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*** Prologue *** 
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Post *** Prologue ***
This thread is for discussing the Prologue - A Tale of Two Farms.

You may post within this framework or create your own threads.





Sat Mar 26, 2005 1:05 am
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Post Re: *** Prologue ***
I enjoyed the story of the two farms.

The prologue was good to set up the structure of the book. This explanation of Diamonds plan of attack should help us understand his method, whereas the Armstrong book caused much confusion/distraction for some readers.

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Sat Mar 26, 2005 4:46 pm
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Post Re: *** Prologue ***
I think the prologue does a great job of setting up the structure of the whole book. We know where we are heading right from the start and can't wait to get going. I really liked the way Diamond led up to his five-point framework of factors that can lead a society to collapse - the way he was expecting the book to be about environmental damage but it turned out to be much more complex.

Helen




Wed Mar 30, 2005 7:44 am
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Post The Human Disease?
p 9:

Quote:
Beginning with the first human colonization of the Australian continent around 46,000 years ago, and the subsequent prompt extinction of most of Austrailia's former giant marsupials and other large animals, every human colonization of a land mass formerly lacking humans...has been followed by a wave of extinction of large animals that had evolved without fear of humans and were easy to kill, or else succumbed to human-associated habitat changes, introduced pest species, and diseases.


Interesting. It seems that humans are indeed the disease that A. Smith dubbed us as in "The Matrix"!

I would be interested in finding out if other animals are as destructive with their environment as humans have been. It seems that our evolution into the 'inventive, efficient and skilled hunters' we are (were) is a double-edged sword, as is our tendency toward over indulgence when it comes to consuming just about anything. The more there is, the more we seem to consume. And Diamond states that this is not a current affair.

Just prior to the above quote, Diamond talks about past societies that have been responsible for creating their own environmental problems, offering the Native Hawiians, Maori and Native Americans as some examples. Ironically, modern "American and Australian whites" have gone to the extreme with this information as justification for usurping the land from these indigenous people. I say Ironic of course because look what these same people are doing today.

On the opposite extreme, the indigenous people try to paint a pretty picture of their history, stating that they were "wise stewards" of the land and were absolutely NOT responsible for any such abuse and label the 'whites' position as a simple case of racism. Of course and as usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. The problem, Diamond asserts, is that both these groups view past societies as "fundamentally different from...modern world peoples". Our means may be different, but the results are not. With all our knowledge we are just not a prudent species, even when it comes to our own survival.

Strong evidence now shows that an earlier "eden-like environmentalism" was not the case. Diamond asserts that the modern conception of indigenous people being the meticulous caretakers of the land they inhabited should not be a justification for treating these people fairly, for it creates the implication that "it would be ok to mistreat them" if this is not the case. His final statement is pretty straight forward: "It is morally wrong for one people to dispossess, subjugate, or exterminate another people". Seems reasonable.

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Thu Mar 31, 2005 12:08 am
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Post re: the Human Disease
Having only read the prologues of both Diamond books so far, I wonder at the bit quoted by Mr. P in the last post. In the prologue to "Germs, Guns & Steel", Diamond spends quite some time making his case for the human cause behind the extinction of the giant marsupials, but carefully maintains that this is just a theory. In this prologue, he jumps right in and makes the causality statement pretty baldly. Is this something he goes into more in the previous book, or is he just not clarifying this argument because he's got so many others to make?

I very much appreciate the way in which so clearly lays out his theoretical starting point, both in how he's going to structure the book, but also in clarifying the issues of racist (etc.) perceptions of the ideas.

I'm looking forward to this.

Lori




Thu Mar 31, 2005 1:11 am
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Post Re: re: the Human Disease
I would be interested in finding out if other animals are as destructive with their environment as humans have been.

As I understand the quoted passage, Diamond is talking specifically about the introduction of a species (humans) into a new environment (Australia). Not too many analogous cases where we can examine the migration of a species to a new environment spring to mind, mostly because other species don't bother looking for ways to overcome the geographical limitations that constrain them to a particular habitat. When a significant population enters a new biosphere (do people still use that term?) it's usually because some major geological event has precipitated that entrance. That's happened in human history as well, with the migration of trans-Siberian tribes into America via the Berring Straight.

