The author outlines the role played by livestock and crops in the spread of germs and diseases. He presents various points of germs and diseases’ entry into humans as well as modes of transmission to other people. With the origin of bacteria being animals, Diamond outlines that it may hardly seem like a positive development, more so whenever it infected multitudes of people and wiping out potential generations. On the brighter side, he explains that such epidemics presented an opportunity to develop immunity. Genetics give evidence that repeated exposure to certain illnesses has led to some people developing immunity to those diseases. The significance of such resistance lies at the moment when another community would seek to conquer and displace an existing community. In this situation, the invading community would be easily frustrated by the illnesses which they had not developed any immunity to counter them.
The extinction of small communities is majorly a result of their inadequate capacity to fight external epidemics. Moreover, large populations are the key distributors of crowd diseases. In addition, agriculture (including both animal rearing and crop growing) promotes disease through coexistence with humans that initiate the disease. The author explains that transmission of infections from animals was possible after alterations in the direct vector and modifications in the microbe. Spread occurs through trade routes in Asia, Europe and Africa. While tropical diseases did not hinder European colonization in other continents, the establishment of selected infectious diseases impeded the European entry into some sectors of the New World.
Research has shown that the art of writing has its probable roots in South West Asia, China and Mesoamerica. The rest of the cultures are believed to have adopted writing via idea diffusion as well as copying. Language can be represented in three fundamental ways; syllabic, alphabetic and logographic. Due to the varying origins of writing, the fusion among them has led to diverse combinations of syllabaries, logograms and alphabetical letters. Egyptian hieroglyphs for consonant sounds resulted in the birth of the alphabet. Other significant contributors to contemporary writing include the Phoenicians, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans and the Latin. Furthermore, there existed the Cherokee Indian Sequoyah who used eighty-five symbols to develop the Cherokee writing system. The Rongorongo script of Easter Island and Hang’ul of Korea make the minority writing systems that are often ignored.
Initially, writing was used in stratified multifaceted communities by an elite few to manage bureaucratic accounts and to maintain palace records. Writing facilitated enslavement, tax collection, promotion of religious beliefs and endorsement of superstitions. Hunters, gatherers and select food producing communities did not use writing due to isolation hence lack of idea spread. In addition to the hunters and gatherers, some complex agricultural societies never made attempts towards developing writing, including the Tonga, Incas, Mississippi Valley Indians and Hawaii. Conversely, the Europeans possessed the ability to read and write, which boosted them over the mostly illiterate societies they conquered. This is because they could study accounts on previous sailors, sailing directions and develop maps among other things.
Jared Diamond kicks off this episode with the Phaistos disk archaeologically discovered in Crete Island in 1908. The mystery posed by this disk lay in its technological potential. It bears forty-five symbols presumed to be of a syllabary, mounted on clay. Archaeological researchers believe that it was the earliest form of printing before it became useless. While this may be seen as an invention that sprouted from peoples’ quest for technology, other cases present advancement in technology to result from experiments. Following its discovery, multiple designs motivated by curiosity and taking innovation as a hobby were made.
As the author describes technological development to be the result of interest, he argues that its uses were implemented following the discovery. The acceptability of an invention was based on four factors notably: the economic suitability over other devices, its social importance, its compatibility with the people’s needs and finally the ease with which these benefits were uncovered. Diamond furthers that receptivity of these inventions was not uniform from society to the next depending on life expectancy, lack of cheap labor, the legal angle, availability of technical expertise among other factors. The Samurai, for instance, rejected guns until 1853 when Commodore Perry arrived. Food production led to population growth and consequently technological development. Major strides in technology such as guns allowed for a culture to take priority over another. The author sums up the section by stating that the differences in technological development between Europeans and the world were diffusion barriers, variations in human population and levels of food production.
While Westerners view the “Black Continent” as black and monolithic, it is indeed diverse. Diamond perceives this diversity to have resulted from the geographical variations present in the African landscape. In 1000 A.D., five principal groups settled in Africa notably: Khoisan of South Africa, African Pygmies from the Central African rainforest, Asians/Indonesian of Madagascar, blacks, and whites in North Africa, with blacks occupying the largest portion: sub-Saharan Africa (Niko, 2011). He explains that many regions contained areas where different groups overlapped. The five principal groups resulted from the long diverse prehistory of the continent. It is observable that the North African “whites” bear resemblance to those from the Middle East and they communicate in Afro-Asiatic dialects. Pygmies were engulfed by Bantus who diluted their language. Austronesian languages are common in Madagascar where blacks met Indonesians, and blacks maintained both Bantu and non-Bantu communication dialects. Finally, the Khoisan who include Bushmen and Hottentots were initially widespread together with their click-laden communication. However, they are currently marginalized to deserts by agriculturalists. Moreover, Africa experienced a dual-dramatic population shift whereby the Indonesians colonized Madagascar and the Bantu expanded.
The literacy, advanced technology and political organization possessed in Europe facilitated them to conquer Africa. Africa still lags in overall advancement compared to Europe due to a sum of factors. Some of the most remarkable include the disadvantages posed by the north-south streamlining of resources that raised a barrier to domesticating plants, they lagged behind in obtaining domestic animals, lacked a variety of both plants and animals, and the small overall area compared to Europe.
Diamond applies his thesis to answer Yali by outlining that the outstanding variations between the lasting histories of pioneers of continents resulted from differences in their environments as opposed to innate dissimilarities in the inhabitants (Diamond, 1999). He reiterates the four noticeable differences that have led to these diversities: differences in the varieties of animals and plants, immigration and diffusion, the rate of the influx of populations from one continent to the other, and finally the adversities in the particular region and its inhabitants’ population size. While he believes that cultural and individual differences among communities may play a role in shaping their history, he strongly attests that significant contribution to diversity is a result of environmental factors, and other factors may follow. He firmly believes that the Europeans developed majorly since they had favorable conditions and numerous starting material to kick start their growth. These factors enabled them to dominate China and Fertile Crescent.
Localized phenomena such as China rising above before other nations can be explained by individual differences whereby, in this case, China’s unity drove the growth. While Europe was ready to explore, power struggles between the Chinese and the Eunuchs crippled their progress. This brings us to his thought process that history ought to be examined from a scientific approach. He however acknowledges the shortcomings in his thinking in that, experiments to prove the diversity in human races can be a very time consuming endless process coupled with too many variables and uniqueness of every situation to validate the analysis.
Diamond, J. M. (1999). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. New York: Norton.
Niko, S. (2011). Quicklet on Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond : Chapter-By-Chapter Commentary & Summary. San Francisco: Hyperink - Guns, Germs, and Steel Quicklet.
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