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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
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HEALTH- MEDICINE - SCIENCE > 6. GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL ~ CHAPTERS 11 AND 12 (195 - 238) (10/18/10 - 10/24/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

For the week of October 18th through October 24th, we are reading approximately the next 43 pages of Guns, Germs and Steel.

This thread will discuss the following chapters and pages (it opens up on Oct 18th):

Week Six – October 18th – October 24th -> Chapters ELEVEN and TWELVE p. 195- 238
ELEVEN – Lethal Gift of Livestock and TWELVE – Blueprints and Borrowed Letters

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers. We will also open up supplemental threads as we have done for other spotlighted reads.

We kicked everything off on September 12th. We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, on iTunes for the ipad, etc. However, be careful, some audible formats are abridged and not unabridged.

There is still remaining time to obtain the book and get started.

There is no rush and we are thrilled to have you join us. It is never too late to get started and/or to post.

Welcome,

~Bentley


This is a link to the complete table of contents and syllabus thread:

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/3...


We are now half way through the book!!!!!

TO SEE ALL WEEK'S THREADS SELECT VIEW ALL

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond Jared Diamond Jared Diamond


message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 19, 2010 08:13AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
And so we begin:

Diamond states that previously Chapter 3 sketched the immediate factors behind Europe's conquest of Native Americans, and Chapter 4 the development of those factors from the ultimate cause of food production.

In Part 3 ("From Food to Guns, Germs and Steel," Chapters 11 - 14), the connections from ultimate to proximate causes are traced in detail, beginning with the evolution of germs characteristic of dense human populations (Chapter 11).

Far more Native Americans and other non-Eurasian peoples were killed by Eurasian germs than by Eurasian guns or steel weapons.

Conversely, few or no distinctive lethal germs awaited would-be European conquerors in the New World. Why was the germ exchange so unequal? Here, the results of recent molecular biological studies are illumininating in linking germs to the rise of food production, in Eurasia much more than in the Americas.

Another chain of causation led from food production to writing, possibly the most important single invention of the last few thousand years (Chapter 12).

Writing has evolved de novo only a few times in human history, in areas that had been the earliest sites of the rise of food production in their respective regions. All other societies that have become literate did so by the diffusion of writing systems or of the idea of writing from one of those primary centers.

Hence, for the student of world history, the phenomenon of writing is particularly useful for exploring another important constellation of causes: geography's effect on the ease with which ideas and inventions spread.

So the focus of these two chapters are germs and writing.


message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
One of the reading guide questions (#15) was:


15. How does civilization lead to epidemics?

Possibly we could begin the discussion with trying to respond and discuss this question.


message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
What are the connections from ultimate to proximate causes which are traced in detail in these chapters (beginning with the evolution of germs characteristic of dense human populations)?


message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 19, 2010 08:21AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Why was the germ exchange so unequal and why did hunter gatherers like the Native Americans not have diseases that they could give back to the European conquerers?

You have to feel that their life style was obviously healthier than their European counterparts despite the rise in food production and agriculture practiced by the European conquerors.


message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
How are germs linked to the rise in food production?


message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Why does Diamond believe that writing is connected to the earliest sites of food production in their respective regions?


message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
And focusing on causes: what did Diamond discuss in terms of geography's effects on the ease with which ideas and inventions spread? (in Chapters 11 and 12 or anything that came before in the book)


message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 19, 2010 08:35AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Reminder: Spoilers and Non Spoiler Threads

Just as an FYI: in the non spoiler threads, anything that deals with the chapters assigned and/or any of the chapters that came before can be discussed.

So for this non spoiler thread, any discussion can take place that deals with the Prologue, and Chapters 1 through and including Chapter 12.

If you would like to have an expansive discussion which goes beyond these chapters (we encourage it); but these discussions must take place on either the Book as a Whole thread or the Glossary thread. Those threads are spoiler threads (not non spoiler) so discussions about the book as a whole can take place there.


message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Jared Diamond begins Chapter 11 with the following:

"We have now traced how food production arose in a few centers, and how it spread at unequal rates from there to other areas.

These geographic differences constitute important ultimate answers to Yali's question about why different peoples ended up with disparate degrees of power and affluence.

