My name is Avi Tuschman, and I’m an evolutionary anthropologist and a political advisor. I’m also the author of the newly published book Our Political Nature. This book has been a true journey of discovery.
My adventure began in 2002 in Peru, as the country was recovering from an internal war with Communist insurgents that had killed 70,000 people. I found myself on the inside of a nasty political conflict over the world’s second largest gold mine. To exploit new reserves or not to? And if so, how? I was researching the situation for a political-risk consulting firm, and we were looking for ways to defuse the situation and find a solution satisfactory to both sides. The deeper I looked, though, the more shocked I was at how radically different people’s political perceptions were. There was almost no way to bridge the gap.
In the course of tracking the country’s broader political climate, I eventually had a chance to meet the First Lady of Peru, Eliane Karp. Like myself, she happened to be an anthropologist and fluent in Quechua (the largest Native American language). Her cause was indigenous peoples’ issues. At the age of 23, I soon became the youngest advisor in the Palace. I traveled to remote areas of the Andes and Amazon to meet with the country’s native populations and research their needs, conflicts, and integration with the state.
I couldn’t believe the extraordinary experiences I was having: one day I was in the mountains eating guinea pigs and plates full of beetles with Indians, and the next I was traveling in private planes and bulletproof cars. But the disparity I encountered that truly left the greatest impression on me was, again, the enormous variation in the human political personality; I couldn’t stop wondering why people were seeing the world through systematically distorted lenses. Then and there I decided to look for scientific answers to the puzzle of political orientation.
When I first returned to Stanford for graduate school, I spent an entire summer in the library reading everything I could find about political psychology. But the traditional social-science literature only raised more questions. I realized that I had to dig much deeper for answers. I sensed that this would be one of the most important tasks I could dedicate myself to, and that what awaited was the intellectual adventure of a lifetime. The research I did for my Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology indeed gave me a whole new set of tools for understanding the inner landscape of the human political psyche.
After graduating, I went back into the field to see if what I’d learned had true, practical import on the raw terrain of actual political conflict. I served as the senior writer and advisor to President Alejandro Toledo (Peru, 2001-2006), helping him shape public opinion and social policies. As we traveled around the world after his term, I had the privilege to work with seventeen other presidents, and to meet prime ministers, secretaries of state, and legislators from five continents. In addition, I’ve worked with three multi-lateral development banks to mediate social and economic conflicts in developing countries. I’ve also lived for short periods in the Middle East and South Asia and speak Hebrew and Hindi.
The result of this decade-long exploration is Our Political Nature. This is serious science, but anchored to timely stories of high-profile political clashes.