The Desirability of Storytellers

5/12/2017 - Professor Emerita of Anthropology Sarah Blaffer Hrdy in The Atlantic.

Storytelling is a universal human trait. It emerges spontaneously in childhood, and exists in all cultures thus far studied. It’s also ancient: Some specific stories have roots that stretch back for around 6,000 years. As I’ve written before, these tales aren’t quite as old as time, but perhaps as old as wheels and writing. Because of its antiquity and ubiquity, some scholars have portrayed storytelling as an important human adaptation.

The origin of storytelling doesn’t necessarily reflect its later uses, though. “Our very human love of stories has become adapted for different ends during later phases of human history,” says Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an anthropologist from the University of California, Davis. “The Maya-speaking people I used to study in southern Mexico told tales about a winged, super-sexed demon with a six-meter-long, death-dealing penis, who reinforced proper sex roles for men and women, including proscriptions for postures during sex, menstrual taboos, freedom of movement. Rather than promoting sexual equality, these served to constrain women.”

“Alas, our wonderfully human universal of loving stories can also become an all-too-human vulnerability, fostering enmity as readily as amicable relations,” she adds.

Read the full story in The Atlantic.