However, food production itself is not a proximate cause. In a one-on-one fight, a naked farmer would have no advantage over a naked hunter-gatherer.


Source: Chapter 11

It is interesting that Diamond states that food production is not a proximate cause. What does he mean?

Is he answering Yali's question with the response that Yali's people faced their hard luck simply because of geography?

Also what is the significance of the title of Chapter 11: "Lethal Gift of Livestock"?



message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 19, 2010 08:46AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Diamond goes on to state:

"Instead, one part of the explanation for farmer power lies in the much denser populations that food production could support: ten naked farmers certainly would have an advantage over one naked hunter-gatherer in a fight."

"Farmers tend to breathe out nastier germs, to own better weapons and armor, to own more powerful technology in general, and to live under centralized governments with literate elites better able to wage wars of conquest.

Hence the next four chapters will explore how the ultimate cause of food production led to the proximate causes of germs, literacy, technology, and centralized government."


Doesn't it make sense that ten people (no matter what their distinction) would have an advantage over one person?

So the farmer has nastier germs and likes to wage wars with their advanced weapons: so who really had the better lifestyle?


Diamond also identifies for the reader an "ultimate cause" = food production. He also identifies in the same paragraph four proximate causes (of this ultimate cause) = germs, literacy, technology, and centralized government.

Are folks following along with all of these causes and connections? I thought that Chapter 11 was quite interesting overall.


message 12: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 19, 2010 08:59AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This leads to the question - what was there about farming which led to the farmers having nastier germs than any hunter gatherer could have?

Diamond links this to the livestock. He then launches into an anecdote about an inexperienced young doctor who just happened to be a friend of a friend. For me the anecdote did not seem to be a believable story and one that he had just heard somewhere. Even Diamond knows that the story is bizarre or sounds bizarre.

But that is how he seems to launch into the subject of the chapter: human diseases of animal origins.

Considering last flu season, the H1F1 virus which originally was termed swine flu, most of us have had recent exposure to this link.

Was anybody else a little concerned about the implications of human diseases and their origins after reading this chapter? I know I was. Even if you live a clean and healthy life; your life and your exposure to germs are only as healthy as the unhealthiest situation or person you encounter while walking about or in an airplane or some other mode of transportation.

I am not a germaphobe but when you hear somebody with a nasty viral infection coughing up a storm in a restaurant or on your airplane; the thought of what is in the air you are breathing does occasionally cross my mind.


message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This statement amazed me - did it you?

Far more Native Americans and other non-Eurasian peoples were killed by Eurasian germs than by Eurasian guns or steel weapons.


message 14: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 435 comments Bentley wrote: "This statement amazed me - did it you?

Far more Native Americans and other non-Eurasian peoples were killed by Eurasian germs than by Eurasian guns or steel weapons."


No, it is what I was always told. It was true of European wars as well. More soldiers died from disease than combat. It is only in "modern" times that we have temporarily gotten advantage of the bacteria. It probably won't last.


message 15: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 20, 2010 06:01AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
I am sure Patricrk that it surprised many folks. (smile) I really wonder myself how long this will last with the superbugs that are out there.

Many hospitals are having a terrible time with staph infections which are quite resistant to antibiotics.

And we had quite a scare last year with H1N1.


message 16: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 435 comments Bentley wrote: "I am sure Patricrk that it surprised many folks. (smile) I really wonder myself how long this will last with the superbugs that are out there.

Many hospitals are having a terrible time with sta..."


speculation on my part but what if the mega fauna had experienced the same thing when people first entered the Americas. What if they (or their dogs) brought in new germs that killed off most of the large animal population. I don't know how you could find this in the archaeological evidence though.


message 17: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Who knows Patricrk. I guess anything is possible.


Rodney | 83 comments As with last week, I have been trying to ponder one proposed question and it has been my focus when thinking about the reading.

Far more Native Americans and other non-Eurasian peoples were killed by Eurasian germs than by Eurasian guns or steel weapons.


