May 10, 2014

Contra Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel"

With Nicholas Wade's challenge to the conventional wisdom that enshrined Jared Diamond's 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning tome Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies as the final word on the subject of racial diversity on the continental-scale, let me pull up my mostly-admiring 1997 review of Diamond's famous book in National Review.

My most subversive sentence was:
Diamond makes environmental differences [among the continents] seem so compelling that it's hard to believe that humans would not become somewhat adapted to their homelands through natural selection.

Below is the whole thing:

The Clash of Continents 
by Steve Sailer 
Published in National Review, 5/19/97, as "Why Nations Conquer" 
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, New York: W.W. Norton, 1997, 448 pp., $27.50 
An early version of this book's subtitle illustrates its ambitiousness: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. Jared Diamond's goal is to explain why Eurasians conquered Africans, Australians, and Americans instead of the other way around, even though conventional social scientists shy away from such a fundamental question out of fear of what they might find. Since random accidents of personality and culture appear too trivial to account for the clash of continents' lopsided outcomes (e.g., a few hundred Conquistadors demolished the grandest empires of the New World), this leaves only two possible underlying causes: either the winners had better homelands or better bodies and brains. Deeming genetic explanations "racist" and "loathsome," Diamond sets out to reaffirm the equality of humanity by showing the inequality of the continents. 
To him, the three most important engines of history are location, location, and location. 
Few are more broadly qualified to write history in terms of geography and sociobiology. A molecular physiologist at UCLA, Diamond is also an evolutionary biologist in the field. His 33 years birdwatching in the tropics, especially in New Guinea, home to 1000 of Earth's 6000 languages, put him in touch with a remarkable variety of humans. Diamond wrote surprisingly little for popular audiences before his dazzling 1992 book, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. In contrast to that kaleidoscopic page-turner, Guns, Germs, and Steel hammers away at a single thesis, sometimes repetitiously. Nonetheless, it rewards the effort. 
Diamond argues that the broadest aspects of the modern world -- e.g., North America's domination by whites -- were largely determined by the continents' dissimilar natural resources of domesticatable plants and animals. Regions offering an abundance of these could support the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer-herder, allowing higher population densities. And those communities that could free up the most manpower from farming to specialize in technology and war could conquer their neighbors. A few areas, especially the Middle East, were home to many easily domesticated foods: both wild grains like wheat and large mammals like cows and sheep. Other parts of Eurasia such as Europe were close enough to the Fertile Crescent for early diffusion of these crops and livestock. 
In contrast, much of the Earth, including seemingly congenial landscapes like California, lacks native plants that would be more profitable to cultivate than to gather. What valuable vegetation the New World did possess, like Mexico's corn, was slow to migrate north and south along the Americas' main axis because crops' growing seasons are sensitive to latitude. (Since the vast Eurasian continent's main axis is east-west, however, foods diffused more easily there.) 
Also, the New World was badly lacking in large domesticatable mammals. Excluding boutique operations, today humans raise just 14 species of mammals of over 100 pounds. Of these, only the llama/alpaca is native to the Americas. Of course, 13,000 years ago the New World teemed with potentially useful beasts like horses and camels. Then the American Indian arrived and, Diamond says, ate them. This rapacity made their Aztec and Inca descendants both militarily impotent and dreadfully susceptible to the Conquistadors' diseases. The Spaniards, in contrast, were heirs to not just Eurasia's foods and technologies (including Chinese inventions like paper, gunpowder, and the compass), but also to immunities to its germs. Since the worst epidemics are descended from farm animals' diseases (e.g., smallpox from cows), native Americans had no diseases of their own (except possibly syphilis) with which to fight back. 
Diamond's geohistorical approach certainly clarifies continental-scale history. Most of world history, however, is Eurasian history, and he's only sketchy on why the West Eurasians eventually overcame the East and South Eurasians.
