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Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years By Jared Diamond

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Yali had asked why white people have developed a substantial amount of cargo and had brought it to New Guinea but the blacks had very little cargo of their own. Two commonly espoused answers to Yali’s question are race and geography. Diamond writes how Europeans were higher ranking racially than the New Guineans and other low-class races. This meant that Europeans were naturally intellectual than most races, therefore leading to their domination. Diamond states, “Psychologists have been trying for decades to demonstrate that black Americans are… less intelligent than white Americans”. Diamond discredits this claim by stating people do not have the same educational chances as other races or settlements. Diamond refutes the hypothesis that white Europeans are more intellectual or diligent by virtue of having superior genes. He further explains that many people have been led to believe this in the past, but there is no modern evidence to support the correlation between intellect and race. Another explanation to Yali’s question is settlers developed a more “literate, industrialized…, democratic state” than the natives, believing that natives lived in a second-class lifestyle. Diamond again counters this theory by comparing natives to settlers as more average and more intellectual. Natives could perform certain task and could execute more efficiently in industrial technologies when the occasion rise.

The five continents Diamond refers to are North and South America, Australia, Eurasia, Africa because they contain human life. Each settlement pattern was affected by different circumstances. For example, Eurasia is located along the East-West axis, which made it less difficult to trade with civilizations also located on the same latitude. Australia had to invent water transport because the whole continent is surrounded by oceans. After the invention, Australia was able to make trades. Africa and America are located towards North-South oriented, which made the transfer of goods concentrated on the same axis. Africa was the where apes evolved to humans approximately around 7 million BC. Apes broke into various populations including modern gorillas, modern chimps and humans. Around 1 million BC, populations from Africa drifted towards Eurasia and reached Europe at 500,000 BC. After this, the populations sailed to Australia and passed some Pacific Islands approximately around 40,000 BC, where they reached Asia around 20,000 BC. The human population would cross the Bering Strait, usually by boat or foot, and would arrive at North America around 12,000 BC and traveled to South America around 10,000 BC. Antarctica is not mentioned because humans would arrive later.

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Diamond refers to the early evolution of humans that took place roughly 50,000 years ago as the “Great Leap Forward”. Diamond states that this is the point where first society used stone weapons, tools, bonefishing, and jewelry. The significance of The Great Leap is to signify the jump between using underdeveloped weapons and to using more advanced and modern accessories, weapons and tools.

The Polynesian Islands were “an experiment of history” because it showed the diversity of different societies. Variables that were included in the experiment are the Geological type, the marine resource, the different areas, terrain fragments, climates and isolation and others. Each variable test what capabilities the different islands had. For example, the climate could affect the human and food source behavior. An imperative important variable is how the Maori had a more developed and complex system for politics. This helped them produce an abundance of weapons and various tools. The constant would be they derived from a Polynesian society. The conclusion is that being well equipped against your opponent can swiftly bring their demise.

Ultimate and proximate causes can explain why Atahualpa and Incas fell to Pizarro. Proximate causes are the direct reason of how Incas were conquered, while ultimate causes state the reasons and explanation of the proximate cause. The proximate cause of Atahualpa and Incas’ demise to Pizarro was Incas had lower-ranking technology compared to the Spaniards. The fundamental question, which is answered, is why Spain was given a higher advantage over the Incas.

Diamond defines autocatalytic when a process has begun and it makes more of itself. Diamond claims when farming is autocatalytic is when a settlement become sedentary, starts farming, and there is an increase in population, which leads to the high necessity of production.

Many populations yearned for conquest since the outcome was very beneficial. Conquest helped the population expand and grow. Although, many factors are required before one can overthrow others. An imperative factor is the domestication of plants and animals. Domestication allowed populations to obtain food with ease. This led to surpluses, which then led the population to become more sedentary, and not a hunter-gatherer society. This eventually led to an increase in population and social classes would eventually be formed. With the combination of an increasing population, sedentary behaviors and social classes being formed, drove to the invention of technology which would increase advancements in combat and finally leading to the conquest of other settlements.

Diamond mentions five places where food production emerged separately which are Southwest Asia around 8500 BC, China approximately around 7500 BC, Mesoamerica around 3500 BC, Andes and Amazonia by 3500 BC, and Eastern United States by 2500 BC. The reason for spreading could be from raiding other settlements or trade of crops. Another way could have been from borrowing from neighbor settlements.

There are three assumptions about transitioning from hunter-gathering to farming. The first belief states that farming is not necessarily easier than hunting and gathering. Diamond states that people assume that farming happens to be easier than hunting and gathering. Diamond claims that most peasant farmers and herders would not have been better off as hunter-gatherers. Secondly, we assume that hunters-gatherers made a transition to farming all at once. Diamond refutes this assumption because there is no precise time when society made the switch to farming. Lastly, we assume that there is a “…sharp divide between nomadic hunter-gatherer and sedentary food producers”. Diamond disagrees with this theory because he argues with the fact that many societies are or have been hybrids. This means there have been sedentary hunter-gatherers or have been gallivanting farmers. There could have been various economic systems with mixes between hunting and gathering and sedentary food producers.