I am not sure what to make fully of this statement. It is my quick interpretation that Diamond was trying to show that arrival in the New World caused devastation to others. Clearly, this is an obvious statement as we all know the history. I am not doubting this number or the fact that it's accurate for that matter. I am however hoping to spike a discussion based upon this.

I am often skeptical of certain claims. This is not to imply that I am saying the author is incorrect, I would just like more information. This statement stands out as problematic.

1. In order for a number or statistic to have merit, it must contain measureability. This statement does not. (Can Diamond document outside germ related deaths from the arrival of Europeans until an unspecified time?) It contains a fact, but doesn't contain any measurable indicator which allows me as a reader to understand how it was reached. Now perhaps the numbers involved were so overwhelming that it did not matter. This may well be the case. However, I as a reader with limited knowledge am being asked to accept that as fact. To me that is problematic and leads to point 2.

2. It is based upon a certain level of truth, but this chapter is loaded with politics as well. I have spent some time trying to find documented cases of smallpox blankets being given to Native Americans. I have only found one case. (If anyone can elaborate, I would appreciate it) Again, that is not to say that it never happened, but it was referred to in this chapter as a common event. I am not convinced yet that is the case. This concerns me because if there was not an full understanding that Native American populations would die upon exposure to Europeans, then it's difficult to make a moral argument they used germs to devastate the population. (It would be far easier argument to just look at the genocidal facts outside of purposeful exposure)

I will fully admit that I may be looking at some of these chapters too closely. I think some of this may go to an overall frustration with the pacing of the book. Many of the theories presented have made sense, but the presentation has been all over the place. There has been no real time line other than the chapter presentations.

I have been learning, the presentations in the threads by Bently have been outstanding, I still hold a fear that the author is approaching some of the material with a bias.


message 19: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Rodney, once again you raise some interesting points this week and I hope others will chime in with their thoughts.

I looked over the chapter again and you are correct in that this statement was made without any way for the reader to ascertain its measureability. Odd since some of these chapters on plants and agriculture we were overwhelmed with stats.

I am not so sure that Diamond insinuated that they purposely used germs to kill off the populations; I think that what happened was that the Europeans for the most part traveled with them. Like the swine flu traveled here or SARs traveled from Asia or wherever these viruses evolved. I think that the Europeans because of their affiliation with livestock were tremendous carriers. You know meningitis can kill many folks who come in contact with the carrier yet the carrier shows no signs of being ill.

I think that Diamond is tackling a huge subject and I am surprised that he has done as well as he has discussing and explaining such a complex subject.

Thank you for your kind words. We try to keep things going.

I do think there are his opinions which show up sprinkled throughout the book; and since he was an ornithologist in New Guinea for so many years; he seems to have a lot of knowledge about that location and its people which he seems to be obliged to tell us all about. I think he could have tempered his enthusiasm for that part of the world but then that part of the world allegedly was what was a springboard for the book itself and Yali's question.

I hope other folks will weigh in about this week's reading. These chapters actually for me were somewhat more interesting than the agriculture ones.

What are everybody else's thoughts?


Rodney | 83 comments
I do think there are his opinions which show up sprinkled throughout the book; and since he was an ornithologist in New Guinea for so many years; he seems to have a lot of knowledge about that location and its people which he seems to be obliged to tell us all about. I think he could have tempered his enthusiasm for that part of the world but then that part of the world allegedly was what was a springboard for the book itself and Yali's question.


I have been looking back at some of the previous topics after my last post and at the half way point of the book I have some thoughts on the original questions.

History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.


In my opinion, Diamond is clearly proving this thesis. I have always liked the wording of this statement because it does not draw distinction and is based on demonstrable analysis and thought. The author has presented some unique and interesting ideas that have made good sense and caused me to re-think certain assumptions I've held.


Yali's question seems simple, yet the answer encompasses the whole of human history. He asks, "Why is it you white people developed so much cargo, but we black people had little cargo of our own?


This is what I would consider a highly loaded question. By nature of the question, it's divisive and accusatory. I believe Diamond's original theory explains why things have developed to the current world and it has absolutely nothing to do with Black and White. In addition, Diamond has explained in his book to this point that Yali's question has not always been the case. "White people" have not always held all the cargo. It is a question that is based upon today's world and totally neglects the concept of time in order to try and prove an unnecessary point.

