Monday, April 29, 2013

Reflections: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Adam C. Zern offers some thoughts on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel:

guns, germs, and steel"I have discovered many, many books while skimming through reference pages of other books or speeches.  In the case of Guns, Germs, and Steel, I became aware of it while reading the afterward of Orson Scott Card's book Shadow of the Hegemon.  Card's book focused a great deal on the machinations of nations and their eventual successes or failures.  Card referenced Guns, Germs, and Steel as a book to be read if one wants to understand the nature of nations and societies and why they rise or fall.  Having a desire to know, I've given Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel a read, and I'm moderately satisfied.

To begin with, it's important to understand how Guns, Germs, and Steel attempts to reach its conclusions.  Guns, Germs, and Steel has a very specific premise: evolution is the driving force of development and change in our world.  Therefore, all of the book's conclusions are supported by a premise which I don't subscribe to.  Furthermore, so much of the data available for investigation is, in my opinion and as admitted to by the author several times, lacking.  Deduction and assumptions, varying in size and complexity, abound in the book, as is admitted by the author multiple times.  It's a book that knows it's making some extremely large claims with some but not all the evidence but doesn't worry too much about it.  I enjoyed the book for one reason; I understand to a greater extent how academia and the intellectual class view the world's history—accidental and circumstantial.

I respect Jared Diamond for attempting to write such an ambitious book.  Make no mistake, it is an extremely ambitious book.  I just don't agree with a lot of it.  I believe that matters of culture ('customs' as Alexis de Tocqueville would say), ideology, philosophy, and faith and religion play a huge role in human events.  Guns, Germs, and Steel shreds these variables (although the author does give them a passing notice in his Epilogue) in favor of a total focus on environmental factors and how they shaped human events.  Human history, its course and development, has been an environmental accident, not much else.  I have a very hard time swallowing such a worldview.  Not to say there isn't some exceptionally fascinating information presented in the book.  It's just ancillary in its importance when compared to the main theory and conclusions of the book.

I would recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel.  It's an interesting read written with an obvious passion and intellectual interest.  It's a great insight into how academia tries to make sense of our world, and it's a great example of what I firmly do not believe."

1 comment:

  1. You have good reason to say, " great example of what I firmly do not believe" But for me, it is an example of what I firmly believe, in the philosophy contrary to yours , that holds that matter is primary and thought secondary. In other words, this video is more valuable to Marxist than for those not interested in materialist philosophy versus those interested in Idealist philosophy. I will just quote from a speech Engels gave at Karl Marx funeral.

    "Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc. that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case." (Frederick Engels, "Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx" 188"

    The message of Guns, Germs and Steel is the same, if one reads between the lines. And Jared could not be more explicit, other wise, he would have had a harder time getting his book published or video produced. I can only speculate with regard to this.