Principles of Sociology/Guns, Germs, and Steel

Material below drawn from Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel - his thesis goes something like this…

Different natural environments allow societies to take up more advanced social organization at different times…

Why has there been such a great historical divides of power between different peoples in the world? Then and Now…

Why did peoples from Europe end up conquering the entire world and not Africans, Native Americans, or the Chinese?

Human history has been and remains an ongoing story of unequal conflicts between the haves and the havents… Why?

The victors tend to rely on racial, cultural, or even religious explanations, but this is the easy and self-serving way out!

I say the factors responsible for today's global inequities are 70% environmental, 10% cultural, and 20% exploitative.

The biggest advantage in human history = hunter gatherers changing into agriculturalists

• Farmers get 10 to 100 times more food than hunter-gatherers per acre of land by utilizing plant/animal domesticates

• Agriculture – stationary societies - big food surpluses - dense populations – military advantage by numbers – leaders to administer social hierarchy and resources – specialists in technology/culture produce novel ideas

Why did this happen at different times in different places around the world?

• There are relatively few plants and animals in the world that we have found suitable for domestication

• 300,000 wild plant species – 3000 eaten by humans – 300 domesticated – 12 account for 80% of the world's total food crop tonnage annually – wheat, corn, rice, soybean, potato, banana, and sugarcane are 60%

• We haven't succeeded in domesticating another major food crop to displace any in the top 12 in 500 years

• Of the 150 big mammals (100lbs.) in the world that could be used extensively for protein (meat, milk, eggs), transportation, or as beasts of burden working with human inventions (plow) only 14 have been domesticated

• Keep in mind there is a difference in taming animals and changing them en mass to sustainable domesticates

• Resistance comes from diet, low growth rates, captive breeding problems, danger (panic), and social structure

Which people got lucky and which did not? Where and Why?

• Remember Mesopotamia aka “the fertile crescent” – well, the region of Southwestern Eurasia had huge advantages

• The sheep, goat, cow, and pig were all successfully domesticated there 10,000 years ago – the horse later

• Of the world's total distribution of wild, large seeded grass species that later became the world's bread basket of domesticated cereal crops (wheat, barley, etc.) Western Eurasia had 70% - many were especially easy to grow (self-pollinating annuals) and had relatively high protein content compared with corn, rice, or yams

• Sub-Saharan Africa , the Americas , and Australia had few domesticatable plant/animal species in comparison

• They did indeed have some, but to spark the huge transition from the hunter gatherer lifestyle we all lived in for homo sapiens' first 10 million years on Earth to the agriculturalist lifestyle we almost all now embrace took a solid demonstration of the rewards of this new lifestyle – it had to come in package deals involving a larger diversity of plant and animal species than most peoples had or could acquire by trade with neighbors

Why did Agriculture and its Associated Innovations Spread Faster to Some Places?

• Once trade among fledgling agriculturalists could get started, along with it came tech/culture innovation

• However, trade routes could only be through navigable terrain and the innovations had to work in both places

• This was not possible for people that in remote areas where oceans, deserts, or mountains had to be crossed

• Furthermore, crops and animals domesticated in one place were only suitable for use in regions with similar climates. This was easy across Eurasia with its wide open latitudes, but difficult for the Americas , Africa , and Australia , where predominantly north/south orientations and equatorial divides separate similar climates.

• Thus, it took much longer for viable agricultural packages to be spread and assembled in these places, for instance, it took thousands of years longer in Mesoamerica to get the balanced corn, beans, squash “trinity”

The Greatest Weapon in European Conquest – Early Germ Warfare

• It is believed that at least 90% of the deaths occurring in early European conquest were due to disease

• The roots of many diseases that killed millions of indigenous peoples in the Americas , Australia , and Polynesia can be traced back to Eurasians living for millennia in close proximity with domesticated animals

• Examples = measles, tuberculosis, smallpox from cattle, most influenzas from pigs, malaria from fowl

• This isn't just a one-way street, tropical and foreign diseases have devastated Eurasian populations at many times in history and impeded colonial efforts in the tropics, but the losses have been much greater for others

Last modified on 20 November 2007, at 10:22