Guns, Germs and Steel
The Main Ideas of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Europeans economic, military, political and technological superiority came from their geographical location. Not because they were in anyway racially or genetically superior to any other race. Other civilizations took more time to develop because of their location, the soil that they had for farming, and also the resources and animals that were available to them for farming. The Europenas weren’t the first ones to start farming but as agriculture started to spread the Europeans were able to adapt to it quickly because of the resources that were available to them.
Jared Diamond has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and history and has a PhD in physics and biophysics. He also studied ornithology, ecology and environmental history later in his life. After graduation he became a professor at UCLA Medical School for physiology. He has traveled to many places but one important place in his life is New Guinea. In New Guinea he was asked a question by a New Guinean politician named Yali. Yali’s question was, “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo … but we black people had little cargo of our own?”. Meaning why have European societies been so militarily, economically, and technologically successful in the last 500 years, while other societies have not approached such a level of achievement? To which he replied to by expanding on the question and studying it for 25 years to collect enough evidence to prove his thesis and wrote this book to explain the answer to Yali’s question to the best of his ability.
In Guns, Germs,and Steel Jared Diamond uses different pieces of evidence to show how European Civilization became more successful due to their geographical location, environmental qualities like soil fertility, availability of domesticable animals, and availability of edible crops. Germs and disease also played a big role in the European superiority because they were able to use them as a weapon to conquer other places.
The Role of Geographic Position
Even though the Sumerians were the ones to develop agriculture they were not able to be superior because of their dry and deset like location. Howeever, Europeans were really lucky in terms of their geography because it determines the destiny. In part two of the book Jared Diamond talks about how it’s easier goods and foods to spread east and west rather than north and south because the Earth spins east and west which means the areas parallel to each other would have a similar temperature and climate. This makes sense because the temperature changes when you go north and south and not east and west. Europe also had less geographical obstacles like the Alps whereas the Americas and Africa had deserts and many mountain ranges like the Sahara, Andes, Rockies and Appalachians. Europe also had more crops available to them for farming and domesticating. Other continents also had crops available them but Europe more for domesticating than anyone else. And once the crops are domesticated they can spread easily because they are easier to cultivate. Other continents like Africa also had animals available to them but they were big and hard to domesticate than the dogs, cows and pigs available in Europe. Since Europe is on a East-West axis the animals and crops can spread faster because they can sustain themselves because they have the same climate. But in the Americas and Africa is not the same case for ex, crops such as dates can grow in North Africa but not South Africa because it can only grow in warm climates.
The Role of Gems
When the Fransico Pizzario and the Spaniards went on an expedition to the Incan Empire, they were able to defeat the Incas easily. This was because Europeans exposed them to new disease which led to many epidemics and outbreaks of new disease which killed a lot of people in South America because they had never been exposed to these diseases so they didn’t build up an immunity to it. The Europeans were in constant proximity to their domesticated animals, sometimes too close (the goat story). Being this close to the animals led to germs being exposed to the society constantly. They were able to build up an immunity to deadly diseases like smallpox. And the people who couldn’t they died and the ones who survived passed it on to the future generation.
In conclusion, the differences of the world are mostly grographic differnces that gives some people a advantage and others a disadvantage. Certain parts of the world started farming earlier than the others but the Europeans were able to be the superior because of their fertile soil and climate. And since the Europeans adapted to farming so quickly they had more time to spend on other things, for ex. Develop new technologies, make a more centralized goverment and gain immunities from deadly disease, which can be used as weapons, because of their close proximities to animals. Because of this some were able to conquer otheres.
All that You Need to Know About Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is a great book that touches on many subjects that are very useful to know in a society that e live in today. It touches on some of the things that have happened in the past and people that were involved in the things that have happened. It talks about why the Asian and Europe countries have had a history of conquering and reconquering each other.
The Massive Race
First off we have to address the many things that have gone on back in the time when the Europe and Asia countries are conquering and reconquering each other. First off there were many dynasties and colonies and groups of ethnic people that did not really have any internationally know borders and most were nomadic of constantly expanding. This is also around the time when you have the giant hegemony of both Europe and Asia on the Eurasian area of land. The dynasties, ethnic groups, and colonies just conquered land and conquered land until they were overthrown, defeated, or had claimed as much land as they wanted. When a dynasty, ethnic group, or colony is overthrown or defeated then it is a massive race for who can grab as much land that they can in as little time as they can.
