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Two tips from traditional societies

LadderThe World Until Yesterday includes an entire chapter on constructive paranoia --- the tendency of members of traditional societies to assume the worst can happen and to avoid potentially hazardous situations.  I was tickled by this chapter because Mark applies the same strategy to our farm, although he calls it "safety first."  We have rules like "No one uses a ladder when they're alone on the farm."  The idea is that, even if I would probably be fine 99 times out 100 when clambering up a ladder, the 100th time could kill me, especially if no one was around to rush me to the hospital.  Similarly, in traditional societies, camping under a dead tree might be fine most of the time, but why risk it if a tree fell on your great-uncle and killed him?

Another tip we can take away from traditional societies is a different way of looking at trade items.  Diamond notes that members of traditional societies trade for both useful and luxury items even if the communities could have easily learned how to make the traded-for items on their own.  Why not be self-sufficient if you can be?  Diamond's conclusion is that trade is really about cementing bonds between the traders just as much as it is about getting something you really need.  In fact, traditional societies often have a time lapse between gifts, so it's more like you're building social capital by giving a gift than like you're bartering.  Those of us raised in a money-based society may find this technique odd, but I feel like using social capital to build relationships is just as valuable in modern societies as it was in ancient ones.

This post is part of our The World Until Yesterday lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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