Alicia Olson Andrew Hamilton

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Alicia Olson

Andrew Hamilton

History 105


Advancing to a More Agricultural Society

Jared Diamond, the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, gives us his explanation of why history unfolded the way it did in different continents over the past 13,000 years. He explains that “since the end of the last Ice Age, some parts of the world developed literate industrial societies with metal tools, other parts developed only nonliterate farming societies, and still others retained societies of hunter-gatherers with stone tools.” 1 These inequalities that happened long ago have had an effect on our society today. Why these inequalities happened we are still uncertain about. Diamond was asked this question very simply by a man named Yali. Yali asked Diamond the 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?” 2 The cargo Yali is referring to in his question is technology; cargo such as axes, plows, and later computers and cell phones. He set out on a quest to find the answer to Yali’s question and began his journey in New Guinea. This is where Diamond found Eurocentric and non-Eurocentric explanations to Yali’s question. He argues that the environment in which we live explains the developments in human history.

There are many different explanations to Yali’s question. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Diamond explains that the natural environment is the main contributor to answering Yali’s question. In his argument he states, “environment molds history. Depending on their geographic homeland, East Asian, and Pacific peoples differed in their access to domesticable wild plant and animal species and in their connectedness to other peoples.” 3 By stating this Diamond is showing the reader that no matter what race you are or what your culture is, your geographical location is the main contributor to the amount of cargo and food supply you have. The Fertile Crescent is of much importance to Diamond’s argument. The Fertile Crescent is the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East. This area “appears to have been the earliest site for a whole string of developments, including cities, writing, empires, and what we term (for better or worse) civilization. All those developments sprang, in turn, from the dense human populations, stored food surpluses, and feeding of non-farming specialists made possible by the rise of food production in the form of crop cultivation and animal husbandry.” 4 Diamond is explaining here that the geographical location of the Fertile Crescent helped them to become a more developed civilizations. Their geographical location helped them because of the climate they had and the amount of space they had to grow and store their crops. As Diamond states above it was the Growing crops and farming was an advantage the Fertile Crescent had on everyone else. Assuming that when part of the world started farming the rest of the world would do the same Diamond proved my thoughts wrong. Everyone did not start farming simultaneously because of the different climates around the world. This supports Diamonds argument that geographical location plays a key role in human development.

Before the invention of agricultural societies there were hunger-gatherer societies. Meaning they lived off the land. They gathered plant foods and hunted game to survive rather than growing their own crops. Once these societies realized they could have their needs met more locally instead of going out and hunting and gathering their food some of them converted to an agricultural society. Jared Diamond wrote his book Guns, Germs, and Steel in 1997. When he set out on his quest to answer Yali’s question, which was asked to him in June of 1972 he took geographical location into consideration. Hunter-gatherer societies were societies that were used before agricultural societies and were based on your geographical location, this being said Diamond wrote his book in 1997 and states that there are still hunter-gatherer societies in the world. I agree with Diamond that your location plays a key role in human development but I also believe that in the society we live in now, you can change your location and move somewhere else to improve your development. In the olden days they may not have had a map to tell them directions of where they were and where they could go to improve their development; but now we can and we can know where we are going. In the world we live in we can now choose our geographical location for the most part to better our lives. Diamond thinks that these geographical locations are more of a non-Eurocentric explanation, but there are also some eurocetric explanations too.

The Eurocentric explanation of Yali’s question is more of an arrogant explanation than the non-Eurocentric explanation. Some of these explanations include things such as westerners are smarter, God’s plan is the way they should live, they are better and stronger, and that they are adventurists. Diamond thinks that each of these Eurocentric definitions are racist and biased. I would agree with him that they are both racist and biased because although these explanations may be relevant they are coming from westerners, which makes this bias.

Diamond then goes on to explain his definition of a non-Eurocentric explanation. This includes the geography, animals, luck, and crops. He says that these are the things that contribute to why New Guineans have less cargo than white men. Diamond is correct about his geographical idea because it does depend on where you live determines the lifestyle that you will take on. Also if you do not have a certain amount of something it would be hard to live without that, and the geography tells us what we do and do not have.

“Euoropean guns, infectious diseases, steel tools, and manufactured products” 5 were “responsible for European conquests.” 6 When Jared Diamond is talking about Guns, Germs, and Steel he is talking about how the Europeans conquered many different people by using these tools. The use of germs was a key to their conquers of other cities. “Some of us adults, and even more of our children, pick up infectious diseases from our pets. Usually they remain no more than a nuisance, but a few have evolved into something far more serious. The major killers of humanity throughout our recent history-smallpox, flux tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles, and cholera-are infectious diseases that evolved from diseases from animals.” 7 Diamond states this in his book because it shows that germs were a way to conquer other societies. The spread of germs through livestock and from person to person was very effective. “The winners of past wars were not always the armies with the best generals and weapons, but were often merely those bearing the nastiest germs to transmit to their enemies.” 8 When Diamond presents this fact he is backing up his argument that geographical location helps to develop our human history because livestock was only in certain parts of the world and only a few could get livestock. Livestock was also used for farming to pull plows. Not only was the livestock used for plowing but also for carrying diseases to pass onto other societies.

In Jarred Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, he makes valid points to support his argument that the environment we live in explains the developments in human history. He uses many different examples from the climate we live in to the amount of space you have to grow your crops. Each of these points is valid. Jared Diamond does a good job in his book of explaining how Guns, Germs, and Steel can help a society to conquer other societies. I agree with Jared Diamond, and think that the environment in which we live plays a key role to our human development, and I think as we become more technologically advanced, our societies are going to keep blooming and developing.

1 Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: W.W. Norton,1999. page 13.

2 Diamond, page 14

3 Diamond, page 352

4 Diamond, page 135

5 Diamond, page 23

6 Diamond, page 23

7 Diamond, page 196

8 Diamond, page 197

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