Jared Diamond on vengeance

In the current New Yorker, anthropologist Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse, looks at the vengeance practices of tribal societies in New Guinea. While Diamond was conducting field work in the New Guinea Highlands, he was driven around by a young man named Daniel Wemp of the Handa clan. The two got to talking and Daniel recounted how he avenged the death of his uncle who had been killed by the neighboring Ombal clan. The tale is amazing, insightful, and gets you thinking about our own, er, taste for revenge. From the New Yorker article, titled "Vengeance Is Ours":
The war between the Handa clan and the Ombal clan began many years ago; how many, Daniel didn’t say, and perhaps didn’t know. It could easily have been several decades ago, or even in an earlier generation. Among Highland clans, each killing demands a revenge killing, so that a war goes on and on, unless political considerations cause it to be settled, or unless one clan is wiped out or flees. When I asked Daniel how the war that claimed his uncle’s life began, he answered, “The original cause of the wars between the Handa and Ombal clans was a pig that ruined a garden.” Surprisingly to outsiders, most Highland wars start ostensibly as a dispute over either pigs or women. Anthropologists debate whether the wars really arise from some deeperlying ultimate cause, such as land or population pressure, but the participants, when they are asked to name a cause, usually point to a woman or a pig. Any Westerner who knows the story of Helen and the Trojan War will not be surprised to hear women named as a casus belli, but the equal importance of pigs is less obvious. However, New Guinea Highlanders, whose main food staples are starchy root crops like sweet potato and taro, are chronically starved for protein, of which the island’s dark, bristly pigs traditionally furnished the only large source. As a result, pigs are prized symbols of prestige and wealth. Peaceful competition and ostentatious displays involve pigs, and they are also used as currency for buying women. Pigs are individually owned and named, and, as piglets, they are sometimes nursed at one breast by a woman nursing an infant at her other breast.

A typical Highland village is a cluster of huts housing between a few dozen and a few hundred people plus their pigs, traditionally surrounded by a fence, and situated a mile or a few miles from the next village. A village’s pigs are taken out to forage during the day, and are prone then to wander into people’s vegetable gardens, breaking down or digging under fences erected to keep them out. A single pig can root up and ruin an entire garden in a few hours. If the intrusion happens at night, or if the offending pig is not caught in the act, it is virtually impossible to prove which particular pig was responsible.

That was how the Handa-Ombal war began. An Ombal man found that his garden had been wrecked by a pig. He claimed that the offending pig belonged to a certain Handa man, who denied it. The Ombal man became angry, demanded compensation, and assaulted the Handa pig owner when he refused. Relatives of both parties then joined in the dispute, and soon the entire membership of both clans–between four and six thousand people–was dragged into a war that had now raged for longer than Daniel could remember. He told me that, in the four years of fighting leading up to Soll’s death, seventeen other men had been killed.


  1. At the risk of sounding overly provincial, I want to state that Jared Diamond is NOT an anthropologist. To my knowledge, he was primarily trained as an ornithologist, and has no formal training in anthropology. Most of my colleagues in the anthro department don’t like his work very much either. Just a heads-up…

  2. Actually, Jared Diamond is “an American evolutionary biologist, physiologist, biogeographer and nonfiction author. Diamond works as a professor of geography and physiology at UCLA.” (source: Wikipedia)

  3. Actually, Jared Diamond is “an American evolutionary biologist, physiologist, biogeographer and nonfiction author. Diamond works as a professor of geography and physiology at UCLA.” (source: Wikipedia)

  4. they are also used as currency for buying women

    Ahh, the enlightened simplicity of the Noble Savage, unsullied by the terrible Western patriarchal system of law or the horribly dehumanization of globalization. Isn’t it wonderful that we can look at peoples like this and know that if only a few social institutions were changed everyone would live such pure and admirable lives?

  5. The idea that someone should ‘stay in their place’ and never venture beyond their original training is utter nonsense and frequently espoused in academia. It is born of jealousy and inadequacy.

    I guess Ben Franklin should have remained a printer since he never had any formal training the the natural sciences. Darwin should have kept to cataloging beetles or being a clergyman.

    People should be judged on their work. Some people venture beyond their expertise and are wrong (James Watson comes to mind). Many others successfully apply skills learned in one profession to another (The Wright Brothers).

