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HS 170 – The World Until Yesterday with Jared Diamond

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Jared Diamond

Jason interviews Jared Diamond regarding his newest book, The World Until Yesterday.

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Narrator: Welcome to the Holistic Survival Show with Jason Hartman. The economic storm brewing around the world is set to spill into all aspects of our lives. Are you prepared? Where are you going to turn for the critical life skills necessary for you to survive and prosper? The Holistic Survival Show is your family’s insurance for a better life. Jason will teach you to think independently, to understand threats and how to create the ultimate action plan. Sudden change or worst case scenario, you’ll be ready. Welcome to Holistic Survival, your key resource for protecting the people, places and profits you care about in uncertain times. Ladies and gentlemen, your host, Jason Hartman.

Jason Hartman: Welcome to today’s show. This is Jason Hartman, your host. And as you may or may not know, every 10th show we kind of do a special tradition here that originated with my Creating Wealth Show where we do a topic that is actually off topic on purpose, something just to do with general life and more successful living and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today with our special guest. Again, 10th show is off topic and it is very much intentional just for personal enrichment and I hope you enjoy today’s show. And we will be back with our guest in just a moment.

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Start of Interview with Jared Diamond

Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Dr. Jared Diamond to the show. He is an author, a psychologist, an evolutionary psychologist, an evolutionary biologist and a biographer, and you’re going to like what he likes to say. He makes some very interesting connections between science and culture, a lot of new thinking that you haven’t heard from anybody before unless you’ve read one of his 6 books which you may well have, they’re very popular sellers. And it’s my pleasure to welcome him to the show today. Jared, how are you?

Jared Diamond: I am fine. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

Jason Hartman: Well, the pleasure is all mine. So, your latest book is entitled The World Until Yesterday. Why don’t we talk about that first and then I’d like to touch on maybe two of the others.

Jared Diamond: Sure. The World Until Yesterday, my newest book that just came out December 31st is it took off from my experiences working in New Guinea for the last 50 years, studying birds but living among traditional people – that’s to say small scale societies where you deal with people that you know and you don’t encounter strangers. That was what all human societies were like for 6 million years until things began to change with dense populations 10,000 years ago. And traditional societies are still widespread today in New Guinea and Africa and they’re embedded within The United States, rural areas of The United States that are largely traditional.
So the new book The World Until Yesterday is about what’s fascinating in traditional societies and what we can learn from them because traditional people face the same problems that all of us do. They have to bring up their children, they grow old, they want to avoid dangers, they want to stay healthy, they learn languages, they have to settle disputes, and many of the ways that they come up with to deal with those basic human problems are ways from which we can learn and which we would like to adopt into our own life when we’ve heard of them. So the book is written party because of the fascination of the material, and partially because we can learn from all these natural experiments in how to run a human society.

Jason Hartman: And just to give people some context, you mentioned that 10,000 years ago populations become much more dense. I wouldn’t have put it that recently or that long ago, I would have put it more recently, but when you say dense in the more traditional sparsely populated communities, what sizes are these? I mean, what population numbers are you talking about where in a tribe or a community where everybody knows each other for example? Is that 100 people, 500, 30? What’s the number like?

Jared Diamond: Good question. Just to calibrate it, The United States has 310 million people and my campus at The University of California, UCLA, has 32,000 people. And the state of Montana where my wife and kids and I spend parts of our summers has somewhat under a million people. And the smallest state in the world, the smallest government in the world which is probably a Pacific Island called Nauru has about 10,000 people.

Or right by comparison, human societies throughout history were tiny, what are called bands, societies, especially of hunter-gatherers – a few dozen people what are called tribes, villagers, often are farmers – a few hundred people what are called chiefdoms where there is a chief but no bureaucrats, a few thousand people. And it’s only when you get to something like 10,000, 20-50 thousand people that you need to centralize government with bureaucrats and politicians. But until agriculture began 10,000 years ago and started a population explosion, there weren’t such big societies. And the first society big enough to require centralized government wasn’t until about 5,500 years ago. So, traditional societies are until yesterday and big societies are new.

