Fresh Lens Podcast

The Dawn of Everything - Part 1

October 13, 2022 Hirad Motamed & Patricia Veinott Season 1 Episode 18
The Dawn of Everything - Part 1
Fresh Lens Podcast
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Fresh Lens Podcast
The Dawn of Everything - Part 1
Oct 13, 2022 Season 1 Episode 18
Hirad Motamed & Patricia Veinott

In this episode, we kick off our discussion of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow.

We liked Bullshit Jobs so much that we decided to keep going with the Graeber titles. This book examines the ways in which humans have organized themselves since the beginning. In this first part, we talk about the fallacious but popular narratives that have saturated our thinking about the history of humanity and the origins of inequality.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we kick off our discussion of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow.

We liked Bullshit Jobs so much that we decided to keep going with the Graeber titles. This book examines the ways in which humans have organized themselves since the beginning. In this first part, we talk about the fallacious but popular narratives that have saturated our thinking about the history of humanity and the origins of inequality.

[00:00:00] **Trish:** Listeners, welcome back. Today on this episode of Fresh Lens, we are talking about the next book that we've started, The Dawn of Everything

[00:00:09] **Hirad:** A New History of Humanity

[00:00:11] **Trish:** by David Graeber and David Wengrow. 

We're gonna dive into it. If you've been listening to our previous episodes, we've been on quite the David Graeber kick. We covered and really enjoyed Bullshit Jobs and so he's got another book, so we got it and. Are covering it

[00:00:52] **Hirad:** Today is gonna be part one. I don't know how many parts we're gonna do for this book

[00:00:58] **Trish:** As many as it takes.

[00:00:59] **Hirad:** Yeah, I mean, if you could see this in video, this is not a small book. Like it's a good two inches thick.

[00:01:05] **Trish:** It's a tome. 

[00:01:06] **Hirad:** so,

but it's, it's super interesting. I think we're gonna do probably four parts.

[00:01:12] **Trish:** probably. This is the first three chapters.

[00:01:14] **Hirad:** Yep. So we're covering the first three chapters today. Yeah, let's get into it.

[00:01:18] **Trish:** So is what you might be thinking with a book named The Dawn of Everything is that it's just another one of these annoying pop sciencey books that tells us how we became human and what makes human special, yada yada, yada.

[00:01:31] **Hirad:** And by annoying pop sciencey books, we specifically mean Sapiens.

[00:01:35] **Trish:** I know, and you know what? Like I love these books.

I've read a ton of them. Some of them are more compelling than others. We, I mean, we love to rag on Sapiens because it's piece of garbage, but this is also maybe why we're enjoying this book too, because

[00:01:50] **Hirad:** it's the anti-Sapiens

[00:01:51] **Trish:** It's the Anti-Sapiens. They call out Sapiens by name, sometimes , which is fun, but we'll get there.

But the first three chapters are like setting the stage. So it's kind of let's have a look at history as it's been taught and presented and sort of the implications of the viewpoint that we've taken of history Let's see if that's accurate. Let's talk about some of the assumptions that were made. Let's talk about how we got here. And then once all your ideas and assumptions have been reduced to a burned out rubble, let's start to rebuild it. So we won't be getting to building up anything today, but my hope is that well, a, that you guys will go read the book, but also that you will have the same feeling that I had after I read it, which is feeling totally disoriented because everything you thought you knew and held dear.

It turns out is on pretty shaky ground and that you'll be very excited for some new ideas on the horizon. So,

[00:02:45] **Hirad:** So should we talk about what, like what are some of these like established ideas maybe before we even get into the book?

, because we. Just dipped our toes into Sapiens, which I think is like the canonical you know, the, I I would say if there was like a Hollywood version of human history, that would be it.

[00:03:04] **Trish:** Everybody loves it.

[00:03:05] **Hirad:** Everybody loves it, and it's bullshit and it's, it's all CGI

[00:03:09] **Trish:** Yeah.

[00:03:10] **Hirad:** right? So yeah, let's like what should we maybe talk about what is the image of human history that is presented in that book?

And then we can go from there. At least the first three chapters. Cause I didn't read past that.