    Does Diamond’s work serve to further anthropology? Does it further the common man’s understanding of human nature? Does it matter if he fails to follow the conventions and language of inaccessible ‘insiders’ of the anthropological world?

  6. Does it matter if he fails to follow the conventions and language of inaccessible ‘insiders’ of the anthropological world?

    Yes, it does.

    The specialized languages of the sciences have been developed in no small part to help us avoid certain kinds of error. Deviating from those norms invites committing those errors.

    Read this stuff the way you would any travelogue. Don’t mistake it for anthropology, because it is not.

  7. Whenelvisdied, do you have any criticism of the work in question? Or are you only interested in protecting your academic turf?

  8. I never said he should “stay in his place”, only that it mis-characterizes him and anthropology to call him an anthropologist.

    >It is born of jealousy and inadequacy.


    >Does Diamond’s work serve to further anthropology?

    Maybe, maybe not. Somehow I doubt it, though it’d be tough to prove it pro or con.

    >Does it further the common man’s understanding of human nature?

    No, it reifies the understanding most people have, which is that culture is bounded and internally homogeneous. For Diamond, there is “European culture”, which spread to, and conquered “Mayan” and then “Aztec” cultures, for example. It’s what the anthropologist Eric Wolf called a “billiard ball” theory of culture, and whose book “Europe and the People without History” is a MUCH better version of the story Diamond tries to tell.

    >Does it matter if he fails to follow the conventions and language of inaccessible ‘insiders’ of the anthropological world?

    Again, classy… Plenty of anthropologists write in clear, concise language, as does Diamond. It doesn’t make them less academic. Just like writing about human beings doesn’t make Jared Diamond an anthropologist.

  9. It does matter whether he is an anthropologist, although of course there are good anthropologists and bad ones, because the field of anthropology has spent some time dealing with what it means to be presenting or representing people, what are the ethics or implications of generalizing about an entire culture based on whatever interactions one has had on it, how to structure interactions in ways that generate more than (for example) a male-centric view of the culture..

    and the idea that “people should be judged on their work” kind of falls apart in the social sciences. How would you “judge” Diamond? what kind of information do you need to know if his work is good or not?

    the point some folks are trying to make is that he may not be meeting the standards of anthropology, which are different in some ways from those of journalism, travel writing, and personal memoir.

    I think the standards of anthropology are pretty good ones, because they usually try to cope with the ethics and effects of speaking on behalf of, or representing different cultures. The field has developed a set of methodological and representational tools to work against, for example, reifying racist or colonial attitudes or representing people in ways that differ from how they see themselves. a personal memoir, for example, is usually held to no such standard in terms of its value.

  10. re: criticisms….I am personally convinced by the argument made in the book “Yali’s Question” by Frederick Errington and Deborah Gewertz–namely that Diamond misunderstood the question posed to him in the beginning of his book, and to which his book is an answer. Definitely worth a look.

    More generally, I guess I find problematic the idea of history and culture presented in Guns, Germs, and Steel–namely that culture is bounded and homogenous (is there a unified “American culture”?), and that history is primarily determined by ecology, and not human action. Both of these ideas are fairly commonplace in western thinking, in one form or another, and Diamond’s book essentially recapitulates them.

  11. Diamond is an environmental determinist, and a pretty damned good one. He’s obviously an evolutionist and has done a lot of work for the cultural determinist school, asking and answering questions that were too long put off by the ‘gossip columnist’ school of anthropology that held sway for too long in American universities.

  12. that’s as may be, but is “environmental determinism” a method or a world view? because it’s the method of ‘proving’one’s questions that’s partly at stake in how “good” he is.

    when you say “evolutionist” you mean “social evolutionist,” right> because that seems to me more questionable than biological evolution..

    If I understand it, that means he thinks that there are different societies on the same scale of evolution, at different stages, so presumabl the state-ruled ones are at the “top” and non-state ruled ones are at “lower” on the scale? I can see that in his paper.

    is there only one way to have a better society (i.e only one scale)? that was my question, reading his piece as well.

  13. “I guess I find problematic the idea of history and culture presented in Guns, Germs, and Steel–namely that culture is bounded and homogenous (is there a unified “American culture”?)”