Jason Hartman: Okay. And so it really came about as a result of agriculture then. I didn’t make that connection, so it’s very good to know. Well, tell us about some of these lessons. I mean, you talk about conflict resolution, all of the normal human problems we all face. But what can we learn from these socities?

Jared Diamond: Let me start by giving you a really banal example that affects most of us, namely how to bring up children. There are all these debates about what should we do with our children. Should we spank them or not spank them? And should we give them as much freedom as possible or not? And should they sleep in the same bedroom as the parents or should they sleep separately? And then a really elementary thing that you would think is not going to be a matter of passionate debate, how should we carry our infants?
Usually, we Americans carry our infants in baby carriages. We push them on their back or we carry them in pouches where they face us, they face backwards. But in the great majority of traditional socities, infants are carried vertically, not in baby carriages in facing forward. And so the infant has the same field of view as the person carrying the infant. And that means that the infant feels more in control, she has the same field of view as the caregiver developers fewer motor skills faster. That’s a really simple example that I never would have thought of until I learned about it from traditional societies.

Jason Hartman: But that really has a major effect on the infant and their development and so forth?

Jared Diamond: It’s thought to have an effect together with other things. It’s not just that traditional infants are carried vertically facing forward and otherwise they’re brought up exactly in the same way as our American children. Other differences are they’re in really small traditionally societies. There is no spanking whatsoever, no hitting a child. For an African pygmy, if one parent hits the child once, that’s grounds for divorce. Other difference, and this is a big difference, young children, even infants, are given much more freedom to make their own decisions, and a result of this is that kids grow up in New Guinea and in other traditional societies with the virtues that we Americans would like for our own kids. They’d become self-confident, they can make their own decisions, they don’t have adolescent crises. They can negotiate. They are socially skilled, but the way we bring up American kids, we do everything possible to prevent this by micromanaging our kids and telling them what to do all the time.

Jason Hartman: So, the takeaway from that is that modern western cultures are over-parenting and maybe practicing too much smother love?

Jared Diamond: That is one lesson…

Jason Hartman: I would certainly say that’s true with Gen-Y, the current generation.

Jared Diamond: It is a lesson, but I’d say the main lesson is that there are lots of other things the traditional socities do in bringing up children and we can learn from all those lessons. Traditional societies are natural experiments in how to organize a human society.

Jason Hartman: Yeah, very interesting. Okay, what else can we learn?

Jared Diamond: What else can we learn? We can learn how to stay healthy. Most Americans, you and I, most of our listeners, are going to die of what’s called non-communicable diseases, non-infectious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer which are the main killers of Americans. But in traditional societies, people don’t die of these diseases at all and that’s because of lifestyle because when New Guineans within the last 40 years have been starting to adopt the western lifestyle, they too start to get diabetes and stroke and heart disease.

So, here’s a simple example. Mainly, features of the traditional lifestyle protect people against the non-communicable diseases that will kill us. Elementary things that my wife and I have done is we don’t have a salt shaker or a sugar shaker on our dining room table and we eat lots of vegetables and fruits and non-fatty meats and fish. Those are some simple things about diet. Plus I work out 3 or 4 times a week with my 26 year old sons and I’m still healthy at age 75 and I hope I’ll stay that way.

Jason Hartman: Well, we do too. We want to see many more books from you. Do you want to move on and talk about some of your other work or should we talk a little bit more about The World Until Yesterday?

Jared Diamond: No. If you’d like to move on, let’s talk about whatever you’d like to talk about.

Jason Hartman: I think what’s on so many people’s minds nowadays, especially with the peace problem around the world, the economic problems around the world, and I don’t know how much you address these but certainly we can learn from your work, and that is the concept of collapse. Many people nowadays are comparing the American empire to the Roman empire, talking about no empire lasts forever and there’s a lot going on in the world. It’s a fast changing place nowadays. Maybe tell us a little bit about collapse.

