Jared Diamond Compares Traditional Societies To WEIRD Nations
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Aired 11/7/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Jared Diamond is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. His latest book is, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?
Jared Diamond will be speaking at the Jewish Book Fair on Sunday, November 10 at 4 p.m. at the Temple Solel in Cardiff By Sea.
Ever since a man in tribal New Guinea asked Jared Diamond why people in the west had so much more "cargo" than his people, Diamond has set out to explain some very big issues.
In his best seller, Guns, Germs and Steel, Diamond traces the elements that led European nations to world dominance.
His book Collapse explored the ways that societies have succeeded and failed through history.
In his latest book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?, Diamond compares life in so-called traditional societies to life in western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic, or "WEIRD" nations.
Diamond said the acronym is apt.
"Our practices and how we bring up our children and deal with old people and recognize danger and stay healthy or get sick are very unusual by the standards of most traditional societies."
In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond explores how traditional societies maintain relationships, treat elders, bring up children and communicate in comparison to western cultures.
In one anecdote, Diamond describes how New Guineans resolve the death of a child who is killed in a traffic accident outside of a court system.
Within five days of the boy's death the family and the driver's employer had come to an agreement on how to make good through a compensation ceremony. The process included the employer and his staff participating in a formal mourning ceremony, giving the family food and a small amount of money to "say sorry".
"In traditional societies, such as New Guinea, the emphasis is not on punishment or deterrence, the emphasis is on emotional reconciliation," said Diamond.
He says something similar is now happening in some modern societies.
"There's a movement in western justice systems called restorative justice," he said.
According to Diamond, this system brings together victims and criminals and others in dispute to develop emotional reconciliation that the American court system doesn't address.
But Diamond said not all traditions practiced in traditional societies are admirable.
"What I would not emulate is that some traditional societies have to abandon or kill their old people," he said.
"Traditional societies represent thousands of experiments in how to operate human societies, they've tried out thousands of things that we don't try out for ourselves."
He said he's learned things about bringing up his children, how to recognize danger and about staying healthy, from his "New Guinea friends."
Yet he chooses to live in Los Angeles, because he says he enjoys his "WEIRD" life, including access to medical care, antibiotics and food security.
But adds, "I'll keep going back to New Guinea until I'm dead or crippled."