Guns, Germs and Steel & Re HM review

Nemonemini at Nemonemini at
Fri Jan 19 00:52:18 MST 2001

In relation to post from Sebastian re article in Historical Materialism on
Diamond's book:
Just some brief remarks. I received the copy offered of the review of
Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and began reading part of it. It is a very
valuable study and a very interesting review discussion. I shouldn't have
been so critical off the cuff. I was criticizing the indirect assumptions in
such works. It is my views I fear that will draw fire. In fact, they might
help clarify many points.
My own views are  at first sight so exotic that they might seem in a
different ball park, and wouldn't qualify as 'historical materialism', in the
view of most, although I am still here after all the previous cases are now
Fukuyama basket cases.
 But we live in Darwinian times, and any divergence from basic assumptions
about Darwinism, the Descent of Man, directionality, or 'forces of history'
puts the discussion on edge. That's the critical question. What is the basis
of our assumptions about 'how evolution happens'?  Consider, just consider, a
wildly different approach. What if, ... (like 'What if a hundred years of
selectionist theory were wrong'?)
My point is simple, and has nothing to do with Diamond's fine insights,
except in so far as they are filled with evolutionary assumptions in relation
to Darwinism. I would be happy to respond in some way to the article however,
as suggested. We shall see.
But I see history, as of the invention of writing, in a completely different
way. Brace yourself.
I cannot speak about the Paleolithic. I wasn't there. But I am under no
obligation to accept Darwinian assumptions about the descent of man. And I
suspect a resemblance to what I see in history.
I suspect, looking at world history, evolution operates as a macrosystem at
high speed, and would indetectable from the archaelogical record at the level
of centuries.  We may see one of these periods ca. 40000 years ago in the
flowering of modern man. I can't prove it so who knows?
I restrict myself to evidence at the level of centuries, that is world
history. There the only explanation is some kind of fast slow punctuated
equilibrium style evolution. No other model can make sense of the data. It is
obvious once you see it, and a very elegant form of evolution. It confused by
the fact that we can't distinguish grades of freedom. Either something is
random or determined, but the middle we can't see. Yet an economic boom or
cycle suggests such things. There is overall structure, yet people are 'free'
to make their choices in the small. A similar concept is needed to
distinguish individual action and overall system action. Then the pattern
becomes dead obvious.
The only record at the level of centuries arises in history itself, since the
invention of cuneiform. All these theories of evolution about tens of
millennia are like sieves. Where's the proof?   Now theories of punctuated
equilibrium, where not confused themselves, suggest the record, thought to be
continuous, is more complex that what was thought. But this evidence was
swiftly consolidated under the old paradigm. Again, who knows?  But the basic
weakness, in plain view, of Darwinian theory is the assumption, adamantly
insisted upon like doctrine, is that all operations occur randomly in the
contingent 'present'.  A system with feedback, or a relation of past and
future is disallowed. You can bet your buffalo nickel  the theory will fail
just there. Who knows?
Many speak of a world system, but never quite define how it works. What is a
world system, apart from a surface of a planet?
I can demonstrate the existence of a world system, from the record that we
have, beyond a reasonable doubt, operating in a long range sequence of
hotspots, with stage A connected with stage B, therefore a system with large
scale structure, as generalized feedback. I can't say how it works, nor do
more than demonstrate it indirectly. But it explains the data better than any
other models, and it fits well with Marxism, although the point is not clear
at first.
I can it the 'eonic or intermittent effect'.  This demonstrates a non-random
pattern in world history. Like it or not. A non-random pattern means there is
some factor we don't see, an historical dynamic, and this seems to be
There are numerous examples.  Why does Archaic Greece take off out of the
blue, for no simple antecedent reason? It seems contingent, and the result of
some particular factor in its earlier history. Not the case. As we grid the
whole of world history, we see it take off as a function of time, and place.
This example stands out in stark grandeur right in the middle of world
A non random pattern in our own history voids the assumptions of Darwinism
applied to history. The facts of history override speculations by
evolutionary theorists of deep time.
History, as civilization, is not emerging at random as a selectionist
process. It shows bursts of hotspot evolution bypassing the fixed inertia of
the past, endrun tactics.
There exists a large scale macrohistorical system that accelerates a directed
sequence of civilizations in a hopscotch emergentism of carefully placed
transitions.   In the classical period we see a complete example appearing of
this system. It is not continuous random evolution but discontinuous parallel
evolution inside the sequential one.
It is like a strobe effect, on off. Few other possibilities exist. Full
determination would preempt any freedom. Full randomness would simply
sandbank in stasis. Intermittent processes can pass through these extremes.
Look at the example of Ancient Greece. It accelerates from the Archaic
period, flowers and wanes. In the space of a few centuries a great
transformation occurs, and then stops, almost like clockwork. We think this
is in isolation, but it is not.  This case is beautiful, because we can see
the whole sequence, and then see it in parallel with the Judaic, Indian and
Chinese. It is all simultaneous. A massive clue, from which we infer the
rest, although our perception is fragmentary.  Greece (Rome),
Israel-Mesopotamia, India, China. Note the strategic middle of world history.
Our effect spreads here, but that is a long discussion. Note that these are
zones from which we see results by hindsight. They are simply the outcomes of
the significant regions.  Once we see this pattern, we suddenly realize what
is happeninng before, in early Sumer and Egypt, ca. -3000 plus or minus.
