guns germs and steel jared diamond

Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond goes up to the counter and specifically asks for anything but fair trade coffee. He patronizingly explains to the barista that the South American country where those coffee beans were grown is climactically very different from most European countries, and that’s why there’s an international corporation based in the Pacific Northwest in 2015.

“Actually, these beans were grown in Indonesia,” says the barista.

Diamond storms out in a huff, screaming about Europe and how it’s better than other places because of weather and stuff.

Africa has made many outstanding contributions to world civilization

, of which the following are a few selected examples: Iron Technology On the assumption that there had been a single centre (the Middle East) from which iron metallurgy had spread, most historians thought that ironworking had been introduced into Africa from western Asia, first into ancient Egypt and then into West Africa, in the third century B.C. via Carthage or Nubia. They were mistaken: “Copper smelting had been going on in the West African Sahara and Sahel since at least 2,000 B.C. That could have been the precursor to an independent African discovery of iron metallurgy. Strengthening that hypothesis, the iron-smelting techniques of smiths in Sub-Saharan Africa were so different from those of the Mediterranean as to suggest independent development: African smiths discovered how to produce high temperatures in their village furnaces over 2,000 years before the Bessemer furnaces of 19th-century Europe and America”. (Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 1997). A subsequent UNESCO scientific study confirmed Diamond’s hypothesis. The study concluded that iron technology did not reach Africa from western Asia but that Africa had independently invented its own iron technology 5,000 years ago. Tests conducted on iron residues, excavated in the 1980s, show that iron was worked at least as long ago as 1500 BC at Termit, in eastern Niger. Material excavated at Egaro, west of Termit, has been dated to 3000-2500 BC (Christopher Ehret, “The Civilizations of Africa”, 2002). It would suggest that African iron technology is as ancient as that of the Middle East, the region from which Europe acquired its irontechnology much later - circa 1000 B.C.  Moreover, indigenous African iron technology is not only very ancient but its inventiveness and the range of metallurgical practices displayed are unequalled anywhere in the world. “In fact, only in Africa do you find such a range of practices in the process of direct reduction [a method in which metal is obtained in a single operation without smelting], and metal workers who were so inventive that they could extract iron in furnaces made out of the trunks of banana trees.” (Unesco, “Iron in Africa: Revisiting History”, 2002).

 The Creative Arts The remarkable inventiveness displayed in ancient African iron technology is also reflected in African art: “Few remaining sculptures of the Dan people [Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia]…. are much more than a century old; yet the range of invention found in their work far outdistances that of court arts of much longer periods - even millennia of Ancient Egypt after the Old Kingdom.” (William Rubin, Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, 1984). African art also demonstrates extraordinary levels of technical skill. The bronze castings discovered in a tenth-century burial site at Igbo-Ukwu (eastern Nigeria) are considered to be among “the most technically accomplished and daring castings ever undertaken”. (P. T. Craddock, “Man and Metal in Ancient Nigeria”, British Museum Magazine, Vol.6, 1991). Because of their astonishing technical sophistication, Western experts initially doubted the accuracy of such an early dating for the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes. Those doubts were dispelled when the mines that supplied the metal ore used in the castings revealed that they were worked between A.D. 895-1000. In the early years of the 20th century, progressive European artists were seeking alternatives to an art style whose possibilities for development they felt had been exhausted, leaving them little or no scope for originality. That felt need coincided with a growing interest in new ways of combining the ideal and the real and of synthesizing the conceptual and perceptual. African art came to their rescue. Where Western art was narrative in content, tribal African art was iconographic; where Western art was perceptual and representational in style, African art was conceptual and ideographic; where Western art was naturalistic in its proportions, African art eschewed naturalism. It was the “discovery” of African art that provided the springboard which permitted young European artists to make the leap of imagination that freed them from the aesthetic constraints of the classical tradition. With cubism and, to some extent, surrealism Western art acquired a magical, spiritual quality - one that is quintessentially African. Picasso spoke of the “shock” and “revelation” he experienced when he saw African tribal masks for the first time. “At that moment”, he said later, “I realized what painting was all about.” Picasso confided to his companion, Françoise Gilot: “It isn’t an aesthetic operation. It’s a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange hostile world and us, a way of seizing power by giving form to our terror as well as our desires.” Picasso later described his famous cubist painting, “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon”, as his “first exorcism picture”. (Rubin, 1984). 