[00:03:22] **Trish:** So what's the narrative?

[00:03:23] **Hirad:** Yeah, this, the narrative in Sapiens. So it basically goes humanity evolves sometime between 100 to 300,000 years ago. You know, the modern homo sapiens we start spreading around the world at some point around a hundred thousand years ago. And we are living in.

Bands, small egalitarian bands of hunter gatherers, and it's a very Tranquil and peaceful existence. All the way until we discover agriculture. And when we discover agriculture, all of a sudden we can sustain much larger populations. We have to organize society much more. Store food we can store food for the future so that then we can kind of settle down and we don't have to be nomadic anymore.

And as we make this transition the requirement for having a hierarchical society becomes much more important. And that's when we develop large cities. That's when we have kings. And this kind of like.

Inequality, one would say emerges, Right? Emerges

[00:04:28] **Trish:** of inequality. Yeah.

[00:04:30] **Hirad:** And , 

[00:04:30] **Trish:** you know, we used to live a hunter gatherer life of leisure. They, you know, I think it's famously quoted, you would only have to forage for a few hours a day.

You would have lots of time to, you know, sit around and do whatever. And we almost. Went running to our shackles of agriculture, foolish beings that we were and had no idea what we were doing. And now we have to toil in the fields and life is much harder and much worse.

[00:04:55] **Hirad:** Yeah,

[00:04:56] **Trish:** I mean, that's maybe like the editorialized version a little bit.

But yeah, there's definitely like a romanticism about what pre agrarian culture looked like.

[00:05:08] **Hirad:** And so now with that background set we talk about why that is not the case,

[00:05:14] **Trish:** Right, So chapter one is called Farewell to Humanities Childhood. 

So he starts with a discussion with Hobbes and Rousseau when you're looking at the history of humanity, you usually get this kind of Rousseauian Noble, savage, or you get, the Hobbesian.

We were warlike and we needed to be subdued. So the conventional story that we've been told about human history, it hinges around agriculture. There was an idyllic time when human lived in small bands, mostly of relatives. People were mostly egalitarian. And this was kind of like our proverbial Garden of Eden, right?

The noble savage. This is what Rousseau sort of talked about when he was writing and then the Hobbesian pictures that were all self interested creatures. With little regard for much beyond our own wellbeing, our own advancement very limited. Like, you know, maybe you're, you care about your close kin, but without sort of government figure, man is war-like, and they'll constantly be waging war with others.

[00:06:19] **Hirad:** So one of them makes us look like noble savages that live the peaceful existence pre agriculture. And the other one makes us look like this savages that that were in, in a constant state of everyone against everyone

[00:06:31] **Trish:** Yeah. And I mean, maybe it seems like a simplification when we're talking about it, but if you think of books like Steven Pinker The Better Angels of Our Nature, like he makes this basically sort of like a Hobbesian.

argument that, you know, like it was very violent in hunter gatherer societies and you were much more likely to die of violent death. And like look how, even with the wars we've had of the 20th century that actually we are moving to become a much peaceful and I guess like he would say by extension, like better version of humanity. So in like the traditional story, people started accumulating resource to start storing foods. Bands expanded in numbers and you know, we left Eden and this would sort of be like, you know, Graeber has a funny way of putting it. He's like, gangly and pubescent to these societies we're clearly headed for trouble.

We were running to our chains, you know, Humans had foolishly abandoned all their freedom for rule by government, you know, not understanding where they were going. And this was, you know, the beginning of hierarchy and everything. And both narratives sort of imply a stepping out of our natural state in Hobbes.

Like the natural state is war, so we need something , Beyond ourselves to keep us peaceful and, and in Rousseau it's sort of this , state of nature that's been lost and somehow now we are not living in our natural state.

[00:07:53] **Hirad:** Yeah. And what's important to note about both of these guys writing , . Neither of them had access to any. Evidence or information whatsoever. And both of them were actually quite clear about this. They were not writing a historical account which is kind of how we talk about them today. They were making philosophical arguments and they were painting a, a hypothetical picture, and they were very clear about that.