Jared Diamond: Sure. My book Collapse was an examination of society in the past that either survived or didn’t survive in order to learn what it is that promotes success or failure of the society that might help us today because today, our modern societies, are facing problems that people faced in the past, problems with population, problems of resources, problems of over-fishing, problems of water and topsoil. There were societies in the past that solved those problems and societies that failed to solve those problems.

You mentioned that empires don’t last forever. Well, the reality is there are societies that carry on for a long time. The Japanese empire has lasted from its beginning. Japan has never been without an emperor. Japan has had long-standing continuity going back something like 14 thousand to 18 thousand years. And in New Guinea, there have been people for 46,000 years and still no sounds of collapse. So there are societies that have solved their problems and there are societies that spectacularly collapsed, which some well-known examples are, the collapse of Maya society of the Yucatan and Guatemala about 1200 years ago and the collapse of the Khmer Empire which used to be the most powerful empire in Southeast Asia and the fall of the western Roman Empire. So, yes, there were societies that collapsed and maybe we can learn while not repeating the mistakes.

Jason Hartman: Yeah. A lot of people talk about resource management, and you mentioned it. And that of course brings up the Malthusian ethic. And people have long predicted that resources will become scarce, I mean especially just looking back recently to the 70s. The survivalist movement was huge back then. And a lot of those problems I think you could argue that they were solved, maybe not – maybe the can was just kicked down the road further. But talk to us a little bit more about resource management issues and environmental issues if you would.

Jared Diamond: Yeah, let’s talk about resource management in particular. Let’s talk about the belief that the problems that were foreseen in the 1970s have been solved. These resource problems of farming and water and fish and forests and all the natural…

Jason Hartman: There was a lot of talk about population problems, famine. You look at some of the movies at the time. I remember like Soylent Green. It was very interesting. I don’t know – go ahead.

Jared Diamond: It is interesting. It’s interesting from an American perspective. So here I sit in Los Angeles and Americans sit anywhere in The United States, and if you talk about resource problems and collapse and famine, most people will say “What on Earth are you talking about? We solved that.” It’s true The United States is not the richest country in the world, but it’s maybe the 4th richest country in the world and we do not have natural famines. On the other hand, if you think that we solve these problems, there are billions of people in the world, nearly half the population in the world has a marginal or sub marginal calorie intake.

So, half of the world’s population is malnourished. The lifespan in The United States and developed countries and in developed countries is longer than in most other countries in the world from the perspective of the developing world, from the perspective of Africa and most of Latin America and much of Asia. If you were to say we solved those problems of the 1970s, all those population problems, that was be an obscene unproof.

Jason Hartman: Well, fair enough. And I don’t mean to say that we’ve solved them, but I do mean to say – and I want to get your reasoning for saying that the US is the 4th richest country – that was an interesting statement – but before we go to that, I don’t mean that we’ve certainly solved them, but when you look at the population growth that has occurred since then, I mean listening to the doom and gloomers in the 70’s it would make you think that we would have long been wiped out by now given the population increases we’ve had. Yet you look at globalization that has lifted about 300 million people out of poverty. I’m not saying they’re living extraordinary lives. I believe they’re not exactly kicking the can down the road, but a lot of the consumption is really not financed but financed environmentally by outsourcing pollution to places like China which is not a solution by any means. So that’s what I’m really saying. I’m not saying the problem is of course resolved – we’ve got huge problems facing us. But in comparison to the talk then and adding into that equation the population growth we’ve had since then, a Malthusian would say how did this happen I guess.

Jared Diamond: Yeah. There’s legitimate debate about the number of people that could be supported on Earth sustainably. I was talking recently with someone who said so now we’ve got 7 billion, 100 million people. That’s too many. The world could support sustainably only 1 and a half billion people, and somehow we have to get rid of or not replace 5 and a half billion people. But there’s debate about that.

Jason Hartman: And who gets to decide?

