science | April 08, 2013

Risk Management In Traditional Societies: Science Speaker Jared Diamond [VIDEO]

"People in traditional societies generally recognize the significance of things that you will do very often, but each time you do them the risk is low," science speaker Jared Diamond says in a new interview. These commonplace activities pose little threat to us each time we do them. Due to this limited risk, those of us in modern, Western societies tend to not see them as very dangerous. For example, the author of The World Until Yesterday says he recently just survived the most dangerous thing he will do all day: Taking a shower. This is an activity most of us do every day and think very little about. And certainly, there are few of us who think about bathing ourselves as being a risky activity.

But, as he explained in an New York Times editorial, taking one shower a day for 365 days (until the statistical life span age of 75) carries a 1 in 5,475 chance that you will have a slip or fall. And, if you are an older or more frail person, that accident could be devastating—or even fatal. New Guineans—one of the traditional societies that Diamond studied extensively for his book—take these kinds of risks very seriously. They don't think about showers, per se. Instead, they evaluate the risk of activities like sleeping under trees. Since trees are known to fall and crush those laying beneath them, they take care to not press their luck by taking a load off under big, old, trees.

While Diamond doesn't suggest that we avoid or be fearful of every day activities, he does present an interesting way of looking at the way we live. In his book, his keynotes, and interviews like this one, Diamond expands on the in-depth case studies he presented in his New York Times bestseller The World Until Yesterday. Compelling in its own right, the book's material gives us new insight into the way other people in the world live—and what we can learn from them.