It was a mental experiment. It was never supposed to convey the truth of how humans actually were prior to 10,000 BC

[00:08:28] **Trish:** Yeah, these were thought experiments and, but the narrative was so compelling and this story was so good that we kind of like, we kind of data fit the history.

Like it's very, it was very easy to find examples in anthropological history that fit that. And so you could , Cherry pick your data to make that story work. But of course we know that's not how you construct an argument or review point. You have to look at what, the data's out there, all of it that you have, and then try and make some conclusions from that rather than like establishing your story.

[00:09:01] **Hirad:** Yeah. But somehow these two versions of kind of the origins of humanity have such a strong kind of gravity pull. Towards them that when researchers come up with evidence that clearly points to an alternative explanation.

They still end up talking about the evidence, but then in the next breath, kind of falling back into one of these two Emos.

[00:09:28] **Trish:** Yeah, And this is why I kind of said, after I started this book, I kind of emerged disoriented is because he, like, he just, he keeps picking on these guys that I like really like, had really changed the way I thought about things. So like, I probably mentioned this in other episodes, but I'm a huge Steven Pinker fan girl.

And the blank slate really changed the way I view a lot of things. And so he takes pinker to task, which is. Annoying, but probably good. And then he also takes the task Christopher Bohem and I'd read his book. And so Christopher Bohem makes this argument about egalitarianism and how probably pre agriculture that's was, humans were sort of, Evolutionary predisposed to, he calls it like reverse dominance hierarchies, which is egalitarianism. So it's been really interesting to watch him sort of dismantle a lot of these accepted, accepted stances. So I think that like, and this is the thing, because all of a sudden when you start to look back at our history, you realize that we like to take this.

It feels to me like we had put another. Vector on a, on the trajectory of humankind, right? So we've got the vector of time and things are changing, but it's like we wanna like also say that like we're on an escalator going something somewhere. So with knowledge or technology, we've learned a lot of things and we've dispensed of some bad ideas and we've figured out how things work.

We like to say, Well, you're like, yes. Evolution's the same way. It's been tinkering with life for millions of years. And you know, after all of that, it's finally came up with humans and we're the smartest and we're the best. And likewise, you know, humans sort of waltz out of Africa and have been tinkering around with social systems like government and slavery.

And you know, now we've arrived at capitalism and democracy and liberalism. So everything else was just kinda like stepping stones to get here. But in the same way that these days, you probably wouldn't bother. Learn Morse code. Yeah, because it's like old technology. It's kind of like, well, like, yeah, you can look at these like primitive, I'm doing air quotes, like primitive societies and think , well, they were stepping stones to get here, but , what's the value in studying them?

Right. Because this was just like a previous, like a, a, you know, a like

[00:11:50] **Hirad:** Yeah, it's it's legacy. Legacy code that you don't wanna run anymore. Exactly. And we've moved on. Yeah.

[00:11:56] **Trish:** And so Greaber's whole thing is that , well first of all, that's not the case at all. We here have like a panoply of complex cultures who are trying out lots of different social arrangements and if you're just gonna dispense of all those data points, You're just gonna fail to learn from this great social experiment that's been going on.

And in fact, it is not a trajectory. This has been , just like a scatter plot of experimentation.

[00:12:24] **Hirad:** Well, this is actually similar to what we learn when we look at When, when we covered Who We Are And How We Got Here, and you look at human evolution and you think, again, there is this linear, cuz this is a very common bias, right?

We always wanna create a linear narrative about everything. Like it started here, then it got to this midpoint, and then it finally ended up where it is today. And everything is better now than it was ever before because we're more complex and advanced than whatever. But when you actually look at you know, ancient dna.

From an evolutionary point of view, you realize that there's no, you, you can't draw a line at all. It's these, all these branches of people. You know, they separated at some point they became slightly genetically distinct and they kind of merged back, and then some of them mixed with someone else. And it is just this mesh of people constantly intermixing, right?

So there's no line that you can really draw and have any sense of truth to it. And similarly here we've got we are kind of seeing the same thing for political organizations. We again, wanna have this. Story of, hey, we, we used to have egalitarian hunter gatherers, then we had you know, top down kings and, and then we developed free market capitalism and democracy, and now we're in the best state.