    It doesn’t matter if our culture is strictly homogeneous or not. It is homogeneous enough that when it pushes up against an alien culture that it behaves in a consistent way. While I am sure there were some Conquistadors who were no where near as bloodthirsty and ruthless as most. In the end it didn’t matter. The Aztecs were wiped off the map and their culture replaced by a foreign one.

    It also doesn’t matter that much to me if Jared is an anthropologist or not. I’ve never mistook his writing for science. He writes intelligently about interesting subjects. If there are places where academics might dispute a point here or there, well, so much the better. I don’t have a problem with that.

  14. A recent issue of Archeology magazine mentioned a conference of anthrpologists that dealt with some of Diamond’s simplifications.

    Here is an abstract


    What I recall from the article is well summarized by responding to this summary from Wikipedia

    “As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, he dismantles previous ethnocentric explanations for the collapses which he discusses, and focuses instead on ecological factors. He pays particular attention to the Norse settlements in Greenland, which vanished as the climate got colder, while the surrounding Inuit culture thrived.”

    Anthropologists respond that the Greenland settlements didn’t “collapse” or “vanish”, rather the people there willingly decided to up and leave and go home because they made choices to respond to climate change.

  15. there appears to be some confusion here,

    cultural anthropology is not a science.
    hell, biological anthropology is not a science in th epopperian falsifiability sense, but it’s close enough. like astronomy.

    mr diamond, like many who speak to a broad audience, makes certain simplifications that others may be unfomfortable with. this does not make his assertions false, or make him a shyster, because the nature of generalizations is such that one must exclude the outliers and exceptions in order to make a generalization in the first place.

  16. I just wanted to throw in my two cents. I’m not an anthropologist, but a political scientist who studies conflict, regime change, and political-economic development, so my social scientific background is a little different (oh, and I would assert any field based on scientific principles of inquiry is, by its nature, science – social sciences, when properly conducted, are essentially primatology of humans . . . but I digress), but I can say I find Diamond quite interesting. Specifically, I find him interesting because he does assert that at any give time the technological and ecological bounds of a society do limit its choices – both its ability to choose certain goals and its ability to choose certain methods of accomplishing those goals. That is deterministic to a point, but it doesn’t deny the fundamental importance of human volition and political-economic-social machinations and interactions. In this sense Diamond is really just digging into the turf of realism, be it classical (Machiavelli/Hobbes), Malthusian (Malthus/Hardin), or neorealism (Waltz and 10 jillion other folk). Indeed, I like to think of Diamond as a Malthusian realist who is integrating the classical realists’ understanding of political decision-making and the conservative liberals’ (e.g. Burke) understanding of the significance of culture on decision-making. Now, does he pick his cases or work in quantitative terms? Nope. So sure, his methods imperfect. And, since he is picking his cases (usually extreme ones) to demonstrate this theories, it is easy to argue that he is (1) a determinist and (2) throwing his net entirely too widely. But then, I don’t see Diamond as trying to revolutionize social science, so much as trying to remind the rationalists that rationality isn’t merely culturally bounded, something realists tend to ignore or forget – it is physically bounded as well, something non-realists have a tendency to ignore or forget.

    In other words? Cultural and material bounds don’t constitute inflexible, permanent bounds divorced from history, nor do they constitute moral bounds – rather they are structural bounds that are inescapable until the structures are changed, either through the development of new technologies, cultural patterns, or other factors; yet their flexibility renders them no less bounds.

  17. What always confuses me about these types of feuds is why they don’t immediately turn into attempted genocide– if you know that any survivors you leave will seek vengeance, why not go ahead and try and get them too rather than keep playing tit for tat?

  18. #18: ‘is “environmental determinism” a method or a world view?’

    >It’s both. Evolution is accepted as a universal process: If evolution is anywhere it is everywhere.

    #18: ‘when you say “evolutionist” you mean “social evolutionist,” right? because that seems to me more questionable than biological evolution.’

    >Why? If evolution is anywhere it is everywhere.

    #20: ‘the Greenland settlements didn’t “collapse” or “vanish”, rather the people there willingly decided to up and leave and go home because they made choices to respond to climate change.’

