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Preface, Prologue, and Part One 
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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
DWill wrote:
"Cultural drivers" are the key things to look at, probably, when examining D.'s theories.
...If D. is proposing that New Guineans have evolved to become more intelligent, and Americans have evolved to become less intelligent, the only way this could have happened is for the 'smarter' (whatever trait might be deemed to equal smartness) New Guinea men and women to have survived at a greater rate into their reproductive years, and for the opposite scenario to have played out for the dumber U.S. TV watchers, i.e., absorbing media passively somehow conferred a reproductive advantage. the next generation. The effects are acquired.


Wow, now that is a sentence - I think 81 words. I had the same thought and forgot to post it. Thanks for getting to it.


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Tue Nov 29, 2011 8:32 am
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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
heledd wrote:
I’m rather confused by Diamond’s explanation of the mass extinction of larger animals from the Americas and Australia.
One hypothesis is that these animals had not learned any fear of humans. But surely it is not the absence of humans but the absence of predators which makes animals in places such as the Galapagos so tame?

And the Americas he describes has ‘herds of elephants and horses pursued by lions and cheetahs’, so the animals would have attacked anyone who seemed vulnerable.

Also, the dodo’s of Mauritius were plentiful up until 1662, and could be herded around like sheep by Portugese and other maritime nations. Three birds could feed a crew of 150. So it was not the hunter / gatherers that killed these birds, but modern Europeans, the last bird dying in 1790.
http://h2g2.com/dna/h2g2/A3852777
The moas vanished at about 1500,
Although there is evidence that the giant lemurs were consumed by the local population, they also seem to have survived until recent times. This website also postulates that it was the ecological change created by the hunter gathers which added to their demise. Spores of a fungus which depended on its life cycle on the dung of large animals dramatically declined after the arrival of humans, and its decline also triggered a decline in the larger lemurs, and other herbivores.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subfossil_lemur

As Diamond comments, no one has yet documented the bones of an extinct Australian giant with compelling evidence of its having been killed by humans.
I agree that climate change is also unlikely, but the fact that these animals disappeared soon after modern man arrived on the new continents does not necessarily mean they were hunted to extinction.

I agree fully with Diamond that humans hunted the megafauna to extinction. In Australia, they lasted to 40,000 BC, in the Americas to 11,000 BC and in New Zealand to 1500 AD. In each case, the sudden extinction coincided with human arrival. Animals that only feared larger animals had no fear of smaller animals. Humans were smaller, and could walk up to the the big animals and kill them. Tim Flannery also explains this well in his books The Future Eaters, about the Pacific, and The Endless Frontier, about how early Americans ate their way from Alaska to Patagonia.

Humans perfected mammoth hunting in Siberia during the ice age. When the glaciers melted and they could get through to America, it was bonanza time.

Mauritius had no humans until the Europeans arrived. The dodos were the dominant animal. Same with the moa in New Zealand until the arrival of Maoris last millennium.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
Point taken, Robert, so does Diamond want us to assume that because modern Europeans managed to exterminate the dodos etc., by implication ancient hunter gatherers did the same? I was thinking of California, which did not, it seems develop agriculture until recent time, so the native Indians were hunter gatherers, but the bison were not exterminated until the arrival of westerners.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
In Australia and America, extinction of the megafauna coincided with the arrival of homo sapien.

Some people argue this coincidence does not imply causality. My view is that people ate the megafauna. One argument is that in Africa the big animals had co-evolved with humans and so had defences. Another is that the tsetse fly was the main protector of African megafauna.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
heledd wrote:
Point taken, Robert, so does Diamond want us to assume that because modern Europeans managed to exterminate the dodos etc., by implication ancient hunter gatherers did the same? I was thinking of California, which did not, it seems develop agriculture until recent time, so the native Indians were hunter gatherers, but the bison were not exterminated until the arrival of westerners.

Bison wouldn't have been seen by natives in California, I think, but the point about native peoples on the Plains using buffalo sustainably is a good one. The extinction hypothesis for the earlier large mammals, using humans as the agents, of course assumes that the hunters didn't use that resource sustainably. Perhaps, though, the numbers of the buffalo were simply too large ever for them to be in danger from the Indians. It took one of diamond's Big Three to wipe out the buffalo--that and a diametrically opposed attitude towards the place of humans in nature.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
DWill wrote:
heledd wrote:
Point taken, Robert, so does Diamond want us to assume that because modern Europeans managed to exterminate the dodos etc., by implication ancient hunter gatherers did the same? I was thinking of California, which did not, it seems develop agriculture until recent time, so the native Indians were hunter gatherers, but the bison were not exterminated until the arrival of westerners.