Agriculture The World Bank has called traditional plantain and banana production in West Africa, which utilizes no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, “one of the most productive food production systems known.” (David Seckler, “Agricultural Potential of ‘Mid-Africa’: A Technological Assessment”, in Susan Gnaegy & Jock R. Anderson (eds), Agricultural Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1991). The West African rice zone contains a greater diversity of production systems and agronomic practices than rice zones in Asia, the only other region where rice was domesticated. Rice production in areas inundated by seawater in Senegambia’s rainfed-marine ecosystem, is attuned to a precise knowledge of soils, marine tides and techniques to reclaim land from the sea. It requires the manipulation and regulation of several types of water regimes in order to permit year-around cropping. This highly complex, sophisticated system, which sustains continuous cultivation and high yields that require neither fallowing nor crop rotation, has won the admiration of Western experts. “By integrating variation in soil type, topography and moisture regimes with food production objectives, West African farmers have managed to evolve an agricultural system that minimises the impact of production constraints. The first Portuguese to reach the Senegambian littoral in 1444 marvelled at the human ingenuity that had crafted this food production system - just as do those who study its operation more than five hundred years later.“ (Judith Carney, "Indigenous Soil and Water Management in Senegambian Rice Farming Systems." 

Agriculture and Human Values, Winter-Spring, 1991). Gender equality In Dahomey’s mythology, the divine world is managed by several pairs of twins of mixed sex, which provided the inspiration for the country’s uniquely original system of gender pairing in its public administration during the 18thcentury. Every male official had a female counterpart who worked closely with him and also monitored his work. Dahomey’s administrative system, which placed the female in the position of "controller” vis-à-vis the male, incorporated “institutional checks of a rare effectiveness.” Moreover, its system of gender pairing enabled Dahomey to achieve genuine gender equality in the work place, in a manner that ensured excellence, effectiveness, and public probity: “The administration of Dahomey attained excellence in the way of honesty, precision, and reliability.“ (Karl Polanyi, "Dahomey and the Slave Trade: An Analysis of an Archaic Economy”, 1965). No other country in the world has succeeded in emulating that stunning achievement. Governance R. S Rattray, an English anthropologist, found “a really remarkable likeness between the constitution of ancient Greece and that of the Ashanti.” (“Ashanti Law and Constitution”, 1929). He considered the Ashanti Constitution to be more advanced in some respects than Britain’s, and the Ashanti democracy to be closer to the Democratic ideal than British democracy: “Here then we have a far more real equality than any which our [English] laws confer on us.” Where Ashanti law and constitutional practices were not superior to those of Britain, they were similar in quality: “Ashanti customary law engendered rules of behaviour and of conduct which were not dissimilar from ‘our’ [English] ethical and moral code. The Gada democratic system of the North-East African Oromo people, which first came to the notice of the West in the 16th century, was also considered by Europeans to be more democratic than those of contemporary Europe. A number of Western travellers, who were able to study the Gada system at first hand in the 19th and early 20th centuries, deemed it uniquely democratic. (Hamdesa Tuso, “Indigenous Processes of Conflict Resolution in Oromo Society”, in I. William Zartman (ed), Traditional Cures for Modern Conflicts: African Conflict “Medicine", 2000.) An English traveller who visited Abyssinia in the 19th century declared the Gada system of democracy superior to all existing republican systems of government in the world. (W. Plowden, Travels in Abyssinia, 1868). Several African countries had developed very effective conflict resolution systems. The Arusha conflict management system (East Africa) has attracted high praise from Western specialists. Professor Kenneth Carlston considered the Arusha conflict resolution process an “ingenious”, “innovative”, “sophisticated” one that could serve as a model for resolving national and international conflicts: “They developed the mediation process to a degree that capital and labor groups in national societies and states in international society might well envy and emulate today…..The experience of the Arusha points to a possible new model of an international society of peace.” (Social Theory and African Tribal Organization: The Development of Socio-Legal Theory, 1968). An effective, indigenous African “Ombudsman” institution appears to have been a standard feature in pre-colonial Africa. Institutions performing a function similar to that of the Swedish Ombudsman were so ubiquitous in pre-colonial Africa that William Zartman, Professor of Conflict Management at Johns Hopkins, observed: “The Ombudsman seems to be an African invention, even if better known in the West by a Scandinavian name.” (“Changes in the New Order and the Place for the Old”, in Zartman, 2000). - A former diplomat (Trinidad and Tobago) and international civil servant (UNESCO), Meryvn Claxton is a researcher and consultant on culture and development, with a special interest in Africa. His research focuses on the potential of a people’s culture to provide solutions for problems of political, social and economic development.

