The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

[Amazon Link]

The author, Nicholas A. Christakis, made kind of a splash back in the dextrosphere back in 2015. He and his wife, Erika, both taught at Yale. Erika made the mistake of criticizing, in writing, a memo cautioning about "culturally insensitive" Halloween costumes. She was (of course) pilloried, and when he defended her, he got the same treatment.

I wonder if I would have checked out this book if not for that? Don't know for sure, but its theme is in line with the other nonfiction stuff I enjoy reading. Generally speaking, it concerns the nature/nurture debate, and how much of humanity's social nature is due to our underlying genetics.

Quite a bit, says Professor Christakis. He says that even the wide diversity of human cultures over millennia adheres to certain universal traits, which he dubs the "social suite", conveniently summarized at the start:

  1. The capacity to have and recognize individual identity
  2. Love for partners and offspring
  3. Friendship
  4. Social networks (even before Facebook)
  5. Cooperation
  6. Preference for one's own group (that is, "in-group bias")
  7. Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)
  8. Social learning and teaching
To demonstrate this, the book meanders through a lot of history, sociology, biology, and anthropology. Going some unexpected places too, for example, the history of shipwrecked sailors finding themselves isolated from their familiar civilizations; what kind of societies do they build. How about kibbutzim, or other attempts to build small utopias based on lofty ideals?

And how did wolves turn into domesticated dogs in a relative evolutionary eyeblink?

So, very interesting. If this is the sort of thing in which you're interested.