That said, you can look at the introduction of species that sometimes takes place as a result of human migration. Migratory ships introduced the European grey squirrel into North America, and it has by now nearly dominated the indigenous red squirrel on the East coast. I believe something similar took place with the introduction of a particular kind of hare in the Outback, and the kudzu which covers nearly everything in the American South was introduced from China under a program enacted by FDR to halt the rapid development of gorges in middle Georgia due to soil erosion. What these examples apparantly illustrate is that the dominance of a species newly introduced to a given environment is a trait unique to humans, but rather an imbalance that occurs when a set of traits developed under a given set of environmental pressures just happen to give that species an advantage in a foreign environment. The new species, in turn, serves as the introduction of a new pressure, and the species who cannot adapt to that pressure are selected out. Which is all fine and well when you look at it from a strictly Darwinistic point of view, but when you look at it sociologically or humanistically, it's not so kosher when a human population enters a country and spreads diseases to which they are immune to natives who have had no time to develop immunities, as the colonizing European's did with the Native Americans, often deliberately.

It seems that our evolution into the 'inventive, efficient and skilled hunters' we are (were) is a double-edged sword, as is our tendency toward over indulgence when it comes to consuming just about anything.

That's certainly true of the First World civilization we currently live in. And Diamond may well have examples that show prior instances of hyper-consumptive culture, but I would say that, on the whole, previous European, Asiatic and pre-colonisation American cultures managed to strike a nice balance between consumption and conservativism (oops, did I just tie this back to Armstrong's "The Battle For God"?). I think it would be absurd to imagine a species that prospers without having some effect on its environment, and that effect will often take the form of a selective pressure. Unless it puts the species itself in danger of extinction, I'm not sure a Darwinistic viewpoint could find a serious fault in that.

Our means may be different, but the results are not.

They're not? I'm not sure that you could name any previous culture whose consumption had a direct influence on the average annual fluctuation of temperature on the planet. Nor of societies that could wipe out entire civilizations from a bunker several thousand miles away. Personally, I tend to agree with the camp that says that modernity has introduced some fundamental changes. And for all that, I'm still a classicist.

Strong evidence now shows that an earlier "eden-like environmentalism" was not the case.

That's the viewpoint of Romanticism, which, as George Steiner points out in his book "In Bluebeard's Castle", was itself indicative of the headlong rush into modern industrialized society.




Thu Mar 31, 2005 2:19 am
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Post Re: re: the Human Disease
I knew you would not stay away for long! ;)

I will just say that everything up to this I agree with from your post, not that I disagree with:

Quote:
I think it would be absurd to imagine a species that prospers without having some effect on its environment, and that effect will often take the form of a selective pressure. Unless it puts the species itself in danger of extinction, I'm not sure a Darwinistic viewpoint could find a serious fault in that.



The one point I will bring up is that we are not talking about species here, just civilizations. Now many civilizations may have found a balance, but I refer to the overconsumption of those that 'collapsed' as relates to Diamond's book. Over all, I think that the human being is an over consumer of resources...maybe more now than in the past, but that just may be the result of our 'progress'.


Quote:
I'm not sure that you could name any previous culture whose consumption had a direct influence on the average annual fluctuation of temperature on the planet. Nor of societies that could wipe out entire civilizations from a bunker several thousand miles away.



We are capable of mass annihilation yes, but we have not done that. The potential is there...but has not been a factor, in the most drastic form, of any collapse. When I say "means...results" I mean relatively speaking. To a small civilization to crumble, you would not need nuclear war, just a hit hard enough so that they could not overcome the results.

Diamond alludes to this, and I dont know where in the book at this time, that the attention placed on nuclear annihilation and our destruction of the environment may prove to misplaced if other factors are ignored. I will try to find the section in which I saw that.


Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Thu Mar 31, 2005 8:20 pm
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Post Re: re: the Human Disease
misterpessimistic: I knew you would not stay away for long!

Just dropping in to pretend that I know what I'm talking about.

The one point I will bring up is that we are not talking about species here, just civilizations.

I see. Do you think it would be safe to draw an analogy between a civilization and a population of a given species? That's generally the unit that we're dealing with when we look at migration in Darwinistic terms.

Not having read any of the book I can't comment much, but one question that you may want to ask yourself as you read is, What does Diamond mean when he talks about "civilizations"?

