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Guns, Germs and Steel

by Jarod Diamond

For me, the gift of Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs and Steel:The Fates of Human Societies, is the fundamental question that launches his inquiry-why have we arrived at a power dynamic that favors Eurasians? From this central question, a network of theories and subsequent questions bloom in multiple directions.

Yes, his conclusions are useful, even enlightening. Guns, germs and steel each have played a role in aiding, say, the European conquest of the Americas and Africa. Diamond, however, considers these to be only proximate factors. Why did guns, germs and steel not work in favor of members of the Americas and Africa?

Diamond considers food production, that is, the deliberate planting of foods and domestication of animals to be an ultimate factor. This development in the Recent Era, beginning after the last ice age of 13,000 BCE, lead to sedentary lifestyles and allowed for a non-food producing class of people, such as chiefs, generals, scientists, inventors, etc. Those beholden to a past-time of hunting and gathering tended to be more egalitarian. Kleptocracy evolved with food production. 

Continental barriers and axes lead toward a particular diffusion of ideas and technologies. Diet also played a factor, with high protein diets stimulating the brain in ways that low protein diets could not. 

With regard to germs, contemporary developments in molecular biology show that germs developed out of the husbandry of animals. This early exposure to, say, small pox, also lead to the development of human resistance. One can easily see how this eventually benefited some while killing others en masse. (side note: one has to walk through this tour of human history with a certain dispassionate distance from the cold brutality of events. These inequities of guns, germs and steel have lead to the genocide of many groups of people)

I will not carry on any further. I recommend that you simply go to the source and read it for yourself. And thank you, Jarod Diamond, for sharing.

3 replies on “Guns, Germs and Steel”

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