And what do you think of Diamond's theory that New Guineans could be, on average, "smarter" than Westerners?


Loaded question two. It would not surprise me to learn someone is on average smarter than a Westerner. If I was placed in the same environment as an individual from New Guninia, I would probably not survive very long. Our survival skills and ability have evolved differently. I was under the impression this realization was at the heart of the books thesis. However, it is unfortunate that a man of science is proposing what I consider a blatant racist statement. There are so many ugly ways this statement could have been rewritten over the years to justify horrific results. As with my previous post, there is no measurability to justify this claim.

As I said earlier, I am learning a great deal with the book. Going into this reading, I had heard of the book, but knew nothing else about it. I very much appreciate all the discussion and input.


message 21: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Rodney, I am glad that you are going to back some of the earlier reader guide questions. You have made some interesting comments.

I tend to agree with you about the book itself. But I too think that Diamond is proving his thesis even though I do not buy ALL of his carte blanche statements.


message 22: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Humans have evolved over time. Have we fully evolved or are we finished? Will we develop higher brain functionality or psychic abilities? Will we be able to stop the aging process and be forever young in our appearances? Have we gone as far as we can go in terms of physical and mental evolution?

Diamond discusses how microbes evolve and mutate into stronger, more lethal germs. How is it that tiny germs can change but humans can’t.

Why hasn’t the human body evolved in a manner that allows us to combat any germ? Even the common cold. Our immune system does a fantastic job for us; but I wonder why germs have been able to mutate and the human body does not seem to have that same ability.

Will germs win out because they can evolve, mutate; while humans allegedly cannot? Look at the superbugs that hospitals and the like are very worried about.


message 23: by Patricrk (last edited Oct 25, 2010 03:50AM) (new)

Patricrk patrick | 435 comments Bentley wrote: "Humans have evolved over time. Have we fully evolved or are we finished? Will we develop higher brain functionality or psychic abilities? Will we be able to stop the aging process and be forever yo..."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_flora
Origin of Species by Charles Darwin Charles Darwin Charles Darwin
When you talk about human evolution, you have to think we are sort of like the oak trees. We take a long time between generations and it takes a lot of consistent selection to establish a new norm. Right now I don't know of any real selective pressure on the human gene pool so we are probably just accumulating variations that are neutral. When pressure is supplied those variations in the gene pool may be beneficial or harmful. We haven't stopped evolving we just aren't under a consistent pressure to change in a certain way. I think a species only stops responding to selective pressure when it goes extinct. Human technology has reduced selective pressure so it isn't driving the species in any particular way.

Germs change faster because they have more generations to work with and there are a lot more of them than us so they have more chances of a variation being helpful in surviving. The human species is running 6 billion experiments every 20 years or so. Bacteria are running quadrillions of experiments every day. The more experiments you run, the more likely you are to find an advantage.
The human body is 9/10 bacteria by cell count. A super immune system would destroy very useful parts of the symbiotic system. It has to be a trade-off, too good an immune system and you may not be able to reproduce due to vitamin deficiency or restricted diet. Too low an immune system and our own normal bacteria will kill us off.

Yes germs will win out. There will be bacteria here long after the human species goes extinct on earth. But I hope that is a very long time in the future.


message 24: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
If you look at the clothing of our ancestors that one can easily see in museums etc.; you see men and women who were much smaller than folks are today. You could say it was nutrition of something else. But the differences are obvious. We now have bigger frames overall, bigger ears, feet, etc. So there have been some minute changes even in 200+ years.

As far as germs winning out; I suspect that is true...rats, insects and germs.

Yes, Patricrk, I guess we are something like an oak tree.


Mary Ellen | 184 comments Re: #20, Rodney: I'm not sure that Yali meant his question to be "loaded." It was phrased in a way that was true to his experience. He and the other native New Guineans he knew were/are darker-skinned than Diamond and the other "western" people he met.

I suppose Marco Polo could have asked the same question of the Chinese, replacing "black" and "white" with different adjectives!

I rather enjoyed Diamond's argument that the average native New Guinean must be smarter than the average western person, in order to survive!


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