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Greenland's Collapse II 
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Post Greenland's Collapse II
This chapter is nonsense. Diamond embraces a basic fallacy of logic by creating a false dichotomy.

Diamond works from an assumed choice between adoption of Inuit culture or extinction.

In fact the Greenlanders did not choose either option. The Greenlanders chose a third option. They chose to return to Scandinavia.

To the Greenlanders the adoption of Inuit culture would have meant a return to the stone age. Not an attractive proposition for expert boat builders, metalworkers and farmers.

Diamond leavens his diatribe with the usual one sided apocryphal tales of European savagery. You will find savagery where you look for it, that Diamond fails to highlight savagery within non-European peoples is simple prejudice. Savagery is human behavior not European behavior.

The Greenland vikings looked at the lifestyle of the Inuit fishermen and compared it to the lifestyle of viking agriculturalists. It's not a tough choice.

In the present day the Inuit have abandoned their traditional way of life in favor of a way of life developed by the descendants of the vikings, so who is really the victor in the culture war?

Did Inuit culture lead to the existence of the air conditioned luxury from which Diamond launches his sneering polemics, or was it European culture?

Diamond's only talent consists of extrapolating comforting myths from invalid premises.




Wed Jun 15, 2005 8:08 am


Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
Good morning, Badmen:

Hoo, boy, it is hard to know where to start!

Have you really read Diamond's books??

I hate to be purely disagreeable, but that is pretty much the only choice I see open vis a vis your post. I am all for criticism, and sound reasoning, of JD's thesis in Collapse, but I don't count I don't count Eurocentric cultural bias as rising to that standard. YMMV

Quote:
In fact the Greenlanders did not choose either option. The Greenlanders chose a third option. They chose to return to Scandinavia.


Just plain, factually, wrong.

Most of the Greenlanders died on Greenland, and a good many of them were savagely killed by the Inuit, at the end of the Norse collapse. See page 261, where there is a reference to the Iceland Annals for 1379, stating that the skraelings killed 18 Greenlanders, and captured 2 boys and a woman, and made them slaves.

See page 269, regarding the archaeological evidence at the end of the Western Settlement. The last occupants either had to abandon the space in emergent conditions, or they died there, judging from the evidence left behind. They also show that the Norse were reduced to eating small birds and rabbits as main food sources at the end. The evidence supports the conclusion that the Norse inhabitants froze or starved to death, and were unable to leave.

Quote:
The Greenland vikings looked at the lifestyle of the Inuit fishermen and compared it to the lifestyle of viking agriculturalists. It's not a tough choice.


Spoken like a true European industrialist!

They took the easy choice, which also happened to be the wrong choice if they wanted to survive.

Reminds me a lot of our culture today. In the face of growing evidence that the easy choice of gross consumerism will wreck our society, we still continue full steam ahead, not even considering the hard choices.

JD documents the savagery of the human population in every society he describes, especially in those that collapse, or which are growing toward collapse. It is part of his five pronged analysis. You could look it up.

WW




Wed Jun 15, 2005 9:28 am


Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
I find Greenland an odd choice for a collapse example. It wasn't a 'civilization', but a settlement. And I don't think it collapsed as much as it was left to wither away.

By the 1200's, regular trading ships had stopped going there, and the Black Death of the 1300's created a situation in Europe that seemed to preclude taking up this settlement again, the Greenlanders finally had no more ships, only boats for fishing like the Inuits.

Also during this time, the climate changed and became colder than it had in 700 years, so the agriculture was deeply affected.

So this settlement was left to struggle along with no support, until it just wasn't there anymore. I don't remember ever reading anything about the colony picking up and going back to the homeland.

Unless we consider non-support of a struggling settlement in a hostile environment with uncooperative weather conditions poor management, I don't think Greenland qualifies as a good example here.

Marti in Mexico




Wed Jun 15, 2005 9:03 pm


Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
Hi, Marti:

Now, I consider your points as being much more valid criticism of JD and his selection of Norse Greenland as one example of collapse.

