Apr 2, 2009

Book Review: Guns, Germs and Steel

In the book Guns Germs and Steel Jared Diamond attempts to answer a question put to him by his New Guinean friend, "Why is it that you whit people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people has little cargo of our own?"

In New Guineas ‘cargo’ is the term used to refer to goods, such as metal, guns, mirrors, axes, matches, clothing etc. The question is basically, ‘What factors led to one land having more technology advancement while another did not.

IQ tests have been shown to be culturally based. Decades of tests trying to prove an intelligence difference between races have failed. (as the "Flyn Effect" has shown - post upcoming)

If intelligence is not a factor is there another factor.

The answer that Jared Diamond provides is simple and easily observed.

It’s the environment that encourages the developments that lead to material advancement and with it the development of towns and cities.

First explanation he provides answers the question, ‘ what are the factors needed for one people to conquer another people'.

Here is an extract from his after word that concludes the main thesis of the book.

"My main conclusion was that societies developed differently on different continents because of differences in continental environments, not in human biology. Advanced technology, centralized political organization, and other features of complex societies could emerge only in dense sedentary populations capable of accumulating food surpluses – populations that depended for their food on the rise of agriculture that began around 8,500 BC But the domesticable wild plant and animal species essential for that rise of agriculture were evenly distributed very unevenly over the continents. The most valuable domesticable wild species were concentrated in only nine small areas of the globe, which thus became the earliest homelands of agriculture. The original inhabitants of those homelands thereby gained a head start towards developing guns, germs (ex. smallpox) and steel. The Language and genes of those homeland inhabitants, as well as their livestock, crops, technologies and writing systems became dominant in the ancient and modern world."

In other words, it is not that one group of people is more ‘fitter’ for survival than another, it is the environment on which they depend and draw from that lead to their success or loss in conquering their neighbors.

The early 19th century Maori are a great example of how a technological and cultural advancement led to a cultural destabilization which in turn led to massive conquering (and death).

One tribe, which was closer to the point of contact with the first colonial ships to New Zealand (land of the Maori), was able to acquire muskets before other tribes. Muskets gave them a definitive advantage over other tribes still using bow and arrows. In addition to this they were the first to get potatoes, which provided more nutrition than the sweet potatoes than they grew. Now they could travel long distances because of an advantage in food supply. With the two advantages in food and weapons they began exterminating other tribes around them. Conquering territory. The tribes that delayed acquiring their own muskets and potatoes were completely wiped out. Those that did acquire were able to stay alive till a new balance of power was reached. By that time a quarter of the population had been wiped out.

The lucky tribe that happened to be where the colonials first landed saw themselves as divinely chosen to conquer the rest of the island. Primitive people tend to see good luck as divinely provided and bad luck as the result of evil spirit. (ex. the devil).

If a land lacks a technological advancement of another then it desperately seeks to gain it for one reason only. Balance of power. So they are not exterminated themselves.

Click Here To Watch A Documentary About Guns Germs and Steel

Click Here to preview the book.

The book in DVD!

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