Guns, Germs and Steel

Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs and Steel provides a provocative rebuke to what I think is a pervasive, almost irresistible conclusion for most of us, i.e., “The people in power wield it because we are superior.” Diamond contends instead that “the striking differences between the long-term histories of peoples of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the peoples themselves but to differences in their environments.”

Diamond makes a case (over and over from different angles) that during the last 13,000 years, four mostly chance factors provided some cultures with advantages over others that continue to shape our world:

  1. availability of domesticable crops and large animals
  2. east-west orientation of continental axis to facilitate the spread of agriculture
  3. transfer of knowledge between continents, and
  4. population size

Only after 400 pages does he take the final step and contend that, indeed, if their locations had been reversed 13,000 years ago, the Aboriginal Australians (the most primitive current day culture) would now occupy most of Eurasia, the Americas and Australia, and the original Eurasians (from whom white Americans descended) would be “the ones now reduced to downtrodden population fragments in Australia.”

While I am suspicious of such a politically-correct conclusion because of its attractiveness, I do believe that on any scale—local, national, international—what we do with our advantages in life is more important than how we got them. We have to believe that “to whom much is given, much is to be expected” and use our advantages for the greater good, not hoard them and boast about them.

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