A PBS documentary concerning Jared Diamond's theory on why there is such disparity between those who have advanced technology and those who still live primitively. He argues it is due to ...
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A PBS documentary concerning Jared Diamond's theory on why there is such disparity between those who have advanced technology and those who still live primitively. He argues it is due to the acquisition of guns and steel and the changes brought about by germs.Written by
This series asks the question: why do Westerners have so much materially and the natives of New Guinea have so little?
Jared Diamond's thesis in Guns, Germs and Steel is that because Europeans had geographical conditions which were favorable to farming and domesticating animals they had natural advantages which allowed them to develop a high degree of civilization and conquer the world. I usually enjoy these video documentaries though I know that I'm getting watered-down history with great visuals. But 'Guns, Germs & Steel' is too weak an idea to carry through more than one episode, let alone three. I was willing to buy his notion that access to domesticating animals allowed for more productive farming and therefore greater civilizational advances. But he fails to explain why other civilizations that had those same advantages, for example China, India, the Middle East, didn't develop the science and technology that allowed Europe to dominate the world.
The final episode is about Africa and shows that traditional African culture had many of the same advantages that Europeans had: domesticated animals, immunity to common diseases and efficient farming, yet never developed a higher level of technology. He becomes openly emotional about the current poverty of Africans while failing to explain why other cultures, like India and much of Asia, though formerly colonized, have now managed to advance scientifically and socially while much of Africa remains in misery and backwardness.
Diamond likes to refer to the "greed" and "aggressiveness" of European colonizing powers, but isn't everybody "greedy?" How did the Incas (which he uses to illustrate his point) gain a huge empire and amass all that treasure? The Incas had 80,000 men under arms, so they weren't exactly a peaceful people. Farther to the north the Aztecs were not just warlike, but bloodthirsty in the extreme. How did they so easily succumb to the relatively few Spanish invaders? Now that is an interesting question which Diamond touches on in passing but then drops for the rest of the series. He seems to be saying that Western success is merely the result of evil impulses like greed and desire to conquer. This fits the politically correct narrative about the 'evil' West and 'innocent' natives. Unfortunately he can't express this idea openly because it's too simplistic and fails to account for reality.
The answer to that question is, at least in part, provided by Victor Davis Hanson's book "Carnage and Culture" where he demonstrates how Western armies often won the day when outnumbered by virtue of superior military discipline.
By the end of the three part series his thesis dissolves in contradictions and tediously repeated visual images. The first episode is interesting if a bit elementary, the other 2 are depressing and hollow. He fails to explain, or even attempt to explain, how it was that the scientific and industrial revolutions happened in Europe and nowhere else.
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