Monday, April 16, 2012

Guns, Germs, & Steel

In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond theorizes that rather than genetic or intellectual superiority, biogeographical factors have historically been responsible for the rise of certain societies and their dominion over others, making certain successes “inevitable." However, there seem to be some flaws with this argument. In claiming geographical determinism, Diamond neglects inequalities deeply entrenched and not necessarily predestined in various societies such as: slavery, colonialism, and genocide. Furthermore, very few populations in Asia were wiped out as a result of European "germs"--almost negating his whole argument. If Diamond is making a claim about geography equating destiny, are we to assume that racial and ethnic inequalities are a direct factor of certain environments and health conditions within that society? And furthermore, how would Diamond reconcile the immense technological successes and flourishing of countries such as China and India? Diamond almost shakes his head at those "uncivilized" (another issues I have with the book: archaic terms) societies and embraces only those that took on new technology. He never really gives attention to those societies which may not have thrived by Western standards but are perhaps healthier than Westernized societies as a result of their technological lag. I agree entirely that the book could have certainly benefited from a more thorough (and perhaps less eurocentric) sociological analysis of why some societies progressed while others took different routes or declined. Had he delved slightly deeper into these concepts, perhaps he would have been able to fill in some of the voids to his lofty argument.

1 comment:

  1. I had a similar issue with Diamond’s eurocentrism. Throughout the book, he seems to omit or oversimplify the large amount of influence that non-Europeans had on the West. Without things such as natural resources from Africa or gunpowder from China, the Western hegemony that exists today may not have been produced. He ignores the importance of historical and cultural factors on outcomes, focusing only on technological and biological influences. He states that China had the same advantages that Europe had, but that their geography was their downfall because there were no areas for government dissenters to escape to and innovation was therefore stifled. This is just one example of how Diamond leaves out a variety of other factors, such as the nature of government and differing cultural societies, that could be attributed to this outcome. By ignoring the historical, anthropological, and sociological dimensions of the cases he explores, I believe that he leaves out major parts of a potentially convincing argument.