The Adaptability of People
In this book Jared Diamond is outlining and trying to tell us that the conquering and reconquering of countries is not based on the ingenuity of certain people but rather the adaptability and of opportunity of a group of people or a dynasty. He also implies that countries will be smart and use diseases, ie. germs, to their advantage by going into other territories and peoples land and getting them sick with a disease that they are not able to defend themselves from. Then he tells about how dynasties, ethnic groups, and colonies use smart strategies by taking the enemy by surprise. Also he talks on how they develop an industrial mean of transportation so they can efficiently ship, transport, or export goods and weapons. He also tells on how the dynasties, ethnic groups, and colonies use weaponry to overpower and defeat enemies.
Becoming Military Conquerors
Next we need to talk on how dynasties, ethnic groups, and colonies can become these powerhouse military conquerors from being little farming nomadic countries that herd sheep. First the dynasty, ethnic group, or colony needs to change from a nomadic and hunter gathering people into an agrarian society with a set piece of land. To do this the dynasty, ethnic group, or colony need to have a land that is able to produce and keep producing vegetation so they can survive of that. Next, they need to have access to domesticated animals that are docile and they also need to be versatile enough to survive the temperature, diseases, and other animals. Finally, they need to populate and make a lot of food and have a place to store the food and other supplies that they have somewhere they will not go bad or be infested by rodents or insects or be stolen in a raid.
You may be wondering at this point if it is this easy to become a military powerhouse them why was everyone not doing this. The reason why is because some areas had better land, better animals, and better people that is why Europe became really big and strong in a short amount of time. Europe had a certain plant called barley, or wheat, which was high in protein and much better than what other countries had. Europe also had sheep, cows, horses, goats and many other types of animals that certain groups of people would only have a few of. Europe also had a certain type of material called flax to make tiles and flooring for more modernized houses.
An important part of this story are the questions that are asked and need to be asked. A man named Yali whom Jared Diamond had met on a beach had asked him a question. The was “Why you white men have so much cargo, and we New Guineans so little.” At the time Jared Diamond thought wow this is such an easy and obvious answer but he was not able to give the an answer and was at a loss for words. He later found out that by saying cargo he was referring to the possessions or items brought over by Westerners in the early ages.
If you think about it this way you realize that Africans were one of the last countries explored and therefore, had little “cargo” received when the Americas had lots and lots of “cargo” because they were once part of England. Since the Africans did not get as much “cargo” as the Americans did then they were already at a disadvantage from the other countries that had all these weapons and buildings with good establishments while Africa still had huts and pueblos. The development of agriculture is the how available wild edible plant species that are suitable for domestication are and Africa does not really have the agricultural land or the necessary plant life that they would need to start a good society and become a powerhouse.
It is crucial that you know a little bit of background on the man, the myth, the legend, Jared Diamond, the man who wrote the book and starred in the show “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.” Jared Mason Diamond was born on September 10, 1937 and he is an American geographer, historian, and author who is the best known for his popular books, The Third Chimpanzee, Guns Germs and Steel, and The World Until Yesterday.
He was very interested in birds and he liked to go birdwatching and learn a lot of bird calls so he can see, study, and observe them in their natural habitats. He also spent many years traveling and going to different groups of ethnic people to learn their skills of bird calling.
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, and William Mcneill
In Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, the author shares his hypothesis for why some parts of the world are not as technologically advanced as others. Diamond argues that the shortcomings of one society compared to another in development are a result of less than beneficial environmental factors inflicted upon the less advanced of the two. Separately, in a review of this piece, William H. McNeill takes it upon himself to both criticize the faults and acknowledge the truths revealed by Diamond’s simplistic lense on the matter. However, in this review of Diamonds work, McNeill both adds and subtracts from the hypothesis mentioned, and creates additions that act against the singular motif, that environmental factors are not the sole origin of these developmental inequalities, and in doing so, creates a more dimensional answer to the question Diamond is trying to answer, while also creating a weaker answer from Diamond alone.
