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In Praise of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel Essay

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In Praise of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel

Jared Diamond's bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel (GG&S) is an attempt to explain why some parts of the world are currently powerful and prosperous while others are poor. Diamond is both a physiologist and a linguist who spends a good deal of his time living with hunter gathers in Papua New Guinea. As a researcher and as a human being, he is convinced that all people have the same potential. Hunter gatherers are just as intelligent, resourceful, and diligent as anybody else. Yet material "success" isn't equally distributed across the globe. Civilization sprung up in relatively few places and spread in a defined pattern. I should emphasize that Diamond doesn't equate material
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Diamond argues that civilization arose from regions that were susceptible the domestication of both plants and large mammals to plow fields. This combination vastly increased food production, which in turn supported larger populations. From there, it's the standard political economy story about the positive feedback loop of prosperity and social complexity favoring the evolution of more complex forms of social organization, specialization, increased technical innovation, etc. This is the Guns and Steel part of the story.

Diamond's account has an interesting twist, though. Most epidemic diseases are zoonotic, that is, they are incubated in domestic animals. Crowding facilitates the spread of disease. Peoples who spent thousands of years living near each other and their animals developed resistance to many communicable diseases. Groups who weren't subject to these pressures did not develop the same resistance. When Europeans came to the Americas after centuries of urban life, their diseases decimated the indigenous populations. The guns and steel also facilitated the conquest, but Diamond thinks the germs were the key factor.

Some critics have misinterpreted several key aspects of Diamond's argument. One critic writes:

Hey! No large domestic animals, so there's your excuse for a failure in the Americas. But there was a domestic mammal throughout the two continents:
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