Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Evolution of Civilization

The actual article could be called "A review of Guns Germs and Steel" however, then I would have to review the book and not treat it as gospel.

Guns Germs and Steel is a book created by Jared Diamond dedicated to answering Yali's question: "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" From this point on, Jared explores a Doctors Thesis of information on human development and civilization.

The average person (not me or most of this class mind you) would have just said: "It is because of Capitalism," "How would we get here otherwise," "It is because we desired to be stronger," ""It is because my religion tells me to..." Instead Jared went on a 25 year quest to answer Yali's question (and got a bit sidetracked too).

Guns Germs, and Steel begins in New Guinea. New Guineans were at a "stone-age" level of technology just 200 years ago and as a result became a focus for study. Most of the time this was proof of a "why we are better then them," mentality. The view has changed dramatically with the times. New Guineans are just as intelligent, innovative, and creative as any of us, and sometimes even more so. For example, when Jared was with a gathering expedition, the troop he was with explained that a particular species of mushrooms were edible. Jared was of course taken aback and would not want to trust this advice blindly. He explained that he had some colleagues in America who were experts in the field however, they also became sick from picking the wrong variety. The NGs (New Guineans) stated quite blatantly that they knew far more then any so called "expert," in America by listing the vast variety of different plants, and they explained how to differentiate between them all.
It turns out that Jared needs to look beyond New Guinea's borders.

"In order to solve the problems of the future, we need to look to the past," (Marvin Dodds, High School History teacher."

About 7 million years ago, the earliest stages of human evolution started out in central Africa. The first 5-6 million years of human history were spend in Africa. 1 million BC, the first settlements in China Began. By 500,000 BC there were settlements in Europe and by 20,000 BC, there were settlements in Siberia. A key place is 13,000 years ago (11,000 BC) in the Fertile Crescent or modern day northern Iraq and Iran plus a small portion of Turkey.

13,000 years ago, the world was not in a situation where Humans make a substantial impact. However, most of the largest species in the world are extinct primarily because of Humans.
In the Fertile Crescent, hunter-gatherer teams took a longer time to return to their families. At first hunter-gatherers lived much longer lives then those that produced a sedentary lifestyle, but eventually the benefits overcame the losses. The people in the area needed to have a form of agriculture, or they would not survive. The one reason why Fertile Crescent made such an impact is because of the crops, cereal crops. Cereal crops provided much more nutrition then most other crops (however, hunter gatherers were still more fit and healthier). Also, with new advance in technology, they could be mass produced to greatly improve the population growth and density. The final result is the societies which developed agriculture were much stronger then the societies which only participated in Hunter/Gathering.

After the Fertile Crescent changed into becoming uninhabitable or unable to support a large population, a main cereal crop wheat, supported the Egyptian Civilization. From the Fertile Crescent, farmers migrated west and east, this is partly because climate does not change along latitudinal lines. At the time there were 4 civilizations: The Persians, the Chinese, the Egyptians and the Mayans. The Chinese did not use cereal crops however, they used rice and quickly became more advanced then the rest of the world untill the 1400's.

In essence, the reason why specific places are well adapted to support such high populations is because of Geography. In Europe, there are many places to find raw materials which allow for advanced warfare such as Toledo Spain. In North America, we have the "Great Triangle" which has large steel towns, such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Even Japan has a center for sword making, Kyoto. Guns and steel make a dramatic impact on what people can militarily accomplish. For example, 300 Conquistadors from Spain, defeated a 50,000 strong army of Incans, and concquered all of Inca. However, Spain may have taken much longer if the first explorers had not spread disease.

The lifestyle of Feudal European peasants was a great mix for bacteria and viruses to flourish. Which also allowed the Europeans to have a stronger immune system to the same diseases. When blankets containing smallpox were traded to First Nations, a vast majority died, leaving room for them to be conquered. The opposite is true for Africa. The only major settlement by European settlers is in South Africa. This is because, the climate for south Africa is very similar to a European climate. In the tropical, they found that most crops would not grow and people would die from a variety of diseases.

This is all I will explain, the rest will come from reading the book. Now that I have explained Guns, Germs and Steel I must give my answer to Yali's question.
In Conclusion, my answer to Yali's question would be, "It is because of Geography and History."

Ref: Diamond, Jared. Guns Germs and Steel, Pub. 1999, W. W. Nortan & Company, Inc.

1 comments:

Dominic B. said...

One of my very favorite books...a brilliant author!