Unit Two: Global Inequality
An Overview of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel
Why do some nations have so much material wealth while so many others have so little?
This was the question Jared Diamond posed in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel. After identifying a point in time when all societies were roughly equal (over 13,000 years ago), Diamond identified the key variables that allowed some societies to develop highly complex, material-rich societies, while others developed at much slower rates.
Guns, Germs, and Steel uncovers how Europeans came to dominate every other group on the planet by virtue of their access to what Diamond terms the “Agents of Conquest”:
Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Jared Diamond’s journey of discovery began on the island of Papua, New Guinea. There, in 1974, a local named Yali asked Diamond a deceptively simple question:
"Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo (material goods), but we black people had little cargo (material goods) of our own?"
Diamond realized that Yali's question penetrated the heart of a great mystery of human history -- the roots of global inequality.
Why were Europeans the ones with all the cargo? Why had they taken over so much of the world, instead of the native people of New Guinea? How did Europeans end up with what Diamond terms the Agents of Conquest: Guns, Germs and Steel?
It was these agents of conquest that allowed 168 Spanish conquistadors to defeat an Imperial Inca army of 80,000 in 1532, and set a pattern of European conquest which would continue up to the present day.
Diamond knew that the answer had little to do with ingenuity or individual skill. From his own experience in the jungles of New Guinea, he had observed that native hunter-gatherers were just as intelligent as people of European descent -- and far more resourceful. Their lives were tough, and it seemed a terrible paradox of history that these extraordinary people should be the conquered, and not the conquerors.
To examine the reasons for European success, Diamond realized he had to peel back the layers of history and begin his search at a time of equality -- a time when all the peoples of the world lived in exactly the same way. _______________________________________________________
Geography is Power:
An Interview with Jared Diamond
National Geographic News
July 6, 2005
Why did history unfold differently on different continents? Why has one culture—namely that of Western Europe—dominated the 3development of the modern world? In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond argues that the answer is geography. The physical locations where different cultures have taken root, he claims, have directly affected the ability of those societies to develop key institutions, like agriculture and animal domestication, or to acquire important traits, like immunity to disease. National Geographic News spoke with professor Diamond about his research. Why over the past 10,000 years has the development of different societies proceeded at such different rates? I say the answer is location, location, location. It's overwhelmingly due to the difference in the wild plant and animal species suitable to domestication that the continents made available. All the interesting stuff like technology, writing, and empires requires a productive economy that is producing enough food to feed technological experts, bureaucrats, kings, and scribes. Hunter-gatherer societies don't produce enough food surpluses to support those extra people. Agriculture does.
Where did the first farming societies appear?
The first farming, as far as we know, appeared in [the Middle East region known as] the Fertile Crescent some 11,500 years ago, and shortly thereafter in China. These places had the greatest...
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