[Marxism] Jared Diamond

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 27 08:29:34 MST 2004

In “Collapse,” Jared Diamond shows how societies destroy themselves.
New Yorker Magazine, Issue of 2005-01-03

A thousand years ago, a group of Vikings led by Erik the Red set sail from 
Norway for the vast Arctic landmass west of Scandinavia which came to be 
known as Greenland. It was largely uninhabitable—a forbidding expanse of 
snow and ice. But along the southwestern coast there were two deep fjords 
protected from the harsh winds and saltwater spray of the North Atlantic 
Ocean, and as the Norse sailed upriver they saw grassy slopes flowering 
with buttercups, dandelions, and bluebells, and thick forests of willow and 
birch and alder. Two colonies were formed, three hundred miles apart, known 
as the Eastern and Western Settlements. The Norse raised sheep, goats, and 
cattle. They turned the grassy slopes into pastureland. They hunted seal 
and caribou. They built a string of parish churches and a magnificent 
cathedral, the remains of which are still standing. They traded actively 
with mainland Europe, and tithed regularly to the Roman Catholic Church. 
The Norse colonies in Greenland were law-abiding, economically viable, 
fully integrated communities, numbering at their peak five thousand people. 
They lasted for four hundred and fifty years—and then they vanished.

The story of the Eastern and Western Settlements of Greenland is told in 
Jared Diamond’s “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” 
(Viking; $29.95). Diamond teaches geography at U.C.L.A. and is well known 
for his best-seller “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” which won a Pulitzer Prize. 
In “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Diamond looked at environmental and structural 
factors to explain why Western societies came to dominate the world. In 
“Collapse,” he continues that approach, only this time he looks at 
history’s losers—like the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi of the American 
Southwest, the Mayans, and the modern-day Rwandans. We live in an era 
preoccupied with the way that ideology and culture and politics and 
economics help shape the course of history. But Diamond isn’t particularly 
interested in any of those things—or, at least, he’s interested in them 
only insofar as they bear on what to him is the far more important 
question, which is a society’s relationship to its climate and geography 
and resources and neighbors. “Collapse” is a book about the most prosaic 
elements of the earth’s ecosystem—soil, trees, and water—because societies 
fail, in Diamond’s view, when they mismanage those environmental factors.

full: http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/?050103crbo_books




"Environment molds history," says Jared Diamond in _Guns, Germs, and Steel: 
The Fates of Human Societies_ (p. 352). Everything important that has 
happened to humans since the Paleolithic is due to environmental 
influences. More precisely: all of the important differences between human 
societies, all of the differences that led some societies to prosper and 
progress and others to fail, are due to the nature of each society's local 
environment and to its geographical location. History as a whole reflects 
these environmental differences and forces. Culture is largely irrelevant: 
the environment explains all of the main tendencies of history; cultural 
factors affect the minor details. Diamond proceeds systematically through 
the main phases of history in all parts of the world and tries to show, 
with detailed arguments, how each phase, in each major region, is 
explainable largely by environmental forces. The final outcome of these 
environmentally caused processes is the rise and dominance of Europe.

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/Blaut/diamond.htm

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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