Diamond is not content, however, to merely write the history of the last 13,000 years. He also claims that his evidence is of great political momentuousness because it shows that no ethnic group is inferior to any other: each exploited its local food resources as fully as possible. For example, after the Australian Outback explorers Burke and Wills exhausted their Eurasian-derived supplies, three times they had to throw themselves on the mercy and expertise of the local Stone Age hunter-gatherers. These Aborigines, the least technically advanced of all peoples, may not have domesticated a single Australian plant in 40,000 years, but in 200 years down under scientific whites have domesticated merely the macadamia nut. Farming only pays in Australia when using imported crops and livestock. 
But, are indigenous peoples merely not inferior? In truth, on their own turf many ethnic groups appear to be somewhat genetically superior to outsiders. Diamond makes environmental differences seem so compelling that it's hard to believe that humans would not become somewhat adapted to their homelands through natural selection. And in fact, Diamond himself briefly cites several examples of genetic differences impacting history. Despite military superiority, Europeans repeatedly failed to settle equatorial West Africa, in part because they lacked the malaria resistance conferred on many natives by the sickle cell gene. Similarly, biological disadvantages stopped whites from overrunning the Andes. Does this make Diamond a loathsome racist? No, but it does imply that a scientific-minded observer like Diamond should not dogmatically denounce genetic explanations, since he is liable to get tarred with his own brush. 
The undeniability of human biodiversity does not prove that we also differ somewhat mentally, but it's hard to imagine why the brain would differ radically from the rest of the body. Consider the fable of the grasshopper and the ant. The ant's personality traits -- foresight and caution -- fitted him to survive his region's predictably harsh winters. Yet, the grasshopper's strengths -- improvisation and spontaneity -- might furnish Darwinian superiority in a tropical land where the dangers are unpredictable. 
Like many, Diamond appears to confuse the concepts of genetic superiorities (plural) and genetic supremacy (singular). The former are circumstance-specific. For example, a slim, heat-shedding Somalian-style body is inferior to a typically stocky, heat-conserving Eskimo physique in Nome, but it's superior in Mogadishu (and in Manhattan, too, if, you want to become a fashion model and marry David Bowie, like Somalian supermodel Iman). 
In contrast, genetic supremacy is the dangerous fantasy that one group is best at everything. Before the European explosion began in the 15th Century, it seemed apparent that no race could be supreme. Even the arrogant Chinese were periodically overrun by less-cultured barbarians. The recent European supremacy in both the arts of war and of peace was partly an optical illusion masking the usual tradeoffs in talents within Europe (e.g., Italian admirals were as inept as English cooks). Still, the rise and reign of Europe remains the biggest event in world history. Yet, the era when Europeans could plausibly claim supremacy over all other races has been dead for at least the 60 years since Hitler, of all people, allied with Japan. 
The historian who trumpets the political relevance of his work must consider both the past and the future, which Diamond fails to do. Surprisingly, ethnic biodiversity is becoming more important in numerous ways. Until recently, one's location and social position at birth closely constrained one's fate. But, as equality of opportunity grows, the globalized marketplace increasingly exploits all advantages in talent, including those with genetic roots. Pro sports offer a foretaste of the future: many are resegregating themselves as ethnic groups increasingly specialize in those games they're naturally best at. In summary, Diamond may prove a better guide to the last 13,000 years than the to next 13.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I liked "Guns, Germs and Steel" very much. I thought the over the top fawning over his aboriginal friend was a bit much, though. It definitely seemed at odds with the fact that, in order to domesticate and manage livestock, one must be more intelligent that the peoples who have no such duties. It beggars belief that an aboriginal group, with essentially nothing to its name other than its physical capabilities, would be more intelligent than those who captured and domesticated animals over the long haul.

Anonymous said...

Also, really liked his hypotheses that writing was originally developed to make enslaving people easier (only the master class wrote things down) and that all governments are essentially kleptocracies.

Anonymous said...

