When an old and valued friend gave me a copy of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, I have to confess that I initially groaned a little. It was written 20 years ago in support of Jared Diamond’s theory that the comparative success of the peoples of the world has everything to do with the geography of their origin and nothing to do with their human characteristics. I had not previously read it.
Now, nobody could sensibly deny that an early human population is bound to do better in some environments than others. It is hardly a surprise that there are early signs of civilisation in the Middle East but not in central Australia. Useful vegetation and animals that can be usefully domesticated are, well, useful. But Jared Diamond went further than that. He thought that any suggestion that different populations have different inherent characteristics – genetic characteristics – which affect their success is racist. He says so several times in the book. And he obviously feels, very strongly, that that is a BAD THING. Instead, he explains his viewpoint:
The term “geographic determinism” is used by many scholars as a pejorative, to justify the quick dismissal of a proposed geographic interpretation of a human phenomenon. Continue reading