Over all, I think that the human being is an over consumer of resources...maybe more now than in the past, but that just may be the result of our 'progress'.

My reading suggests that it's not a question of progress as much as a question of social structure. Theoretically, we could have a progressive culture without putting our environment in danger of overstress. But that would require a reorganization of the framework in which our society works, which is the sort of thing that usually requires a top-down incentive. One of the ironies of our social situation is that democracy, even in a largely representative form, makes it difficult to instantiate sweeping reform.

We are capable of mass annihilation yes, but we have not done that. The potential is there...but has not been a factor, in the most drastic form, of any collapse.

From what I know of Diamond's thesis, that's part of what differentiates modern First World societies from the societies he's examining in "Collapse". The major objection I read to Diamond's thesis was that he's making an analogy between small island cultures and civilizations inhabiting entire continents -- an analogy that might not add up. It's hard to imagine what circumstances could lead to the total defoliation of North America, for instance, whereas the defoliation of a landmass the size of Easter Island is readily conceivable. But Diamond may have accounted for those differences of proportion -- unfortunately I'm probably not going to have time to join in on the reading this time, even if I drop in to comment every once in a while.




Thu Mar 31, 2005 11:04 pm
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Post *** Prologue ***
I thought the prologue was pretty interesting. It took me a bit to get the full effect, though. For example, on p8 (at the top) he asks the question as to why some societies make it and some don't. However, he seems to ignore that some of these answers may be political. But then on p15, he does own up to this possibility.

on p10 he discusses the morality of what we are doing (i.e. treating native peoples fairly) but while his discussion is short, it is to the point.

I definitely liked the idea of the 5 point framework. It gives us a way to compare societies and their reactions across the various contexts.

p17 and the discussion of the comparative method is interesting. I think the most difficult issue in teh comparative method is that you are never sure if the real cause is some other variable that is correlated in existence with the one you are studying. Many times, you can narrow this down significantly, but can be difficult to be definitive.

I have to be honest, though. When I finished the prologue I felt that I should just jump to part 4 and see what the conclusion is! That's 400 pages from now. Yikes. Hopefully, it will be worth it.




Mon Apr 25, 2005 9:36 pm
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Post Re: *** Prologue ***
I am on Chapter 5 and I can say the read is good...and goes quick. I have not by any means read every day, in fact the last day I read before yesterday was over a week ago, and yet I still made progress.

Stick with it. You will find interesting info throughout. I can at least vouch for the first 5 chapters.

Hey ginof! how have you been?

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Mon Apr 25, 2005 9:43 pm
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Post Re: *** Prologue ***
Hey Mr. P.

I'm sticking with it as I definitely find this to be an interesting read. My other postings will describe what I see as the limits (I hope I'm wrong!)

Sorry I've been out of touch. I miss all the chat's because I'm on a plane thursday nights flying home. My schedule has been crazy as I was in the UK for a month in Oct/Nov and became a daddy in early January.




Mon Apr 25, 2005 10:03 pm
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Post Re: *** Prologue ***
MadArchitect:

If you look only at the nations that are currently in existence, you might come to the conclusion that they're fairly stable entities. But the current roster of functioning nations makes up only a small percentage of total number of nations that have existed throughout history

It would be easy to fall into a purely semantic argument here, but hopefully we can avoid that dead end.

What is a "nation"? Diamond does not use the term nation in his hierarchy of human societies in GGS. His categories are: Band, Tribe, Chiefdom, and State. The Characteristics that he analyzes for each of these forms are: Number of People; Settlement Pattern; Basis of relationship; Ethnicities and Language; Decision making leadership; Bureaucracy; Monopoly of force and information; Conflict resolution; Hierarchy of settlement; Religion justifies kleptocracy?; Food production; Division of labor; Exchanges; Control of land; Society stratified; slavery; Luxury goods for elite; Public architecture and Indigenous literacy.

His baseline for a "state" is a population of more than 50,000, so by that yardstick, there have indeed been a great many nations in human history. And, of course, all of them are gone except for the 200 plus that exist on the planet today.

Personally, I think that "nation" is considerably more restrictive, and more centralized, than Diamond's definition of a state, and that there were only a handful of nations prior to the 17th Century.

