Research Paper: Guns Germs and Steel

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Guns, Germs and Steel and the Earth Island

In Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond attempts to explain why most of the significant events of the last 13,000 years have happened on the Eurasian land mass. This idea of the "Earth Island" is controversial and the holders of this idea have, including the late Nazi advisor to Rudolf Hess, Karl Haushofer, been accused of racist, ethnocentric and primarily Eurocentric ideas. The Nazis were not the only ones who were guilty of racial theories. Karl Haushofer got his ideas from his contemporary and rival, geo-strategist and theoretician Halford John MacKinder. His "Heartland Theory" of the centrality of Eurasia was pivotal in the English strategies to maintain British imperialism well into the twentieth century (Downs 314). In his 1904 article to the Royal Geographical Society, he advocated that whoever controlled Eurasia would control the globe (Fettweis). While he despised Nazi exploitation of his ideas, it is haunting that they seem to be the ones that fully grasped the significance of these ideas to justify their own potted theories of historical determinism. The author of this essay feels that the thesis that the book and the movie series Guns, Germs and Steel makes about social inequality is widely incorrect. It is historically deterministic. If there is one thing that can be learned from history and social science, it is that the word "inevitable" is usually among the famous last ones that a person speaks. In addition, social inequality is generally a relativistic issue and the author will examine some other cultures, namely the ancient Greeks, the Norse and the Polynesians as some examples of some pre-Columbian cultures that had a lot of "cargo."

The very fact that great empires developed on all of the continents, many of which had advanced cultures and writing systems, proves that the view put forward in the movie and the book is simply a way to cloak the old Hitlerian Haushofer/MacKinder ideas in politically correct garments. After all, in a resource short world, would it not be convenient for the corporate controlled media to subtly suggest that there might be reasons of racial superiority behind the inability of certain populations to properly exploit their mineral and natural resources. While the promotion for Diamond's book says that it dismantles old racially based theories of history, this is not really true. Otherwise, why are the people of the Earth Island or the Heartland portrayed as dominating the planet throughout all of history and not just in modern times? Is Mr. Diamond cooking the historical stew with an Aryan recipe book?

The same opportunities and necessities existed on the other continents as well, and while many of these cultures are later, the fact that advanced societies developed in those areas indicates that many of the opportunities and necessities Diamond speaks about are part and parcel of the general human condition. The exceptions are many and wide enough to drive the proverbial truck through.

In addition, the idea that favorable conditions are necessary for a civilization to develop is just not correct. A very good example of how environmental privation can propel a civilization down the path of development is ancient Greece. The period leading up to the age of classical Greece saw that the majority of the Greek city states were located in areas of marginal land. These states engaged in overseas colonization rather than the Spartan strategy of conquering their neighbors, the Messenians ("Ancient Greece: Sparta"). It is interesting that the Spartans had views similar to neo-imperialists who have also embraced the Earth Island/Heartland or concepts that are very similar to those in the Diamond book. It is true that the other Greek City States also looked down upon other "barbarians" who did not adopt Greek culture. However, unlike the Spartans, the other Greek city states and leaders, in particular Alexander the Great, had a Hellenistic world model that allowed for "barbarians" to shed their assigned status if they adopted Greek culture. The Spartans, like the Nazis, did not accept anyone else into the master race.

Diamond tries to put forward the idea of the superiority of Eurasian plant and animal species for domestication as a measure of social inequality. This is just not a valid measuring stick in terms of New World vs. Old World, especially in the area of agricultural plant domestication. The fact that the New World had some fewer domesticated species really has little to bear upon the "superiority" of the Old World. Indeed, many

Native American cultures that were agricultural in nature supplemented their food supplies with wild game and plants due to the plentitude of supply of wild resources. The Old World simply had more deserts and waste land to contend with than the New World.

It looks a lot more like the reason for the conquest of areas outside of Eurasia, (especially of the New World) has a lot more to do with germs than anything else. For instance the Norse found their way to North America and their colonization efforts failed. While there were many more white settlers later on and the Norse were very few, there also were few Europeans to begin with at the end of the fifteenth and at the beginning of the sixteenth centuries. Had they been wiped out en masse as the Norse had, hordes of Europeans may not have followed. It seems that germs, the subtropical and temporal climates of the areas that the Europeans colonized and the ability of the Europeans to divide and conquer the enemies of the ruling Native American empires have as much to do with the Columbian conquest as much as European technology (Seaver 7).

If the author can be a bit humorous, Mr. Diamond may have been too "chicken" to mention the Polynesians. If his oversight of hundreds of huge monoliths on Easter Island is bad enough, archaeological evidence that the Polynesians reached the Americas is buttressed by recent radio carbon dated bone evidence from a Chilean archaeological site. The chickens were probably in the Americas before the Spanish brought them there. The bones of about five unfortunate chickens have been dated to sometime between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries at the archaeological site of El Arenal. Until now, it has been theorized that the tasty birds came to South America with the Spanish on or about 1500. However, when Pizarro reached Peru in 1532, the chicken was already part of the local Incan culture and economy, suggesting some sort of history in the area (Storey, et al.). Whether the Incans sailed west to Easter Island or the Polynesians sailed east for buffalo wings, the fowl somehow made the trans-Pacific voyage from Southeast Asia prior to the Columbian voyages. It seems that historical determinism flies about as well as the chicken does.

In addition to the widely documented writing systems of the Aztecs and Mayas, the Polynesians on nearby Easter Island developed a writing or proto-writing system called rongorongo. The largely unintelligible script would have been one of the rare instances of independently invented writing systems in the history of humanity. This evidence of writing, in combination with the impressive monoliths or moai as the Rapanui islanders call them suggests a sophisticated pre-Columbian culture off the west coast of South America (Hunt).

When one considers the rich life that the Rapanui document in their rich oral traditions and in these glyphs, was there really as much social inequality amongst the Polynesians as Jared Diamond supposes? In addition to environmental reasons, is it possible that a lot of history happens simply a result of chance occurance? With a few different events, it is possible that the Spanish, Portuguese and the English settlers might have been as unlucky as the Polynesians and Norsemen before them in their encounters in the Americas. It looks as though the journey of Guns, Germs and Steel into historical determinism reaches a dead end.

In conclusion, the author of this essay confirms their contention that the thesis put forward in Guns, Germs and Steel about environmental factors being the major factors in history is simply incorrect. Determinism in history does not correctly explain social inequalities. The author Jared Diamond ignores much other evidence that would indicate that his Eurasian centric views are at the very best mildly racist. At worst, his ideas justify colonization. To be completely fair, Diamond pays at least lip-service to an anti-racist message throughout the movie and the book. However, deterministic history serves only to justify colonization and efforts to dominate, as MacKinder found to his dismay when the Nazis hijacked his ideas and took them to their logical extremes. In the corporate dominated world economy of today, it is too tempting to use such lines of analysis to analyze societies and social inequality.

Whether the difference lies in DNA, geographical factors, dumb luck, or simply human stupidity, historical determinism simply does not exist in the real world. The bane of the social scientist is there is a lot less order in the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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