To some extent your argument applies to all of his examples, with the possible exception of the Maya, IMO. I think that he has marshaled his reasoning in a very organized manner to try to make these quite small, and isolated, examples fit to serve as analogies to our present environmental struggles on the stage of the entire world, but there are persistent distinctions that may render the analogy false, or at least I keep struggling with that concept as I read his book.

On the other hand, here is the argument from his perspective, as I understand it:

Quote:
So this settlement was left to struggle along with no support, until it just wasn't there anymore. I don't remember ever reading anything about the colony picking up and going back to the homeland


Well, yeah, that is correct in a way, but the fact is that they did make it, pretty much on their own, for over 500 years.

The USA has only been existing for 230 years, so far, so the Norse really had a quite viable society for a long time, given the pattern of human history.

The whole point of JD's thesis is that climates change, that human choices have significant effects on the local environment, and that human choices regarding technology and diplomacy affect the outcome. All of those factors were in operation in Greenland, and the final result was collapse.

I think it is a pretty valid example, given the overall picture of human development over the past 13,000 years. Iceland faced pretty much the same conditions, including the colder climate and the effects of the Black Plague, but with only about half the distance for communication and trade, and without any conflict forced upon them by the Innuit. They were left on their own nearly as much as Greenland, but they have managed to survive, and in fact have about the highest standard of living of any society on earth today.

And the Innuit survived, so far, without support from any outside society, and in spite of highly negative forces being imposed by the European invasion of the 19th and 20th centuries. The fact is that the Norse made choices that resulted in such severe environmental damage to their local ecology that they could not survive. And that is what makes them a good choice for demonstrating unredeemable collapse. IMHO, of course.

WW

Edited by: wwdimmitt at: 6/15/05 11:55 pm



Wed Jun 15, 2005 10:48 pm


Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
"The Norse made choices which resulted in severe environmental damage to the local ecology"

So the evil Europeans caused the mini ice-age which made Nordic agriculture untenable and damaged the trade link to Iceland?

That's quite a compendium of evil even for Nordics. The most evil of all Europeans.

The failure of this colony shows that Inuit culture is superior to Nordic culture. Obviously we must disregard the Nordic origins of English common law and the parliamentary democratic system, and, of course all of the great literary, musical, technological and scientific achievements which were built on the backs of these two institutions. Yes! That makes perfect sense! I could be sitting in a snow hole munching whale blubber right now if it wasn't for these damned Vikings.

The Greenland colony perished because of climate change. A climate change which, incidentally, had nothing whatsoever to do with "industrialization" or fossil fuel emissions. Before the mini ice-age struck the Vikings had managed to chart the entire coast line of Greenland, and had explored the coast line of Northern America (Markland) where many of them emigrated. The Vikings who remained could not make a choice between the Inuit lifestyle and Viking agronomy, because if they had adopted the free roaming, hunter gatherer lifestyle of the Inuit, they would have been vulnerable to massacre from the stone-age primitives who already practiced this form of subsistence. So Diamond's assertion that the Vikings had the choice of adopting an Inuit lifestyle is nonsense.

What about all of the many far more obvious examples Diamond chooses to ignore? The failure of Europeans to adopt the lifestyle of the native Australian population led to thriving modern metropoli with some of the highest standards of living in the world.

From my "Eurocentric" perspective the salient point is that, having become isolated from their cultural support network the Greenlanders swiftly became the victims of a campaign of genocide.

The death of the Greenland has as much relevance to the merits of Western European culture as the disappearance of the Roanoke colony does.

"And the Inuit survive" I'll send you a seal skin anorak and a ticket to Greenland and you can send me a postcard telling me how much you are enjoying the raw fish and frostbite.

Edited by: badmendicant at: 6/16/05 7:58 am



Thu Jun 16, 2005 4:00 am


Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
Good morning, Badmen:

Once again you have gotten your facts just plain wrong. There may be some kernels of valid insight in your little diatribe, but they are lost when you make statements that claim to be factual which are in direct conflict with the actual facts of the situation faced by the Norse on Greenland.

Incidentally, I don't happen to believe that Nordic Europeans are the most evil of Europeans at all. I happen to be of Nordic descent, as are most of my extended family, as are a large proportion of the American populous in the Midwest and the West.

