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GGS 3: From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel 
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Post Re: GGS 3: From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel
Haven't read Guns Germs and Steel, but i just saw the 3 episode show of the same name hosted by Diamond.

very interesting stuff.

I think he's probably nailed the majority of this issue (inequality) down with his focus on geographic advantages.


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Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:25 am
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Post Re: GGS 3: From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel
In a general way, and up to the threshold of the modern era, I think his ideas on geography explain a lot. When he tries to apply the thesis more specifically to geopolitics, I don't think he's persuasive on the decisiveness of geography. For example, geography doesn't explain why it was Spain, specifically, that made the earliest inroads into the New World. Geography can only help explain why European countires in general were in the position to be the exploiters and conquerors. With China, Diamond says that it lost out to Europe again because of geographical disadvantages, but his case seems weak, based on a supposed too-high level of political unity in China that made the whole area subject to the whims of the emperor. What kept China from being top dog was cultural and historical factors that have at best a weak link to geography.


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Post Re: GGS 3: From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel
Chapter 13: Necessity's Mother
This chapter is giving me fits. I've got scribbles all over the pages. I can tell I am being lead somewhere, but I just can't sit still long enough to get there. This man uses too many words. I am too tired to finish the chapter tonight, but I think he is just making another version of his same argument: Eurasia and Western Europe in particular, surged ahead in development because all the necessary ingredients were present in just the right formula. More from me tomorrow.


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Post Re: GGS 3: From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel
Saffron wrote:
Chapter 13: Necessity's Mother
This chapter is giving me fits. I've got scribbles all over the pages. I can tell I am being lead somewhere, but I just can't sit still long enough to get there. This man uses too many words.

I had a chuckle over your comment Saffron, I think it is possible to have a fit while reading GG&S, maybe even likely. I keep having a sort of 'deja vu' because several times I'm sure that I have already read something that I am reading. I looked back at Chpt 13, I found his discussion of the Phaitos disk (sp) interesting but as DWill has commented I think he loses the connectedness or flow of his argument when he strays from geographical and biophysical focus to other areas. Its as if those pesky humans get in the way of a good, persuasive, scientific argument by doing unpredictable stuff (scientifically unpredictable) like messy and unscientific cultural development or somewhat irrational political decisions (Chinese ships for example) ... he acknowledges this 'unpredictability' point in the Epilogue as one factor that may challenge historical 'science' (his term) as a bona fide science that could measure up to physics or chemistry, or even just astronomy.



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Post Re: GGS 3: From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel
I keep having to remind myself not to take into full account the last 500 years when reading Diamond. That's not to disparage what he's done here, but to acknowledge the effect of industrialization and globalization, especially in regard to transportation and communication. It doesn't make that much difference anymore whether a country produces food. If it has oil wealth, like Qatar (richest country per capita), it can easily obtain whatever it needs. Isolation isn't much of a handicap now, either.

Again to give Diamond credit, he does tip his hat to the role of pure chance in history. I forget which later chapter that's in (still without my book). I don't hear him proposing a historical science that would make human events predictable and rational. I don't think anyone seriously believes that can ever happen. He thinks science can apply to history at a far higher level of generality. Maybe it can. For instance, he has proved to my satisfaction that differences in the use of food production and technology aren't due to innate differences in abilities between geographic groups. He uses a lot of scientific evidence to support that conclusion. I don't think he means to say that history can ever be as empirically exact as physics or astronomy, only that there are often scientific techniques that can yield evidence about what happened and why, and perhaps to some degree what will happen.


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Wed Jan 18, 2012 7:21 pm
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Post Re: GGS 3: From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel
DWill wrote:
I keep having to remind myself not to take into full account the last 500 years when reading Diamond.

Perhaps .. I would say that the history of the last 500 years almost overturns the significance of the head start created by food production systems, invention of writing etc. that occurred more than 500 years ago, but also I think JD downplays the significance of cultural factors going way back in time because it suits his argument of geographic determinism. Basically, JD figures that hunter-gatherers counted for little because a) they are not farmers b) they move around and c) they existed in relatively small numbers. I think JD would not entertain the notion that they could have contributed to human cultural development, preferring instead to weight geographic factors. I don't think JD presents any evidence that h-g contributed little to culture -- he just assumes it to be true because they were nomadic or semi-nomadic and they were oral based.



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Post Re: GGS 3: From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel
giselle wrote:
DWill wrote:
I keep having to remind myself not to take into full account the last 500 years when reading Diamond.

Perhaps .. I would say that the history of the last 500 years almost overturns the significance of the head start created by food production systems, invention of writing etc. that occurred more than 500 years ago, but also I think JD downplays the significance of cultural factors going way back in time because it suits his argument of geographic determinism. Basically, JD figures that hunter-gatherers counted for little because a) they are not farmers b) they move around and c) they existed in relatively small numbers. I think JD would not entertain the notion that they could have contributed to human cultural development, preferring instead to weight geographic factors. I don't think JD presents any evidence that h-g contributed little to culture -- he just assumes it to be true because they were nomadic or semi-nomadic and they were oral based.


As long as areas other than the ones in which food production arose were inheritors of the "package" or "suite" of plants and animals first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, then no problem; the headstart did become immaterial. If there continued to be barriers to the transfer of the package, then it would be very hard for that society to compete. Today there can be exceptions, since food is easily imported and by having a lot of a single commodity--mainly oil--a country can have wealth and power without having a diversified economy.

As I've said before, JD seems to me respectful of hunter-gatherers and he doesn't make the mistake of saying that progress consisted of leaving hunter-gatherers behind. He tells us that farming was a mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks that had to happen if greater human numbers were to be supported.


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Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:32 pm
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