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Summary Of Guns Germs And Steel History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The Author of Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, attempts to give an explanation to a question posed by a friend of his from New Guinea. Yali wonders why the ‘whites’ have been so successful compared to the rest of the world and why they have so much ‘cargo’. We must remember that intelligence is not how much you know but what you are capable of learning. Obviously, other nations are just not exposed to quality education or other advantageous resources. ‘White’ people, who were privileged with such, have been able to conquer others because of this reason. The real question is “why do some people have advantages over others?” and Jared Diamond will answer that question.

The novel starts off with an explanation that our closest living relatives are the gorilla, the common chimpanzee, and the pygmy chimpanzee. Since these animals are confined to the continent of Africa and there is a considerable amount of fossil evidence concluding the evolution of mankind in that area, Africa is widely accepted as mankind’s birthplace. About 1 or 2 million years after humans originated one of our ancestors had finally traveled beyond Africa; Homo erectus fossils had been found in the Southeast Asian island of Java. About half a million years ago from the present, Homo erectus had evolved into Homo sapiens with their rounder, larger skulls. At that point in history, boat-building and surviving in harsh climates were unthinkable and therefore made it impossible for Homo sapiens to inhabit the Americas and Australia. 

After that, groups of Homo sapiens diverged into separate groups and eventually evolved into Neanderthals, whom surprisingly had larger brains then we do today. Subsequently, the “Great Leap Forward” is where we saw the most improvement and promising development in human kind with the Cro-Magnons. Humans were then able to travel by boat to Australia and New Guinea, which caused a major complication in the environment: a mass extinction of many mammals. Soon enough, the Americas were colonized, the last Ice Age ended, and we find ourselves here today.

A natural example of why one group of people can conquer another could be shown with the situation between the Maoris and the Morioris. The Maoris were able to surmount the Morioris with their greater combat capabilities. Despite their common ancestors, the two groups diverged into different paths of development. The Morioris’ crops could not survive the climate in which they moved into, so they reverted back to hunter-gatherers. With everybody hunting and gathering food for themselves, they couldn’t establish a government or militia; they simply did not have the extra resources. The Maoris, on the other hand, were able to accomplish all of the above. When the two groups met, the Maoris were inevitably victorious albeit they were outnumbered 2:1.

With these basic principles in mind, we see that this can be applied to larger conquests. Francisco Pizzaro and his men were able to take down the Inca Empire, for example. As they mounted their horses, and equipped themselves with their far more durable armor, Pizzaro and company set off on a rampage- thrashing their steel weapons about whilst spreading disease. Mr. Diamond’s chapter entitled “Farmer Power” discusses how the ability to domesticate animals and harvest crops increases a population. With stable food production, the population can grow and a government can be set up. The opportunities for development keep adding onto one another. Soon enough, we have specialized workers who can improve tools and weapons which will lead that society to supremacy.

The probable origin of agriculture was the Fertile Crescent of Southwest Asia in 8500 BC. Then we also have major agricultural sites such as New Guinea by 7000 BC, Sub Saharan Africa in 5000 BC, Mesoamerica in 3500 BC, The Andes and Amazonia in 3500 BC, Tropical West Africa in 3000 BC, And the Eastern US in 2500 BC. The Agricultural cores’ success then spread to nearby civilizations and constituted today’s global economy.

With successful population growth among nations, hunting subjects decrease in quantity, resulting in the gradual need to convert hunter-gatherers into farmers. With people who can take care of producing food for the rest of the population, this made the act of creating a hierarchy of occupations possible. Also, this resulted in everyone being slightly less nourished than before on account of the thinner distribution of provisions.

As agricultural business became more popular, so did the need for plant domestication. For example, wild almonds are actually poisonous so we must harvest the edible mutants and keep growing that specific mutation. We first domesticated seeds due to their ease of growth and storage. Then, we advanced to fruits and nuts. Out of the two-thousand wild plants only two-hundred have been domesticated, wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum, soybean, potato, manioc, sweet potato, sugar cane, sugar beet, and banana make up eighty percent of the world’s food cargo.

Now, we’re going to need the help of animals to aid our development. Large animals that were used for military, transportation, and load carrying were all domesticated around 2500 BC. Only fourteen animals have been domesticated. These include the sheep, goat, cow, pig, horse, Arabian camel, Bactrian camel, llama and alpaca, donkey, reindeer, water buffalo, yak, Bali cattle, and Mithun/Gaur. Domesticated animals needed to have traits such as being an omnivore or herbivore, they need to be able to grow rapidly, they need to breed well in captivity, they must have an appropriate temperament, they must accept penning, and they should be able to accept a subordinate role. If all criteria are met, humans are able to domesticate them and use said animals for our own needs. Domesticated Animals have actually adapted to our utilization of them; better milk production and faster wool growth, for example. With the help of enslaved animals, humans are able to progress to higher means of living with ease.

Even so, animals have also caused harm to humans. Many infectious diseases have derived from livestock. For example, the flu is said to have originated from pigs a ducks, tuberculosis from cattle, and AIDS from monkeys, to name a few. With farmers being around these animals so often, some may develop immunities to such ailments. Also, farmers with similar exposure to these animals had only interacted amongst each other, so there weren’t any major tribulations. Although, when interactions with foreign farmers occurred, the spread of foreign diseases were sometimes detrimental.

In due course, humans were in need of a written form of language for records and eventually communication. The earliest forms of writing are said to have shown up in Southwest Asia, Mesoamerica, and China. The idea of writing diffused from these cores into their peripheries. The alphabet was the idea of the Egyptians, and was copied and altered to fit the needs of other societies. Eventually, the writing process matured and several nations had their own complex written form of communication. Usually, there were only a choice few who actually needed to use written language. Scribes, for example, needed to keep records while hunter-gatherers had no use for it.

In regard to the original inquiry posed by Yali, the author explains that New Guinea wasn’t a very popular choice to conquer due to its diseases and the low rates of successful livestock and crops. Australia, New Guinea’s neighbor, had been a lot more welcoming. Yet, Australia also became victim to foreign settlers along with the benefits and drawbacks.

The answer to Yali’s question is very simple. The first reason would be the availability and ease of crop and animal domestication. The second would be the ease of idea diffusion. Clearly, a small isolated island can’t pass on ideas as easy as a country with booming trade markets could. Finally, the favorable environment of an area will attract a larger population in which a stable state may be founded upon.

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