Just-so stories about societal development

Imagine someone making the following claim:

Look, I’m all for gender equity, but historically speaking, it just makes more sense for male parents to be primary caregivers. They’re generally bigger and stronger, so they can carry children more easily (and would therefore multitask better — taking care of the cooking and cleaning with a small child in one arm). And with reproduction being so expensive for humans, it makes sense to leave the children in the care of the biggest parents, right? Meanwhile, female parents generally have better color vision and are smaller on average, which makes them perfectly adapted to hunting and foraging even in densely forested areas.

It doesn’t require much creativity to spin a story about how humans in the imaginary past acted, and use it to justify your beliefs about how they should live now.

This is one reason I’m excited about The Dawn of Everything, the final book by the late David Graeber and co-authored with David Wengrow.¹ I’m seeing lots of great things about the book, but the gist is that Graeber and Wengrow use the latest archeological and anthropological evidence to show that ancient societies were varied and flexible in how they structured themselves and delegated authority; overturning the just-so story that the development of agriculture necessarily led to cities and kings, which is why we find humanity in its current predicament.

For the average reader, I think it’ll serve as an update to, and occasional rebuttal of, Jared Diamond’s Gun, Germs, and Steel (personally, I find that readers tend to praise this book too highly or criticize it too harshly). I plan to read it during my upcoming family leave and will share my own review then.

¹ The Dawn of Everything