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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2013 8:41 pm
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the following article in io9 had me raise my eyebrows :

Is Jared Diamond racist?

having read 2 of his books "The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee" and "Collapse" and saw quite a bit of commonsense in it, i must say i was surprised, and having recently bought the book in question "The world until yesterday", i still wonder where the bile comes from ?

now i've come page 156 where Diamond has a go at anthropologists who close their eyes to any signs of warfare among what he calls "traditional societies", and i'm starting to get a feel for where the disagreement appears to come from

but surely i thought the days of the "noble savage" have surely long gone, or am i mistaken, and is there still a sizable faction of anthropologists who eulogise primitive man and demonize modern man, and to hell with anyone who says otherwise

as i said i haven't finished the book yet, and maybe other reasons to call Jared Diamond a racist will crop up, but until that moment, i must admit i'm puzzled

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bunbury
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 17, 2013 3:00 pm
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I believe I will be getting "The world until yesterday" from Mrs. Santa. I've read Guns Germs and Steel and Collapse which I got autographed at a Colorado School of Mines lecture by him. Nothing hinted at racism to me.
Your link said this about GGS:

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At worst it develops an argument about human inequality based on a determinist logic that reduces social relations such as poverty, state violence, and persistent social domination, to inexorable outcomes of geography and environment.


That geography plays a huge role in which societies succeed or fail seems obvious after you think about it but needed fleshing out a Diamond did so well. Deterministic, of course, why does io9 see that as a negative?

On first blush I think the io9 article is full of crap.


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 17, 2013 8:53 pm
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it's the absolutist mind again

you only have to suggest that location and environment do play a role in how societies develop, and next you get accused of "a determinist logic that reduces social relations such as poverty, state violence, and persistent social domination, to inexorable outcomes of geography and environment." (my bold and colour)

it's basically the same invective that was thrown at sociobiology for daring to suggest that behaviour was just as much subject to evolution as bodies - somehow those who feel that humans in a way are above nature don't like being reminded that we're just another animal species

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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Mon Dec 30, 2013 5:25 pm
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well, i've finished the book now, and i can't for the life of me fathom where a level-headed and well-informed comparison of life in the US versus life in Papua New Guinea can be described as racist

the man has first-hand and in-depth knowledge of both, for chrissakes ! and enough other relevant experience to be able to extrapolate to other "traditional" ways of life

did Mary Claus get you the book, as you expected/hoped, bunbury ?

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bunbury
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 1:49 am
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Yes (but it's not Mary). I have to finish another book first: "America Aflame", about the Civil War and the events leading up to it.


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iNow
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 4:38 pm
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This situation strikes me as a case of taking offense by misinterpreting author's intent. If it was racist, surely more than one or two bloggers would be out there upset about it, wouldn't they?

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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 5:23 pm
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i dug a little deeper in this David Correia's accusations and basically it boils down to "More than anything, Diamond and Sachs have re-established the scientific bona fides of environmental determinism, which is being aggressively taken up as an explanatory framework among historical climate change scientists.", and "Everything Diamond does is motivated by an environmental determinism that takes the physical environment, including the climate, to be a determinant on human society."

now if you take this to mean that the environment is all-powerful, then obviously that's not what Jared Diamond says or even implies - but on the other hand, the softer version, which is that the environment plays a role in how civilisations develop is nothing but a truism

so i think the gripe goes a lot further in time, probably back to his 1999 book "Guns, Germs and Steel", and i see that there's also a few digs at his more recent book "Collapse" - but even then i don't see anything to be offended about, except maybe if there were some marxist orthodoxies that are contradicted by Jared Diamond's arguments

but since i'm not that familiar with the marxist tenets, past or present, i don't know which have been sacrileged against

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bunbury
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 6:40 pm
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Isn't it more likely to be conservatives who are offended? Their belief system holds that it is the individual who is wholly responsible for his or her own success or failure. This is the basis for their present day resistance to government social programs (that woman on the corner with a cardboard sign ought to get a job and stop spoiling my view) and in the historical-geographical context, those Europeans colonized the world because they were enterprising and hard-working (not because they were geographically lucky and used slave labor).

It is the conservatives who are latent racists.


