Proposed Panel 4: 2013 Kauffman Foundation Economic Webloggers' Conference: Friday April 12, 2013
Friday From the Archives: A Dozen Keepers from March 2005

The Jared Diamond Wars Are on Again!

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I see that the Savage Minders are back. Alex Golub:

How can we explain human variation? | Savage Minds: I’ve been struggling to find a way to blog regularly about Jared Diamond’s new book, The World Until Yesterday…. It begins with a set piece... the airport in Port Moresby.... He contrasts traditional societies with modern ones…. [T]here is no way that [Diamond's] concept of ‘traditional society’ makes any sense…. I honestly cannot tell what Diamond has in mind here…. [W]hat we see… is a profound lack of thought…. [W]hat we have is someone with a very basic, text-book answer about what constitutes an acceptable study…. Diamond seems unable to comprehend…. Diamond’s premisses affect his interpretation in problematic ways… anthropology — real, actual anthropology — has come up with a better way of doing things.

Last time it was pretty clear that at least some of the Savage Minders' "better way of doing things" included not understanding Jared Diamond's "Prologue":

Kerim Friedman:

[I]f [Jared Diamond's] book [Guns, Germs, and Steel] had been framed in terms of “why, prior to 1600, did the west have more cargo” ... fine. But that is not how the book is framed. Nor do I think it would have been as popular if it had been framed in those terms (for the reasons Ozma alludes to).

Jared Diamond, "Prologue" to Guns, Germs, and Steel:

People of Eurasian origin... dominate the modern world…. Other peoples… remain far behind in wealth and power. Still other peoples... have been decimated, subjugated, and in some cases even exterminated by European colonialists.... Why did wealth and power become distributed as they now are, rather than in some other way?...

[The] technological and political differences of A.D. 1500 were the immediate cause of the modern world's inequalities. Empires with steel weapons were able to conquer or exterminate tribes with weapons of stone and wood. How, though, did the world get to be the way it was in 1500?... Until the end of the last Ice Age, around 11000 B.C., all peoples on all continents were still hunter-gatherers. Different rates of development on different continents, from 11000 BC to AD 1500, were what led to the technological and political inequalities of AD 1500.... Thus we can finally rephrase the question about the modern world's inequalities as follows: why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents? Those disparate rates constitute history's broadest pattern and my book's subject...

And that wasn't even in the worst half of Savage Minds's comments on Diamond...

To the extent that a weblog's engagement with a book does not include understanding its prologue, I am going to classify that weblog under the rubric: "haters gotta hate; what can you do?"

Alex Golub has thus set himself a nearly Sisyphean task in convincing me that "anthropology — real, actual anthropology — has come up with a better way of doing things" and is thus in some sense more worth reading than people like Jared Diamond…