Guns, Germs and Steel

Diving into this book is what I’ve been doing the last few days. I’m qite anxious to begin blogging about it, along with continuations on The 10,000 Year Explosion.

Back in the thick of real life by tomorrow afternoon.

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  1. Hi Richard,

    To fully grok GG&S, you have to understand the politics behind it. Suffice to say, its POV is diametrically the opposite of the 10K Year Explosion.

    Read it, then throw it away and forget all of the politically correct tripe.

    >>>>”The most popular example of recent years: Jared Diamond’s 1997 bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond attempted to explain the always-interesting question of who conquered whom over the last 13,000 years without mentioning differences in average intelligence among human groups—a factor that he ruled out, a priori, as too “racist” and “loathsome” even to think about.”

    The fundamental problem with Guns, Germs, and Steel is one I pointed out in my 1997 review:

    “Diamond sets out to reaffirm the equality of humanity by showing the inequality of the continents. … Diamond makes environmental differences seem so compelling that it’s hard to believe that humans would not become somewhat adapted to their homelands through natural selection.”

    Diamond’s millions of fans no doubt assume that evolution couldn’t work fast enough to diversify human behavioral tendencies, since modern humans (presumably) emerged from Africa only about 60,000 years ago. But the disingenuous Diamond knows that’s not true—evolution can work rather quickly.”<<<<

    • Well, Patrik, I’ve never thought much of the thinly veiled racists of

      On the other hand, I don’t necessarily buy Diamond’s outright dismissal that race has nothing to do with anything. I suspect that the right answer is somewhere in the middle, where part of it is continental inequality and environment, and the evolution through natural selection of intelligence.

      Another problem is that intelligence is somewhat contextual.

      • Hi Richard,

        I don’t think much of racists myself. But, while Sailer’s writing is provocative and politically incorrect, he is not a racist.

        But maybe I am missing something. Please direct me to any particular passage or piece that is racist and I will happily examine it. And by racist, I mean, actually racist, not simply unpopular and politically correct.

        BTW I agree with your assessment, probably a function of both environment and IQ.

        Weird thing is that Jared Diamond undercuts his own argument by when he writes:

        … in mental ability New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners …

        Sailer counters with:

        Hmmmh, so a low murder rate and a high level of social and political organization correlates with low IQ? Interesting … but stupid.

        After this introduction about how New Guineans have evolved to be genetically superior in IQ, Jared spends hundreds of pages explaining how it’s totally racist to think that there could possibly be genetic differences in IQ (or at least genetic differences that favor the groups that actually have higher IQs). The distribution of power and accomplishment in the modern world is all due to geographical differences between the continents! But, as I gently chided in my review of his book in National Review in 1997, this popular argument of his only makes genetic differences more likely:

        “Diamond makes environmental differences seem so compelling that it’s hard to believe that humans would not become somewhat adapted to their homelands through natural selection.”


      • By racism, I certainly don’t mean that if not for reverse racism, it’s racism, if you know what I mean. and others make a big deal about immigration, always on the basis of jobs (whose jobs?) and the public trough (whose trough?). See, I just always though that the solution to the problem was to treat jobs as private property to be dispensed and disposed by those providing them, and I don’t think anyone should feed at a public trough that’s supplied through the institutionalized theft we euphemistically refer to as “taxation.”

        But you rarely, if ever, hear them talk about Canadian or white European immigration, so, yea, I suspect that if you scratch ’em, you’ll find a racist to some degree. They just aren’t too hip on the brown skins.

        At any rate, I agree with that assessment about Diamond’s IQ quip and it made me wince when I read it. That said, this is what I mean by context. I’m sure they are far more intelligent than the average white guy, in THEIR environment and the converse is true as well.

        Question is, could we achieve their level of intelligence there, and they ours, here? I suspect so, but that’s going to be an individual thing, with some of them excelling over the average, and same for us. If you exchanged 1,000 random of us with them in our respective environments, which group would do better overall, say, 10 years down the road? I don’t know, and I suspect any difference wouldn’t be worth talking about.

        I think Diamond’s work is more applicable to the early 1/2 to 2/3 of our time in agriculture, i.e., how it all got started, but then I think there has to have been some natural selection for intelligence along the way.

        Then again, that intelligence is contextual, as I outline above.

  2. Elizabeth Barrette says:

    I loved this book. While I didn’t agree with all of its ideas, many of them explained some long-standing mysteries. I always wondered why the great civilizations of America developed almost nothing in the way of plagues, as Europe did; the paucity of American livestock may help explain that.

  3. I would be curious to see how the book jives with this essay

  4. Aaron Blaisdell says:

    What a coincidence! I read the 10k year explosion last month and am 2/3 of the way through GG&S this month. I’m also reading Conan the Cimmerian and The Cheese Board since I have to mix it up a bit. I agree so far with Elizabeth’s statement. I’m especially intrigued by the explanatory power behind the idea that most of our epidemic diseases were stolen from the animals we domesticated.

  5. I just read this book myself. (actually audio version) I’ll be interested to read what you think of it!
    Have a great day!

  6. There are so many criticisms of Diamonds work from the anti-science/psuedoscience white supremacist angle. Here’s a good look at his work from a better non-racist, anti-bio-determinist view:

  7. Blumenthal says:

    ***Another problem is that intelligence is somewhat contextual.***

    Right, but in the context of being able to build bridges that don’t collapse, sewage systems and basic infrastructure, intelligence as measured by psychometric tests or SAT matters.

    “The UCLA researchers took the study a step further by comparing the white matter architecture of identical twins, who share almost all their DNA, and fraternal twins, who share only half. Results showed that the quality of the white matter is highly genetically determined, although the influence of genetics varies by brain area. According to the findings, about 85 percent of the variation in white matter in the parietal lobe, which is involved in mathematics, logic, and visual-spatial skills, can be attributed to genetics. But only about 45 percent of the variation in the temporal lobe, which plays a central role in learning and memory, appears to be inherited.

    Thompson and his collaborators also analyzed the twins’ DNA, and they are now looking for specific genetic variations that are linked to the quality of the brain’s white matter. The researchers have already found a candidate–the gene for a protein called BDNF, which promotes cell growth. “People with one variation have more intact fibers,” says Thompson. ”

    Also, there are distinct brain characteristics associated with cognitive ability.


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