Food and resources were required to help settlements thrive. Fortunately, the Fertile Crescent could supply settlements with both needs. Many factors made the Fertile Crescent the earliest site of development which includes having a fitting climate for agriculture, no rivalry between hunter-gatherers since it did not fit the needs for them, various altitudes which had blossomed assorted types of plants, therefore allowing “stagger harvesting” and had easy domesticating plants and animals.

The “Anna Karenina Principle” states all domesticate-abled animals have identical traits that allow them to be tamed. Domesticate-unable animals are unable to be domesticated for different reasons that vary between each animal. However, animals that do not follow any of the traits have high chances that it will be much harder unbeneficial to tame the animal. Diamond states that in the human history development, domestication is based on luck because many domesticable animals were occupying Eurasia, and other areas had very few fitting animals.

Axis orientation would affect the development of civilizations because it would grant access to trade throughout the continent. For example, Eurasia’s east-west axis allowed goods to be exchanged to various locations. This was helpful to many civilizations because each society had different resources and technology based on their location. Therefore, a location that had smaller and challenging terrain could have trouble developing because it would not have the aid of other settlements.

The cause of epidemics is because of the consistent association of animal and human, and then human to human. Diamond illustrates that an epidemic can begin from animals passing pathogens to humans. Eventually, this will lead to passing the pathogen around with those who come in contact with the infected and may end up killing most of the population. This also explains the difference between Old and New World diseases. Since Old world had more cultivated and domesticated animals, the New World had not been exposed to the different pathogens and microbes. New World, however, did not have such a problem since they didn’t have animals in contact to receive the pathogens.

Writing was a result of farming. Settlements beginning producing food led to an escalation in population. With a high population, a social structure and writing eventually was formed. Therefore, writing is an outcome and was introduced at the same time as food was made independently. A possibility of why writing was passed on is exchanging of ideas. This made settlements nearby have the concept of writing, while other settlements that were confined struggled to contract written language.

Diamond believes in the hypothesis stating invention is the mother of necessity over the “heroic” model of invention for many reasons. One is that there are multiple examples in history that show inventions emerged unaccompanied, therefore disproving the “heroic” model since it shows a singular person had the original concept of an invention.

The government was very beneficial to the evolution of religion and society. This process, as Diamond refers to, is called as “kleptocracies”. The process begins when the government begins to take the embezzle resources from the people and used religion as a scapegoat. This process benefited both because the government gained resources and religion gained more exposure and support from the government.

A factor that may have led to various parts of the Austronesia to prosper differently is the geological difference. The different terrains allowed different lifestyles. For example, in some islands where farmland was allowed, that island would have fitting resources and nourishment to survive and to advance further. On the other hand, islands that don’t allow sedentary lifestyle could force the population to remain a hunter-gathering society, therefore leading to fewer advancements.

According to Diamond, China’s unity is caused by their geography. Due to the absence of natural barricades, China’s population was allowed to make trade and spread their culture throughout many settlements. China’s trading system was more efficient and swifter compared to other civilizations.

The Austronesian expansion was heavily impacted by the growth of cultivation. Diamond claims that advancing of society and also technological promotion happened with agricultural development. During the expansion, people who had farms were able to defend against enemies to keep their native. On the other hand, those who had less advantageous environments unsucceeded in defending their natives. Another impact on the expansion was the extinction of the native farmers considering that farmers had higher quality weaponry, more population and had superior combat skill. The expansion was then limited to the Austronesians to farmers named Tai-Kadai, which had higher quality weapons, higher population, and superior combat skill.

By obtaining and controlling guns, germs, and steel, Europeans conquered the Americas, which was the ultimate reason. When Europeans arrived, they had higher-ranking materials and technology, which prompted the advantage of fire powder. They had also brought over a deadly disease that rendered the Americans’ immune system futile. Farming earlier than Americans and having superior geography gave Europeans all the advantages.

Many people make the assumption that Africa is “all black” because of the abundance of black farmers and having various ethnic hunters and gatherers. Later on, competition for resources was left to the hunter-gatherers, ultimately leading to the downfall of farmers and the domination of hunter-gatherers. This led to other tribes being dominated and was not referenced in Africa. Furthermore, Diamond ask how and why the Bantu people arrived to dominate the Khoisan and Pygmy population. He explains that due to their location, cultivation and technology rose swifter than other groups. To summarize, Diamond states that the geographical luck contained the necessary crops that are domesticable. Furthermore, the homeland neighbors North Africa, which contained livestock that was suitable for domestication. Having the advantages of domesticated crops and animals, the Bantu had an increase in population and were able to increase sedentary populations and had access to technology. Since the Khoisan and Pygmy did not have the domestication advantage like the Bantu, they did not have a defensible base, therefore leading to the dispersion of Khoisan and Pygmy, leading to the assumption that Africa is “all black”.

The Fertile Crescent lost the lead to Europe over many years. Diamond explains that due to the man-made structure, natural erosion, and geographical luck, the Fertile Crescent is unusable for farming today. On the other hand, Europe in the past had disappointing farming quality but later improved and is fitting for farming today. Due to lack of competition, China had lost its lead to Europe. China was superior in various ways during their rule over the Old World. China did not create new ideas, instead choosing to advance their technology. During this time, Europe had become more competitive and chose to create new ideas, which constructed a more modern Europe.

History can be perceived as a science because the more we inspect and study the former events, the more history can be anticipated.


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