[00:13:39] **Trish:** Well, and I remember , this was so, you know, the like fukuyama's end of history, right? It's sort of just like, it, it felt like we've arrived somewhere and this was like the best, you know, we were on, we were on a proverbial escalator up and we've arrived.

[00:13:55] **Hirad:** And yeah, so Greaber and Wengrow are definitely trying to pull the rug out from, from under that claim , and kind of show that, Well, I might be jumping, jumping ahead a little bit, but.

kind of show that human societies a, have been experimenting with a variety of political arrangements for a very long time. Mm-hmm. , they have thought deeply about different political arrangements, even in societies that we would consider primitive. Mm-hmm. , and a lot of our ideas about our current political arrangements, were in fact In you know, they came up under the influence of a lot of primitive cultures.

And, and, and I think part of where the foundation that they're laying in these three chapters here is we need to understand, we need to get an accurate picture of where we came from to understand where we're going. Mm-hmm. . And if we just have this one clear line of. Well, we just have all the discarded useless arrangements, and then we have the one that is good and useful.

We're never going to find a version that is better mm-hmm. or we're never gonna want to experiment with something more. , and so that's , the, one of the values of reassessing this, this picture is that reality is more complex and it might give us more information about the future. Yeah.

And what possible futures there might 

[00:15:11] **Trish:** be,

and to sort of acknowledge that, you know, as we are.

Agents who can exact change and make decisions about how we want to live our lives and how we want to organize that. Societies in the past were too, like these people were not like cognitively or intellectually our inferiors, right? And so to have always treated them that way is that it was like more primitive or that they wouldn't be grappling with like the same kind of questions that we are about like living like a happy and fulfilling life I think is.


so arrogant. I get very fired up about this. I feel like you can probably hear it in my voice.

[00:15:54] **Hirad:** So you mentioned how he takes pinker to task and there's this one section in Chapter one. I really liked , and kind of fits in with what we've been talking about with the epistemic crisis and quality of evidence , and stuff like that.

So Pinker loves to use statistics to show that life is much better. In modern society than it was previously. But one thing we've learned from Stuart Ritchie is that statistics can be made to show anything you wanted to show. So one question that Greaber has is even when you look at statistics of a particular metric and you, you're saying like, this metric needs to be optimized, you're still using some value judgment in picking your metrics and Greaber kind of counters.

Pinker by using this thing that I think this is a fairly well known anecdote, that the vast majority of times when we have cases of people who go from civilized to quote unquote primitive societies and spend those long amount of time there, They almost never wanna come back.

And but the other way around is not true. When, when members of these primitive societies go into a civilized one and they get an opportunity to go back, they almost always wanna do, This was a observation that I think one of the, what was one of the Smart Americans?


[00:17:14] **Trish:** The,


[00:17:14] **Hirad:** No, no, no. The founding father.

Americans. The guy with the

[00:17:18] **Trish:** Franklin. Benjamin Franklin, Yeah. Yeah. The guy with the kite.

[00:17:22] **Hirad:** I don't remember what he did with kite. I just remember it was the guy with the kite that is so messed up. I literally don't know what the association of him and the kite is.

[00:17:29] **Trish:** electricity, the key he was trying to prove about electricity.

[00:17:32] **Hirad:** I, I, I don't remember.

I just know him as, I just have like a picture of him, like with his curly hair, and his like long coat , and holding a kite.


[00:17:41] **Trish:** you at least even remember the like lightning storm or No, You just think of him out in a field with a kite

[00:17:46] **Hirad:** yeah. So there was some, for some reason this guy had a kite and he was out in the field.

Anyway. So he, he made this observation. This is like, what's going on here? That we're like, we on the, in the frontier whenever Europeans are captured by Native Americans and they spend a long time there, they never wanna come back. And, and yet all the Native Americans that see a American society, they all wanna run back.

So, so it comes down to what metrics you wanna measure, right? If you think about it that way.

[00:18:12] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah.

