Guns, Germs and Steel: The Very Long Run
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Obviously we can't go watch other planets to see whether Diamond's important-for-growth factors influence things there. Suppose I created and successfully marketed a large online video game that randomly assigned players to geographic areas that had features associated with Eurasia and then watched as the game evolved. Would these observations carry much weight in academia? Should universities be doing this sort of thing?
Video game economics is still considered weird but that is starting to change because, as you note, it is possible to do randomized controlled experiments in large, virtual worlds that are not otherwise possible. Here is a recent article on this from The Washington Post
I've always found Jared Diamond's argument interesting but selective and even self-serving. For example, Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, was bigger than any city of Europe in its day and had none of Diamond's five domesticable animals. An example of his selective use of historical facts.
Moreover, if he had written his book a thousand years earlier, China and the Islamic world would be the clear success stories, not Europe and the United States. Yet the geography, geology, and native flora/fauna didn't change. His chosen vantage point is rather self-serving, being an American. Isn't the real story having a strong, enlightened government that can nurture the peace and cultural open-mindedness necessary for technological advance? Societies with weak governments and intolerant or closed cultures are those that fall behind. In fact, one can argue that's what happened to both China (post-Zheng He) and the Islamic world (post-Abbasid).
But Jared Diamond's thesis makes for a more digestible story for many of his intended readers, suggesting geography destined them to rule the world.
Nice summary of Guns Germs and Steel. However, the course starts by comparing Eurasian societies in 1500 to the rest of the world. It misses the first step, that is, explaining how development happened in the first place. How did we evolve to create agriculture from hunting and gathering and the first food surplus (e.g. did agriculture lead to cities, or cities –trade centers—led to agriculture as Jane Jacobs postulates?), the first divisions of labor (religion/astronomy? Government?). It is obvious that agriculture and food surplus and division of labor did not require guns, germs or steel, otherwise the Aztecs/mayans wouldn’t have been so powerful or advanced.
Could it be that superior societies, social arrangements being the models compared, simply advanced more quickly? European and US societal arrangements advanced past the arrangements in China and MidEast. And, what does he imply by 'weak govt'. That which doesn't have the power to repel foreign invaders?
Geography. . . Greater land mass. . Greater amount of people. . . Greater exchange of ideas and information?
Some of the videos have trouble with editing. They get chopped half way at the end of a sentence sometimes. In this module, from 6:40 as in "...even showing panda porn, but not much seems to wor...(cut up)" I don't know if this is intentional, but I've found these in other videos, too. I am posting this just in case you are not aware.
While it's notable that chicken meet world production level is currently higher than the same of cattle meet, none of the animals in the list could have been similarly important.
Historically, cows and horses and other large animals were not only a meat source, but also provided milk for nutrition, skin for clothes, mechanical energy for construction, agriculture, and transportation (and warfare).
Dogs aren't so energy efficient because of being predators (though, I remember something about eatable dogs), chicken, rabbits and other small animals are too small. So while domesticating such animals may have improved the living, they are not samely important.
I, however, think domesticating the wolf should be praised much more.
Yes, in common with Christine, above, and others, I always take these sorts of broad brush historical arguments with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, it's thought provoking and the various arguments no doubt have elements of truth to them. But you could tell me some other story tomorrow using an entirely different point of departure (the weather, ancient greece, abrahamic religion), and I'd probably find it equally satisfying.
The ultimate factor in Diamond's model is the East-West axis, yet that is also (as I understand it) his weakest assumption. Has there been any new research in the area to either justify the assumption or a new ultimate factor?
Was it the ultimate factor? It appears to me being just one of a bunch. Though, I must agree with its weakness.
It was always obvious to me that the distinction between Europe and Asia was due to geography, not only culture: Eurasian East-West axis seems broken in the middle. (Two of the earliest agricultural regions develop independently in Eurasia, it smells like a piece of evidence)
Go to 14:20 in the video, East-West axis is at the top of the Ultimate Factors >> Proximate Factors chart. I haven't read the book, but the argument seems weak to me too. North America has a wide open east-west plain that covers what, 2/3 of it? Corn being harder to grow and harvest than wheat and rice sounds like the ultimate factor to me.
I think it's an odd factor, too. If you think about it, trade in East Asia often happened across a "north-south axis" (think of trade between China and areas much farther south connected by the Chinese diaspora communities). Why wasn't there more extensive water trade along the coasts of the Americas?
There is a lot of benefit from reading Diamond's book because it gets you thinking about the bigger picture of the evolution of civilization. However, I would be intellectually depriving myself if I did not read scholarly criticisms of many of Diamond's conclusions.
Think this is a very good introduction, my impression is that in Eurasia experienced a stop start progress Roman technology or Greek thought not really bettered for 500 or more years etc but in other parts of the world a more stable pattern was present.
Guess the question we will never answer is what would of south america or Australia be like after 500 years without any invasions, i guess the point is they would be broadly the same as they were before 1500.
The point although trite is that perhaps these civilizations were more in touch with the only the most fundamental resource mother earth, so perhaps an expansion to rape mother earth would not of being contemplated.
I find the germs story very compelling regarding the conquest of the Inca Empire and the desolation of North America that the Pilgrims found. The book 1491 focuses a lot on this, and compares the effect of Pizarro arriving when he did to if Genghis Khan arrived in Europe following the Black Plague (although that killed 1/3 of Europe, not potentially 90% like smallpox).
Somewhat depressingly, it seems like these epidemics were an inevitable result to the mixing of New World and Old World.
Even assuming that Diamond's assessment of the axes of the continents is accurate, was there really that much in common (as far as domesticable animals and crops) along any given latitude in Eurasia? I don't have an answer to this, but am only posing the question. It seems like the animals/crops domesticated in, say, France would have been different from those in the same latitues of the Mid- or Far-East.
I would like to propose an additional answer to the reasons why Pizarro conquered the Inka empire. Besides all the good reasons portrayed by Diamond, another important one was the absence of individual freedom among inka people. A breaking point was when Pizarro captured Atahualpa, the Inka Ruler. This happened because Athaualpa according to some information from their Generals thought the Spaniard were going to decline their purpose when they saw the son of God, the Inka. That way he underestimated the spanyards and when the Inka people saw their father and the sense of their lives captured by simple men they thought were cowards, they did the only thing they could: Just let themselves to be captured and defeated. No quick reaction was possible because the lack of independence and individual initiative.
I want to carp about that last item on the final slide, which I thought used inappropriately normative language. Strictly speaking, rich countries don't have 'good' institutions. They have institutions that foster the creation of wealth. Or, if you prefer, institutions that are good for creating wealth.
Why, yes, I *am* obnoxiously pedantic. Why do you ask...?