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 7:07 pm
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David Correia appears to be a regular contributor to La Jicarita, which, from their manifesto (see below), would appear to be involved in environmental activism, i.e. as far away as you can imagine from the conservative agenda

also from the review of his book Properties of Violence: Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico, he clearly has identified with the indigenous populations in their struggles against western invaders to such an extent that he can't broach anything that can be construed as being critical of any similar indigenous populations

in addition, his critique appears in CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM which is a self-confessed "journal of ecosocialism", and his article F**k Jared Diamond makes frequent reference to pronouncements by Karl Marx, which in this day and age sounds rather quaint and old-fashioned

La Jicarita wrote:
We begin this new phase by defining the political commitments of the new La Jicarita. First, we reject the notion of an environmentalism sin gente in which nature is defined, and discovered, only in places where humans are absent. Instead nature is literally remade in places like Los Alamos National Laboratory, in the South Valley, or the northeast heights of Albuquerque as in the forests around Truchas. Ike DeVargas forcefully made this point in the 1990s when he encouraged Santa Fe-based environmentalists to recognize and fight for nature in the city as much as in the forests of the north. “If they care so much about nature,” DeVargas once asked in an interview, “then why don’t they stay in Santa Fe and fight for nature there instead of coming up here. I’ll tell you what, I’ll put down my chainsaw if they put down their cell phones, turn off their computers, and trade in their SUVs.” His point was to argue for a more critical environmental politics than one that imagines a pristine, virgin nature that needs protecting. Rather nature often comes disguised as a political construction in which some people claim to speak for a nature unrecognizable to the people who actually live there.

Second, and related to our first point, we reject the idea that environmental issues are only those limited to conflicts over forests, water, air, and land—whether in the city or the country. We believe anti-immigration policies must be confronted on principles of both social and environmental justice. Other policies that erode local and traditional communities, reinforce inequality, enrich corporations, and ignore problems of environmental health and welfare are all part of our environmental politics. Thus, police violence and the prison industrial complex are issues of environmental justice. Zoning and subdivision ordinances are environmental issues. The fact that access to healthy food is distributed unevenly across space leaving poor communities trapped in “food deserts” illustrates to us the fact that the very structure of the city is also an environmental issue.

Third, we reject the bourgeois notion that the individual is the privileged political actor in society. Ours is a collective struggle in solidarity with communities and activist organizations fighting against the green capitalist logic of ‘selling nature to save it,’ a corrosive politics that motivates so much contemporary environmental activism rooted in individual consumption choices. La Jicarita has long been part of a network of organizations, community activists, and coalitions working together on important political struggles around the social impacts of production, distribution and waste. We continue this work and believe that the new structure of La Jicarita offers a platform that can connect organizations and activists and amplify new voices in our ongoing effort to stifle the reactionary ones.

Fourth, we need to rethink how to react to a world in which nature has become apocalyptic and its management the domain of technocrats. Deepwater Horizon in 2010, Fukushima in 2011 and the massive Jemez fire this past summer reveal a new pattern of environmental politics and technonature. Nature-as-disaster brings into the present an apocalyptic future in which the spectre of ecological annihilation haunts environmental politics. The result is that democratic processes are suspended and our collective socio-ecological futures are entrusted to the authoritarian techno-managerial apparatuses of state bureaucracies, the military, and the corporations. Political debate about alternative environmental trajectories is evacuated from the public sphere and left to the technocratic experts who give us free market “solutions” like the Kyoto Accord. At La Jicarita we believe that nature, now more than ever, is a political problem, not a managerial or economic one.

Lastly, the new La Jicarita is no longer only a newspaper or a website. The new La Jicarita strives to become the place where radical political action can be considered and debated, where new tactics in the struggle for environmental justice can be hatched, and where disparate groups and interests can find common ground in a broad-based movement to bring a better New Mexico to life. What the new digital form does provide is an ability to publish material more quickly than in the past. Rather than a monthly hard-copy newspaper, the new La Jicarita will be updated frequently and editorials will appear weekly. In the weeks and months to come, new features on the site—RSS feeds, twitter and facebook, for example—will make it easier to connect with La Jicarita readers, writers and allied organizations. New approaches to story telling and reporting—interactive photo essays, podcasts and audio interviews to name just a few—will augment the website. In addition, we hope to also develope an annual scholarly issue of La Jicarita. It too will be offered free online. But don’t mistake our digital transformation for what it is not. We do not subscribe to the idea that technology and social media clear a liberatory path for political struggle. In our view, if we allow technology and social media to replace the face-to-face work of political organizing, we’re all in trouble. Rather we hope that our new digital incarnation merely augments the existing political organizing of which we have long been a part. The new La Jicarita like the old La Jicarita believes in a environmental politics as if people really mattered.