Diamond’s Point of View
Diamond introduces his book in the form of an answer to a question. A question asked of him back in 1972 by a New Guinean man named Yali, and went like so, ‘Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?’ (Diamond, 14). The ‘white people’s cargo’ refers to the many material objects we possessed more advanced to their own, like steel tools, machines, and the like, while their own ‘cargo’, or tools, were still made of stone. Diamond believed whole-heartedly that the New Guineans and other people in their situation were smarter than Eurasians because the New Guinean’s intelligence-related genes were refined by natural selection for survival from murder and environmental hazards, while Eurasians were only faced with threats like disease, which only made natural selection act upon immuno-related genes that helped fend off bacteria. Since he believes this, Diamond finds that the best explanation for the difference in advancements comes from a society’s environment. Eurasians only flourished in the way they had because these populations had the advantages of being able to domesticate beneficial plants and animals from their particular environments, which allowed for agriculture to take root. Diamond emphasizes that ‘by enabling farmers to generate food surpluses, food production permitted farming societies to support full-time craft specialists who did not grow their food and who developed technologies’ and as a result, societies and their progress in technological advancements were closely tied to their means of food production (Diamond, 30). Without advancing methods of food production to sustain the population, individuals wouldn’t have opportunities outside the agricultural realm, and so the advancement of tools, centralized political organization, writing, and other important parts to advanced societies wouldn’t have had the chance to form. It’s in this frame of thinking, that Diamond had created his argument, and concedes that culture may have a small role in societal development, but only just, and that the most prominent leading factor in differential development rates are that of the environment a population resides in.
McNeill wrote a review of Guns, Germs and Steel to argue that Diamond’s piece, though a unique, insightful one, has too narrow a lens to accurately explain why societies are in the different stages that they are. He also makes it clear that Diamond’s scientific view of history is too simplistic and strict to capture the cause of the rate of human development of culture and technology as a whole. McNeill starts by disagreeing with Diamond’s main argument, as it shows Diamond’s simplification of cultural growth to only really be the result of environmental factors. It is under this sole factor that Diamond’s argument neglects to see the shaping of the ‘ symbolic… world’ outside of the ‘tyranny of natural environments’ (McNeill, 3). This caused McNeill to view Diamond’s stance as ‘misguided’. McNeill also found that due to Diamond’s biological science background, Diamond viewed the growth of culture outside of food production and the environment as less than significant, and saw the distribution and density of people as the cause for the ‘contemporary differences’ between populations (McNeill, 3). McNeill felt that the ‘accepting and rejecting of new ways of thoughts and actions’, which were done in generations upon generations of people, had nothing to do with environmental factors (McNeill, 4). McNeill pointed out that many of these ‘cultural idiosyncrasies…. came into their own’ and were much too important for Diamond to dismiss as ‘wild cards’ for cultural development. Discerning the foundation of history to be more fluid and interpretational, McNeill finds that even describing some cultural factors as wild cards made history unpredictable, and concluded that it must be ‘irredeemably unscientific’ (McNeill, 4). McNeill ends his review by basically saying that a ‘science of history’ will never give us satisfaction in explaining the modern world.
However, there were some points that McNeill would concede to Diamond. He believed Diamond’s piece to be ‘artful, informative, and delightful’ and had to say that going at this argument from the view Australia and New Guinea ‘full of surprises’ (McNeill, 1). He found Diamonds account of ‘domestication of plants and animals and the subsequent expansion of linguistically distinct groups of food-producers at the expense of older populations of hunters and gatherers is a brilliant tour de force’ and he did find his rendition of paleolithic history ‘very convincing’ (McNeill, 5). He also acknowledges that Diamond doesn’t completely rule out culture as a factor, and that his chapters on domestication are persuasive, and that Diamond isn’t completely wrong.
Personally, I find that McNeill’s perspective, through a historian’s eyes, creates a much more fuller answer to why societies grow at different speeds. It’s through McNeill’s opposition of just environmental factors and his emphasis on how behavior, the interaction between generations, ‘conscious purposes and shared meanings’ also play a role, that the fuller answer begins to take shape (McNeill, 10). He also supports parts of Diamond’s argument in how he acknowledges the importance of the domestication of plants and animals to form better food sources, food surpluses, and the ability to specialize. He concedes that ‘those initial constraints’, environmental factors, ‘were never entirely overcome’ and this is shown in how the American
Indians ‘never caught up with Eurasians’ (McNeill, 5). However, because of the juxtaposing views and McNeill’s counterpoints toward Diamond with his ‘dubious statements’ about some of history itself, Diamond’s intentional message was weakened by McNeill, as McNeill can even point out a blatantly wrong statement about Alexander the Great in Diamond’s book (McNeill, 10-11). Even catching a small mistake such as this, makes some of his other evidence seem less credible, pushing readers more toward what McNeill has to argue.
