473: James Suzman: What We Can Learn From 300,000 Years of Human History


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Longtime readers of my blog know how much James Suzman's first book influenced my thinking and views of possessions, community, ownership, modernity, and a range of similar topics. A top question I've asked anyone who might know is how populations that didn't grow despite sharing our biology that has grown exponentially for centuries.

If knowing history is wise and knowing history farther back wiser, James's living with the San Bushmen of southern Africa gave him a few hundred thousand years to know. We can't know exactly how their lives today resemble their ancestors, but the overlap is greater than zero and suggests a huge alternative to the knee-jerk dichotomy people can't see past today of capitalism versus communism. Human beings lived for two hundred thousand years, maybe three, in ways that were neither.

You can imagine the changes in climate, other species, terrain, and more in that time. Their stability endured a thousand times longer than the time since the Industrial Revolution led us to put our whole species in the realm of extinction.

As the world looks to technology to help us out of the mess technology wrought, flagrantly disregarding Einstein's admonition that acting by what got us into a mess won't get us out of it, James's work suggests values, behaviors, and cultures we can learn from.

We covered topics like these. I bet you'll find our conversation fascinating.

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