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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 7:14 pm
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on a different note, marxist in general always have had trouble with the concept of natural selection, just because it doesn't reward the striving of the organism in order to improve

it's one of the reasons why lysenkoism, the bastard son of lamarckism, found such a gullible reception in Stalin's Russia

likewise, a marxist would be disinclined to accept what they call "environmental determinism" for the same reason that it leaves human endeavour out in the cold and makes a mockery (at least in their eyes) of people's attempts to improve their lot

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bunbury
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 8:35 pm
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Diamond surely argues that the physical environment is a strong influence on cultural development, but by no means the only influence. When a label like environmental determinism is slapped on and used loosely it implies that environment is the only factor which I am sure is not Diamond's position. That is why I regard this statement as bollocks:

Quote:
Everything Diamond does is motivated by an environmental determinism that takes the physical environment, including the climate, to be a determinant on human society.


Everything he does? Really? How can anyone reasonably deny that environment is a determinant of how cultures evolve? To twist this truism around to imply that Diamond ignores any other influences is dishonest and apparently motivated by some unstated agenda.


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Wed Jan 01, 2014 1:35 am
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bunbury wrote:
To twist this truism around to imply that Diamond ignores any other influences is dishonest and apparently motivated by some unstated agenda.


so true - but as i said, i'm not 100% sure what that agenda is like

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kojax
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Thu Jan 16, 2014 3:35 pm
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I like Diamond's environmental determination theory overall, but he falls into the same trap as many others in that he overstates his case.

For example, arguing that the reason the people in the America's hadn't achieved domestication of animals is just because there were no appropriate animals available is a bit off. Buffalo as we see them today are not very easy to keep in fences, but I very much doubt that the cows in the old world started out as docile as the cows we see to day, either. I'd hate to think that thousands of years of animal husbandry had done nothing to change their temperment.

How far back in history were horses first used to pull chariots? How much longer was it after that that anyone managed to domesticate a horse enough to ride on its back? And also there were a few armies in the ancient world that were able to ride on elephants. Are elephants therefore also "naturally domestic"?


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Thu Jan 16, 2014 5:32 pm
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remember that most of the megafauna (including horses and camels) had been killed off in the americas, which must have limited the options of converting animals to become domesticated

and remember, just because one type of animal has been domesticated doesn't mean that a close relative is equally amenable - remember that zebras never have been properly domesticated despite horses and donkeys having made the transition

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bunbury
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Thu Jan 16, 2014 8:03 pm
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I can see little incentive for the north American bison to have been domesticated. They existed in huge numbers in precolonial times, they required vast acreages of grazing land, there were few materials on the plains for even building fences and there were no horses for rounding up cattle from distant pastures.

In the eastern forested areas there is evidence that native Americans did practice bison management by burning tracts of forest to create grazing land to keep them from roaming too far. This all seems to me to be a pretty good demonstration of environmental determinism.


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iNow
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 12:26 am
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I watched this great discussion earlier today on youtube. It was recorded in October and uploaded by the Royal Institution last week. I could not detect any racist comments at all. In fact, I found him rather insightful and measured in his comments. The controversy mentioned above seems hollow and without merit to me. Regardless, the exchange was engaging if you want to watch.


[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceLuaf7low4&feature=em-subs_digest[/youtube]


Quote:
Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond takes you on an epic journey into our rapidly receding past, revealing how tribal societies offer an extraordinary window into how our ancestors lived for millions of years -- until virtually yesterday, in evolutionary terms -- and how they can provide unique, often overlooked insights into human nature.

This Ri event, titled "The world until yesterday', took place on 1 October 2013.