Jared Diamond argues that environments are the major reason why societies have technologically and culturally developed at different rates. Through McNeill’s review, the reader is given the pros and cons of Diamond’s piece. When combining these two ideas, McNeill’s review and Diamond’s book serves as an extremely respectable answer to the question raised those years ago by Yali, but without the combination of these ideas, Diamond is weakened by McNeill and Diamond’s argument proves too singular and simple without it.
The Summary of the Book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Beginning, Spread and Divergion of Humans
In the first chapter of Guns, Germs, and Steel, The author Jared Diamond talks about the beginnings of the human species. He describes how we broke off from other animals around 7 million years ago. This process happened in Africa and was the beginning of the human race as we know it. Humans stayed in Africa for about 5-6 million years, but we moved on around 1-2 million years ago to Eurasia starting a new chapter. After this human, or homo sapiens really kicked off, in what’s called “The Great Leap Forward”. They started having the shape we still have to this day. Art and technology also started to truly begin and advance.
During “The Great Leap Forward”, Humans moved to other parts of the earth for the 2nd time. Our species advanced into the Pacific. Humans headed down to Australia and the Pacific Island, and finally to the Americas. Within only tens of thousands of years humans went from abiding in Africa to inhabiting all the continents of our planet. Around 11,000 BC, the Author thinks the fate of human society diverge. He thinks this because all continents were populated with hunter-gather societies, not yet having permeant settlements.
The author, Jared Diamond considers if a modern archeologist can go back to 11,000 BC and determine which continents have the best chance of getting new advanced technology. Africa, where humanity started has been inhabited for the longest amount of time so giving the people here the longest time to know the locations of the continent learning all its nooks and cranny’s. Africa also has the biggest genetic variety giving it an advantage in genetic adaptation. Europe was the second continent inhabited and was the largest by far. They had an early advantage though, already creating more and more advanced tools and art. Jared say this gives the Eurasians a huge advantage. The America’s have been inhabited for the shortest amount of time but has a lot of space and big geographic diversity. Jared says these factors give the Americans a good advantage. Finally, the Australians had the smallest continent but had the earliest ships and technology similar/ to the Europeans.
In summary, this chapter talks about the beginnings of humanity In Africa and its spread to other continents. Its later talks about the divergence of the human society’s. The author also questions which society has an advantage over the others
The Environment and the Fate of the Area
The author, Jared starts out the chapter by asking why permeant agriculture settlements took longer to take place in different places. To do this, he compares the 5 main areas of the world and their fertility. Some examples he listed are: The Fertile Cresent, Southwestern Europe, California, South western Australia, and The South African Cape. In 8500 BC agriculture began in the Fertile Cresent in Mesopotamia. It spread to Southwestern Europe in 5500 BC. In the other 3 regions Agricultural societies arrived much later, in 1500 AD, nearly 7000 years later with the beginnings of colonization by Europe nations. These colonizers mainly came from France, Britain, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands. Due to colonization therefore you can see these languages all around the globe. This reason is why we speak English today and why South America speaks Spanish and Portuguese.
The author explains that Hunter-Gather and Agricultural societies weren’t mutually exclusive and evolved over time. The very first farmers had a harder job and lived shorter lives then the Hunter-Gathers. They actually lived side by side for a time. The Hunter-Gathers would trade with the settled societies without permanently settling down. The shift between advancing to a permanent settlement actually took thousands of years. It depended on many factors if you had a farming or gathering society. Some of these are their cultural values and the need for certain types of food. Once the first farmers established the practice their neighbors could choose to adapt this new technology or ignore it. People in areas that are harder to hunter-gather would switch to farming much quicker.