Diamond's book was an anti-White marketing effort motivated by Scots Irish fear and loathing of the accomplishments of European men.

Dan said...

What about beauty?

This is something these scientists overlook. European culture is vastly more elegant and beautiful. If something is beautiful it is useful forever.

Anonymous said...

In other words, you had to run faster to get away from the baboons and hyenas.

Dan said...

Pro sports requires a settled white population with a surplus of wealth.

Anonymous said...

The story of the meeting between Sailer and Diamond kills me. They got to talking but Sailer said something and Diamond freaked out and rushed out acting like this.

Anonymous said...

Dan:"What about beauty?

This is something these scientists overlook. European culture is vastly more elegant and beautiful. If something is beautiful it is useful forever."

I always though that beauty was defined by its fundamental lack of usefulness...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Diamond's book was an anti-White marketing effort motivated by Scots Irish"

Another little boy who lacks the manhood to say Jew.


Anonymous:" fear and loathing of the accomplishments of European men."

Does that include Europeans like Einstein, Spinoza, Ricardo, etc?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Diamond's book was an anti-White marketing effort motivated by Scots Irish"

Another little boy who lacks the manhood to say Jew.

That one really hit home, didn't it. You are so frustrated aren't you that the Internet affords us an opportunity to speak that you cannot control? Fear and loathing.

Anonymous:" fear and loathing of the accomplishments of European men."

Does that include Europeans like Einstein, Spinoza, Ricardo, etc?.

Why don't you write him and see whether he would smear their accomplishments as attributable to "guns," "germs," or "steel"?

For what it's worth, Spinoza was a Christian, Einstein and agnostic. All three were of European descent and were formed in European culture.

Whiskey said...

Generally the more beautiful something is the more useful. Examples, the fountain pen typewriter.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:" fear and loathing of the accomplishments of European men."

Does that include Europeans like Einstein, Spinoza, Ricardo, etc?


There you go revealing the same insecurities that Diamond harbors. And the same desire to minimize European accomplishment.

Anonymous said...

Just remember that, whatever it is, it's all about the Jews. At least according to them. And they can go on about it, it almost seems a profession.

ben tillman said...

I didn't realize you made this point so long ago. I've been saying the same thing for years.

Diamond’s thesis stated at page 25 of Guns, Germs & Steel:

Authors are regularly asked by journalists to summarize a long book in one sentence. For this book, here is such a sentence: ‘History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

The rather obvious hole in this thesis is that environmental differences produce biological differences.

Anonymous said...

There are limits to natural selection based on environment. Do white people shrivel up and die when they leave cold places and live in warm tropical ones? Do black people curl up and die when they go to live in, say, Detroit? That visible and physiological changes in humans (like skin color, epicanthic folds, lactose tolerance, disease resistance) were triggered by environments seems indisputable but it is a stretch to posit that behavioral characteristics fall into the same category. People learn to think and behave the way people around them do, and based on what they have been taught in their early years, and that characteristic seems to be true of all Homo Sapiens. All human beings have shown the capacity to master their immediate environments, and babies adopted by different cultures grow up like their peers and show no maladaptation to their local environments.

europeasant said...

Jared Diamond has many followers. One appears to be Carl Hoffman the author of "Savage Harvest" "a tale of cannibals, colonialism and Michael Rockefellers's tragic quest for primitive art". This story takes place in New Guinea and is about the investigation into the dissapearance of Michael whose last whereabouts were among the native Asmat people, a stone age group probably much similar to the people Jared hung around with.
The show stopper for me in this book was on page 39 "Pip and his jeu weren't savages, however but complex, biologically modern men with all the brain power and manual dexterity necessary to fly a 747'

Anonymous said...

"Diamond's book was an anti-White marketing effort motivated by Scots Irish fear and loathing of the accomplishments of European men."

Important not to throw the baby out with the bath water though.

Some of the ideas e.g. agriculture starting in the places most suited to agriculture starting, are worth stating the obvious over also the (related) point that it is easier for a crop suited to a particular latitude to spread east-west then north-south.

