Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Report 6/29/14

Currently Reading (nonfiction): The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

Diamond continues to explore how traditional societies work, and how the people in them deal with conflict, justice, childrearing, the elderly and other issues. He points out that one of the benefits of modern state society is in how imposed systems of justice are able to breakdown patterns of vengeance that can fuel wars or prolong conflict among tribal peoples. The lack of a central authority with a monopoly on the use of force allows for individuals and families to seek revenge on their own, acts that usually trigger new waves of retribution. In state societies disinterested courts and law enforcement agencies provide justice without pandering to the impulse for revenge.

In some ways traditional societies offer better models for dealing with restitution in cases involving unintended injury or death. Rather than focusing on mere compensation as a means of resolving these incidents, traditional societies focus on making a sincere apology for the pain caused to the injured parties. Performing rituals that demonstrate genuine remorse can diffuse a situation that might devolve into one of those cycles of revenge.

Of course traditional societies deal with the young and the elderly in ways that range from appalling to enlightened, with our own state societies probably falling somewhere in between. It is tempting to judge these practices based on our own experiences and ideals, and infanticide or abandoning the elderly are clearly practices we can condemn, but it is equally important to understand the environmental conditions that have led these societies to develop these practices.

Perhaps the most interesting concept introduced by Diamond is that of Constructive Paranoia. People in traditional societies live with so much risk during their lives that they sometimes take extreme caution in situations that might not appear to be that dangerous. You might camp under a dead tree because the odds that it will fall on you the particular night you happen to be sleeping under it is rather slim, but a New Guinean will never choose to camp under such a tree because he spends every night under a tree and he expects that the chance is fairly high that getting crushed by a dead tree will catch up to him. He won’t take the risk. Diamond discusses his own experiences with risk and danger and how he has adopted Constructive Paranoia in his own life.

Book Report 4/14/14

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