As the popular saying goes, we may not have descended from fearful men, but we certainly did from gossipers. Gossip played a pivotal role in human evolution.
Why does gossip flood our news streams in the place of several other issues that are far more worthy of our attention? Why does gossip take the place of historical rulings, technological breakthroughs and pressing global problems? It is perhaps because we started caring about the behaviour of our neighbours far before history, technology or the world mattered.
Humans are able to cooperate in larger groups and in more complex ways than any other animal. Initially, we were able to do this purely on the basis of gossip. By means of gossip, everybody within the tribe knew about each other’s virtues and vices. They knew with whom they could trust their baby while going on a hunt, who was pulling their share of the collective load and who was sleeping around with whom. It also focused on negative information, for it was far more important for the tribe to single out detractors. Even today, gossip continues to revolve around a person’s character – especially on their negative traits. For the same reason we, as individuals, are also sensitive to what other the people around us think about us.
Yuval Harari calls gossip the original fourth estate. It was here before the media, performing the same role – disseminating the most compelling information about the people around us. Thanks to our innate propensity towards gossip, we are more interested in movie star hook-ups, royal weddings and celebrity stunts than saving coral reefs or applauding technological breakthroughs.
While that is still a pity, at least it comes as no surprise.
Inspiration – Sapiens: Yuval Noah Harari