Bison wouldn't have been seen by natives in California, I think, but the point about native peoples on the Plains using buffalo sustainably is a good one. The extinction hypothesis for the earlier large mammals, using humans as the agents, of course assumes that the hunters didn't use that resource sustainably. Perhaps, though, the numbers of the buffalo were simply too large ever for them to be in danger from the Indians. It took one of diamond's Big Three to wipe out the buffalo--that and a diametrically opposed attitude towards the place of humans in nature.


Don't forget about Eastern Elk and Moose. It seems to me the North American continent has several large animals when the Europeans arrived. I found an interesting article discussing megafauna extinction in The National Academy of Sciences Journal, pub. 2002.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC137468/

Abstract:
Understanding of the Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions has been advanced recently by the application of simulation models and new developments in geochronological dating. Together these have been used to posit a rapid demise of megafauna due to over-hunting by invading humans. However, we demonstrate that the results of these extinction models are highly sensitive to implicit assumptions concerning the degree of prey naivety to human hunters. In addition, we show that in Greater Australia, where the extinctions occurred well before the end of the last Ice Age (unlike the North American situation), estimates of the duration of coexistence between humans and megafauna remain imprecise. Contrary to recent claims, the existing data do not prove the “blitzkrieg” model of overkill.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
That serves as a good reminder that just because there are many examples of known extinctions caused by humans, we can't always resort to that, especially when we might not be fully aware of how modern Western attitudes have fueled the wiping out of animals. "Progress," for us, means that we play a zero-sum game with respect to our fellow animals. I don't want to generalize, but this might not have been true for the beliefs of hunter-gatherers.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
Ok sorry. I thought bison and buffalo were the same. I just know them from the Westerns I used to see on tv. Apologies. But i just think its just as well that the mass extinction of the dinosaurs occured before man appeared, otherwise we would have the hunter gatherers taking the blame for that as well.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
heledd wrote:
Ok sorry. I thought bison and buffalo were the same. I just know them from the Westerns I used to see on tv. Apologies. But i just think its just as well that the mass extinction of the dinosaurs occured before man appeared, otherwise we would have the hunter gatherers taking the blame for that as well.

Bison and the western buffalo are the same animal. And your last sentence made me smile, which is good because I've been painting all day and needed a pick me up.
:)


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
Saffron wrote:
DWill wrote:
"Cultural drivers" are the key things to look at, probably, when examining D.'s theories.


I've read most of Part 1 and I think the question of 'cultural drivers' hovers around Diamond's argument. He points out how geophraphic and environmental conditions may have led to the Maori overwhelming the Moriori and taking over their islands and I think his argument is persuasive to a point but far from conclusive. It is possible, even likely, that geography had something to do with the events but I don't see how this rules out cultural drivers that arose independently of geography, that is, where is the 'necessary' connection between geography and cultural drivers? The dominant, warlike nature and warring sophistication of the Maori relative to the Moriori was a clear factor in the outcome of their 'collision' but can this be attributed to geography alone or could there be other cultural factors which existed for reasons other than geography?

One 'cultural driver' that I've been looking out for is religion, particularly missionairies. It did crop up just a bit in his discussion of the Spanish assault on the Incas but so far I'm not seeing much about religion/missionairies and their role in colonization and ultimately in 'development'. I don't know if Diamond will argue that this 'cultural driver' arose from geography or he will simply not give it much coverage and treat as irrelevant. In any case, it is historical fact that missionairies of many stripes made first contact, generally without guns, although quite possibly with germs, and had a significant and sustained effect on the populace.



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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
Diamond's basic point is that nature provides the context for culture.

The example of the Maori conquest of the Chatham Islands serves as a small laboratory to study the universal hypothesis. The Moriori, treating the Chathams as the whole universe, evolved an isolated peaceful culture that was overwhelmed when it came in contact with the Maori, who had competed for power in the much bigger New Zealand. This clash forms the model for how the Maori themselves could not compete against the might of Eurasian technology, represented by Britain.

Marx had a theory of economic base and social superstructure. This means that history is largely determined by material potential, with ideas having a secondary role, emerging only when the economy allows them. This is a highly controversial claim, and one that Robert Wright partly endorses in The Evolution of God. Diamond is also concerned to show that traditional assumptions which give priority to the cultural superstructure neglect the determinative influence of economics.