Jared Diamond: The decision may not be a rational decision. But another point of view is that in fact we know how to manage fishery sustainably and we know how to manage forest sustainably. There are some fisheries we do manage sustainably such as Alaska wild salmon and west coast whitefish fisheries, so we know how to do it. The problem is that we just don’t manage most fisheries and forests sustainably. But it’s calculated that if we did manage all of the world’s fisheries and forests sustainably, then we could feed and take care of the needs of 7 billion people for the indefinite future – not 14 billion, not 20 billion, but 7 billion.

So, one can make an argument that even the world’s present population, we can support the way we are behaving now. We have to operate more sustainably.

Jason Hartman: So where are we going? I guess the $64,000 question is are we in danger of collapse? And then the secondary question is is that globally or certain countries specifically?

Jared Diamond: Sure. And we could add are we in danger of collapse? Is it globally or certain countries specifically? And what do I think is gonna happen? In answer to your first question, are we in danger of collapse? Yes, we’re certainly in danger of collapse because we’re operating unsustainably at the moment and if we continue to operate this way, we can operate this way only for a few more decades. And by 2050, it’ll get settled. Either we figured out how to operate sustainably and we have a happy world of our own choice or resources limit themselves and we have an unhappy world, not in ways that we devised, number 1.

Number 2, it’s gonna happen globally or locally. Well, it’s gonna happen worse in some areas than other areas. It can be Somalia, Rwanda, already or have been in a state of virtual collapse. But with globalization, if people get unhappy in some part of the world and now have ways of sharing their unhappiness with other parts of the globe – food, terrorists and immigrants and diseases and other ways. And therefore, if there’s a collapse, it’ll likely be a global collapse. What I think is going to happen, I say the chances are 51% that we solve our problems and 49% that we don’t solve our problems and those of you who are younger than I am, younger than age 75, those of you who are under 50 will see what happens 30 years from now.

Jason Hartman: Yeah. And those are pretty tenuous odds. At least they’re slightly in our favor, but pretty tenuous. Just back to the Malthusian concept for a moment, and then I want to ask you why some societies make such bad decisions. And talk a little bit about big business and the environment and so forth. And maybe we can wrap up there. But I think part of the Malthusian thesis that I really struggle with, Jared, is the concept that people are only a cost, like they’re only a net cost to the glob to the environment versus being a resource. I mean, some of these people come up with great ideas that solve problems, great inventions, some of them spread ideas and create awareness like yourself.

And so when you look at we’ve got 7 billion people, who knows what the sustainability number of the planet really is, whether it’s 10 billion or 1 billion or somewhere in the middle or 30 billion or half a billion, I don’t know. I’m sure you have an opinion on that which I’d love to hear. But the fundamental question is are people resources or are they a net cost to the environment?

Jared Diamond: You are of course correct. On the one hand, people consume and so they require resources. On the other hand, people, or at least some people, produce and they produce ideas and they produce stuff. So yes, people are both benefits and cost. The question is how many people in order to optimize those benefits and cost if we had 70 billion people instead of the world’s current 7 billion people. That means 100 times more people have ideas and to produce stuff. On the other hand, 700 billion people I think everybody would agree it’s an antipossible burden.

Jason Hartman: Yes, I will agree with that one for sure.

Jared Diamond: Yeah, to get good ideas. Are 7 billion people enough to give us all the good ideas that we need or do we need another 63 billion people? Firstly, I’m happy with the ideas we’re getting from 7 billion people.

Jason Hartman: Okay, so that’s the fundamental question. And do you have an opinion on the number, the ideal optimal number? Did you already say it when you said 1 and a half billion? Because you did mention that number before, but I don’t know if that was an ideal number.

Jared Diamond: Well, we’ve got 7 billion, 100 million now. And I think we can live with 7 billion, 100 million if we manage our resources properly. In fact, population growth rates have dropped below the replacement level in Japan and in Europe and possibly, though this I’m not sure about, among native born Americans. So there are already large parts of the world that are in declining population. That means that it’s not a pipe dream. It’s not unreasonable to believe that we could stabilize the world’s population to something not much above where it is now.

