Re: Preface, Prologue, and Part One
That's true about the Amish. Diamond would say that there will be exceptions or perhaps holdouts like the Amish, but over an entire region we'll see the dominant pattern. I think you're also right about the importance of particular circumstances in shaping societies differently, such as the different effects of the advanced use of steel in the U.S. vs. Europe. The combustion engine has created diverse social effects in the two places--or is it that social differences that already existed determined the effects of the automobile?
It doesn't look as though Diamond claims his theory has much to do with the specifics of historical events or social development. I don't see anything that explains why it was the Spanish, rather than, say, the English, French, or Dutch that invaded South America. Chance ruled all of that, as it does in the finer grain of our daily lives. But he says it had to be people like
that, Europeans who were beneficiaries of their head starts with guns, germs, and steel. It couldn't have been the North American Indians invading, because they didn't have the same "advantages" that would give them the leg-up as conquerors. But of course, there has to be more to it than just who had the favorable conditions to begin with. Advantages can be lost and gained. The Fertile Crescent area didn't maintain its supremacy, for reasons that I don't know if Diamond goes into. The world pattern of haves vs. have-nots isn't all that durable, either, with formerly have-not regions such as China, India, and Brazil getting set to catch up and--who knows--perhaps surpass us in the standard-of-living race.
Left unsettled is your point about the climate for innovation. Although we might agree that human intelligence is spread equally across groups we categorize as races, is it possible that it took some ingredient having nothing even indirectly to do with the richness of plants and animals for domestication? Historians always talk about the rise of science making innovation possible, so the question is whether that development was inevitable, regardless of varying cultural ingredients, as long as the material head-start conditions prevailed. Just because something happened as it did, isn't a reason to say it had to happen that way. So we continue to wonder about what Diamond might, so far at least, be leaving out--that certain intangible quality?