Guns, Germs, and Steel

Diamond J.  1999.  Guns, Germs, and Steel.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.  Chapters 4-6,8.

This one was even easier to get into.

But before I cover any of that, I have to talk about the photos in the middle of the book.  There are a bunch of pictures of natives, and then the picture of the Japanese emperor on his birthday (between pages 96/97).  It confused the heck out of me for awhile, before I realized it was referring to the Asian food production versus the native hunter-gatherer pictures.  Still seems out of place, and it gets a score of wry-grin/10.

The part where he talks about the limits travel had on childbearing was something I never thought about before (pg 89).  Then later on with domesticated animals and the multiple uses they had.  It makes me question the bit in class where the whole plants domesticating people idea comes up.  Ultimately the plants that get used as farm crops tended to have the easiest way to extract energy (potatoes, bananas,corn).  And so they are grown at the expense of less edible foods.  Rather than a domestication, I think it is more along the lines of a mutualistic relationship.  You have the plants that are able to have their competition wiped out and reproduce with help by humans, and humans that are able to increase their number and take over more territory with the greater populations and faster growth rates that crop plants provide.  And with food stores and greater food abundance in general, more time is allowed for improving technologies instead of scraping enough food to merely survive.  So I would argue that both the crop plants and humans benefit from the relationship and rather than one side being subservient to the other, it is more along the lines of increasing fitness of both organisms with mutualism.

The parts on carbon dating and how it has errors from fluctuation was pretty neat, although someone less interested in the science behind it would probably not care too much (pg 95-97).  Keeping track of when each plant was first used would be a pain too, like when he talks about independent peoples domesticating the same plant.  As far as why food production grew in places that had low resources, I think that answers itself by his title, “History’s Haves and Have-Nots”.  When food is already scarce, the best thing to do is either move or increase the production of the area.  As far as how people would decide to plant seeds instead of simply moving to another area would be a better thing to look at.  Maybe they were stuck there because the other good hunter-gatherer areas were taken up by aggressive raiders.  Maybe they were trapped there from some other reason.  Maybe they were never trapped but rather than make a long risky trek they instead colonized.  Especially the effort it would take to get a farm started.  Without tools like we have today farming would have been a lot harder, although having domesticated animals that do the work for you AND feed/clothe you as well would be a welcome boost for those people.

And while all those thoughts were crossing my mind, I wonder if there is a difference in humans planting seeds purposely versus other animals excreting them.  Ultimately the fruit is eaten, it is just that with humans we purposely try to place the seeds where they can succeed most.  So calling cutting out forests for farmlands might not be “unnatural” as some people might think.  If anything it is a behaviour that increases the plants fitness, and since all evolution cares about is the continued survival of its species, the loss from the old plants being replaced might just be the most natural thing of all. And if you think about it, 99% of all species that existed have died, so is it a great tragedy if less successful organisms are replaced by the more successful?

Wasn’t expecting to get philosophical there, but reading this book really puts you into a perspective mode type of thinking (probably could word that better).  And seeing as I’m closing in on excessive words I’ll cut it off here.


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