This debate is far from settled. It seems clear that the progress of ideas is not caused by economics, given the role of individual brilliance in discovering new facts. I doubt that the economics of the twentieth century can be given the primary role as driver for the emergence of nuclear technology, for example. There is an accidental quality to many technological advances. Adoption of new methods requires people with the drive and vision to change existing practices. I don't think we can say that existing practices are set in stone, as it were, as different but similar communities can easily take different paths depending on individual behavior. And yet, existing cultural practices are very much framed by the horizon of natural potential. Cultural evolution is bounded by the limits of physical possibility.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
He seems to be telling us that culture is a proximate cause but can't be the ultimate cause, or that culture is necessary, but not sufficient, to explain conflicts such as the Maoris and the Morioris or the Incas and the Spanish. In order for the warrior cultures to emerge in the first place, there had to be an ability of the societies to feed permanent armies. The Morioris didn't live in an environment rich enough in resources to be able to yield the surplus food needed to support specialists; as hunter-gatherers, they also formed a culture that downplayed violence between groups, due to the need for everyone to be involved in providing food. The Incas, on the other hand, did have the surplus food capability to support armies and to overwhelm opposing groups. Yet against a different warrior culture equipped with steel, horses, germs, and writing, they were impotent. Diamond asks how the Spaniards had come to be in the position of conquerors of the Incas, rather that it being the other way around. His answer would come from data such as the head start the Europeans had on the Incas in food production, and the richer package of domesticatable plants and animals that the Europeans had to begin with. It's fairly reductive in its focus on food production and omission of culture as a first driver, but it seems, to me anyway, to have a logical basis.

We might shy away from endorsing Diamond's scheme because it seems value-free. Using Diamond, we don't seem to be able to blame the Spaniards for their cruelty to the Incas, when they were doing something similar to what the Incas had done domestically. We can look at intensely war-like North American Indian cultures and observe that the European genocide was only different in degree from the behavior of the Indians toward each other. It's true, as someone once said, that history is one damn war after another. There can seem to be scant room left for idealism.

The scene from Diamond's chapter where the priest tests the Inca king for his capacity to see the truth of God and the Bible, is dramatic and might seem to demonstrate the primary power of the religion in bringing the Spaniards to America to conquer the less-human inhabitants. The king throws down the book, so the priest gives the signal to kill the depraved SOBs. This is still only a proximate cause, though, which can be traced way back to the creation of a priestly class of specialists supported by food producers. No doubt the Incas also had their priestly class, but the military might that was always a key aspect of state religion was heavily in favor of the Spaniards in this case. They'd been at it much longer and had the benefit of the invention of steel. According to Diamond, that invention, as well as all inventions, presumably, were not a product of the exceptional abilities of any certain group of people. Given time and enough environmental materials, any group of humans would have innovated these advances.

Diamond does have a macro/micro thing going on, though. He does say that we will see exceptions whereby groups may not, for cultural reasons, adopt the advances they've been exposed to. But he says that looking at the big picture, the clear pattern is one in which the new trumps the old, by either peaceful or forceful means.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
DWill wrote:
...were not a product of the exceptional abilities of any certain group of people. Given time and enough environmental materials, any group of humans would have innovated these advances.

I pretty much agree with this statement. Here is the modification I would make - this is without the benefit of having read to the end of this book: An interplay exists between the physical environment, the specific historic conditions at any given moment and the existent culture in question that will impact the innovations made by a culture. I guess what I am saying is that I do think there are times that ideas direct development or at least shape development. Testing this out in my mind I am thinking about the combustion engine, which lead to the car, which lead to suburbia (and WalMart) and commuting, which lead to more and more use of gasoline, and well you all know where all this leads. It is hard to imagine the car not leading to commuting and a great dependence on gasoline. However, there is a group that has opted out for philosophical reasons - the Amish. Diamond would say they are the odd balls and not with the predominate pattern. The odd balls are the ones that really put an idea to the test.


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
DWill - can you explain why bison wouldn't have been seen by natives in California? Am I talking about the wrong part of America?


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Post Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
heledd wrote:
DWill - can you explain why bison wouldn't have been seen by natives in California? Am I talking about the wrong part of America?

The only bison that ever lived in California were in the very most north eastern tip of the state. Technically, I guess those few people that lived in that area would have seen bison, but 99% of the area that is now California was never bison habitat.


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