Flint's Reviews > Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
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's review
Sep 19, 08

bookshelves: history, science, nonfiction

Guns, Germs and Steel is a good book, and I suggest you follow up with reading Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

However, if you find yourself interested in primatology and evolutionary biology, I don't suggest you read Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee. Instead, I recommend Frans de Waal's Our Inner Ape, unlike Diamond, de Wall doesn't ignore Bonobos.

I do have one significant disagreement with Diamond, the degree which he is a material determinist. While I agree with him that most (all?) government resembles a kleptocracy, I disagree with him that it is an inevitable consequence of agriculture. Let me quote something I wrote a while ago:

"Jared Diamond hypothesizes that when stateless egalitarian hunter-gather societies develop agriculture and experience population growth, blood feuds and new resource management problems challenge their ability to maintain horizontal political relationships and economic communalism. According to Diamond, the material transition itself leads inevitably to the State, which he refers to as "the kleptocracy," and the most the oppressed can hope for by revolting is for a change in the rate of exploitation and oppression by installing a new group of kleptocrats. In his view, "the kleptocracy" is ultimately a function of material culture.

"Some historical materialists claim a densely settled, agricultural population will inevitably develop into a hierarchically stratified society, with a centralized state and an exploitative economic redistribution system, in order avoid warfare while resolving blood feuds among its members. While this is a common occurrence, it is not the only way these issues have been resolved. Located along the southern banks of Kaniatarí:io (Lake Ontario), the traditional society of the Rotinonshón:ni (Iroquois), "The People of the Longhouse," was a densely settled, matrilineal, communal, and extensively horticultural society... these nations united through the Kaianere'kó:wa (“the Great Good Way”) into the same polity and ended blood feuding without economic exploitation, stratification, or the formation of a centralized state."

"Where License Reigns With All Impunity": An Anarchist Study of the Rotinonshón:ni Polity

I'll expand on this in a short review essay I'll post in my live journal (it's to long for Goodreads):

The Worst Mistake in Jared Diamond's History of the Human Race: The State

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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Kersplebedeb (new)

Kersplebedeb Great posting Flint; while i find anthropology intersecting with politics works best as a kind of thought experiment, this was an interesting one. Which begs a question: if the a parasitic class did not arise amongst certain groups of people even though the material preconditions were all there, what (non-material?) factors do you see as possibly preventing this development?

Flint "what (non-material?) factors do you see as possibly preventing this development?"

What's not material is idealist. :)

Faisal Aslim great review... I am interested though by your suggestion to read Our Inner Ape, unfortunately it is not available in my country... One question, do you think Diamond has an emotional switch between the time when he wrote Third Chimpanzee (and also Why is sex fun?) and the time he wrote Guns, Germs, and Steel? because from my POV, the former was like a comedy book, and in the latter, I barely laugh at all...

Faisal Aslim And especially in writing Collapse, I think Mr Diamond is a little bit grumpy...

message 5: by Ganglion (new)

Ganglion Bard-barbarian It is with great interest that I hope to read your extended thoughts on the subject, for now I'll simply comment that the tendency you are rightfully criticizing is less a characteristic of historical materialism and more a characteristic of essentialist economism and geographical determinism which Marxian materialism conclusively refutes.

message 6: by Laz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laz the Sailor I felt that "kleptocracy" was a clever play on words for government that takes more than it returns. More true every day...

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