Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of human societies that refutes the belief that Eurasian hegemony is due to intellectual or moral superiority inherent to Eurasians. We are told that Eurasian domination is not due to inherent superiority (that would be racist), but we are not given a compelling alternative argument, and so silent racist wondering continues. Diamond provides that compelling alternative argument. By the way, none of his arguments are new, but his particular fusion of arguments is.

Diamond argues that power and technology gaps between societies exist because of many environmental differences amplified by positive feedback loops. Though his argument is as complex as history itself, here’s the gist of it:

Eurasia has more domesticable plants and animals than many other continents, and thus had a leap on food production, an excess of which allows for non-subsistence producers like scholars and inventors who provide technology advantages. Furthermore, Eurasia is the only major inhabitable landmass whose dominant axis is east-west rather than north-south, which allows for more natural spread of ideas and technology than, say, the Americas, which has a totally different climate (and therefore, different technology and idea needs) every few hundred miles of latitude. Also, Eurasia’s population density (again, allowed by its advantages in food production) increased the transmission of disease, which led to impressive immunities among Eurasians not present in other continents’ peoples. So, Eurasians easily infected other peoples with devastating diseases wherever they encountered them. Furthermore, Eurasia’s geography promotes adjacent, competing societies whereas most geography of other continents promotes monolithic, isolated empires that stagnate. It’s not quite environmental determinism, but it is an argument of environmental empowerment.

Naturally, the above points are not convincing without Diamond’s supporting arguments, and if you think this is an important issue you should definitely read the book yourself. Give the prologue a try. If it doesn’t hook you, I’ll… eat a bug or something.

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