jared diamon

Plant With Purpose Proposes Lasting Solutions to Age Old Problems

By Dahlia Guajardo, April

I have a new intellectual crush. His name is Jared Diamond, the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies. What a spectacular brain! He synthesizes history, linguistics, and anthropology to explain how geography has shaped the ability and speed at which different people on different continents developed advanced technology and complex societies. I guess he does deserve the Pulitzer Prize he won for writing the book back in 1998.

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His intentions, he notes in the prologue, are to displace the notion that biological differences between individuals (ie. race) are the culprit behind why, for instance, the great prehispanic Mayan, Incan, and Aztec civilizations of North and South America did not develop the wheel for purposes of transport or a writing system that penetrated beyond the nobility.

Why did some societies get ahead farther and faster?

Jared Diamond would say that the immediate answer is guns, germs, and steel. The ultimate cause as to why certain groups developed the aforementioned while others did not, is geography. One such example of this is the impact of the axis of different continent’s upon the spread of technologies and resources. For Diamond, latitude and longitude are the keys to world history. He argues that the north-south axis of Africa and North and South America hindered those continent’s development in ancient times because the climate changes more drastically going north to south. Traveling east to west, the dominant axis for Europe and China, the climate is subject to less extreme variations. Thus the dispersion of land across longitude and latitude affected the ability of technology, crops, and domesticated animals to be spread to near and distant neighbors.

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China, Mediterranean civilizations, and Europe all benefited from a diffusion of information across Eurasia’s more conducive east-west axis. Africa and North and South America with their north-south axis faced a slower dispersal of resources and ideas. This is why, argues Diamond, that Europeans conquered African and indigenous American societies rather than the reverse.

In spite of the brilliance of Guns, Germs, and Steel, I was deeply disturbed beyond the fascination and illumination that its insights offered. I noticed two glum patterns of human development, whether in technologically advanced or relatively simple societies. The first was that people kill other people. Murder seems to be the great pastime of humanity, a common thread running throughout the human story from some of the earliest narratives–see Genesis, chapter two–to the present.

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The second pattern I noticed is that people with greater technology and more food kill, enslave, and oppress those with less technology and a less abundant food supply because, well, they can. So, if helping the developing world develop will only result in those areas’ ability to find other weaker peoples to exploit, what is the point in humanitarian work? It wouldn’t seem all that humane. Perhaps more than technology and food is necessary for a better world.

Could geography still be missing the point in the development of human history? It would seem that the problem behind the enduring presence of war, murder, and inequality in our world has more to do with human desire than it has to do with where people live. Ultimately, people do not kill and hurt one another because of longitude and latitude. Human beings kill and hurt one another because human beings consider it a viable solution to very real problems. It is the decisions that people make in and with their environment that determines the outcome of events, and those decisions have a spiritual dimension that is important to consider.

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I agree completely with Diamond that race is not the reason that some people got ahead quicker than others. However, I do believe that the most significant factor supporting the course of human history is innate to human beings. It is the source of the bulk of misery, the human heart. Sick and broken, it needs a God who offers love, grace, and selflessness to replace the death, greed, and slavery to which people continue to subject one another. This is why I consider Plant With Purpose’s holistic strategy a significant contribution to humanitarian efforts. Plant With Purpose addresses the individual’s spiritual health as well as the quality of people’s relationships with both their environment and society, seeing such relational wholeness as the foundation for lasting change. 

As Plant With Purpose director Scott Sabin relates in his book Tending to Eden, “we must be confident in the truth and goodness of the gospel we’ve been given to proclaim while being respectful of both the people and the work God is doing in their midst. As we humbly share the hope Christ has given us, we become more aware of our own cultural and spiritual blind spots. We must remember that we are not the saviors, Jesus is. And spiritual development is a process of mutual discovery and growth in the body of Christ” (63).




In @edge video chat, Jared Diamond explains his precautionary principle through lens of New Guinea campsite choices:

If You Camp Under Dead Trees, And Each Dead Tree Has A One In 1,000 Chance Of Falling On You And Killing You

I’ll tell you the incident in New Guinea that had the biggest influence on my subsequent life. I was with a group of New Guineans doing a survey of birds on a mountain, and we were establishing camps at different elevations on the mountain to survey birds of different elevational ranges. We were moving from one camp up to another camp, and so I’d wanted to choose a new campsite.

I found a gorgeous campsite. It was on a place where the ridge broadened out and flattened out. It was a steep drop-off, so I could stand at that edge and look out and see hawks and parrots flying. The broad area of the ridge meant that there was going to be good bird-watching walking around there. And it was beautiful, because my proposed campsite was underneath a gigantic tree, just a gorgeous tree. I was really happy with this campsite. I told the New Guineans, “Let’s make camp here.”

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