[00:18:13] **Hirad:** Oh, he and , he had this phrase that I thought was really smart. It was like, it's, it's one thing to live in a society where you won't get stabbed. It's another to live in a society where people would care deeply if he did get stabbed.

[00:18:25] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Like I think that whenever we would personally think about going and living in a primitive society, you think of. How much you'd miss your creature comforts and, is that really the thing?

Like, you know, that those aren't really the things that lead to a fulfilling and satisfying life is like having a toilet. I mean, it's nice for sure, Maybe I should have used 

[00:18:47] **Hirad:** No, that's fine. Trish, Trish does a lot of back country camping, so she knows exactly how important or unimportant a toilet is.

[00:18:55] **Trish:** exactly. . So I guess moving into chapter two, in order to make his point of that, that there were lots of intellectuals all over the world who.

Dealing with the hard questions and making really good arguments.

He was like, Well, let's look at the enlightenment. Right? And we like to think that the enlightenment started in Europe and then it spread all over the world. And it makes the argument that many enlightenment ideas, such as the nature of freedom, equality, rationality likely came to Europe from indigenous scholars in North America and other places.

So instead of. us sending the enlightenment everywhere. It's likely that a lot of enlightenment ideas started arriving on ships from contact they were making with people in other places. And then they kind of coalesce and we repackaged there. But that, that's a very different story than sort of what we've learned. And so yeah, the argument is that the Greaber and Wengrow make is that Europeans and indigenous people had lot of intellectual debates and actually listened to one another quite a bit and criticized one another. Quite a bit, and the indigenous critique of European society. Was shocking to Europeans and their whole Overton window just shifted significantly after they saw how people were living other places.

[00:20:16] **Hirad:** Yeah. So one of my favorite things about this chapter, which was like one of those questions that you get asked and you're like, Huh, why did I never think about this?

So Greaber and Wengrow kind of go back to the origins of this essay, that famous essay that Rousseau wrote which is now the foundation of our, assumptions about the, the noble savage 

. So Russo was writing that essay for they seance, sorry, they seance at a,


clearly succeeded in my French class in

[00:20:53] **Trish:** Oh, better than mine, man.

[00:20:55] **Hirad:** So anyway, this French National Institute. And they had put, put out this question that they were, it was, it was an essay competition. And they put out this question, What is the origin of inequality among men and is it authorized by natural law?

So the question that Greaber and Wengrow ask is, why would a national. Institute in pre-revolutionary France. Think to ask such a question given that for hundreds of years before this going all the way back to Rome this was not a thing that happened in European intellectual circles, that people would talk about equality among people.

It was just assumed that inequality existed. It was the waters that they swam in and they never questioned it. And he goes through Centuries of, you know, Latin writing and in multiple different languages that these, these words for equality never entered the lexicon. Right? 

[00:21:53] **Trish:** Literally they looked for the actual word, Latin word. Al or inequalities and English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and it didn't show up anywhere before Columbus. Yeah, well, like in regards, , okay, the word existed, but in describing social relations. Yeah. 

[00:22:11] **Hirad:** Yeah. It was, it was not something that they were concerned with.

And all of a sudden this national institute in France is concerned with it. And so what was it about that time that made this a salient topic?


answer that Greaber and Wengrow have is that several years before this because of the interactions that a lot of Jesuit missionaries had had with intellectuals of the Americas, specifically the, there's one tribe in modern day Canada what used to be called New France called the Wendat

[00:22:44] **Trish:** Mm-hmm.

[00:22:45] **Hirad:** Side note, I used to live in Windsor, and half the things there are called Wine dot. So it's like a, it's a, a lot of derivatives of that name. Used to name streets and whatever. So these guys They would have these engagements with the Jesuits who had been convinced that they, they're coming to North America and they're gonna teach their superior ways to these primitive people.

Mm-hmm. only to be met with You know, very rigorous intellects on the other side. Yeah. That would take them to task about why they're living their lives in the way that they're living. Yeah. And so, so several years prior to Rousseau's essay.

There was a book published that kind of chronicled some of the conversations with one particular, Wendat that leader in intellectual named Kandiaronk.

