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Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond is one of those books by the racial egalitarians that tries to disprove theories that do not exist in the first place.  Diamond wants to show that Western dominance and technological advancement was not a matter of a higher intellect but was due to environmental and historical circumstances.  The problem is, I am not aware of any advocates who try to make the argument that because Western culture is more advanced, they are therefore the smartest. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Psychometricians have shown that East Asians are more intelligent than Caucasians, and that they do not lead us technologically (outside Japan) because of environmental or political/cultural differences.  So Diamond has written a book to disprove a theory that does not exist.  He is attacking a straw man.

What he is really doing however is attacking Western culture, for no other reason than he finds it distasteful because of his hatred for the existing power structure based on his egalitarian desire to reshape politics.  For this reason, this book is filled with a history of how plants and animals were domesticated, how germs became prevalent at the dawn of modern civilizations, and how advanced societies use weapons to suppress conquered peoples.  The detailed analysis of these issues tends to be too long, and will be of limited interest to most people.  But he does go to great lengths to show how only Eurasia could have developed in the way it did, and that other parts of the world just did not have the proper environment for modern development. I don't take issue with his arguments. In many ways they are "just so" stories that I found credible but of little real interest when it comes to judging the worth of people, which he seems to be trying to do in this book.  But one must wonder how such a mundane book, with so much speculation and so little impact on the real world, managed to get the Pullitzer Prize? And of course the reason is simple. This is another book by a Marxist with a universalist agenda. It is the same genre as Gould's The Mismeasure of Man, et al. It serves the political interests of those who review, publish and promote authors who are radical environmentalists.

So the salient parts of this book are summed up in just a few pages by Diamond, and expose his bias, no doubt a reflection of his extreme ability at self-deception in the promotion of his political agenda.  I will discuss these short but important aspects of his argument against Western culture and I should say the sociobiological paradigm he dislikes so much. In fact, he doesn't even get past the first page before he proclaims [1] the book is not racist because he ignores differences between races. So before he gets past the first page he boldly claims that only racists would include biological differences between population groups, the standard academic Marxist shrieking that we have heard for the last thirty years. Anyone who even considers racial differences is a racist.  So on this proclamation alone, the hypothesis put forth, is irreparably flawed because only a biased perspective will be allowed, one that denies that humans have a genetic basis for being human.

He later puts forth his main aim of the book via a question from Yali, a new Guinean philosopher one supposes, who asks why some people have all the power and affluence.  And the rest of the book is all about trying to show that some civilizations have all the power and affluence because of dumb luck, they happened to be born in the right place at the right time.  Which is of course no answer at all if one is interested in human nature, not just a crapshoot.[2] But he also repeats the Marxists favorite mantra, that Western racists are responsible apparently for not only holding certain beliefs, but also being more technically advanced!  That is, even though we just happened to luck out being born when and where we were, we are also to be condemned as racists for what -- not giving everything we have to other people?  Once one sees through the mixed up logic, we have to assume that Diamond's only real intent is to attack Western culture, and pointedly Anglo-Saxon Western culture in particular.

Note how he always attacks Westerners foremost when he states that "Yet many (perhaps most!) Westerners continue to accept racist explanations privately or subconsciously. In Japan and many other countries, such explanations are still advanced publicly and without apology."  But what an irony, when later in the book he uses exactly the same technique that Westerners used over 100 years ago to subjectively rank people for intelligence. He states, " While one can contest my subjective impression that New Guineans are on the average smarter than Eurasians, one cannot deny that New Guinea has a much smaller area and far fewer big animal species than Eurasia."  So there we have it, if one declares a backward people as being more intelligent than Caucasians, it is perfectly all right to do so, based on merely subjective data, though Diamond had every opportunity to administer culture free IQ tests to his natives if he so wished. So apparently he does believe there are differences in intelligence between races or population groups, and he goes on to explain why based on environmental factors.  This is the very same technique used by J. Philippe Rushton in Race, Evolution and Behavior and others that explain the higher intelligence of Eurasians because of the environmental forces from glaciation prior to about 10,000 years ago.  The difference between Rushton and Diamond is that Rushton has a massive amount of statistical data on the differences between races, gathered from around the world, whereas Diamond relies only on his own subjective observations!  Talk about the kettle calling the stove black!

