What Traditional Societies Can Teach You About Life

A new book from best-selling author Jared Diamond tells us how we can learn a lot from people who live like most of us did 11,000 years ago

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Should we be making any efforts to try and preserve these traditional cultures?

We can’t. People often ask me, “Jared, why don’t we Americans and Europeans just leave those uncontacted New Guinean and Amazonian societies alone and let them get on with their lives?” That reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about what goes on in New Guinea and the Amazon. It’s not that Westerners go in and change them against their will. It’s that they learn about what’s happening outside and there’s a lot that they want. Once they see a steel axe, they want a steel axe, not a stone axe. Once they see matches, they want matches, not a fire drill. Once they see a salt shaker, they want a shaker full of salt rather than going to monumental effort to make salt themselves. So it’s not that we go in and change them, it’s that once they learn what there is in the outside world, they seek that out and change themselves. That doesn’t mean, though, that traditional societies are going to die out. The challenge for a traditional society is to adopt some things from the outside world while retaining some features of the traditional society.

About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Boston-based freelance journalist writing about government, education and ideas. Her writing has appeared in Smithsonian, Slate, Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe.

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