The Cycle | January 08, 2013
>>> we live in a culture where people stand in line for hours for the newest ipad, young equals hot, gathering food means using a debit card at the grocery store and long journey is a plane over the country. we live with the associated conveniences but there are still cultures around the world that think an umbrella is greatest technology they have seen and look at the elderly as a gift to learn from. people that use bows and spears to hunt for daily food and for whom travel is just a few miles from home maybe. even though we can google the answer to any question, our next guest says we have a lot to learn from the traditional societies. in his new "the world until yesterday" professor jared diamond studies tribes across the globe to look at the past to help the future. professor, first of all, great book. i'm not all the way through it yet but enjoying it. fascinating read an you talk about how we have this sort of instinct that people are basically the same wherever they live, whatever culture they come from and how that's really not true and you also tell us specifically about the kind of shock going from new guinea to l.a. so tell us a little bit about this.
>> coming back from the beautiful jungle of new guinea to l.a. i'm, of course, overwhelmed by the smog, the noise and the indirect relations with people. in l.a. we communicate by text messaging, by telephone. in new guinea , relationships are always face to face and i have the full attention of the people that i'm talking with and we're jabbering all day long.
>> professor, you have quotes in the book from people who lived in new guinea and thailand and africa and other places and come to america and see the differences and a lot of people you quote are very young. one of the quote that is sort of blew my mind, american boys are macho, talk macho and beat up other kids. nice kids don't do well in the u.s. and i've certainly experienced some of that. in america . what are we doing wrong with our young boys when that's the case?
>> we're in a competitive society that emphasizes individuals getting ahead. new guinea society and traditional societies in general emphasize much more sharing, working for the benefit of the whole group and an individual is not supposed to get ahead and have things that are not shared with the group.
>> professor, i read one review of your book and in it he talked about some families in new guinea who let the kids roll in to the fire to be singed a little to teach them a lesson. i like this. but i have a feeling it might be a loon among western audiences. what kinds of lessons have, you know, you tried to bring over here that are just rejected, not going to happen? we've moved past this, not going to happen.
>> my wife and i certainly thought of the experience and bringing up our own two sons. traditional societies emphasize letting children make their own choices. we did not go so far as letting our children play when young with knives or roll in to fires.
>> that's too bad.
>> at age 3 one of my sons fell in love with snakes and said, all right, if he wants snakes, let him have snakes. not big or poisonous snakes and built up to 147 pet snakes, frogs, reptiles and then got beyond it and became a gourmet cook and used to the fact he was going to make the life's choices.
>> steve, i'm very nervous of you becoming a parent.
>> i err on the side of all snakes are poisonous. i don't know if i'm comfortable with 147 nonpoisonous snakes but, jared, another lesson potentially to learn that maybe wouldn't be controversial and that it's a big difference i guess between how we live and traditional societies is mentioned earlier, respect for the elderly. can you talk a little bit about how the older generation is treated in traditional societies compared to what we do over here?
>> traditional societies value their elderly because they don't have books and they don't have google so that the repository of information is the memories of old people. and our society, old people have lost that particular value because we look things up, we don't require old people for that. but nevertheless, old people remain important today because of their experience of conditions that have happened in the past and that are not common nowadays. they can give advice free of their own egos but the status of old people is a disaster area of american society and struggling to keep our old people satisfied, connected and not lonely.
>> another area is conflict resolution in traditional societies and there's a concept there that everybody knows each other so they're going to have to come some sort of resolution where everyone can get along in the end. any sort of lessons that our congress should maybe take from the societies?
>> there's a lesson that our court system that we ourselves can take away. the emphasis in the american court system is on right and wrong, punishing. not at all on restoring comfortable relationships and tragic for anyone in a divorce dispute or a custody dispute or in an inheritance dispute. traditional societies the emphasis is on restoring a relationship between people who will have to deal with each other for the rest of their lives and not on determining right or wrong.
>> partly to that point, i see going to africa there's communal societies and you might have dinner in anybody's house and other parents can tell other kids what to do and not to do and call them aunt and uncle and the village raises the children. in america , you raise your children and don't say anything to anybody else's children. we should probably take a page for them on that one, don't you think?
>> that's true. the other adults that one thinks of as aunts and uncles is more role models . in my experience and the experience of most visitors to new guinea and africa and is the kids more socially skilled, precocious at 5 or 10 and deal with adults and negotiate with adults. we would like our own kids to be independent and self confident and how can they become that way when we my ro manage our own children?
>> professor, i made the masters work on religion and i looked at traditional societies. what lessons did you learn about the role of spirituality in the societies we might be missing?
>> religion has different functions in traditional societies. from the function that it functions that it has in modern society. traditional societies use religion a lot more explanation, now science provided the explanations of why there's tides and why the sun seems to go across the sky. so there's a function of religion that has become lost with time. religion still has its function of offering comfort, of helping deal with anxiety. religion used to have a function of teaching us to obey the king or obey the president. the reasons that we obey the president today are not because of religion but because of the rule of law.
>> interesting. professor jared diamond , thank you so much for all of that.
>> you are welcome.
>>> and up next, coughing, sneezing and wheezing. the flu outbreak infecting the nation.
>> excuse me.
>> how facebook -- well timed there, s.e. facebook helping some fight back. we'll explain it