Feb 25, 2011

Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ Part 1 – Out of Eden

Jared Diamond is the author of the book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, which explains how some cultures can advance faster than others, how some civilizations just crumble and how one civilization can become the dominant civilization on the planet, all without using a cultures beliefs as the reason for it’s rise or fall.

National Geographic put together a 3 part documentary outlining the essentials of Jared Diamond’s theory in the book Guns, Germs and Steel. This post outlines some of the ideas presented in the videos of the documentary as an introduction to Jared’s book.

Episode 1 – Out of Eden - Summary of show and transcript

The research that led to the book Guns, Germs and Steel began because of a question posed to him by a native New Guinean while Jared was on one of his bird watching expeditions.

He was asked, "Why you white men have so much cargo and New Guineans so little?".

Cargo represents ‘things’ or more accurately ‘wealth’ which is held in high esteem in almost every culture. The ability to come up with new technology and greater wealth is respected by New Guineans and is the essential difference between a native New Guinean and a native European. So by answering this question you can explain the whole of modern civilization.

The questions are basically, ‘Why did the Europeans dominate most of the world and not some other culture or civilization?’ - ‘What is the root cause of economic inequality across cultures?’ – ‘Why have some societies advanced faster than others?’.

Jared notes that the European beliefs for their world wide dominance (i.e. racial superiority or higher intelligence for whites than other races) is not supported by his observations so he begins to look at history, geography and other factors that could explain the economic inequality at the root of the question posed to him.

After living amongst the New Guineans Jared noted that a great deal of time goes into producing the food that they need to survive. Even with all the effort put into food production by the whole community there was still a very low amount of protein in their diet which is essential for health. On top of that, none of the food could be stored for very long so there was no time for people to relax and pursue other activities. There could be no specialization as the entire community was almost constantly involved in food production.

A quick overview with video clips and notes;

First settlements were in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago - stored wheat and barley-could be stored for years

In selecting what to grow (biggest and tastiest seeds) changed plants-i.e. domesticated them

Within 1000 years most of the new villages of the fertile crescent were abandoned as the ecology of that area was too fragile to support extensive farming

People were destroying the environment, cutting trees, using up soil nutrition and over grazing.

Crops and animals from the Fertile Crescent could prosper to the east and west because of similar climate and vegetation---that latitude was suitable for expansion

High yielding crops are an advantage in farming- leads to more productive farmers

As the scale of villages increased farming became more productive

Herding begins around this time

Animals supplement grains - eat leftover grains and provide fertilizer- a package of efficiency

With large domesticated animals such as horses and ox's productivity in farming increased tremendously. It also helped in transport making controlling larger territories easier.

Most species can’t be herded

The best animals for domestication are large plant eaters but all of these cant be domesticated -Africans were never able to domesticate their elephants

South Asia - Each elephant is caught in the wild, tamed and used as a work animal--in doesn’t make sense to farm an animal that takes 15 years to mature and produce

Animals good for domestication usually give birth within a year and every year after that =high productivity

The animals need to be social both between sexes and working as a group/herd plus they have to have a hierarchal social structure so by controlling the leader you can control the herd

Animals need to get along with humans but some animals can’t be controlled in a farm environment - ex. zebras are skittish and unpredictable ...maybe that’s why they didn’t get domesticated

Out of the 148 large plant eaters of animal species available on our planet only 14 have been domesticated… 13 of the 14 animals were all from Asia, North Africa and Europe.

South America only had the Lama - North America had none/neither did New Guinea, Australia or Sub-Saharan Africa

In conclusion;

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