No, the title of this post is not meant to refer to Paleo Future the blog about futures that never happened. Though every futurist will want to check that blog out and see what other predictions went astray beside flying cars. I have been arguing with my friend about this idea that something was lost when the European aristocracy was pushed aside by democracy. I am disinclined to agree with that point of view, but I found one of his criticisms quite odd. He suggested that it was strange for a futurist who believes in progress to resist the reintroduction of past ideas. That seemed counterintuitive to me. Progress relies on new ideas, right? Well maybe not.
One could make the argument that modern lifestyles are socially isolating and largely unhealthy in terms of diet and exercise. (In the developed world at least.) Promoters of the Paleo diet suggest that humans evolved to consume a diet of vegetables and meat with no grains or refined foods. That’s sort of the reintroduction of an old idea. Of course some people take exception to it and I guess we did evolve more amylase genes to deal with agriculture. And it’s hard to find the wild herbs and Megaloceros steaks that cavemen supposedly thrived on. Also, our ancestors didn’t think about this diet in the same way we do today. I assume they would have preferred some nutrient rich grains if they could get their paws on some.
Next please consider Dunbar’s Number, which is the idea that us primates only have enough smarts to fully participate in a social scene of about 150 individuals. Supposedly Gore-Tex structured their company around this idea and restricted the size of each office and factory to less than 150 primates. Again, here we see a modern lifestyle (work style?) developed in response to a model of natural constraints. I can believe that people are happier in villages. (or at least Danish villages) But I hate the provincialism of the traditional village. I prefer the idea a more modern version (i.e. intentional communities) where people can choose to live together with others who share their values.
In Mothers and Others, Sarah Hrdy points out that humans are unique among great apes in the way that mothers will allow others to hold their babies. In contrast, baboon mothers won’t let anyone near their babies. Also, humans have a high level of child food provisioning by non-relatives compared to other creatures. Hrdy makes some interesting arguments that this situation increased human cognition because only babies that could understand how to get care from a range of adults would be able to survive. Modern parents are probably much more stressed than their prehistoric (or Global South) counterparts who have extended families and friends close by to help care for children. Parenting co-ops are one modern idea that came about in response to this problem.
Notice the theme here is that we are developing new ideas which try to emulate previous ways of living. Stephenson wrote about the emergence of Neo-Victorians in his novel the Diamond Age. The example of Polyface farms also comes to mind. They try to take advantage of the synergistic relationship between cows and chickens using modern portable electric fencing. All these ideas are based on our increasing knowlege of natural systems. There are parallels to old ideas, but I find them more refined. Of course, not as refined as those aristocratic lords of old were. I am not sure how to reinvent the value they provided.