UCLA Professor Jared Diamond has studied traditional cultures for decades, laying out his findings in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Guns, Germs and Steel” as well as “Collapse” and his just-published volume, “The World Until Yesterday.”By Alan Boyle
In the wake of a high-wire “fiscal cliff” performance that wasn’t exactly their finest hour, members of Congress would do well to learn a lesson from the tribes of New Guinea and the Amazon: Listen to your elders. At least that’s the lesson passed along by UCLA Professor Jared Diamond, the author of “The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?”
Diamond documented the reasons why European invaders overwhelmed less technologically advanced cultures in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.” He laid out cautionary tales of social breakdown in the follow-up book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” In his newly published book, Diamond draws upon his decades of research in far-flung locales to lay out lessons for us less traditional types.
“Tribes constitute thousands of natural experiments in how to run a human society,” he told a capacity crowd Thursday night during the kickoff of his international book tour at Town Hall Seattle.
Diamond says the useful findings from those experiments run a wide gamut, from the benefits of multilingualism to the right way to carry a baby (“vertically upright, facing forward”). But one of his biggest themes has to do with the way older people are treated, or mistreated. He noted that a Fijian friend was shocked to see how often America’s senior citizens are shunted aside by the younger generation. And although some traditional societies have their own quirks about dealing with the aged — for example, strangling them when they become a liability — Diamond agrees that American attitudes need an adjustment.
“The World Until Yesterday” is the latest book from Jared Diamond, a geography professor at UCLA.
“The lives of the elderly constitute a disaster area of modern American society,” the 75-year-old Diamond said in Seattle. “We can do better.”
He’d like to see senior citizens restored to the roles they have always held in traditional societies, but in a modern-day context: for example, as baby-sitters in a world where both parents work, or as fonts for the kind of wisdom you can’t get through a Web search. He’d even like to see age given more respect on Capitol Hill, where the median age is 57 in the House and 62 in the Senate. That was the theme of my interview with Diamond on Thursday. Here’s an edited version of the Q&A:
Some interesting and useful discussions about how traditional societies dealt with similar problems we see today. Maybe we could learn something.