The switch was not quick but over thousands of years all of society has switched to a farming lifestyle. Over these thousands of years, the advantages of farming have come clearer and clearer. For one Global warming has decreased the amount of wild game and plants. Over hunting by Hunter-Gatherers are has had this effect. Another reason for conversion was the rapidly increasing amount of farming societies. This made conflict between the groups rare since the numbers of the farming societies would come into play. Although even in great farming lands, like the previously mentioned California Hunter gathers did survive some. Some areas farmers haven’t been able to disperse the Hunter-Gather lifestyle. The author predicts that this won’t last though, and they will all eventually cease to live this way. In this chapter the author, Jared Diamond dives deeper into how the environment determines the fate of an area. To do this, he chooses to talk about Polynesia. Polynesia is made up of many islands, each forming their own society.
The author talks about an event in 1835, where 500 Maori soldiers sailed to the Chatham Islands, which is a set of islands inhabited by a different race of islanders. The Maori came from a culture that was heavily set in war and was also a huge Agricultural society based in modern day New Zealand. They also had more advanced weaponry. The other group was a small hunter-gatherer society. The Maori completely slaughtered the group, and the Author uses this as a prime example of that whoever has the best technology, wins. They had the same genes, but the Author also suspects other factors were at play then genetics. The author delves into the origins of the people of the Chatham Islands. They were originally colonized by the Maori about 1,000 years before the war. They eventually evolved into the Morori people. They brought crops to farm, but they failed in Chatham’s climate. This made them not have to the food to do other things, than look for more food. They didn’t have much room so didn’t evolve into an advance society. They had no neighbors so didn’t need to focus on war training.
The Maori on the other hand, had plenty of room for farming. They also had neighbors so had to learn how to defend their land thus creating this warlike culture. In this light, the Maori became advanced because of their environment. With all this to consider, this supports the authors belief that environment has extreme influence of a society’s development. All these factors, food, population, density, neighbors, determine the fate of a society. Having enough food to supply your society leads to more advanced societies with more professions and jobs. Having neighbors leads to a strong war society that leads to taking over other societies.
In conclusion Jared affirms his belief that environmental factors hold the fate of a society in its hand, good or bad.
Guns, Germs, and Steel
Chapter 11 starts part 3 of the book. The Author talks about the food production that lead to the creation and development of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that enabled the Eurasian conquest of the world. One of the most important things that he says Eurasians have developed is human domestication of animals. This led to transfer of diseases like Smallpox and the Flu. This was crucial because the ones who were the most likely to infect others were the most likely to survive. If they survived the disease, they were immune for life, creating a whole society of immune individuals. This doesn’t work with hunter-gatherer populations though, their populations were too few and far between so not being able to get immunity from deadly diseases.
Germs were extremely crucial in the conquest of the New World by European powers. The Europeans who landed in the America’s were extremely outnumbered. This is where germs come into play, the natives had no immunity to theses disease, and it wiped out entire native societies in one go. It came for the political leaders and upon their death societies would collapse. Archeologists believe the New World to have 20 million people prior to 1500. They also believe 19 million of them were wiped out to do disease. This and the Europeans supreme technology’s won the day and lead to the societies we know today.
While dozens of diseases transferred to the Natives, none transferred to the Europeans. Firstly, there weren’t enough livestock to transfer diseases among the Natives like we see in Europe, thus not having any to go to Europeans. There were dense enough populations to host a disease, but these were created too recently to host a big enough one to give to the Europeans.
In summary germs were on of the key factors that led to the downfall of Native tribes in the Americas and the rise of Europeans. The Europeans wiped out the native populations with germs but didn’t contract any of their own.
My Opinion on Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
“Guns, Germs, and Steel” is an intriguing and thought-provoking read by Jared Diamond. The scholarly work of Jared Diamond is a highly recommended read as it examines an urgent issue – Why did history unfold differently on different continents. Specifically, why were Europeans the ones dominating the rest of the world? Why are there differences between the income levels of different countries? Traditionally, this has often been responded in terms of genetics differences, a belief that Diamond sets out to refute.
