This essay presents an overview of select chapters of the book, ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond. It discusses how environmental forces have designed the globe and proceeded to mold the future.
This section describes the beginning of humanity from the first human ancestors dated over seven million years ago. It explains that the closest relatives to humans are the bonobos, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Diamond furthers that all humans originated from Africa with Homo erectus being the first to leave the continent. While research presents that the earliest humans had a minimal thinking capacity, Diamond used “The Great Leap Forward” period, fifty millennia ago to explain the initial signs of artistic elements such as standardized tools and ornaments (Niko, 2011). It was survival of the fittest as hominids spread to New Guinea, Australia, Eurasia and the Clovis people in America. Diamond commends the human ancestors for moving into more inhabitable regions within the globe without the facilities to enhance their movements, such as those viewed in the present world.
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The author initiates the study of destinies of human societies at approximately eleven to thirteen millennia Before Christ (Diamond, 1999). During this period, all continents that support life had hunters and gatherers dominating the then existing population. At that time, the level of technology, or the lack of it did not allow the population to be agriculturalists or urban dwellers. The presence of a larger population in Africa at the beginning of evolution may make someone to believe that they had higher chances of advancements than their compatriots. While Africa had a head-start in evolution, there is no adequate research and evidence to prove why Eurasia became the most advanced in comparison to the rest.
In 1835, the minority Maoris dominated the Morioris pushing them to the peripheries of Chatham Islands despite both of them being descendants of Polynesian peoples. The Maoris managed this since they had advanced technology and greater warlike instincts compared to the Morioris. Polynesia had a moderate climate, size, landscape, social and political complexity hence leading to moderation in human adaptation and diversity. However, the two groups settled differently. The Moriori stayed in sparsely populated islands surviving as hunters and gatherers. The Maoris on the other hand neither cultivated crops nor needed their advanced tools for the prey they survived on. They had enough resources compared to the Morioris who settled in smaller islands and owing to their population pattern, could not communicate or trade.
The availability of many small islands in Polynesia is an environmental indicator that isolation affects the growth and development of its inhabitants. This is the area initially inhabited by the peaceful and less organized Moriori people. Conversely, the Maori invaded them from the densely populated New Zealand Island that was composed of an agricultural society. Their organization and advanced technology allowed them to wipe out the bulk of the Moriori population. The author argues that genetics did not have a hand in Maori’s dominance over the Moriori since the two groups had the same roots a millennium before the confrontation. In addition, the principal reason why the Maori people were forced to abandon their farming activities was that farming was not suitable in their newly acquired Chatham Islands. As such, they could only survive on hunting and gathering.
In this stage, the author stresses the significance of food production by describing its desirable outcomes. On this point, Diamond defines food production to encompass domesticating wild animals and plants while forming them to better human lives. He outlines the merits of domesticating wild animals and herding over the ancient ways of obtaining food such as hunting and gathering. He points out that heightened food production increases the survival of young children hence multiplying the population. To sustain a healthy population, human improvement that results from consumption of farm products is through selection of desirable mutations and creation of a strong genetic pool. Furthermore, the significance of domestic animals lies in supplying, milk, meat, animal power, and fertilizer which aided in developing full-time specialists notably bureaucrats and kings. These political elites, priests, and artisans required storage of the food surpluses to sustain them. In fact, Diamond stresses that superior food production and storage led to Eurasia’s people’s ability to take over the world.
Due to the egalitarian nature of hunters and gatherers, they never got to experience such benefits. In their defense, Diamond argues that the vast majority of the crop and animal matter that the earth naturally produces is either poisonous, unpalatable or extremely inefficient for individuals to consider eating. This implies that the ability of people to monitor what the land provides was fundamental to their dominance and advancement. While domestication of animals led to ease of transportation and Eurasia’s use of horses in war, germs also developed from these animals leading to measles, flu and smallpox.
Successfully domesticated animals have identical traits while the undomesticated ones do not satisfy all the domestication requirements. The domestication requirements include; herbivore or omnivore (with the dog as an exception), speedy growth, easy breeding when in captivity, developed social structure, and accepts penning. As such, Diamond outlines that undomesticable animals have varied characteristics that make them to remain wild. Furthermore, domesticated animals were converted from their native characteristics by 2500BC and by altering their locations, they would retain their characteristics as long as they would be of use to the people in the new place (Niko, 2011). Whenever imported domesticates were appropriate to the local community, they would be rapidly accepted. The presence of appropriate species promoted domestication and the manner in which domestication was done varied with different locales.
Currently, there is a limited success in contemporary domestication. While Zebras are presumed to be domesticable, no one has accomplished this task. Elephants, on the other hand, have been tamed but never been domesticated. The cow, sheep, horse, pig, and goat are the primary domesticated mammals. Other animals that complete the group’ “Ancient fourteen”, are; Arabian camel, donkey, Ilama and Alpaca, Mithan and Bactrian camel, Bali cattle reindeer, water buffalo and yak. Eurasia managed to be the leading in big mammal domestication due to having numerous wild animals and fewest extinctions in the past forty millennia. This section of the book puts the smaller animals such as birds and guinea pigs on the periphery since they are not beneficial in the military, transportation or load carrying.
On observing the predominant axes in continents, Africa and America’s axes run north to south, while Eurasia’s runs east to west. The prominence of axes is arguably of the same magnitude as geographic variations in continents. These two factors have streamlined food production and technological advancements. On the contrary, significant changes in geography observed in the North-South axis exposed most migrants and inhabitants to diseases, life in jungles and infertile lands hence slowing down development. The author explains what Eurasia had as “amber fields of grain and spacious skies” (Diamond, 1999) as opposed to the whole world. The varied conditions affected adaptation of domesticates hence posing a barrier in their dispersion in the New World.
Diamond’s ultimate argument is that the failure to embrace food production in particular areas was not an indicator of inadequacy or inferiority. He emphasizes that communities made the best out of the resources predisposed to them. This implies that in several cases, hunting and gathering remained the most viable option or the only option. He furthers that empirical studies have shown that societies with notable success in food production are not always the most superior regarding overall advancement. He reiterates that while some communities may have succeeded in advancing themselves from ‘hunting and gathering,’ others did not enjoy the luxury of choice owing to their geographical locations. As such, the hostile terrain and climatic conditions available in some regions may have highly hindered progress in communities that would have otherwise reaped the benefits of food production.