Whereas today, there are only a handful of human societies in existence which are not a nation. There are some aboriginal societies in isolated spots and on islands, and the rest of the planets human population is organized in nations.

And my second point would also disagree completely with your assertion. I think that today's nations are anything but stable. There is a tornado of activity of forming and reforming nations since the beginning of the 19th Century. I believe that the US is the oldest, continuous democratic form of government on the planet, isn't it?? Barely a drop in the bucket, even if we restrict ourselves to recorded history.

I think that Diamond would agree that human centralization has always been by conquest, and will probably continue to be by conquest.

Surely we "conquered" the Soviet Union, even though the tools of conquest were economic, cultural, technological and intellectual, rather than overt militarism.

Although we constantly threatened militarism, and used it whenever we deemed it to be necessary!

This is getting too long. I will break here and start a new post on another portion of your argument.

WW




Mon May 02, 2005 12:13 pm


Post Re: *** Prologue ***
MadArchitect:

Quote:
I'm conducting this conversation more or less blind to its instigating source. In other words, I'm not reading "Collapse", and don't plan to until I can clear away a good 20-30 books that have a better claim to my time



It is quite amusing that the most engaged discussion on the current book is being carried on by two people who have not even begun to read it!! LOL

I plan to get it this week and I doubt it will take me very long to read it. In the meantime, I think there is some benefit in discussing some of the issues that Diamond raised in GGS, which has not been very rigorously examined either.

I have read several reviews and a few excerpts, so have some vague idea of what the author is arguing in Collapse.

The discussion is interesting, in any case!

Quote:
Any time you speak of historical progress, it's important to ask, at least implicitly, "progress in reference to what?" If the answer is, "in reference to the state of things as they are right now", then of course a general view of history will reveal that events have tended towards this point. But that's a rather facile, circular view of progress, and it is not sufficient, I think, as a basis for charting a cultural trajectory into the future.


Absolutely correct, and a caveat that every poster should keep in mind at all times.

Nevertheless, if we are to have any conversation of interest and speculation, we must start from this false, and shaky, platform. Plato has a whole discourse on this issue, I believe.

Any other basis for attempting to identify and chart a cultural trajectory is even more speculative. We can only see, and interpret, history from where we are, using what we can glean from the past. We have no input from the future, and little promise of ever having any.

Various religions offer their several alternatives, but I find them to not persuasive.

Quote:
The result would be a tendency towards absolute uniformity, where local governance is determined by decisions made in reference to the superior body rather than to the conditions unique to the smaller geopolitical region.


No, I disagree. I am willing to accept that the result will be a general uniformity, or at the very least, a relative uniformity, but not a universal uniformity.

Once again we wander wander toward semanticism, but it is an important issue.

In my lexicon universal uniformity smacks of totalitarianism, and examples like China's regression technologically, or the Soviet Union's economic stalemate, demonstrate why that choice fails to utilize the creativity and adaptability of our species.

Quote:
The short form answer is: because we feel some incentive to do so. The long form answer will have to be the subject of a longer discussion. But then, I don't think it's patently obvious that a single global government is the ideal scenario, and there are very likely a great number of people who would agree.


Feeling the incentive to do so is only the first step in that process, and it is not sufficient for success.

It is also necessary to create some other structure that solves the perceived problems of humanity more successfully.

Until we are thrown off the top of the heap and some other species becomes dominant.

Quote:
Imagine feudal China running clean out of resources, then setting out across the Gobi to find more resources. It wouldn't have been a very promising venture, to say the least.


An interesting hypothetical, except it isn't what happened. Instead China exported many important agricultural, technological and cultural advances to Western Europe, Pacific Oceana and Japan, and resources have not been exhausted, yet.

I think that the drive to survive will keep us from ever exhausting the resources.

When it doesn't, we will become extinct.

WW




Mon May 02, 2005 12:53 pm
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Post Re: *** Prologue ***
wwdimmitt: What is a "nation"? Diamond does not use the term nation in his hierarchy of human societies in GGS. His categories are: Band, Tribe, Chiefdom, and State.