    > Hauling ass for home sounds like ‘collapse’ to me.

    #21: ‘cultural anthropology is not a science.’

    > Neither are chemicals or canaries. Science is just a method, a way of studying cultures, chemicals, and canaries. The social sciences try really hard to ‘science up’ their studies, as they should if they wish to be taken seriously.

    #22: ‘Cultural and material bounds…are inescapable until the structures are changed, either through the development of new technologies, cultural patterns, or other factors; yet their flexibility renders them no less bounds.’

    > Sounds solidly deterministic to me. The cultural determinists like Diamond don’t allow us much wriggle room. We would have to turn to theism to get off their hooks, and embrace such notions as ‘human spirit,’ ‘soul,’ and ‘free will.’ It’s strange that we espouse a rigid determinism in all natural things other than ourselves, but flee from its stain upon what we consider to be our otherworldly uniqueness.

  19. I’m pretty sure his vengeance hard father-in-law never got into art therapy or chewed any MDMA to chill that 60 year blood lust.

  20. Hey, this gives me a chance to spout my theory on the evolution of violence! And attempt to deviate the thread from definition wars ;)
    Here goes:
    There are three stages in the reaction to violence:
    1) “Strike your enemy seven times as hard as he strikes you.” The basic idea is to discourage violence by warning you that the revenge will be much worse. It has the huge flaw of encouraging violence escalation, and turning a percieved slight into a full-scale war (as illustrated in this text).
    2) “An eye for an eye” (Code of Hammurabi, Law of Talion) This tries to fix the escalation of violence. Problem is, we humans are imperfect, and will perceive intent where there was none, and easily fall back to the vendetta stage.
    3) “Turn the other cheek” (Jesus, Gandhi) This tries to completely defuse the cycle of violence. Some people perceive it as a sign of “weakness”.

    Culturally, I think we still haven’t learnt our lesson from that guy who got nailed (literally) for suggesting we be nice to each other, for a change, and morally remain at the second stage.

    Flame on!

  21. Strange that wikipedia does not mention arguably his most important work
    “How Cats Survive Falls from New York Skyscapers”

  22. @#2:

    In my own professional work I have touched on a variety of different fields. I’ve done my work in mathematical linguistics, for example, without any professional credentials in mathematics; in this subject I am completely self-taught, and not very well taught. But I’ve often been invited by universities to speak on mathematical linguistics at mathematics seminars and colloquia. No one has ever asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on these subjects; the mathematicians couldn’t care less. What they want to know is what I have to say. No one has ever objected to my right to speak, asking whether I have a doctor’s degree in mathematics, or whether I have taken advanced courses in the subject. That would never have entered their minds. They want to know whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting or not, whether better approaches are possible – the discussion dealt with the subject, not with my right to discuss it.

    But on the other hand, in discussion or debate concerning social issues or American foreign policy, Vietnam or the Middle East, for example, the issue is constantly raised, often with considerable venom. I’ve repeatedly been challenged on the grounds of credentials, or asked, what special training do you have that entitles you to speak of these matters. The assumption is that people like me, who are outsiders from a professional standpoint, are not entitled to speak on such things.

    Compare mathematics and the political sciences — it’s quite striking. In mathematics, in physics, people are concerned with what you say, not with your certification. But in order to speak about social reality, you must have the proper credentials, particularly if you depart from the accepted framework of thinking. Generally speaking, it seems fair to say that the richer the intellectual substance of a field, the less there is a concern for credentials, and the greater is concern for content.

    —Noam Chomsky, pp. 6-7: Language and Responsibility.

  23. Personally, I think that debating the merits of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” is far more interesting than determining whether or not Jared Diamond an anthropologist, an evolutionary biologist, a geographer, a historian, or whatever else people want to call him. My initial comment was only meant to address what I thought was a mis-characterization of him–I’ve never heard him referred to as an anthropologist, nor (more importantly) have I ever heard him self-identify as such.

    Back to “GGaS”–

    >It is homogeneous enough that when it pushes up against an alien culture that it behaves in a consistent way. While I am sure there were some Conquistadors who were no where near as bloodthirsty and ruthless as most.

