As a neo-barbarian of sorts, I’ll admit that I’m somewhat interested in Jared Diamond’s new book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? I may yet flip through it, as there might be some useful information buried somewhere in there.
Paleo Retiree over at Uncouth Reflections went to see Diamond speak recently, and wondered if Diamond actually means what he says. He makes an important point about Diamond, who has become a tremendously influential writer. It seems like every “progressive” guy my age who reads has read Guns, Germs and Steel. This always seemed odd to me, because human history and human nature are generally unfriendly to progressive ideas about how humans “should” be — because humans have always been sexist, violent and tribal — unless stories about human nature and human history are framed in the context of some transformational, up-with-people, “arc of history” progressive narrative.
Apparently, Diamond said during his talk that he started writing popular books when his children were born, because he became concerned about the future. Paleo Retiree wrote:
As far as I could tell, Diamond was admitting flat-out that, right from the outset, he intended his big books to be do-gooding “message” books.
So much for my other explanations for his apparent disingenuousness. He turns out to be a much simpler puzzle than I’d thought. He’d simply come down with what afflicts so many people when they have kids: a bad case of the Worthies. Where his big books go, his main concern hasn’t been to share his knowledge and his thinking. It’s “What shall we tell the children?” My conclusion: maybe Diamond’s books are best taken as morality fables for overgrown kids.
I’ve been talking about this phenomenon a lot lately, not simply with regard to writers, but also everyday people. Max and I had a conversation about it yesterday. He told me about a police officer he met at a bar, who said something to the effect of, “I know everything is fucked, and I feel like hanging it up and doing whatever, but my kids have to live in this world.” A lot of men bring kids into this dark world and decide to, as an interior designer in Beverly Hills I worked for used to say, “put a light on it.” They start talking about the world as they wish it were or hope it could be. They start weaving hopeful threads into their narratives. And to complement these hopeful threads, they surround them with facts and ideas that seem to make the hopeful seem plausible.
Of course, you don’t have to have kids to do this. Not too long ago, I went to see Steven Pinker speak about his newest book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and I came away wondering if he was running for President. I’d still recommend Pinker’s The Blank Slate, which was game changing in its criticisms of this exact same tendency of progressives to “put a light on” the past to complement their vision for the future. So far as I can tell, Pinker only has stepchildren, but as he gets older it seems like he wants to commit to the idea that humans are making great “progress” that could only be enhanced by the globalist ideology of his reliably Democratic northeastern academic peers.
Maybe my tendency is to work in the dark threads, and surround them with facts that make the future seem bleaker. When it comes to writing about humans and human nature, none of us are truly objective. All of us have a monkey in the game. All of us have an emotional commitment to a vision of the future –of how things “should” be –that we prefer. It is important, however, to recognize the fact that Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker, and a ton of other “scientists” and “experts” are just as biased as the rest of us, and just as happy to tell us the stories they themselves would like to hear about how things “really are.”