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Coming Home to the Pleistocene

by: Paul Shepard

Publisher: University of Chicago Press (1998)


Staff Pick by comrade: FG

Paul Shepard wants you to know that there is still a wildness in you, and that certain conditions created by civilization (and Silvia Federici might argue, accelerated by Capitalism) are manufacturing sedentary and potentially damaging developmental psychological processes: our basic emotional and environmental needs, which should be considered one in the same, are not being met by our current living realities and thusly we are being held in juvenile states of maturity, or neoteny. This directly contributes to the conditions of depression and alienation so prevalent in Western society.

“Coming Home” proposes a “Pleistocene paradigm,” investigating which conditions create autonomy in individuals and collectively, suggesting that the ways humans have historically lived equitably amongst each other informs our current genetic makeup but is in a state of suspension. This book is as important as ever. As a burgeoning anthropology nerd, I found the connections Shepard makes fascinating, like how infant bonding creates such vital senses of self and safety later in life but modern medical standards have dictated a necessary, almost instantaneous separation between newborn and parent, and our work lives forbid the kind of necessary bonding intended to foster independence.

Shepard died before the book was published and his wife wove the remaining pieces together so at times it feels disjointed and flights of thought seem to come to an abrupt halt. But certain statements still ring starkly and poignantly, and Shepard retains a hopefulness after pages of illustrating all of the ways our emotional lives are not what they could be or have been. We are not as lost as many cynics believe, he firmly states. It is not necessary to go back in time to live fulfilling lives, but we must consider the environment that informed our genetic makeup.

‘To reenvision ‘going back,’ we look with our mind’s eye at time as a spiral rather than a reversal. We ‘go