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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 7:29 am
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sometimes people have those little bees in their bonnet, and if any of them gets disturbed they feel almost obliged that they should feel offended, whatever the real content of the message was
as i've said before, i don't what holy cow Jared Diamond is supposed to have killed, but it appears to have made the complainant blind to the actual content of the book

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bunbury
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Sat Feb 22, 2014 6:03 pm
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now i've come page 156 where Diamond has a go at anthropologists who close their eyes to any signs of warfare among what he calls "traditional societies", and i'm starting to get a feel for where the disagreement appears to come from


I've just got to that page. He looks at warfare among traditional societies as compared to warfare among modern states. He shows that in some traditional societies death rates from warfare were much higher than death rates (as percentage of total population) among modern states' warfare. Also that as Europeans invaded traditional homelands there was often a surge in killings among natives due to their acquisition of guns (New Zealand Musket Wars) or horses (North American Indians) but this often soon died down as European policing methods spread through the land. He suggests there was a sense of relief among the natives as in "thank goodness we don't have to kill our neighbors any more, now that we have a system of laws imposed on us". Maybe some might construe this as racist thinking, but I don't.

He also discusses whether there is a genetic predisposition to warfare among hominids and says there is no evidence for this. As examples he mentions some traditional societies that are peaceful, and the fact that chimps make war on other chimps but bonobos, having a common ancestor with both chimps and modern humans, don't.

None of this strikes me as racist. It is just realistic fact-based analysis.


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 2:27 pm
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it's strange, isn't it - somehow the critic feels that he should be offended, but feels it strangely difficult to get beyond a vague feeling of something that could be described as racism, colonialism or paternalism

all i get from this passage is that he finds it hard to pin Jared Diamond down on anything much at all, so it must all be a ruse because the gut feel that can never be proven must be grounded in something real that can't be worded just because Diamond is clever with words himself

Quote:
Give him credit, he may be a hack but he is a clever hack. And he knows how to make himself useful. He disguises the racism of his biological and environmental determinism in a Kiplingesque narrative that seems downright thoughtful and caring.


somehow i think there's some history between the critic and the author that i've been missing, and that colours any further communication between the two

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bunbury
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 5:15 pm
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Kiplingesque narrative? I remember reading Kim and enjoying it immensely. It was atmospheric - you almost feel the heat of India, and the poverty and the colonial injustice too. Diamond's writing is nothing like Kipling's. It is sparse and scientific where Kipling is lush and romantic.

If there is a hack at work it is the critic not Diamond.


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Mon Mar 03, 2014 12:47 pm
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just been re-reading the passages in question and there's no doubt in my mind that the critic does not like it that the noble savages could have something called "war" - following in Rousseau's footsteps that was a perversion brought about by contact with western civilisation (an assertion made free of any facts to back them up, not unlike many of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's proclamations)

i can see the disagreement creeping in when Jared Diamond decides to move away from the more common definitions of warfare which emphasize state warfare involving large numbers of people and by definition excludes tribal warfare - i wouldn't be surprised that the critic sees this as moving of the goal posts in order to smear the name of their noble savages

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bunbury
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:55 pm
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While we know intellectually that the noble savage is a myth it still comes as a bit of a shock to read that most of our ancestors probably existed in an environment of more or less perpetual conflict. Thoughts of tribes of early humans running into neighbor groups and saying "Jolly nice to meet you, come and have dinner with us" are apparently naive in the extreme. If Diamond is right they were more likely to bash their brains out at the first opportunity.

I'm still astonished at the Kipling comparison. To be honest I'm finding The World Until Yesterday a bit heavy going. Unlike Collapse and GG&S I'm not riveted to it. It is a rather dry catalog of evidence, accurate no doubt, but not leaving me thirsty for the next chapter. No trace of Kipling here, but I persist and will finish it.


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Sun Apr 13, 2014 11:05 am
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just in the process of reading Jared Diamond's "guns, germs and steel" which for whatever reason i've managed to miss off my reading list
it's very much a precursor to his most recent book, but in broader brush strokes with less detailed examples to support his viewpoints - maybe with his latest book he aims to put accusations of vague and waving and over-broad generalisations in the earlier one to bed

also presumably, the accusation of determinism dates back to the content of "guns, germs and steel", since the book denies that the usual explanations of the dominance of western civilisation in today's world are satisfactory as ultimate explanations - here he posits that continent size, availability of plants and animals that are suitable for domestication and ease of migration of people and ideas made for an advantage of food growing, city states + empires, crowd diseases and development of advanced technology that put western europe ahead when it came to expanding across the world