Now, what if I wrote a book, from my work experience where I deal a lot with Blacks and with Whites, and I stated some obscure reasons for the Whites being more intelligent and then concluded, based on my observations, that the Whites were more intelligent than the Blacks without any other data but my own subjectivity.  Well, it would be dismissed as anecdotal and racist.  And that is exactly what Diamond has done.  But since he was trashing the hated Caucasian it was passed over in the book without a mention.  So goes the relentless attack on Whites.  Anything goes. Any deception, lie or perversion is allowed as long as it is Western culture that is attacked, because they all know only us Caucasians (and mostly males) are real dyed-in-the-wool racists.  So much for intellectual honesty.

But it even gets better in a jumbled explanation that is so egregiously dishonest and circular that it can only be summed up as an ad hominem attack on European culture (more pointedly of course its people, not the culture, is what is being attacked since all cultures are equally viable -- right?).[3]  First he again uses the "we are better than you are because we are more advanced than you" argument.  As I have said before, I don't know of anyone who uses this simplistic argument to rank people, and it is openly admitted that though China is lacking in technology that they are on average more intelligent than Caucasians.  So who is Diamond attributing as having this simplistic image of IQ versus technology?  A lot of very old dead people, thatís who. And none of them are going to read his book.

He later declares that Aboriginal Australians and New Guineans can master modern industrial technologies. Oh really? He states elsewhere in the book that the Aborigines are in fact having trouble with Australia's technology.  But even more obscure is why he doesn't have the same to say for American Blacks.  They have not been successful mastering modern technology (all of this is on average of course).  The American Psychological Association's task force on intelligence stated in a 1995 report "Intelligence -- Knowns and Unknowns"  that blacks are in fact less intelligent than Whites by about a standard deviation, that it is robust, there is no bias in the current tests being used, that intelligence is primarily genetic, but the differences between races in intelligence may not be genetic.  They are still searching for the mysterious "factor x" that causes all Blacks, not just the deprived, from doing so poorly at school and at work.

He later declares that "An enormous effort by cognitive psychologists has gone into the search for differences in IQ between people . . . ." Wrong again.  Almost all of the research money available has gone in search of environmental causes for the disparity between Blacks and Whites.  Very little money was available for IQ studies because of the left's sanctions against such research. Still, there is so much evidence now that virtually no one disputes the genetic basis of intelligence, and the only thing left is explaining the racial differences to everyone's satisfaction, including the radical Marxists (fat chance!).

But one question remains, why do Ashkenazi Jews in the United States show the same intelligence difference between Whites and Jews as there is between Blacks and Whites, and why do these Jews have on average ten times more wealth than the average American?  The Ashkenazi Jews, through selective breeding or eugenics, have successfully increased their average IQ to an astonishing average of 117, and their power and affluence reflect this.  And according to Diamond, that would make Jews far more prone to kleptocratic [rampant greed and corruption] behavior than Whites!

And the Jewish question arises again when he brings up technological advances.[4]  This is again that mushy debate about whether it is the culture, a few unique geniuses, or the overall intelligence of a nation or people that makes them excel.  And its gets us back again to the very popularity of this book, his Pulitzer Prize, and the success of Jews in this and other endeavors.  My question to Diamond would be, if intelligence does not account for Nobel Prizes for example, why do Jews receive 25% of them amongst Americans when they only account for 3% of the population.  Jews are quick to brag that they are useful as a people because of their Nobel Prizes, etc. while they live in the same environment and culture.  Well, either there is a difference between Jews and Whites in intelligence (drive alone is not enough) or Jews are being deceptive and are influencing the outcomes through political means.  Which is it?

Later, in his continuing promotion of an anti-Western agenda, he makes the point that immigration is merely restoring America to what is was when only the Indians occupied the land. That is, before us racist Westerners came, multi-lingual Native Americans had the diversity that Diamond wants to see again.  But of course he fails to mention that that diversity was barbaric and inhumanly cruel. Genocide and warfare was common, along with gruesome rituals of torture for those captured in battle. Is that what he wants us to return to?  No thanks. And these were people who were of the same race, but only of different tribes.  But they, like all hunter-gatherers, had a highly evolved tribalism that clearly delineated other as less than human, and they acted accordingly.  They didn't need any fancy religion or democratic ideals to slaughter their neighbors.  It came quite naturally.

