Contemporary Movements Based in the Past: Background information when reading The World Until Yesterday

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The World Until Yesterday

What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

by Jared Diamond

The World Until Yesterday
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2012, 512 pages
    Oct 2013, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Contemporary Movements Based in the Past

Jared Diamond's question, "What can we learn from traditional societies?" is one Westerners have been asking in a Utopian spirit for generations, looking for ways to revivify our cultural practices and trying revisionist experiments to reverse the damage civilization does to our health and psyches. It's a tricky exercise, since there are plenty of traditional practices – like the Kaulong people's practice of widow strangulation, that humanity is well rid of. A glimpse of what life was like in traditional societies (in the words of Thomas Hobbes, "nasty, brutish, and short"), especially for women, is enough to make one exceedingly thankful for modernity despite its imperfections. Still, we have an apt fascination with the natural and traditional, and as Diamond avers, conservation of our human past may be the thing that informs our progress. Here are a few contemporary cultural movements that look to "traditional societies" for inspiration:

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