the world until yesterday


For most of our species’ history, all human beings lived surrounded by people they had known since childhood. Meeting strangers would have been rare and exciting; depending on local customs, newcomers would perhaps have been invited in for food and rest, or perhaps killed on the spot. But they would never, ever have been simply ignored. What is now normal in cities around the world actually runs deeply against our nature – which might explain both why my four-year-old daughter has a tendency to stop strangers in the street to say hello, and why many grown-ups who have learnt to suppress this instinct suffer from chronic loneliness. This is an example of how we might better understand ourselves by looking at our origins. Our experience as hunter-gatherers, herders and subsistence farmers has shaped us genetically and culturally, argues Jared Diamond in The World Until Yesterday. We must therefore understand these ways of life in order to solve modern problems such as loneliness, obesity or the unhappy condition of many elderly people.

more from Stephen Cave at the FT here.