Misappropriating The Past

Dec 23 2012 @ 3:39pm

In an excerpt from his new book, Jared Diamond suggests what modern parents could learn from hunter-gatherers:

At minimum … one can say that hunter-gatherer rearing practices that seem so foreign to us aren’t disastrous, and they don’t produce societies of obvious sociopaths. Instead, they produce individuals capable of coping with big challenges and dangers while still enjoying their lives. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle worked at least tolerably well for the nearly 100,000-year history of behaviorally modern humans. Everybody in the world was a hunter-gatherer until the local origins of agriculture around 11,000 years ago, and nobody in the world lived under a state government until 5,400 years ago. The lessons from all those experiments in child-rearing that lasted ?for such a long time are worth considering seriously.

Jackson Lears is unimpressed by Diamond's latest book, which contrasts "the traditional" and "the modern":

[Diamond] seems characteristically unaware of the huge historical and anthropological literature complicating the categories of the traditional and the modern, as well as calling their utility and their empirical basis into question.

His understanding of modern societies is thin, superficial, and overgeneralized: He ignores differences created by culture and political economy, making no distinctions among neoliberal capitalism, social democracy, and the authoritarian hybrids emerging in such places as China and Singapore. All modern societies, to use his acronym, are WEIRD—Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. As in his earlier books, differences in how power is shared or not shared simply escape his notice. Everything is lumped together in the wan category of “the modern.”

What Diamond has to say about the "the traditional":

From the Siriono of Bolivia, the !Kung of the Kalahari, the Iñupiat of the Arctic, and above all the many tribes of New Guinea, Diamond extracts mild and mostly incontestable lessons: We should consider following their example (he thinks) by spreading child care among a local network of providers, respecting the knowledge of elders, adopting agricultural practices designed to anticipate food shortages, learning multiple languages, and embracing a low-salt, low-sugar diet. This is hardly a controversial agenda.