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Prologue: The World Until Yesterday 
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Post Prologue: The World Until Yesterday
Diamond begins at the airport in Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea, to illustrate how in a nation that when Diamond was born contained large regions which had never contacted the modern world, technology has now been rapidly assimilated. In the 1930s, the Highlands Region, now home to several million people, contained no one who had ever encountered paper, metal or the sea. In a dense patchwork of cultivation that reminded Diamond of Holland, the big fertile valleys of the New Guinea Highlands are like a window onto the past.

I share Diamond’s deep fascination for New Guinea. As an Australian government official since 1988, I have spent most of my career working on Australia’s aid program to PNG. So I find his argument that we should look to PNG for mutual learning between modern and traditional to be highly valuable. Unfortunately, there is something of an unstated racist tendency among aid workers to look down upon ‘primitive savages’. Diamond opens some excellent points for development theory, in terms of understanding why traditional societies respond as they do to modernity, and what our modern industrial urban societies can learn from people whose social organisation is closer to the 99% of our genetic history that occurred before the rise of modern technology.


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Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:14 pm
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Post Re: Prologue: The World Until Yesterday
I don't know if Diamond will address it, but it's interesting to think about it in terms of happiness. I don't trust a lot of the survey data that people throw around, but it seems plausible that people in a primitive society -- as long as they have met their minimal needs -- would have similar subjective levels of happiness than people in a modern society. But once you go modern, you hardly ever go back.



Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:16 pm
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Post Re: Prologue: The World Until Yesterday
Dexter wrote:
it's interesting to think about it in terms of happiness.


A friend of mine who worked on a charity project in a remote village in PNG told me he had never met such happy people, and that by comparison Australians are sour, depressed and anxious. Later in the book Diamond describes how small clan societies provide dense social bonds, for example with babies spending literally 98% of the time in physical skin contact with adults, carried by mothers and other adults in the fields, not being allowed to cry, and developing relations of trust with numerous people in the community. One contrast he draws is with Germany, where adults contend that it is good to allow children to cry.

This happiness question is hard to sort out. Bhutan is renowned for promoting Gross National Happiness. It seems there is a positive correlation between wealth and happiness, but it is hard to tell how material happiness stands against the strong sense of social connection and belonging in traditional communities.


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Post Re: Prologue: The World Until Yesterday
By the way, I expect the later chapter on religion will be quite interesting given our discussions around here.

I quoted Diamond before talking about how religion acted as a signal for being part of the community



Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:22 pm
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Post Re: Prologue: The World Until Yesterday
Very tricky measuring happiness, but one unhappiness-causing aspect of our society that would be absent from traditional ones is envy and longing for what others in the world have, and for the more glamorous or exciting lives lives they lead. We feel unfulfilled partly because we use an external standard given to us by media. It's also assumed that we need to compete with others to be successful, so the majority of us may feel that we end up as losers.



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Post Re: Prologue: The World Until Yesterday
DWill wrote:
Very tricky measuring happiness, but one unhappiness-causing aspect of our society that would be absent from traditional ones is envy and longing for what others in the world have, and for the more glamorous or exciting lives lives they lead. We feel unfulfilled partly because we use an external standard given to us by media. It's also assumed that we need to compete with others to be successful, so the majority of us may feel that we end up as losers.


I wouldn't say it was absent, I think he mentions some luxury goods that people accumulated for status. And even non-luxury goods, power relationships, are still going to be there. Obviously there is more of it in modern society.



Sun Feb 17, 2013 3:54 pm
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