Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

Featuring Nicholas Christakis

Scientists and citizens often focus on the dark side of our biological heritage, such as our capacity for aggression, cruelty, prejudice, and self‐​interest. But natural selection has also given us a suite of beneficial social features, including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, and teaching.

Beneath all our inventions—our tools, farms, machines, cities, nations—we carry with us innate proclivities to make such a good society. Indeed, our genes affect not only our bodies and behaviors, but also the ways in which we make societies, and therefore ones that are surprisingly similar worldwide.

Using many wide‐​ranging examples— including diverse historical and contemporary cultures, communities formed in the wake of shipwrecks, commune dwellers seeking utopia, online groups of both people and artificially intelligent bots, and even the tender and complex social arrangements of elephants and dolphins that so resemble our own—Christakis demonstrates that, despite a human history replete with violence, we cannot escape our social blueprint for goodness.

In a world of increasing political and economic polarization, it’s tempting to ignore the positive role of our evolutionary past. But Christakis shows how and why evolution has placed us on a humane path—and how we are united by our common humanity.