And that book I think was published in the Netherlands and it was selling , like hot cakes for years, all around Europe. And so Greaber and Wengrow's claim is that . It was the indigenous critique of the Western way of living that opened the door to these questions of equality and among people in society.

[00:23:48] **Trish:** Yeah. He brings up when the French were interacting with some of the Mi'kMaq, which were the indigenous people in Nova Scotia, and like, they couldn't believe how derisive the Mi'kMaq were about how the French lived.

[00:24:01] **Hirad:** Yeah,

And in the case of Kandiaronk specifically he actually ended up visiting Europe. So as a. As an ambassador.

So he got to observe France up close, and he was not.

[00:24:15] **Trish:** he was horrified.

[00:24:16] **Hirad:** he was horrified. So, one of it's funny, one of the main things, they seem to not be able to comprehend this idea that France would be wealthy, but they would let French people live on the streets without food and beg and, and not share it.

This, this concept seemed foreign to them.

[00:24:32] **Trish:** Yeah, and you can get into, I mean, if you want like all the details about Kandiaronk and the, you know, the anthropology of like putting this together, you just have to read the book. I don't feel like we're gonna get into it too much today, but Yeah. So it was, yeah,

[00:24:47] **Hirad:** but that's a, that's a pretty big deal right there.

So huge. The, this whole concept of. Equal rights according to Greaber and Wengrow did not enter the European lexicon without the influence of Native American intellectuals. And one of the points that I think Greaber and Wengrow keep hammering home , in this chapter is, that this fact has been glossed over by history and one way or another subsequent historians and European thinkers have tried to brush this off as like, No, no, no.

This whole thing was actually an original European thought. And all those writers. That wrote these books about, their dialogues with the Native American intellectuals and criticized the lack of equality in European society. They were just writing fiction and, and the Native American intellectuals were just figments of their imaginations or it was just a technique for them to

mask Their critique as an outsider instead of an insider, which wouldn't be treated super well. And yet there's a lot of evidence to think that no, no Kandiaronk actually existed. He was regularly having these engagements with the French intellectuals. In New France to the point where like there's a lot of evidence that the French governors would regularly invite him to their residents to have these debates.

Yeah. And and so yeah. But it's interesting that, that that fact has been completely glossed over and now we think of this whole concept of equal rights among people and that social inequality is a bad thing as being a European concept, whereas it's actually an American actual American concept.

[00:26:23] **Trish:** Yeah. A lot of the primary sources do talk about the ideas that they would get from the indigenous population, and I think that a lot of times it was like literally just dismissed by like Europeans and anthropologists to be like, Well, they said that, but that that couldn't possibly have been true.

[00:26:39] **Hirad:** Exactly. Yeah.

[00:26:41] **Trish:** Yeah. So he has a discussion towards the end of chapter two about what the term egalitarian even means.

Like the term does get thrown , thrown around all the time. And like these days it's like, you know, like income inequality, we've got like genie coefficients. I feel like it's very much the. Topic de jour..

[00:27:00] **Hirad:** Yeah. Literal inequality are are transwomen women.

[00:27:05] **Trish:** All right. Well anyway, One controversial thing at a time, shall we? But yeah, so Greaber. 's kind of like what, are we really talking about? Are we talking about equality between . The genders. Are we talking about how much material wealth you can have? How much political power, how much. Food you get, there's all sorts of different metrics and how are you going to it? It would depend on that society's values in terms of like what. being equalized among them. And so to quote him too, he says, you know, describing such societies, he means kind of what we would've considered like primitive or historical societies as uniformly egalitarian tells us almost nothing about them because yeah, they might have been.

Egalitarian in that there wasn't a lot of personal property, but there might have been a lot of variance in, you know, political power or hereditary power or division of labor. It's kind of a little bit of a nebulous word, and I think we need to be careful how we use it, and I think we also should perhaps reflect on why other things when we kind of like throw around the word egalitarian, if that's sort of reflecting where our values are.

[00:28:23] **Hirad:** Yeah. And, and then so part of the reason why Greaber and Weng row set out on writing this book was they wanted to

research the

origins of human inequality. And at some point they realized that this is actually the wrong question to ask, partly because of the things that we originally talked about earlier, which was that there is no linear development to human political arrangements.

