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The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

This article was inspired by Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.

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Lessons from Traditional Societies

“Loneliness is not a problem in traditional societies. People spend their lives in or near the place where they were born, and they remain surrounded by relatives and childhood companions.”

While modern life grants people advantages like comfort, advanced medicine, avoidance of tribal warfare and police departments and judges to resolve disputes, we can learn a great deal from traditional societies. Much older than modern societies, traditional hunter-gather bands can teach us how to raise children well and have good health.

Breastfeeding is prioritized by mothers in traditional societies, while modern mothers tend to feed their children intermittently. While some primitive societies treat children harshly, going so far as to kill deformed babies, many offer lessons to parents living in the modern world. To the modern mind, intervening when a baby is crying will prevent a child from growing up to be self-reliant; however, studies of !Kung bands in the Kalahari Desert demonstrated that a mother’s choice to comfort or nurse crying infants caused babies to cry less over time.

The protectiveness of modern parents may be more harmful than helpful. Though moderns discourage children from becoming parents until they are older, teenage parents in traditional societies are far more prepared for raising children than their immature counterparts in the Western world. By allowing their offspring to engage in independent behavior modern parents would consider dangerous, traditional societies’ parents engender self-confidence and responsibility in their children.

While our modern justice system differs from that of the “do-it-yourself” kind popular in traditional societies, can we truly say that it is better? Do impersonal courtroom proceedings produce better results than the quicker face-to-face meetings used in New Guinea? Perhaps we can learn a great deal from societies that emphasize reconciliation between families rather than lawsuits.

People in traditional societies understand and respond to risks better than those in modern societies. While bands and tribes always avoid unnecessary dangers, such as planting food in one location rather than many, modern people drink, smoke and drive cars.

Ironically, Americans worry about the dangers that have killed far less people than alcohol, tobacco and car accidents, such as terrorist activity and nuclear accidents.

As modern society increasingly rejects the importance of religion, history has demonstrated that faith gives greater meaning to life than science. While religious beliefs had caused bloodshed in the past and present, tribal warfare is often driven by retaliation and rarely by ideology. As a matter of fact, when tribes came together to form chiefdoms in the past, religion established the rules that brought everyone together.

While communicable diseases still plague traditional societies, noncommunicable diseases have become major killers amongst those who live the sedentary lifestyles of the West and eat processed foods. Stroke, hypertension and heart attacks are unheard of in traditional societies, so we can learn a lot from their diets and types of exercise.

Despite the primitive behavior of traditional societies, modern people can learn the secrets to longer, healthier and happier lives from them.


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