant farmer? Right through Dickens and all the way up to the early Agatha Christie, novelists have drawn all their best plots from the horrible things that can happen when people are dependent on their relatives.

    Hooray for the Industrial Revolution and an open society.

  15. Hmm. I live neck-deep in what I think is a traditional African society whereby you live for the sole purpose of enriching first yourself, and then your immediate relatives, and fuck over everyone else at the first opportunity, all whilst expending as little effort as possible. Yes, the Nigerian family who live in the shack outside my window do allow the elderly to see out their days surrounded by their children and grandchildren, but then they also have to shit in a hole in the ground in full view of everyone.

  16. I do wonder how traditional societies would cope with matters like my uncle’s father, who developed Alzheimers, and eventually went paranoid and started attacking family members (having been the gentlest of men beforehand).

  17. The peope of New Britain, and most other parts of New Guinea, were, and largely still are, subsistence farmers rather than hunter gatherers. Without modern medical interventions they still die of awful preventable diseases.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>