We've actually had a diversity of political arrangements from pre agriculture and post agriculture. And so. Asking what are the origins of human inequality are , it's the wrong question, but it's also the wrong question because you don't actually know what equality means itself, so you have to define what you mean by that.

So then, now, like where we're gonna go with this book, I feel is exploring that kind of rich ecosystem that, that was the human political landscape yeah. You know, up to today.

[00:29:22] **Trish:** So I guess in conclusion, saying that pre agricultural societies were egalitarian is a dumb thing to say.



[00:29:34] **Hirad:** from 77 pages of content.

[00:29:38] **Trish:** I know. 

[00:29:40] **Hirad:** You're so dumb.

[00:29:47] **Trish:** So just to kind of drive this point home of how.

Different, all these cultures and societies looked, chapter three is a deep dive into what a lot of indigenous cultures looked like. And it is rich and beautiful and weird and not this simple story that we're told about you forged for this long and then like you sat around and gossiped and life was grand.

Yeah, it was. Complex. They were very difficult to categorize because there was a lot of seasonality to it, and the politics might look very different and the gender roles might look very different, and that often cultures were coming together seasonally. There was a lot of fluidity, right? You might live one way for part of the year and another way for another part of the year. So how would you categorize this sort of life?

[00:30:44] **Hirad:** I wanna tie in with another book that we read in the book club which was called Origins, How the Earth Made Us, and it talks about how the geology of the earth has influenced life and I feel like we're gonna discover, this is kind of my, we haven't got there in the book yet, but I feel like this is where we're gonna go, is we're gonna learn that, to the natural world and the political arrangements that we have might actually be reflecting that.

So depending on the kind of environment you're in, you might be in a more lush environment. You might be in a more harsh environment. And then, and then like you said, with seasonality, these things are gonna change.

Well, one thing before we actually get into some of these specific examples that he talks about very early in the chapter is this thing called the Sapien paradox, which is, you know, the, again, if you read Sapiens

[00:31:31] **Trish:** you shouldn't

[00:31:32] **Hirad:** he shouldn't you will get this picture that humanity was kind of like, We were homo sapiens from 300,000 years ago, all the way to 50,000 years ago.

But in that timeframe, even though we were homo sapiens, we didn't really do anything different that was not ape-like, we were still apes, but we were still genetically homo sapiens and. and then all of a sudden around 50,000 years ago, and in Europe there's this explosion of culture.

And then we have all these artifacts and art forms and all, all these things that have remained. And this used to be called the Sapien Paradox, which is , if we were genetically human from so long ago what were we doing between 300,000 years ago and 50,000 years ago, before like we started making all this art and.

That paradox has kind of turned out to be a bit of an illusion because what, what turns out to have happened is European countries were rich enough to do the research to find all these artifacts before anyone else. But as time goes on, we were finding the same things dating way back sometimes 60,000 years ago, 70,000 years.

In all around Africa. 

[00:32:40] **Trish:** Surprise, surprise. You find stuff where you looked like, you know what I mean? And you didn't find it in places you didn't look like

[00:32:46] **Hirad:** Yeah. And, and there's also some other selection biases in terms of how things might be preserved in, in the European environment, environment versus some other environments, right?

Mm-hmm. . So as we're kind of taking these things more into account, we're finding. more and more artifacts from further and further back. Mm-hmm. So that whole picture of Yeah. Culture suddenly exploded 50,000 years ago is looking like less and less likely. 

[00:33:08] **Trish:** Yeah.

And like, it sounds so ridiculous to even say it, but I feel like that's what you read in books and stuff.

It's like, Oh yeah. You know, before 40,000 years ago, they were, you know, humans, but they probably just behaved like apes . It's like, what?

[00:33:24] **Hirad:** Yeah.

[00:33:24] **Trish:** that's so just like, I can't even understand that that would fly as something that people would be like, Oh, right. Yeah. Like, that makes sense. They would just like, I don't

[00:33:35] **Hirad:** know, genetically identical to us, but, but

[00:33:37] **Trish:** I know just, but one of

[00:33:39] **Hirad:** acted exactly like a gorilla into

[00:33:40] **Trish:** a club and would just go around like boning everyone else on the head and then, you know, be the top banana.