    There were HUGE debates in Spain about whether or not the conquest of the Americas was a good or a bad idea, and whether or not the Mayans, Tainos, Caribs, and other indigenous groups should be treated as a foreign power, the same way Spain treated the French, the English, and other European nations. For a good summary, see Immanuel Wallerstein’s recent short book “European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power”. The Spanish nation did not have a consistent, homogenous culture that universally viewed indigenous peoples of the Americas as ripe for conquest.

    >In the end it didn’t matter. The Aztecs were wiped off the map and their culture replaced by a foreign one.

    Tell that to indigenous folks in Central America who still speak their indigenous languages and fight for their indigenous rights. The relatively EZLN “uprising” in the mexican State of Chiapas (Mayan, I know) makes clear that indigenous people were not conquered but continue to resist and struggle against more recent “immigrants”.

  24. I don’t see much of Diamond’s specific ideas -whatever they may be- on this snippet, but a write down of Daniel’s story and some seemingly common facts.
    Any informed readers care to disgress?

  25. #24:

    “#22: ‘Cultural and material bounds…are inescapable until the structures are changed, either through the development of new technologies, cultural patterns, or other factors; yet their flexibility renders them no less bounds.’

    > Sounds solidly deterministic to me. The cultural determinists like Diamond don’t allow us much wriggle room. We would have to turn to theism to get off their hooks, and embrace such notions as ‘human spirit,’ ‘soul,’ and ‘free will.’ It’s strange that we espouse a rigid determinism in all natural things other than ourselves, but flee from its stain upon what we consider to be our otherworldly uniqueness.”

    The fact that boundaries exist does not make them deterministic. The United States has several boundaries that prevent us from seriously considering or reaching certain goals. Because of our choice of a free market system and a democracy, we cannot suddenly choose to go without fossil fuels, for instance. Our politicians don’t have the power, and the market would impose too high a cost to realistically achieve that goal right now. Similarly, a society that existed on the either of the poles would have a rather difficult time getting 100% of their power from solar panels, as it’s dark 6 months of the year.

    Boundaries and limits do not define a course of action unless they limit the choices to one. What Jared Diamond has pointed out is that if you attempt to go past certain bounds, you may threaten a society that doesn’t acknowledge that there is a boundary, and therefore refuses to change behaviors. It doesn’t limit free will; you can do whatever you want, the results may not be what you expect. Another (silly) example: You could, theoretically, walk around slapping people across the face for no particular reason. If you do it infrequently, there might not be severe consequences, just some very confused and upset people. If continue to do it, and increase in frequency, you may find yourself confronted by other people, engaged in a fight, or taken to court. Those are consequences for breaking a social norm or boundary. That boundary didn’t constrain or prevent that behavior, but a refusal to acknowledge it or change behaviors may bring undesirable (and possibly, unforseen) consequences.

  26. Whenelvisdied @29: Is there ever such a thing as a “homogenous culture” in the sense you’re using? When does a culture ever unanimously agree on any course of action? If anyone in Rome disagreed with Cato’s “Cathargo delenda est” would it be a mischaracterization to say that (the culture of) Rome destroyed (the culture of) Carthage? If only homogenous cultures can be spoken of interacting with each other, can one speak of cultures at all?

    If one set of my brain cells outvote another set on a course of action, do “I” have an identity, by your standards? Am “I” speaking to “you”, or is it just the voting majority of my brain cells speaking to a voting majority of yours?

  27. Quibbler:

    That’s the same as with the most important contemporary work of Charles Darwin:
    “On the formation of vegetable mould through the actions of worms; with observations of their behaviour”

    The book on worms I have read so far. (Also, the only one, but not bad at all.)

  28. #32

    That’s exactly my point–but Diamond paints culture that way, as being basically bounded by environment or geography, and without much internal differentiation. It’s a kind of conflation of “States” with “Cultures”–the Spanish state may have invaded the Aztec and Maya peoples in the 15th and 16th centuries looking for resources and slaves, but that doesn’t mean that European “culture” (a product of environment, for Diamond) conquered meso-american “culture”. Even saying “Aztec” and “Maya” covers up enormous differentiations of language, means of subsistence, ethnicity, and inequality–I’m just not enough of an expert on the region to be more explicit than those two terms.

