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Guns, Germs, and Steel
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Besides my writers group and neural net discussion group, I also belong to a book discussion group. We don't meet very regularly, but we did meet this weekend, to discuss Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, an ostensibly historical, anthropological, and scientific attempt to answer the question of why some cultures advance technologically faster than others.

His answer is this: "The technological progress of given societies is not due to biological differences in populations, but to their environments."

Basically, he tries extremely hard to demonstrate that the natural resources, domesticatable plants and animals, weather, and geography are the predominant factors in whether or not a given group of people advanced technologically.

I happen to think he's wrong. And I said so at the meeting. Diamond touches on, but ultimately dismisses, culture as a significant factor in technological progress.

A given culture's collective curiosity, desire to explore, openness to innovation and new ideas, tolerance, level of human rights, aggressiveness, and form of governance all play huge roles in whether or not they pursue technological innovation. To explain the development of steel weaponry, agriculture, and indoor plumbing solely on the basis of the resources available in the local environment is to grossly miss the point.

And yet Diamond won a Pulitzer for the book. Go figure. I happen to think the popularity of the book is primarily political in nature. Diamond, it seems, is not really interested in answering the root question that the book begs to deal with. It is more interested in dispelling biological racism. This politically-correct agenda colors his objectivity, the tilt of his facts, and ultimately his conclusions.

Still, the book is interesting, if at times polemical and at others tedious, mostly because the question itself is fascinating, even if the author's arguments and conclusions are shallow and stunted.

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