I read this book partly to get to know the author, who, in my opinion, rose to sainthood in 2015 when he was held hostage for two hours by a posse of students at Yale, many who shrieked at him relentlessly, hurling obscenities about him, his wife and his life. This he endured with great dignity, open-mindedness and thoughtfulness. I learned that he had authored five books and had done enormous research on social networks and on the socioeconomic, biosocial, and evolutionary determinants of behavior, health, and longevity. At least two of these books would place me out of my depth, so I settled on the most recently published. Superb from start to finish!
The book Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society () is deep, wide and profoundly hopeful. Christakis is a masterful storyteller. He takes the reader through every imaginable “pop-up” social construct throughout history: shipwrecks, hippie communes, small religious sects. Going back as far as recorded history allows, he examines intentional communities, unintentional communities and artificial communities. Through the lens of his “social suite” he describes the successful and unsuccessful attempts at designing purposeful communities and his insights here are astounding.
From start to finish, he is an architect of hope as he shares his expansive research and summarizes the broader implications of the role of networks in human activity.
One of my favorite quotes:
“…we carry within us innate proclivities that reflect our natural social state, a state that is, as it turns out, primarily good, practically and even morally. Humans can no more make a society that is inconsistent with these positive urges than ants can suddenly make beehives.”
Finally, he gave me words to describe this question/observation which has plagued me for many years. It is this: Insane behavior in individuals, I rarely see. Insane behavior in large groups, I see far too often. Why?
“People in crowds often act in thoughtless ways—shouting profanities, destroying property, throwing bricks, threatening others. This can come about partly because of a process known to psychologists as deindividuation : people begin to lose their self-awareness and sense of individual agency as they identify more strongly with the group, which often leads to antisocial behaviors they would never consider if they were acting alone. They can form a mob, cease to think for themselves, lose their moral compass, and adopt a classic us-versus-them stance that brooks no shared understanding.”
This is a powerful knowledge; knowledge that should be remembered and internalized. Forever.
If you are looking for hope in humanity, this is your book. It is not the standard-variety self help book; history, math and science are all big players in this text. I am very excited about his current focus on the (entire) human microbiota and have even more respect for Christakis’s mind and heart, as he uses his knowledge to spread good. https://nomisfoundation.ch/2019/01/11…
This is a great book.