Others have extensively reviewed this book, but I wanted to put my two cents worth in.  An excellent review by Michael Levin is available at:


[1]        THIS BOOK ATTEMPTS TO PROVIDE A SHORT HISTORY OF everybody for the last 13,000 years. The question motivating the book is: Why did history unfold differently on different continents? In case this question immediately makes you shudder at the thought that you are about to read a racist treatise, you aren't: as you will see, the answers to the question don't involve human racial differences at all. The book's emphasis is on the search for ultimate explanations, and on pushing back the chain of historical causation as far as possible.

[2]            Probably the commonest explanation [why some have power and affluence] involves implicitly or explicitly assuming biological differences among peoples. In the centuries after A.D. 1500, as European explorers became aware of the wide differences among the world's peoples in technology and political organization, they assumed that those differences arose from differences in innate ability. With the rise of Darwinian theory, explanations were recast in terms of natural selection and of evolutionary descent. Technologically primitive peoples were considered evolutionary vestiges of human descent from apelike ancestors. The displacement of such peoples by colonists from industrialized societies exemplified the survival of the fittest. With the later rise of genetics, the explanations were recast once again, in genetic terms. Europeans became considered genetically more intelligent than Africans, and especially more so than Aboriginal Australians. Today, segments of Western society publicly repudiate racism. Yet many (perhaps most!) Westerners continue to accept racist explanations privately or subconsciously.  In Japan and many other countries, such explanations are still advanced publicly and without apology.

[3]        A seemingly compelling argument goes as follows. White immigrants to Australia built a literate, industrialized, politically centralized, democratic state based on metal tools and on food production, all within a century of colonizing a continent where the Aborigines had been living as tribal hunter-gatherers without metal for at least 40,000 years. Here were two successive experiments in human development, in which the environment was identical and the sole variable was the people occupying that environment. What further proof could be wanted to establish that the differences between Aboriginal Australian and European societies arose from differences between the peoples themselves?

The objection to such racist explanations is not just that they are loathsome, but also that they are wrong. Sound evidence for the existence of human differences in intelligence that parallel human differences in technology is lacking. In fact, as I shall explain in a moment; modern "Stone Age" peoples are on the average probably more intelligent, not less intelligent, than industrialized peoples. Paradoxical as it may sound, we shall see in Chapter 15 that white immigrants to Australia do not deserve the credit usually accorded to them for building a literate industrialized Society with the other virtues mentioned above. In addition, peoples who until recently were technologically primitive -- such as Aboriginal Australians and New Guineans -- routinely master industrial technologies when given opportunities to do so.

An enormous effort by cognitive psychologists has gone into the search for differences in IQ between peoples of different geographic origins now living in the same country. In particular, numerous white American psychologists have been trying for decades to demonstrate that black Americans of African origins are innately less intelligent than white Americans of European origins. However, as is well known, the peoples compared differ greatly in their social environment and educational opportunities. This fact creates double difficulties for efforts to test the hypothesis that intellectual differences underlie technological differences. First, even our cognitive abilities as adults are heavily influenced by the social environment that we experienced during childhood, making it hard to discern any influence of preexisting genetic differences. Second, tests of cognitive ability (like IQ tests) tend to measure cultural learning and not pure innate intelligence, whatever that is. Because of those undoubted effects of childhood environment and learned knowledge on IQ test results, the psychologists' efforts to date have not succeeded in convincingly establishing the postulated genetic deficiency in IQs of nonwhite peoples.

My perspective on this controversy comes from 33 years of working with New Guineans in their own intact societies. From the very beginning of my work with New Guineans, they impressed me as being on the average more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is.

[4]        If, on the other hand, no such difference in human neurobiology exists to account for continental differences in technological development, what does account for them? An alternative view rests on the heroic theory of invention. Technological advances seem to come disproportionately from a few very rare geniuses, such as Johannes Gutenberg, James Watt, Thomas Edison, and the Wright brothers. They were Europeans, or descendants of European emigrants to America. So were Archimedes and other rare geniuses of ancient times. Could such geniuses have equally well been born in Tasmania or Namibia? Does the history of technology depend on nothing more than accidents of the birthplaces of a few inventors?

Still another alternative view holds that it is a matter not of individual inventiveness but of the receptivity of whole societies to innovation. Some societies seem hopelessly conservative, inward looking, and hostile to change.

Written by Matt Nuenke August 2000.

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