It is true - it seems to me - that both the Tropics and the far north had regional hurdles to overcome before they could get into the civilization game. Conceding that point doesn't invalidate there being a latitude cline in IQ.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:" fear and loathing of the accomplishments of European men."

Does that include Europeans like Einstein, Spinoza, Ricardo, etc?

Anonymous:"There you go revealing the same insecurities that Diamond harbors. And the same desire to minimize European accomplishment."

How does citing the accomplishments of Europeans like Einstein and Spinoza "minimize European accomplishment?"

Anonymous said...



anonymous:"That one really hit home, didn't it. You are so frustrated aren't you that the Internet affords us an opportunity to speak that you cannot control? Fear and loathing."

On the contrary. I simply prefer candour. When one means "Jew," say "Jew." Don't use infantile euphemisms like "Scots-Irish."



Anonymous:"Why don't you write him and see whether he would smear their accomplishments as attributable to "guns," "germs," or "steel"?

Seeing as how Diamond attributes everything to geography, isn't he "smearing" everybody: India, China, the Middle East, etc ?

Anonymous:"For what it's worth, Spinoza was a Christian,"

Actually, after he was excommunicated by the Jewish community in Amsterdam, Spinoza refused to affiliate himself with any faith.

Anonymous:"Einstein and agnostic. All three were of European descent and were formed in European culture."

Well, yes. That's my point. all three men were Europeans.

Anonymous said...

Considering that the threat of expulsion from the community hovers over the head of Mr Wade (we don't know yet if he has managed to avoid the odium theologicum), it might be useful to read the official record of Spinoza's excommunication from the Jewish community in Amsterdam:

"The Lords of the ma'amad, having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Espinoza, have endeavored by various means and promises, to turn him from his evil ways. But having failed to make him mend his wicked ways, and, on the contrary, daily receiving more and more serious information about the abominable heresies which he practiced and taught and about his monstrous deeds, and having for this numerous trustworthy witnesses who have deposed and born witness to this effect in the presence of the said Espinoza, they became convinced of the truth of the matter; and after all of this has been investigated in the presence of the honorable chachamin, they have decided, with their consent, that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel. By the decree of the angels, and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of all the Holy Congregation, in front of these holy Scrolls with the six-hundred-and-thirteen precepts which are written therein, with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho, with the curse with which Elisha cursed the boys, and with all the curses which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down, and cursed be he when he rises up; cursed be he when he goes out, and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him; the anger and wrath of the Lord will rage against this man, and bring upon him all the curses which are written in this book, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven, and the Lord will separate him to his injury from all the tribes of Israel with all the curses of the covenant, which are written in the Book of the Law. But you who cleave unto the Lord God are all alive this day. We order that no one should communicate with him orally or in writing, or show him any favor, or stay with him under the same roof, or within four ells of him, or read anything composed or written by him."

Mr. Anon said...

If you don't believe in Darwinism, then you are an ignorant hick......and probably a racist too.

If you believe in Darwinism too much, then you are a racist.......and probbaly an ignorant hick too.

Mr. Anon said...

"ben tillman said...

The rather obvious hole in this thesis is that environmental differences produce biological differences."

Your mistake is that you are treating evolution as if it is a scientific theory, with assumptions and consequences - a means for explaining the natural world.

Whereas, for the so-called "reality-based" people who claim to believe it so whole-heartedly, it is a cudgel for beating one's enemies. It is the hyphen between who-whom.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Just remember that, whatever it is, it's all about the Jews. At least according to them. And they can go on about it, it almost seems a profession."

Well, there is the old joke about an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a Jew being told to write a book about elephants. The Englishman writes HOW TO SHOOT AN ELEPHANT. The Frenchman writes THE SEX LIFE OF THE ELEPHANT. And the Jew writes THE ELEPHANT AND THE JEWISH PROBLEM.