But yeah. Yeah, no, it was it's, it was so interesting, you know, like the anthropological surveys are really interesting in this book.

And , one of the examples he uses as. You know, the complexity of some of these, paleolithic cultures, was the people who built Stonehenge. So it seems like at one point they were farmers, so they knew how to farm, but then decided for reasons we don't understand, they abandoned farming and went back to hazelnut, forging, but they still kept herds of animals and pigs and cattle.

So they were like sort of foragers sort of. Pastoralists. And then at some times of year they came together to erect, huge monuments like Stonehenge. We don't really know why other times, they were small bands that were, returning out to the hinterland or whatever. But like, how would you really categorize a culture like that?

, it's not so easy.

[00:34:45] **Hirad:** And there are other examples of of societies that kind of move in and out of these different arrangements.

So there is one. I guess like society of one tribe, in the Amazon called the Neami Quora, I think. And what they do is, like you said, based on seasons, their social hierarchy completely changes.

So, for example, in the rainy season multiple different bands might come together. They might have a single leader that is extremely dominant and, there's a, this very authoritarian. And then as soon as the rainy season ends they disband, they go into these like small groups.

They don't live together, they separate and they will live as egalitarian bands for that season. And then they'll come back and somebody else might end up being the, the authoritarian leader for the next season. Yeah. And then there are different societies that do stuff like this, and then they have rules in place, for example, to make sure that.

Whoever ends up being the authoritarian person at one time, the next time around, someone from a different family gets to, gets to be it. . So they they just balance each other out in that way. Yeah. So there's a lot of , fluid, the tea between these different social 

[00:35:53] **Trish:** arrangements.


And even when there was something that was like very hierarchical with a chief, like maybe what the chief did. Could be very different. It wasn't necessarily that they had like a lot of political power. They were almost there to like fulfill different roles in the.

Tribe, you know, that might have been, like performing speeches or mediating disputes or, things like this. So the take home point was that it varied wildly around the world. There's no simple categorization. They would often practice many different types of arrangements, in the same year, depending on if they were coming together into larger groups or not.

I mean, sometimes they were very hierarchical, sometimes they weren't like it, you know, sometimes aristocrats had like a huge amount of wealth. Sometimes they didn't, some, you know, places had slaves, some didn't. It just like it is so, Comical that we would try and reduce it to such a simple narrative.

[00:36:57] **Hirad:** Egalitarian tribes.

[00:36:59] **Trish:** know

like, it

just was, it's, it's incredible. So yeah, The point of these three chapters was to , Get rid of this pendulum swinging between Hobbes and Rousseau that we're always prone to do and just be like, Listen, like we need to stop treating the history of humanity as if this is our, growing up story.

And we started as little babies and then, went through adolescence. We need to leave that in the bin. Like we've been human for a long time. Humans have really been. Our cognitive equals intellectually. Our peers, they probably, you know, I'll just like quote him here again, likely as not, they grappled with the paradoxes of social order and creativity just as we do and understood them at least the most reflective among them.

Just as much , which also means very little. They were perhaps more aware of some things and less aware of others. They were neither ignorant savages, nor wise sons and daughters of nature. They were, as Helen Valero said, of the Yanomami. Just people like us equally, perceptive, equally confused, end quote.

So yeah, I just think that, I mean, that says it all. I have nothing to add to that

[00:38:18] **Hirad:** Yep. . That's, I think that's a good note to to end it on So Yeah. And we're gonna keep digging into the rest of this book. If you wanna read along with us, the next episode that we do, we're gonna cover another three chapters, I think.

[00:38:32] **Trish:** Yeah. And knowing us, you'll probably have time to catch up

[00:38:34] **Hirad:** Yep. It's not, it's not hard to catch up with us at our current pace..

And yeah. Maybe in the meantime we'll be able to pump out a few mini episodes.

[00:38:44] **Trish:** That would be great.

[00:38:46] **Hirad:** Until then.

[00:38:47] **Trish:** Until then, next time.