Jared Diamond, a professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles argues that differences in advancement of human societies are ultimately the result, not of racial differences, but of ecological and environmental factors. In his narrative, he meticulously distinguishes between proximate and ultimate factors which led to the disparities between the different parts of the world. He asserts the east-west axis (geographical factor) is an ultimate factor which led to proximate factors such as flourishment in technology and immunities. As a result, places that have such “advantages” became the ‘haves’ of the world while those that did not became the ‘have-nots.’ Proximate factors are “immediate causes” to European domination. Ultimate causes are those factors that caused the proximate factors to come into existence.
The Four Parts of the Book
This book is divided into four parts. For Part 1 of the book, ‘From Eden to Cajamarca,’ Diamond began to answer the question by briefly explaining the history of human evolution and formulate the framework from which Diamond will develop in the rest of the book. He concurs that by the time the globe was approximately populated by humans, roughly the last 13,000 years, there was an estimated equivalence of circumstances and development for the world’s populations. Such approximate equivalence is essential in understanding Diamond’s overall argument as this suggests any populations at that point of time could have initiated the development of equipment for conquest such as gun and steel which led to worldwide domination in later generations. He used several case-studies to illustrate how some people (Maori and Europeans) triumphed over others (the Moriori of the Chatham Islands and Incans). In the meanwhile, Diamond’s main arguments which are geographical factor causes the Europeans domination become noticeable.
Part 2 of the book, titled ‘The Rise and Spread of Food Production,’ formed the crux of Diamond argument on why societies flourished through agricultural farming rather than nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Stabilities of societies increase as they progress from hunting and gathering to cultivating crops and raising domestic animals. This led to the development of division of labor groups and formation of hierarchies in ruling political parties. In this way, populations flourished and empires prosper. Such stability allows for agriculture societies; sedentary farmers with an edge over nomadic hunter-gatherer groups, which wander around and search for good. This is very time-consuming and it was not always very predictable. Thus, agricultural societies can make better use of their time to develop weapons, practice them and use it to dominate others.
Diamond highlights that major portions of the Eurasian area had a natural advantage in the agriculture because plants and animals were domesticated easily. This enabled food surpluses to develop. This allows them to support large dense populations and crops such as cotton, flax and hemp which can be transformed into clothing, blankets, nets and ropes easily. Animals are also a major source of food, labor and even wool and leather to Eurasians which cushioned them from the effects of the cold. Horses also provide comparative advantages when it comes to wars. Animals such as camels, llamas lessen workload and enable further expeditions.
Diamond postulated the long landmass of the east-west axis as Eurasia’s ultimate factor in developing successful and stable societies. People living in favorable geographical areas (east-west axis) could thrive throughout generations because of the access they had. Due to the east-west axis, plant and animal domestication were able to spread at a very fast pace from Fertile Crescent to the rest and North Africa. This is because plants growing in the east side were easily adopted to the fast west due to the similar climate conditions as crops usually have a narrow optimal climatic range. Whereas, in the Americas, landmass were broad on a north-south axis which have dissimilar climate conditions. This causes plants or seeds from the temperate areas to not grow in the tropical zones areas. One such example is Mexico’s corn cup. Besides that, geographic boundaries also act as an impediment to progress as it prevented people from trading crops, ideas and even innovations. There are land barriers such as desert and mountains or massive bodies of water. The massive desert between present-day Mexico and the United States averted the spread of knowledge.
Due to the relative ease of trading among Eurasian societies, communication was widespread and information was made available relatively quickly. From there, Eurasian progressed and refined on innovations such as the use of metalworking, wheel, shipbuilding and guns. Their economies fostered as their food production, technologies and populations were expanding rapidly. This allowed them to vanquish more people in more extended areas of the world.
Part 3 of the book titled ‘From Food to Guns, Germs, and Steel,” discussed effects on Eurasian by staying close, trading in dense populations and having close contact with domesticated animals and plants. This led to Eurasians having greater exposure to stronger germs. Through natural selection, weaker members of early societies got wiped out due to germs, the survivors built natural immunities against them and disseminated the immunities down to future generations. Large sedentary populations can also develop state-based political systems, advanced technologies, and writing.
Diamond concludes Part 4 of the book, ‘Around the World in Five Chapters,’ by briefly illustrating how his main arguments explain societal development in five areas of the world: Australia and New Guinea, China, Polynesia, the Americas, and Africa.
