Monday, April 16, 2012

Guns, Germs and Steel

I found that several of the points in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel were either given substantial evidence or minimal. For example, his description of how plants and animals were domesticated was very thorough. However, I found his argument about why certain societies are innovative versus those that are conservative insufficient. For one thing, I wish his list of factors for what leads to different degrees of receptivity across societies were more universal norms rather than descriptions of time periods. For example, for economic factors, I wish he would have made a stronger institutional case such as emphasizing the importance of liberal institutions for innovation. While he certainly makes the point that patent protection exists in the Modern West and that its lack of discourages innovation in China, I think he could have made a stronger case from a broader historical standpoint rather than using such narrow evidence. But my biggest issue was his lack of describing what led certain societies to be conservative and shy away from embracing new technology versus those that are innovative and readily adapt new technology. I found his explanation left something to be desired. I don’t believe his anecdotal evidence can necessarily be applied to all of human history. He uses the example of two tribes in New Guinea: one, the Chimbu who he indicates is innovative and readily embrace its introduction to new technology, and the other the Daribi who he describes as “briefly looked at [the first helicopter] and just went back to what they had been doing” (252). So his evidence provides a good explanation of what they did, but it doesn’t address why. Are their larger social differences between the two? Do the two tribes have essentially the same structure or do they vary greatly? From my understanding, he makes it seem as if it is a random process by which societies are innovative or conservative rather than being the product of their social environment. While I realize this isn't a sociological text, I wish he had provided more social explanations.

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