The Basics:


Atavism (noun) a : recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination b : recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity

(source: Miriam Webster Online Dictionary)




We are living through a paradigm shift in human health consciousness: the rise of numerous ‘paleo’ or ‘primal’ diet and exercise approaches, which focus on respecting human biology and the ways in which we evolved instead of trying to shoehorn our ancestral phenotypes into systems that are more convenient for the corporate world to produce and sell to us. Atavism takes the same approach to diet and exercise and expands the paleo paradigm to the rest of human life: economics, politics, community, sexuality, education, religion, culture.


We can not, however, go back in time to the paleo era, and we shouldn't glorify it. Atavism is not about driving society back to the stone age - it's about looking back, to what we were before modernity snuck in, and using what we learn to build a better future.




As an analogy, consider how we take care of domesticated animals. One of the first principles in caring for a pet is that in order for little Fluffo to flourish, he needs to live in an environment that respects her natural psychology. For instance, dogs are pack animals, so their owners must take on the role of a pack leader or risk the dog attempting to take on this role him or herself. Certain breeds of dogs have predispositions to favor certain activities - herding, or hunting, for example, and they need to be given opportunities to express those predispositions, or else they will not be satisfied. Dogs need discipline, but not just any old arbitrary rules- they need rules that work with their native psychology, rather than rules that try to break the dog down to comport with a system designed for the convenience of humans.


Atavism is the belief that the same principle applies to humans. As dogs have been tamed by their human masters, we humans have been tamed by civilization; in order for humans to flourish in the civilization that has tamed us, we must be given opportunities to express our native instinctual behavior. Civilization, especially modern civilization, is not the environment that we evolved to live in, and thus is the source of much unhappiness. However, adjustments can be made to our civilized environment to more closely simulate our natural state, which will allow for more true human flourishing.




Humans can survive in modern capitalism, and the monetized, corporatized environment will incentivize us to act in certain ways, but we must resist the urge to assume that those behaviors are natural. Humans are incredibly adaptive, but the fact that we can get along in a wide variety of environments doesn’t mean that there aren’t some environments that are better for us than others. Atavism seeks to create better social institutions, which are more reactive to humans’ evolved psychology than the institutions we see foundering all around us.


One of the fundamental differences between the institutions we seek to construct and those that have been tried and found wanting since the origins of agriculture is that we see humans as tribal animals. A tribe is bigger than a family but smaller than a town. A tribe is not a club that one chooses to join and leave at will- it is an institution whose members must all make a deep commitment to each other and to the tribe itself. It is in and through properly-structured tribal units, which we call 'Federations,' that we will find ways for humans to truly flourish.



Read more about Atavism here.