The Strengths of the Book
Diamond’s analysis is informative and captivating. His ability to synthesize is exceptional. The main strength of this narrative is Diamond is able to integrate general ideas from different disciplines like history, plant genetics, ecology, anthropology and linguistics to display recurring patterns around the world. The idea from Neolithic Revolution and the location of continents to explain global inequalities was very convincing with well-illustrated historical examples. He portrayed history as a big picture in his very own narrative. Such a bold move is not very popular among professional historians as they have doubts on exploring grounds which they have limited knowledge. It is very encouraging that such big picture history is written by Diamond as his expertise is on evolutionary biology and physiology. This provides a refreshing insight for us, makes us question the importance of environmental factors in shaping human civilization and how these have inevitability lead to the global inequalities.
Besides that, Diamond’s method of approaching history with science is very innovative. This probes us into a new insight of using natural experiments to understand more about the past. In chapter 2 of Diamond’s narrative, he isolates an outcome variable “which is the people who populated Polynesia” and had the same setting for each of his case studies (i.e, the people who colonized the different Polynesian islands have the same culture and genetics characteristics). From the experiment, Diamond can study the impact of an independent variable (geography) on the outcome variable. Diamond will then generalize his findings in Polynesia to the worldwide societies and justify his hypothesis. In this way, it is possible for us to gain some interesting comparative statics that is usually used in natural or social science and apply it to study human history. By exploiting such a natural experiment (Polynesia case study) in a comprehensive way, it will lead to a deeper understanding of the important factors to understand the broader patterns of human history and how is it applicable to the modern world. This also makes such research more scientific.
The Weaknesses of the Book
One weakness of this narrative is that Diamond had hinted very strongly that geographical factors, ignoring other potential factors, determine the course of history and societies. He seems to have largely overlooked factors such as cultural autonomy and institutions which are critical to the formation and advancement of a society. It is highly possible that culture is definitely not an automatic product of environment and should be taken into account when considering the global inequalities. Even though, in the epilogue, he did incorporate some concluding remarks in the salience of culture and included some examples of it but it was very trivial. He mentioned the example of Latin-based typewriters retaining the QWERTY keyboard rather than the adoption of more efficient writing systems which affected their economic progress. However, he did not argue how cultures of violence might differ between individuals and how culture is a potential “proximate” factor of vanquishment. Violence and vanquishment are critical in explaining his main argument and he urged that the use of violence is something that requires deeper understanding. However, concurrently, he seems to presume violence as an exogenous part of human experience. Violence just appeared randomly in his work to validate the formation of states in agricultural societies, an assumption that seems dubious. He did not clearly explain how might violence be linked to culture and even how geographical factors could affect violence.
Another example from chapter 2 of the narrative to demonstrate how Diamond fails to consider culture and human consciousness in shaping the course of history is the obscurity as to why the ancestors of the Moriori separated from New Zealand and form their own society in even tougher conditions. Individual or cultural desire to have an egalitarian living could have influence such decision, this factor is then accelerated by the geography and climate conditions of the Chatham Islands. It is commendable that Diamond makes use of excellent examples to examine the influence of geography. However, it is conspicuous that geography cannot explain every single thing.
One crucial question Diamond’s address in the epilogue is: “Why was it Europe, not China, that emerged to a world leader in the late 15th century since they have comparable geographical advantages?” In my opinion, the reasons Diamond responded to this question do not seem very intuitive. He mentioned that China connectedness which unified China has both positive and negative effects on the advancement of technology. He argued that China’s connectedness is eventually a disadvantage to the development of China as one decision made by a despot to stop innovation could stop it permanently. Besides that, China’s isolation from the rest of Eurasia’s advanced civilization acts as an impediment to China’s trade development. However, this line of argument seems flawed to me. Diamond did not have a clear set of definitions and explanations to characterize the impediments of geographical advantages to a prosperity of a nation. This might contradict the earlier historical examples he provided to justify his hypothesis. Furthermore, despite Diamond’s claims of China as a “gigantic virtual island within a continent”, today China is the world’s largest exporter of goods and ironically the world’s largest steel exporter, while Germany (perhaps the strongest economy in the European Union) is only the third largest exporter. Many countries also choose to export products and services from China for its low trade-cost due to the interconnectedness of China from the globe. Even the United States, who is relatively far from China, remain one of China’s largest trading partner. Over the years, China has also made rapid advancement in terms of its innovation and technology. It is a world leader in terms of ICT services such as (Hua Wei) and is also the owners of the world’s largest e-commerce website (Taobao).