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Harold
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Mon Dec 28, 2015 3:41 pm

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marnixR wrote:
just in the process of reading Jared Diamond's "guns, germs and steel" which for whatever reason i've managed to miss off my reading list
it's very much a precursor to his most recent book, but in broader brush strokes with less detailed examples to support his viewpoints - maybe with his latest book he aims to put accusations of vague and waving and over-broad generalisations in the earlier one to bed

also presumably, the accusation of determinism dates back to the content of "guns, germs and steel", since the book denies that the usual explanations of the dominance of western civilisation in today's world are satisfactory as ultimate explanations - here he posits that continent size, availability of plants and animals that are suitable for domestication and ease of migration of people and ideas made for an advantage of food growing, city states + empires, crowd diseases and development of advanced technology that put western europe ahead when it came to expanding across the world

I hope you won't mind if I necro this thread. I started a thread about Guns, Germs, and Steel in the .com forum but didn't get much reaction. Maybe I'll have better luck here.

Diamond denies that GG&S is environmental determinism, but it really is. Here is what he wrote:

"What actually happened was not a discovery of food production, nor an invention, as we might first assume. There was often not even a conscious choice between food production and hunting-gathering. Specifically, in each area of the globe the first people who adopted food production could obviously not have been making a conscious choice or consciously striving toward farming as a goal, because they had never seen farming and had no way of knowing what it would be like. Instead, as we shall see, food production evolved as a by-product of decisions made without awareness of their consequences."

If there are no conscious decisions being made, then everything is determined by environment. Yep, that's environmental determinism.

As pointed out by Hart (Understanding Human History, 2006) Diamond's ideas fail badly when comparing Sub-Saharan Africa with Meso-America. By all of Diamond's criteria, Sub-Saharan Africa should have been way ahead in technology, but they weren't. SSA has much greater east-west expanse. They had more useable cereal grains (millet, African rice, teff, etc., vs. only teosinte for Meso-America). They had more large animals even disregarding the native species which Diamond claims are not suitble for domestication. There were sheep, cattle and goats in SSA imported from Eurasia, versus none at all in meso-America. Yet, the Aztecs had cities that rivaled those in Europe at the time, they had a written language, and they had many engineering achievements not found anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Mon Dec 28, 2015 4:57 pm
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I had seen the thread, but didn't feel like getting into an argument
My feeling is that Jared Diamond has a point up to a point, but is possibly overplaying his hand

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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Tue Dec 29, 2015 1:58 pm
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As an aside, it's something I've noticed with Jared Diamond's books : they're always plausible on the surface, and the narrative appears to hang together well, until someone points out that there are inaccuracies that somehow detract from the overall narrative

One example is his book "Collapse", where the accuracy his stories about Easter Island and the Vikings in Greenland have been called into question

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Lynx_Fox
Post  Post subject: Re: Jared Diamond, racist ?  |  Posted: Thu Dec 31, 2015 2:46 pm

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Harold wrote:
As pointed out by Hart (Understanding Human History, 2006) Diamond's ideas fail badly when comparing Sub-Saharan Africa with Meso-America. By all of Diamond's criteria, Sub-Saharan Africa should have been way ahead in technology, but they weren't. SSA has much greater east-west expanse. They had more useable cereal grains (millet, African rice, teff, etc., vs. only teosinte for Meso-America). They had more large animals even disregarding the native species which Diamond claims are not suitble for domestication. There were sheep, cattle and goats in SSA imported from Eurasia, versus none at all in meso-America. Yet, the Aztecs had cities that rivaled those in Europe at the time, they had a written language, and they had many engineering achievements not found anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.


I'm not sure what Hart was comparing. When you look at the Kingdom of Aksum, a good thousand years before, for example, it was far ahead of meso-America--with sailing ships, currency, tower building, iron smelting etc. It's also all too easy to try to take comparisons through snapshots and thus get the wrong impression by measuring one civilization at its peak compared to another at its low point (e.g. meso circa 1500 versus Aksum).

While it's true much of Diamond's work get the facts wrong (e.g., his depiction of Easter Island decline), he got a lot right--and had a profound impact in shattering a lot of readers inherent biases towards their own haplo and cultural identity.


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