Seems to me that we have about the same incidence and propensity for evil as do other Europeans, Asians, Africans, South Americans, Aussies, and Pacific Islanders. In my experience every human being has the potential for evil, and for good. Exactly the formula which makes for so much riveting drama in human history, and in human literature.

Meanwhile, back at the book:

Quote:
So the evil Europeans caused the mini ice-age which made Nordic agriculture untenable and damaged the trade link to Iceland?


That is not what I said, and that is not what JD said.

I am happy to see that you have abandoned the specious claim that the Norse just decided to sail back to Norway and Denmark in their non-existent ships, and being unable to build new ships because they had denuded the entire island of usable timber.

Here is what JD says regarding proximate causes for the collapse of the Norse in Greenland, on page 274 & 275:

First he points out that the Norse chose not to utilize the abundant resources of the sea in the form of fish, ringed seals and whales, which were readily available to their stone age competitors, and this additional food source might have saved them from collapse.

He then goes on to list four sets of considerations that led ultimately to their collapse:

1. Difficult, fluctuating environment.

2. They arrived with, and stubbornly applied their own cultural values, especially dairy farming, religion, and caste system. The values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs over adversity.(p.275)

3. The Norse, like other medieval European Christians, scorned pagan non-European peoples and lacked experience of how best to deal with them. (p. 275)

4. Power was concentrated at the top in Greenland, in the hands of chiefs and clergy. Their dedication to power and luxury stifled any attempt at innovation.


Those were the real issues leading to collapse, as identified by JD.

Let's argue about these real issues.

Incidentally, it seems to me that you are the one stating a false dichotomy.

The choice facing the Norse vis a vis the Innuit was not whether to stick with only their European, Christian, iron age technology, or switch to only the stone age technology of the Innuit.

They had the possibility of keeping all their iron age knowledge and technology, and adding to it the very effective adaptations in hunting that were much more successful for the Innuit. They could have had the best of both technologies, had they been willing to change and adapt the techniques of the people they looked down upon as being pagan and inhuman.

Ring any bells??

WW




Thu Jun 16, 2005 9:28 am
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Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
ww:

I hope I can jump in soon and add to this, but I am a bit overwhelmed due to my limited time to delve into this stuff from work (I am bad boy).

The only time I get to post is arounf 12 midnight when the kids and the wife go to bed...and then I find myself saying "BAH!" and going to bed myself.

I will say that you have saved me some worry because I agree with much of what you ahve said in reply to Bad and Marti. I would only be adding redundancy, but I do intend to try in any event.

The Norse seem to have become the hot topic of this discussion...

Mr. P.

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

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




Thu Jun 16, 2005 3:44 pm
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Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
bad:

Why such an angry stance? I do not take Diamond to be ridiculing anything, just stating facts as he sees them. As ww says, the Norse survived for 500 years, no small feat in that place, but they probably could have prospered if they had adopted practices that are evidently well suited to that environment, which the Inuit, so much more than the Norse, would have known as a matter of course.

Quote:
To the Greenlanders the adoption of Inuit culture would have meant a return to the stone age. Not an attractive proposition for expert boat builders, metalworkers and farmers.


How ethnocentric of you. The Inuit adapted to their environment well. To me that makes them the superior civilization, relatively speaking. What makes a civilization better? Metalworking? Farming? Or adapting to the conditions you find yourself in? Obviously it is the latter, if I had to choose. But better is, again, relative.

Quote:
You will find savagery where you look for it, that Diamond fails to highlight savagery within non-European peoples is simple prejudice. Savagery is human behavior not European behavior.


Again I do not see where Diamond singles out European savagery. Did he not go into the fact that cannibalism was prevalent on Easter? Again, you are confusing Diamonds explication with a value judgement, which to me makes you seem to be pushing some kind of agenda. Diamond has been very fair in my view. He is not defending any one culture or civilization, just offering explanation and not excusing or defending any one culture. He says it himself well on page 326:

Quote:
This is a misunderstanding that arises regularly in discussions of the origins of evil: People recoil at any explanation because they confuse explanations with excuses.


