[Marxism] Jared Diamond
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 27 08:29:34 MST 2004
by MALCOLM GLADWELL
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 uninhabitablea 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 yearsand then they vanished.
The story of the Eastern and Western Settlements of Greenland is told in
Jared Diamonds 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
historys loserslike 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 isnt particularly
interested in any of those thingsor, at least, hes interested in them
only insofar as they bear on what to him is the far more important
question, which is a societys relationship to its climate and geography
and resources and neighbors. Collapse is a book about the most prosaic
elements of the earths ecosystemsoil, trees, and waterbecause societies
fail, in Diamonds view, when they mismanage those environmental factors.
ENVIRONMENTALISM AND EUROCENTRISM: A REVIEW ESSAY
J. M. BLAUT
"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.
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