By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Doug Ordunio
Picture bi-pedal, somewhat hairy, naked human antecedents stalking a mastodon, munching wild tubers or berries in a hostile environment and Diamond’s idea of the beginning of society is fulfilled.
Jared Diamond argues that all human beings, in their beginning, were “hunter, gatherers”. The question is why did some societies continue as hunter, gathering cultures (bordering on extinction) while other societies grew to dominate the world? Diamond’s research leads to a belief that the fate of human society grows from agriculture and the invention and evolution of “Guns, Germs and Steel”. Diamond’s research provides a historically and scientifically arguable record of societal evolution.
Diamond begins with the belief that all human beings are created equal and that societies primarily evolve through human nature’s interaction with the environment rather than human nature’s interaction with itself. The hunter/gatherer, the farmer, the industrialist, the technologist, all come from the same gene pool but evolve societally different because of their environment. In other words, human nature is the same in all societies but environment influences the course of each society’s conflict with and domination by another.
The seed of cultural domination sprouts from agriculture in Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning tome of civilization. The Fertile Crescent, the cradle of western civilization,
chose to become the breadbasket of mankind; in the process, the countries of that Crescent became rulers of the known world. Farming is the genesis of an eco-system that coincides with domestication of pigs, horses, cows, and other protein rich meat sources that propel and advance one society’s domination over another. Cultures without the benefit of farming, because of lack of arable land, diseases caused by environmental pathogens (germ transmission by insect bites; etc.), or short term abundance of wild game, choose to remain hunter/gatherers and thereby condemn themselves to a subordinate position in the rise of civilization.
Agriculture gives the west a head start in domination of the world. This occurs over eons of civilization but that head start (farming) perpetuates a cultural domination by the West that continues into the 21st century. The past is not prologue but current Western hegemony is a big part of Jared Diamond’s thesis in “Guns, Germs, and Steel”.
Farming is western civilization’s fuel for the invention of guns, steel and the spread of germs that decimate societies. With domestication of horses, fed by agriculturally rich communities, western societies conquer and dominate foreign populations. Civilizations without farming could not feed a 1000 pound horse with the 10,000 pounds of grain needed for domestication; in ancient times, the equine beast is the equivalent of a jeep or tank. Hunter/gatherers could not equip themselves for defense or opposition. Guns and steel became cross cultural inventions with farming’s inherent concentration of population that provided cultural stability, time to domesticate animals, and opportunity to prosper in health, and wealth–leading to invention, invasion, and domination of other societies.
Increased mobility from horses for land travel and ships for sea travel allowed small expeditionary forces to conquer continents by spreading previously unknown germs like smallpox to native societies. Because invading forces had acquired some level of immunity to these germs, they were little affected. Diamond suggests that ½ the Inca civilization in South America died from small pox; and an estimated 20,000,000 American Indians disappeared from North America.
Diamond does not deny ancient Eastern civilization eras of hegemony in history (e.g. China, Mongolia, etc.) but he reports that fundamental causes for their years of dominance were the same as Western civilization’s. When Eastern hegemonic civilizations failed to capitalize on and maintain their environmental advantage, they declined in power. His argument is that Western civilizations benefited more from environmental advantage than Eastern civilizations; in part, because Western civilization’s environment was more conducive to exchange of knowledge that advanced the invention of “guns and steel”.
Diamond does not give much credence to the “great man” theory of history. His belief is that great leaders appear at the right time and environmental place; i.e. societies are led by great leaders that capitalize on what society already believes; not by leaders that propose some new direction.
“Guns, Germs, and Steel” is not a page turning adventure; in fact, it is poorly organized and ponderous, but it has the power to change minds about why the West has dominated the world for so long. Who knows about the future but Diamond seems to know something about the past. [contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]