5 January 2013

Man's fate

I'm about a third of the way into The Company of Strangers by Paul Seabright (2010), one of several books I wish I had read before writing Japanese macaque. Here's a summary of Seabright's argument from his introduction:
  • the unplanned but sophisticated coordination of modern industrial societies is a remarkable fact that needs an explanation. Nothing in our species' biological evolution has show us to have any talent or taste for dealing with strangers.
  • the explanation is to be found in the presence of institutions that make human beings willing to treat strangers as honorary friends.
  • when human beings come together in the mass, the unintended consequences are sometimes startlingly impressive, sometimes very troubling
  • the very talents for cooperation and rational reflection that could provide solutions to our most urgent problems are also the source of our species terrifying capacity for organized violence between groups. Trust between groups needs as much human ingenuity as trust between individuals.
And from page 78:
reducing levels of violence has required us not to sideline the emotions but to harness them.

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