Again, I can't accurately conjecture what Diamond would have to say about the subject as I haven't read his books, but based on popular usage and other readings (for example, Machiavelli, "The Prince") I'd label the nation a form of state. I don't know that I'd attempt to define it in terms of population alone, though. In particular, I think one of the notable characteristics of the state is that it binds together peoples who might not find commonalities to bind them together otherwise. Americans, for example, seem to be bound by little more than their shared national identity, which is itself characterized by little more than citizenship in a given nation.

Whereas today, there are only a handful of human societies in existence which are not a nation.

I don't think that's the case at all. Rather, there are only a handful of societies which do not exist within a nation, if any. But habitation within a nation's borders does not flatten the social aspect -- to wit, there are a plurality of societies existing within nearly every nation. T.S. Eliot is, again, helpful in this regard. He marks three general levels of culture: individual culture, the culture of the group or society, and the culture of the whole society, of which the individual and group are subsidiaries. Nearly every society, even the conglomerate society of the nation, may said to be contained (more or less) by the whole society of the world, in as much as intercommunication permeates that whole society.

I think that today's nations are anything but stable. There is a tornado of activity of forming and reforming nations since the beginning of the 19th Century.

That doesn't contradict my viewpoint at all, and given that agreement, I find it curious that you'd think a centralized world government of any permanence would be likely to emerge from such a tornado of activity.

Surely we "conquered" the Soviet Union, even though the tools of conquest were economic, cultural, technological and intellectual, rather than overt militarism.

I shouldn't think so. It seems more apt to me to say that the Soviet Union was an empire that collapsed under its own structural instability, as is apt to happen within any large state body.

It is quite amusing that the most engaged discussion on the current book is being carried on by two people who have not even begun to read it!!

Quite likely because we don't feel constrained by the subject matter, since we're not really talking about it. But, until someone runs us out of this thread...

Nevertheless, if we are to have any conversation of interest and speculation, we must start from this false, and shaky, platform.

Well, I think it would be a worthwhile exercise to at least attempt to construct an alternate and equally valid viewpoint. The question it might be worthwhile to ask -- and this is, perhaps, a subject deserving its own thread -- "How can we describe or define historical progress in such a way as to avoid the criticism that our answer is merely a justification of our own ideology?"

Plato has a whole discourse on this issue, I believe.

Which do you have in mind? I've read somewhere around half of all the extant dialogues, and I'd be interested to look up the passage, either to understand your interpretation if it's one I've read, or to start a new one altogether.

In my lexicon universal uniformity smacks of totalitarianism, and examples like China's regression technologically, or the Soviet Union's economic stalemate, demonstrate why that choice fails to utilize the creativity and adaptability of our species.

One of my concerns is that a centralized world government will facilitate totalitarianism. After all, if there are no other governments to oppose systematic state injustice, the only avenue of deliberate change is internal, ie. revolution. But in a body as encompassing as a global government, how could organized resistence in any given locality hope to stand against the army of literally the whole world?




Mon May 02, 2005 10:49 pm
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Post Re: *** Prologue ***
Hey, lets have someone else take part here. Is this stuff so uniteresting that you all have nothing to say, nothing to disagree with, or to add??

Mad:

Quote:
Rather, there are only a handful of societies which do not exist within a nation, if any. But habitation within a nation's borders does not flatten the social aspect -- to wit, there are a plurality of societies existing within nearly every nation.


Well, in my mind that is a difference without a useful distinction. The same was true when family bands joined together in villages, and when villages joined together in a chiefdom, and when chiefdoms were conglomerated into states.

Every modern nation, except China, is a fairly recent conglomeration of smaller social units into more complex ones.

Russia/Soviet Union is a prime example, far more complex than the United States, and still in very active flux. Very different kinds of local societies were joined/forced into the Soviet Union, then it fell apart, and now many of the former Soviet Republics are aggressively seeking membership in the European Union.

It is a necessity that larger social units of the future are made up of a conglomeration of smaller units from the past, if there is to be an increasing conglomeration. And that is exactly the pattern we see, on every continent.

The Dialogue of Plato I had in mind is Book VII of The Republic, the analogy of the prisoners in the cave facing the light outside the cave. I remember it as a discourse about appearance and reality, and the process of learning new and different intellectual material. But I haven't read it for several years.

WW




Tue May 03, 2005 9:11 am
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princesscookie19

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• Buy American Character today and join the discussion!

Wed Aug 21, 2019 10:51 pm

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