    By painting the world this way, Diamond has no way of explaining why the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch began colonizing the Americas 100 years before the English got involved, and two hundred years before the Italians and Germans, even though these regions have ~relatively~ similar ecological conditions (as compared to, say, southeast asia, sub-saharan africa, or the North pole).

  29. As a member of the American Anthropology Association let me just say that not having been formally trained in anthropology is probably advantageous.

    It means he’s less likely to get sucked into the fads that Anthropologists sometimes confuse with science.

    For example, Dostoevsky was probably one of the greatest anthropologists of all time.

  30. #34,

    I think Diamond puts emphasis on geographic/environmental factors because they are not necessarily always identified or given sufficient weight (in his opinion) when discussing events such as the Spanish invasion of Central America. He also, however, makes a point of saying that it’s how societies, cultures and states react to the environment that can make the crucial difference. The Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch may have had different political issues or political views than the English, Italians and Germans. The latter three may have been more inwardly focused, or engaged in regional wars that prohibited spending their resources on colonization.

    What I have taken away from Jared Diamond’s books is that environment and geography plays an important role in how a civilization develops and the choices available to it. However, it is only one (oft overlooked) factor among many that ultimately determine success. Jared Diamond also set out to help dispel the notion that the reason the Spanish and other colonizing powers succeeded in colonizing was that they were inherently better people or societies.

  31. I read the article and enjoyed it (though I read it as a memoir rather than as anthropology), but I’m troubled by its conclusions. If you don’t feel like reading through all eight pages, Diamond finishes by telling the story of his father-in-law, a Polish soldier in WWII, who comes home to find his family dead. He finds the killer, but after considering, he turns him in to the authorities instead of taking revenge. The man is released without suffering any real punishment.

    Diamond concludes that his father-in-law’s subsequent lifelong guilt and regret could’ve been avoided had he executed the killer. This idea is an enormous leap of logic, and ignores, among other things, the possibility that murdering the killer could’ve also led to lifelong guilt and regret. He ignores the idea that the family’s death is what haunted his father-in-law, and that no action could’ve alleviated that.

    I think the flaw in this article is Diamond’s recklessness in the way he applies the lessons of tribal New Guinea to Western society.

  32. KBB @28: My concern is not with the the author’s credentials but with the specific point that he is not couching his analysis in the accepted language of anthropology. You don’t have to have credentials to do that.

    Also, the Chomsky quote is a lot less compelling when you realize that mathematical linguists were listening to him because he was a big name with a strong brand, and that the influence of his uniformed ruminations arguably set the field of statistical linguistics back by decades. Google “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” if you don’t believe this.

  33. @26 The basic problem with turning the other cheek is that it gives the aggressor very little reason to not just hit you again for whatever reason he hit you the first time.
    Ghandi’s plans only worked because the British were unwilling to slaughter peaceful unarmed civilians. Against an opponent who has no problem with this, nonviolence is profoundly unwise.

  34. I don’t see what the problem is with using geographical determinism.
    Jared is probably too sweeping and generalized and makes societies homogenous when they’re not, and there can be arguments about details and specifics but that to me doesn’t change the general idea that geography dictates culture (or is one of the main factors, cause if it’s not geography, perhaps it’s the inherent qualities of the people themselves)which although he might not be an anthropologist he’s offering it as an idea that should not be dismissed. To me duh! A culture that comes out of a desert is not going to be the same as a culture of an island surrounded by water. Duh. I’ve read his book and agree with him generally, not specifically. To me it’s a much better view because anthropology before seems to state that the reasons cultures are different is because the people are different inherently. In his book, he also discusses the ease of spreading ideas. Societies grow by incorporating ideas so if there’s ease in spreading ideas (such as no deserts, mountains and tons of deep ocean etc in the way), naturally the society will be more innovative not because the other society is dark and hence has lesser quality brain neurons as so much of Western Anthropology has stated for so long.

    So perhaps if millenia upon millenia ago, someone had switched the populations of Europe and America around, things would have been different, would the now Americans have invaded Europe or would it have been the other way around?

