I love the the long dark evenings that arrive with the colder months. Between holidays that I pretty much ignore, bad weather, and chilly temperatures, I have a lot of time to stay home and read.
I often keep several books going at once. I am reading one Regency romance now with an eye toward doing a blurb for the author. I’m also reading The Dip, by Seth Godin, subtitled, “A little book that teaches you when to quit and when to stick.” That one’s kinda off topic for me to be honest–a bathroom book. For nighty-night reading, I’m working my way through Ellis Peters’ Felse Investigations series. Scrumptious writing, meticulous research, and good plotting. Yum!
The fundamental question of the book–Who are we and how did we get to be this way?–inspired Foster to live as a Cro-Magnon hunter/gatherer and then as a Neolithic farmer. The better to describe the impact of the Enlightenment on human development, he relied on his experience as an academic with fingers in so many smarty-pants pies I’d need another blog post to list them.
The book is sad in a lot of places–we’re befouling our own nest and have the dubious distinction of being the only animal that goes to war against its own kind. Nonetheless, the fundamental message is optimistic: If we’ll remember who we are, we can step back from much of our wrongheadedness, and live happier lives without imperiling our very planet.
As hunter-gatherers, our challenge was to get by with the fewest possessions necessary to eat, sleep out of the cold and wet (mostly), and get along with our neighbors. When you have to haul your worldly goods from place to place as the caribou move or the seasons change, your life can depend on traveling light. For nearly all of our behaviorally modern history, dying with the most toys was the definition of insanity.
When you reply on the natural world directly for everything, your quality of life depends on the breadth of your skill set. To thrive, you will need to know how to find dry tinder under a foot of snow, how to tell a great story, how to make a bunny into a boot, and what every cloud formation presages in terms of tomorrow’s weather. Honed senses and lifelong learning were our hallmarks of success, and any chance to acquire a new skill was worth investigating. Heaven help the hunter gatherer who decided to go for him MBA and then coast…
When you don’t own real estate, real estate doesn’t own you. The whole concept of private real property, upon which mono-crop agriculture, colonization, social hierarchy, kingdoms, and a zillion other evils are built, was foreign to our nature for the huge majority of our history.
When the small band you’re born into is all that stands between you and death on a bad day, you take the well being of your kith and kin nearly as seriously as you do your own.
Foster is not suggesting that eight billion people can inhabit the planet in the same manner eight hundred thousand of our distant ancestors did, but he does make a case for a legacy of values that are highly relevant today. Eschew consumerism, stay passionately curious, treasure your people, treasure and respect nature for the miracle it is.
Those values resonate with me–admittedly often in the breach–and Foster makes an eloquent case for why they should.
So what about you? Read any good books lately?