Jason Hartman: That ZPG, the zero population growth concept has some pretty ominous economic consequences. You look at Japan and that’s I say a big part of their economic malaise is they don’t have younger people coming into the system to support the older people. And of course when you set up retirement schemes the way we’ve set it up in western countries, US and Europe, it creates significant economic challenges. But again, those people, maybe their resource, maybe that problem will be solved other ways.

Your website, I just don’t want to forget to give it out, JaredDiamond.org. Of course your books are available on Amazon.com and at other bookstores. And, boy, your books have so many reviews and the reviews are so positive by and large. I mean 4 and a half stars when you have 600 reviews of a book is pretty impressive. So congratulations on that and spreading such good ideas. Did you want to close – I know we’ve got to wrap up here with any thoughts on disastrous decisions, why societies make them, business environment, whatever you like, just closing thought.

Jared Diamond: Sure. Big question: why do societies make bad decisions? There are lots of spectacular cases of societies making bad decisions. Partly, societies make bad decisions for the same reasons that we as individuals make bad decisions. In some cases, we don’t have enough information or a situation’s completely new and we’re not prepared for it or we have out of date values. But there are also extra reasons why groups of people make bad decisions, reasons separate from the reasons why individuals make bad decisions. In groups of people, you may have conflicts of interest. And the conflicts of interest may cause the leaders of society to make decisions that are good for them, the leaders in the short run, but that are bad for the whole society, including the children of the leaders in the long run.

So, that’s a problem that concerns me increasingly in The United States. Because within the last decade, people have commented on the richer people in The US getting richer and richer and the politicians getting more and more cut off from the electorate. So the concern in The United States is that those making the decisions are not suffering the consequences of their bad decision.

Jason Hartman: You are absolutely right. We need to eliminate lobbyists and special interest groups. That would be a good start but go ahead.

Jared Diamond: And even earlier, given the lobbyists and special interest groups who always give you a rant, the first simple thing we can do is vote. Here I am in Los Angeles. What, second largest city in The United States? And we just had an election for mayor, primary election. And 85% of the citizens of LA couldn’t be bothered to vote for their own mayor. Only 15% of our citizens voted. Well, a starting point for good decision making in The United States, for heaven sakes vote. If you’re not gonna vote, you’re not making any decision.

Jason Hartman: No question about it. That is an amazing number. I didn’t know that. I mean I grew up in LA. 85% of the people didn’t vote in the mayoral election?

Jared Diamond: In the primary election 85% didn’t vote. But that primary election narrowed it down to 2. And the number of people who vote in presidential election, in Australia everybody has to vote – in American presidential elections, 55-60 percent of Americans vote. If 40% of Americans can’t be bothered to vote for president, one doesn’t have to talk about good or bad decisions. It means that lots of Americans aren’t making any decisions at all and are just letting passively things happen.

Jason Hartman: As the old saying goes, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice and that’s unfortunate as you say. Well, Jared Diamond, thank you so much for joining us today. I know you’ve got to run. I appreciate having you on the show and keep up the good work. Do you have another book coming out?

Jared Diamond: I will 7 years from now. But this book I just finished, so it’ll be a while until my next book.

Jason Hartman: Seven years exactly, huh? Fantastic – well, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for that and thanks for joining us.

Jared Diamond: Thank you. Pleasure to talk with you.

Jason Hartman: Thank you for joining us today for the Holistic Survival Show, protecting the people, places and profits you care about in uncertain times. Be sure to listen to our Creating Wealth Show which focuses on exploiting the financial and wealth creation opportunities in today’s economy. Learn more at www.JasonHartman.com or search “Jason Hartman” on iTunes. This show is produced by The Hartman Media Company, offering very general guidelines and information. Opinions of guests are their own and none of the content should be considered individual advice. If you require personalized advice, please consult an appropriate professional. Information deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.

Transcribed by Ralph

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Episode: 170

Guest: Jared Diamond

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