    To whenelvisdied, it’s true that the indigenous community is still around and no they’ve not been wiped out, but their POWER is wiped out. They wouldn’t have to go on strike if it was their descendants in power not the descendants of the Spanish conquistadores who are in POWER. And I agree that people packing up and leaving (GREENLAND) is a collapse of a society as in it’s not there anymore to have an effect or influence on anyone. It’s an extinct society. The Inuits stayed and are still successful. They didn’t collapse. It doesn’t have to be the people dying.

    This academic question of whether one was trained as this or that is stifling science. I believe yes, there have to be documented ways of stating facts, ie I can’t just stand up and say there are aliens on Jupiter without presenting corroborated facts, but then nit picking of whether I’m a xenobiologist without looking at my science so it can be dismissed is just wrong. Nitpick my results and how I gathered my facts ie, I got these facts from my dreams is definitely NOT acceptable. And cast doubt certainly.
    Most of science would not exist without scientists (who many did not call themselves that) who were not trained but merely dabbled. Look at all those gentlemen scientists in the 17th century who had the money to buy equipment and while away their time making observations. NATURALLY, FACTS AND EXPERIMENTS HAVE TO BE SET OUT AND CORROBORATED!

  35. I liked G, G and S because Diamond posed an interesting question: why did black people in sub-Saharan Africa not evolve technologically even though they represented the ‘cradle of civilization’? Then he explored it.

    I did not like Collapse because he seemed determined to write an environmental cautionary tale and, predictably, each collapse was the result of human eco-error.

  36. Human societies (cultures) are thermodynamic systems that exploit, with greater or lesser success, available energy sources. Grains could be stored against bad crop seasons, yams and potatoes could not. Complex, densely populated cultures (civil societies) first arose in the east-west grain belt where surplus cereal grains resulted in surplus people. In order to evolve into a civil society the hunter/gatherer bands had to be in the right place at the right time (on that axis, at the end of the last ice age). This is called luck. It is also called environmental determinism. That’s the core of what Diamond is saying in GG&S. The CERTIFIED anthropologist Leslie A. White put it this way: E (energy) +T (technology) = C (culture). That’s as simple and neat and deterministic as one can say it: E+T=C. Whether you harpoon seals through the ice or dig up taro roots, you are HOW you eat.

  37. Didn’t the fight between the owners of Jordache & Guess Jeans begin over a Great-Great Uncle’s Goat falling into someone else’s well? Over the years the fight sprawled across 4 continents, involved Lawyers, Private Investigators, secret dirty tricks, and charges of Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Tax evasions on both sides.

  38. re #44 buddy66

    Maori settled in Aotearoa-New Zealand some time before 1380CE. they had “sweet potatoes” (kumera) and one “potato”, both from polynesia, assumed to originate from the Americas, (in an unknown epoch)

    Maori has a culture with no grains, no metals, no meat-or-transport-mammals (their dogs didnt feature heavily in diet, presumably because they were difficult to feed)

    Maori built no stone buildings, but their wood, bone and jade carvings and tattoos are now held in the highest regard.

    It seems definitely established that Maori practiced cannibalism. Not merely ceremonial, but practical. On long journeys South to get Pounamu (Jade) they are said to have taken slaves to be eaten on the trip.

    They did store kumera in pits. This seemed to have sustained/provoked a culture of constant (summer) warfare. Hitch-hiking through Northland NZ a Maori pointed out to me that almost every hilltop showed remnants of terracing, where pallisaded forts (Pa) had been constructed with immense labour. Primarily to protect kumera pits, also to protect young women from raids.

    The warfare was limited in impact because the wooden palisades were effective defence against hand weapons. Maori had darts, but no bows afaik.

    My driver told me the story about one Southern (Waikato) war-party who traveled North, and attacked a Pa. Failing to seize it, they were about to leave. The defenders, desiring to prolong the fight, sallied out and seized the chief of the Waikoto tribe, took him inside the Pa and strung him up between two trees. The battle carried on. The attackers changed their name to “Sons of the outstretched one”

    Once whalers and sealers arrived ca 1800 with muskets,axes, and planked ships, balances of power changed dramatically.

  39. OK that should be “Maori had” not “has”
    Present day Maori culture is a clever construct: Women can speak, Aristocracy is not emphasised, Treaty claims are levereged into significant parcels of land and fisheries.

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