Look at the Classical Age. Everything comes into existence at high speed,
the highest art, democracy, science, philosophy, greek tragedy, the whole
thing.  How does one account for these carefully placed start zones ina clear
pattern stretched over five thousand years. It looks miraculous, but there is
a simple way to see that this is the evolution consciousness, inside the
evolution of organism and culture. But that requires a long analysis.
It is hard to gainsay this, important not to jump to conclusions. A great
deal of groundwork is needed to not bungle this kind of explanation, which
isn't explanation at all, but a way at looking at the plain facts that we
Why does all this happen where it does, when it does? That we can explain.
Once we organize the whole pattern of data , we see immediately what is
happening. About three centuries of well placed acceleration eight times, and
the system implodes as global culture.
This is a minimum problem. How stage global implosion with a minimum
intersection with cultural streams. Look at the evidence. All the hotspots
are perfectly placed. It selects a phase from the temporal stream. The
temporal stream of the Greeks in its millennia joins the system for one short
era. We see the whole evolves this way through the part, stepping stone
style. Elegant indeed. A wildly different perspective. No belief required.
Simply be forewarned that Darwinism (as to mechanism) is probably going to
crash, crash hard, and some time soon. We have been warned over and over
something was amiss in the selectionist approach. Now we begin to suspect
what it was.
All this requires a long demonstration. Don't believe it without one. But the
basic issue is to see mentally the dynamic of history in action.  This is an
indication of evidence, so one can check the evidence, note. But the basic
issue is that Darwinism is so far off it is embarrassing. The nature of
evolution is far more subtle than we suspect.
Such thinking is still unacceptable to any form of historical sociology. But
I think that it is important for Marxists to examine their roots, and see
that such a model, after a shot of hegelian whiskey,  is as compatible with
historical materialism as any other. It is a question of the facts, in any
case. The point is that the modern system genertes capitalism and flies out
of control as the leftist initiative rises to meed the spreading result. It
is important not to get confused here, we are not talking about supernatural
processes. A system engineer asks how the system works. We see how it works.
Why, we can't say. A divinity wouldn't do it this way. The issue there is
This is very brief. But the basic point is that we are looking in the wrong
place for historical evolution. The reason is that our reductionist
assumptions preclude the answer in advance.
Historical evolution is almost invisible to the naked eye, and only becomes
visible after about five millennia of decent records. That point was crossed
around the last century. But careful periodization uncovers the non-random
correlation very quickly. A time and motion study shows that normal
continuity doesn't work. So that's that.
It is very easy to work in studies of economic issues in the Marxist sense
around this.  
Man makes himself, but, so far, he does so in relation to a larger system of
Sorry, but evidence is evidence, so consider it.
Notes: The review speaks of the multiple independent discovery of
agriculture. Probably correct, but....
More specifically, many claims of independent diffusion are made about many
factors, e.g. the independent discovery of agriculture. These claims are not
so clearcut as they are made to seem. I would not know, but never take such
statements as proven. A near century of dogmatism imposed the ban on ideas of
 diffusion to the new world, but now the pendulum is swinging. So I demand
more than suggestive proof. I cannot say, as to the Neolithic. I hold no
brief one way or the other on the question in relation to agriculture, but in
the context of visible world history, independent evolution in the large is
rare, and the factor of the predominance of the Eurasian system starting in
the Fertile Crescent is impossible to really gainsay, but springs from this
central thrust to one world history evolving once from a core area. World
history, by and large, evolves once. This is different from saying there are
two civilizations both imitating an original. What is evolution?
This Fertile Crescent area triggered the mainline sequence of  the world
system. A theory of evolution applied to culture generally must distinguish
independent instances and dependent instances, and have it straight.
Otherwise we will think repetitions based on diffusion are 'evolution'. You
see it is a matter of 'information', not of the 'evolving structure', which
has elements of ad hoc. Starting from Egypt Sumer we can fairly well trace
the mainline outwards, as of -3000, with the ambiguous case of the New World.
But in a model like this we see that 'evolution' has nothing to do with the
local jumping place, so the area is only active in the mainline. So much for
Thus, this mainline of civilization creates a sense of the 'superiority' of
the various dominant areas, the latest being the European. But once we see
that the whole thing is macroevoutionary, these concerns are a dead letter.  
The place of Marxism in this, among other things, is its prompt arrival at
the stage of ecumenization,  when a local emergence is turning outward to a
globalizing oikouemene, as visible in, say, the Hellenistic.  It is thus
about its business, but it might help to see the issues in a broader
perspective. For the point in general of Marx's insight was to see that the
natural tendencies of the economic system emerging were distinct from greater
process. And his thinking is confirmed by this eonic analysis, a point
requiring greater elaboration.
All this is totally unacceptable as directional evolution, denounced by Gould
and condemned as teleological (which it isn't, I haven't used the word), or
whatever.  But once you see the eonic effect there is no going back.
Hopefully Marxists can survive the paradigm collapse and lead other
bewildered theorists to new perspective. It is a purely phenomenologically
description of what we see in world history, and as evidence it doesn't
square with current notions of evolution. So that's that.
John Landon
World History and the Eonic Effect
nemonemini at

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