In any event, are you excusing the Norsemen cutting the Inuit people to see how they bleed? Or are you saying this never happened? European conquest and expansion has not exactly been tame. And yes I agree, this is a human trait. So is stupidity, which is why there are examples of self immolation (both physically and environmentally) throughout history and thus providing plentiful fodder for this book.

Quote:
In the present day the Inuit have abandoned their traditional way of life in favor of a way of life developed by the descendants of the vikings, so who is really the victor in the culture war?


You see...the Inuit made a wise decision to adopt changes that made life even better. They were not stubborn to the point of failure!

ww:

Quote:
They took the easy choice, which also happened to be the wrong choice if they wanted to survive.


I could have saved much typing by just referring to this statement!

Quote:
Reminds me a lot of our culture today. In the face of growing evidence that the easy choice of gross consumerism will wreck our society, we still continue full steam ahead, not even considering the hard choices.


And this is the ignorance, which is readily apparent, that plagues my thoughts every day...what gets my blood boiling.


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 Jun 16, 2005 7:20 pm
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Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II


Marti:

Norse Greenland seems like a good example of a society to me. Isolated and pretty much on their own for 500 years. But ww sums up this point well enough.

Quote:
Unless we consider non-support of a struggling settlement in a hostile environment with uncooperative weather conditions poor management, I don't think Greenland qualifies as a good example here.


Well this actually does fit within Diamond's 5 points: Abandonment of a friendly neighbor, hosilte neighbors, environmental changes & the wrong response by the society in question.

bad:

Quote:
So the evil Europeans caused the mini ice-age which made Nordic agriculture untenable and damaged the trade link to Iceland?


This is even worse than my getting annoyed at the Norse for poor decision making. How could you type that? CAUSED the mini-ice age? I think ww said ecological, not environmental. Deforestation and things like that. They tried to maintain livestock in a place where re-growth was a problem and thus had to spend inordinant amounts of time producing hay to sustain the livestock during the cold months.

ww:

Quote:
Incidentally, it seems to me that you are the one stating a false dichotomy...
...They could have had the best of both technologies, had they been willing to change and adapt the techniques of the people they looked down upon as being pagan and inhuman.



DARN! I meant to point this out the other day!! Ah well, you say it better than I could anyway...


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 Jun 16, 2005 7:21 pm
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Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
The Greenland colony functioned as a part of the medieval Scandinavian cultural polity, not as a fully independent entity. The Scandinavian homelands provided goods which could not be produced in Greenland. In turn the Greenlanders traded things like polar bear hides and white falcons. Greenland's viability as a settlement was as dependent upon trading links with the motherland as it was on agriculture.

A mini ice-age severed Greenland's support system. Without trade the Greenlanders became 100% dependent on agriculture, this demand eventually exceeded the agricultural potential of the land. The severing of the links with Scandinavia also tipped the military balance in favor of the Inuit
The proximate cause of the Greenlander's demise was therefore a natural disaster and had nothing to do with cultural arrogance or a failure to innovate.

The Greenland colonists were unable to adopt the survival strategies of the Inuit because leaving the safety of their homesteads and settlements would have left them far more vulnerable to murderous attack by an enemy whose position had become significantly more powerful. Once again nothing to do with cultural arrogance.

So Diamond is wrong.




Thu Jun 16, 2005 9:12 pm


Post Re: Greenland's Collapse II
Sorry to double post, but the suggestion that the Greenland colony refused to exploit natural resources like whales, fish and seals because of cultural prejudice and out of contempt for the Inuits is nonsense. Here is a quote from Jaqueline Simpson's, "Everyday Life in the Viking Age"

"sea birds were shot or snared, and their eggs collected; there were herring and cod in the seas....whales were harpooned, and seals were speared or netted"

The food sources supposedly scorned by the Greenland colonists were in fact established staples of the Viking diet.

So whatever prevented the Vikings colonists from exploiting these resources in Greenland in most certainly was not "cultural prejudice". Perhaps it was the ever present prospect of small fishing parties getting ambushed and having to remove bone tipped Inuit arrows from foolhardy Viking asses?

Edited by: badmendicant at: 6/17/05 8:31 am



Fri Jun 17, 2005 7:22 am
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