photo: by Zach Cordner for  Revolver magazine - on Instagram (X)

zachcordner#tbt my shoot with actor-turned-rocker Jared Leto for Revolver Magazine and yes, that is a loaded glock that he brought to our shoot.


Revolver Interview – Jared Leto

How lucky can one guy be? If you’re Jared Leto, the answer is, very. For one thing, with roles in Fight Club, Panic room, and Requiem for a Dream under his belt, he already has a successful film career underway. For another, he dates Cameron Diaz, one of the hottest women on the planet (and no slouch as an actor herself).And finally, his band, 30 Seconds to Mars-which features his brother Shannon on drums, Matt Wachter on bass, and Solon Bixler on keys and guitar- has been riding high on the strength of it’s self-titled major-label debut on Virgin/Immortal. We caught up with Leto during a short lull in his breakneck schedule, and he gave us the lowdown on his favorite smart guy, cell phone, and gun, and on how he dances with wolves.

Favorite Summertime Activity
“I like to go for long drives in the desert, find a quiet spot, and blast my f***in’ glock.”

Favorite Cell Phone
His suitcase phone: “It’s one of the first cell phones. It’s like a briefcase: You open it up and there’s the phone. It’s so big that it might as well be a pay phone you carry on your back, though it does get a great signal.”

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byronofrochdale  asked:

what's wrong about jared diamond? (I'm genuinely asking) (this was about the post you reblogged that defined him a social science philistine)

My friend @bloodthreadsaltglassandtears has talked about this in a lot more depth than I could (not having any training in anthropology myself).

I guess the TL;DR version is that he’s not an anthropologist or a historian, or even a geographer (he’s an ornithologist), and just makes up explanations for, like, the European colonization of the Americas (to take Guns, Germs and Steel as an example) that sound plausible and not-racist, but are actually 1. not the real reasons and 2. make it sound like colonization was inevitable and that if the Spanish, French, English and Portuguese didn’t do it someone else would have. 

I read Collapse kind of a long time ago, but looking at the Wikipedia page for it and seeing which cultures it talks about, I see that one of the chapters deals with Haiti, and with contrasting it with the Dominican Republic, and trying to figure out why Haiti is so much poorer and has had more of its forests cut down. Well, the first thought of a person who knows much about Caribbean history (I don’t – I only know a little) is “Didn’t the French impose horrible debts on Haiti in retaliation for their independence?” But the French barely figure in the chapter, and there’s no mention of anything they did after Haiti won its independence from them. (I have the book, so I went and skimmed the relevant chapter.)

In general, he seems to prefer parables of “these people over here were foresighted and prudent, and today their country prospers” and “those people over there were wasteful and foolish, and today they suffer terrible poverty and environmental disaster” to actually going into the particulars of the history involved.

If you don’t know the history, the parables sound just fine to you! They sounded perfectly plausible to me when I first read the book.

There is apparently a whole book dedicated to debunking his treatment of those cultures, called Questioning Collapse. It’s an anthology of essays written by anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and the like, with each chapter written by a person who specializes in whatever specific sub-field of history their chapter deals with.

This is inadequate and I’m sorry for that; the best I can do is point you in the direction of people who know more than I do and have written about this in some depth.