Considering that this narrative was written from a Western viewpoint, Diamond might have indirectly hinted that Europe’s economy will continue to expand due to its access of geographical endowments while China would succumb due to the several reasons listed in the epilogue of the book such as geographical effects on the advancement of technology. However, this is apparently not true in the recent years. China is the world’s second largest economy after the United States and has been expanding since the financial crisis in 2008. China’s GDP is “6.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018” while the European Union GDP is only “1.40 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018.” This implies that China is one of the rising nations, and it have been catching up rapidly in the frontiers of economic growth.
In my humble opinion, imperfect geography does not limit a country to permanent poverty, the adaptation of efficient and effective institutions can also support countries that are situated in areas with poor climate conditions. It is also possible to make use of big push theory by injecting large inﬂows of foreign capital or debt-ﬁnanced government investments to lift developing nations out of poverty. This might not be possible in the short run but improvement is always possible with incremental changes.
This book is an eye-opening read that provide readers with a deeper and richer understanding of the past. Many people who may not be racist in general, nonetheless believe that the only justification for the broad outline of history is that people of European descent must somehow be more intelligent than anyone else, or some fundamental cultural supremacy but this is a position established on ignorance and it can easily debunked once the facts are known and interpreted from a wider perspective. Overall, it is an appealing work whose implications are crucial for human evolution and history.
Analysis of “Guns Germs and Steel”
In his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” Jared Diamond addresses the world history of the last 13000 years, with the main question being “Why is it that Europeans, despite their likely genetic disadvantage and (in modern times) their undoubted developmental disadvantage, ended up with much more of the cargo? ”. Diamond argues that the reason for the different development in different areas of the world is not only dependent on the humans’ biology but rather on their environment. The author’s way of argumentation will be discussed in this critical reflection, focusing on one specific argument from his introduction “Yali’s Question”, more specifically when Diamond argues against a genetic reason for an unequal distribution of wealth on different continents, and the fact that New Guineans are more intelligent than Europeans. The argument is structured into two parts, first of all talking about genetics regarding the intelligence of people comparing New Guineans and Europeans. As Europeans, over time, became resistant to dieseases and today infants survive, regardless of their intelligence.
In New Guinea however, more intelligent people were more likely to survive murders, accidents or providing food. Second, comparing the childhood of children living in New Guinea and Western countries. Children in America spend most of their time watching television or being entertained passively, whereas traditional children in New Guinea spent their childhood actively, mostly outside. Diamond, throughout the book mainly focuses on his own experiences rather than other experts in this field or sources. When looking at the chosen argument, this can be seen by the use of many pronouns such as “my” in the introduction of his argumentation. Referring to personal knowledge can contribute to his argumentation and underline his thoughts, as he personally experienced life in New Guinea. However, in order to prove the examples and facts he gives to support his opinion, Diamond should refer to other sources as well, especially when talking about the past or making specific assumptions. Furthermore, Diamond also makes use of unspecific words like “may”, “probably” and “relatively”. Introducing his argumentation by saying that his “impression that New Guineans are smarter than Westerners may be correct” already shows he is not certain about his point and it cannot be fully proven. Throughout the whole argument, Diamond does not provide specific facts, numbers or statistics in order to confirm his examples. He often generalizes and is vague about his statements.
When, for example, talking about the different childhood in New Guinea and Western countries, he assumes that all western children spend their time being passively entertained. Regarding the children in New Guinea, Diamond only addresses the traditional children. Furthermore, he does not consider the question whether intelligence is dependent on genetics or how intelligence can be measured. One could question if intelligence is only regarding the survival of humans or whether other factors should have been considered. Evidence is lacking, so the reader does not know if his statements are true Diamonds arguments are convincing as they seem logic, regarding the content. Nevertheless, the evidence in form of sources and references is missing, with the result that one cannot know whether his statements are true or false. His argumentation is well structured, but vague and only based on personal experience and knowledge. That is, his overall argumentation can be questioned because of the reasons mentioned above, and other sources or points of view should have been considered.