The noted blogger Fjordman is filing this report via Gates of Vienna.
For a complete Fjordman blogography, see The Fjordman Files. There is also a multi-index listing here.
This is the first installment of a four-part series.
In this essay I will compare the works and theories of Jared Diamond, especially his international bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies from 1997 and to a lesser extent his 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, with the 2007 book Understanding Human History by the American astrophysicist Michael H. Hart. Diamond’s work is very focused on the importance of geography, which brings out useful perspectives in some cases but not in all. Hart puts his emphasis on differences in intelligence between various ethnic groups seen in light of the theory of evolution. I will quote books by other authors, too, to assess the importance of law, religion, education system, capitalism etc.
I am sometimes critical of Mr. Diamond’s writings, especially his overall conclusions, but that doesn’t mean that I believe everything he says is wrong. He correctly points out that environmental destruction is far from limited to Western culture, and he doesn’t hesitate in stating that brutal and violent practices were carried out in many societies around the world.
Along with other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya lacked metal tools, boats with sails, wheels and domestic animals large enough to carry loads or pull a plow, but they nevertheless had impressively high population densities by pre-industrial standards before the so-called Classic Maya collapse after AD 800. Because of breakthroughs in the decipherment of Mayan glyphs in the late twentieth century, our understanding of Mayan society and culture is now far greater than it was a few generations ago. Diamond elaborates in his book Collapse:
“Archaeologists for a long time believed the ancient Maya to be gentle and peaceful people. We now know that Maya warfare was intense, chronic, and unresolvable, because limitations of food supply and transportation made it impossible for any Maya principality to unite the whole region in an empire, in the way the Aztecs and Incas united Central Mexico and the Andes, respectively….Captives were tortured in unpleasant ways depicted clearly on the monuments and murals (such as yanking fingers out of sockets, pulling out teeth, cutting off the lower jaw, trimming off the lips and fingertips, pulling out the fingernails, and driving a pin through the lips), culminating (sometimes several years later) in the sacrifice of the captive in other equally unpleasant ways (such as tying the captive up into a ball by binding the arms and legs together, then rolling the balled-up captive down the steep stone staircase of a temple).”
It is interesting to notice that Western observers, contrary to what is often claimed, often show non-Western cultures too much good faith rather than being “Eurocentric.” When I was young I was once told that regularly practiced cannibalism didn’t exist in any society in early modern times; this was a racist, colonialist lie invented by prejudiced Europeans to demonize other peoples and cultures. One example would be the former cannibal dubbed “Friday” who was converted to Christianity in Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. As I grow older and investigate things for myself, I see clearly how wrong this claim was.
In New Zealand, Paul Moon in his book This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism looks at the Maori tradition of eating each other in what was generally an extremely violent society. Cannibalism lasted until the mid-nineteenth century, says Moon, a history professor at the Auckland University of Technology. It didn’t disappear until after the arrival of Europeans and Christian missionaries. Infanticide was widely practiced, too. Tribes wanted men to be warriors, and mothers often killed their daughters by smothering them or pushing a finger through the soft tissue of the skull. Cannibalism was part of a post-battle rage. “One of the arguments is really if you want to punish your enemy killing them is not enough. If you can chop them up and eat them and turn them into excrement that is the greatest humiliation you can impose on them,” says Moon. “The amount of evidence is so overwhelming it would be unfair to pretend it didn’t happen. It is too important to ignore.”
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The head of the Maori Studies Department at Auckland University, Professor Margaret Mutu, says cannibalism was widespread in New Zealand. “It was definitely there. It’s recorded in all sorts of ways in our histories and traditions, a lot of place names refer to it.” She said Maori cannibalism was not referred to by many historians because it was counter to English culture.
We have been told that Europeans invent negative stereotypes about other peoples. Notice how in this case — and this is far from the only such example to be found — Europeans actually downplayed very real flaws in other cultures, and this was even during the colonial period.
We know that cannibalism was practiced among a number of peoples in the Americas as well, most likely including the prehistoric Anasazi in what is today the southwestern United States. As Diamond says in his book Collapse, “the existence of non-emergency cannibalism is controversial. In fact, it was reported in hundreds of non-European societies at the times when they were first contacted by Europeans within recent centuries. The practice took two forms: eating either the bodies of enemies killed in war, or else eating one’s own relatives who had died of natural causes. New Guineans with whom I have worked over the past 40 years have matter-of-factly described their cannibalistic practices, have expressed disgust at our own Western burial customs of burying relatives without doing them the honor of eating them, and one of my best New Guinean workers quit his job with me in 1965 in order to partake in the consumption of his recently deceased prospective son-in-law. There have also been many archaeological finds of ancient human bones in contexts suggestive of cannibalism.”
Jared Diamond writes in Guns, Germs, and Steel that “…the virus causing laughing sickness (kuru) in the New Guinea highlands used to pass to a person from another person who was eaten. It was transmitted by cannibalism, when highland babies made the fatal mistake of licking their fingers after playing with raw brains that their mothers had just cut out of dead kuru victims awaiting cooking.”
Diamond, an evolutionary biologist, does not reject the possibility that there could be unequal levels of intelligence among ethnic groups developed over thousands of years, but insists that if there are, Europeans are less intelligent than others, as “natural selection promoting genes for intelligence has probably been far more ruthless in New Guinea than in more densely populated, politically complex societies, where natural selection for body chemistry was instead more potent….there is also a second reason why New Guineans may have come to be smarter than Westerners. Modern European and American children spend much of their time being passively entertained by television, radio, and movies….This effect surely contributes a non-genetic component to the superior average mental function displayed by New Guineans. That is, in mental ability New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners.”
Mr. Diamond has just stated that many New Guineans have widely practiced cannibalism until recent times. He says this matter-of-factly but does not clearly indicate that he disapproves of this. In fact, in his writings he appears to be more critical of television than he is of cannibalism. Moreover, he thinks it is morally loathsome if those denounced as “white supremacists” should believe that people of European origins might have higher intelligence than, say, Australian Aborigines, but he apparently thinks it is fine to say that New Guineans have higher intelligence than Europeans. Does that make him a New Guinean supremacist?
You can find traces of the concept of cannibalism in modern European culture, for instance in the story about Hansel and Gretel, one of the many traditional folk tales and fairy tales such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella that were collected and popularized by the influential German scholars and linguists Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) in the early nineteenth century. However, in this fairy tale adapted by the Brothers Grimm, the idea of eating people was attributed to the villain of the story, the evil witch, and the practice was seen as self-evidently immoral and totally unacceptable.
Diamond indicates that he writes in order to dispel “Eurocentrism” and claims that IQ tests measure cultural learning only, not innate intelligence. Yet studies have shown for instance that people with higher IQs make wiser economic choices. Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in their 2002 book IQ and the Wealth of Nations argue that a significant part of the gap between rich and poor countries is due to differences in national intelligence measured in IQ.
According to Swedish Professor Annica Dahlström, an expert in neuroscience, men are found more frequently than women at the extremes of high and low intelligence. Female geniuses exist, but they are much less frequent than male ones. The feminist establishment claims that she has misused her position as a scientist to reinforce “gender stereotypes,” yet as Dahlström says, “The difference between boys and girls, in terms of their biology and brain, is greater than we could ever have imagined.” We can now scan and follow brain activity in real time. Differences between the sexes are clearly recognizable at the age of three, if not before. The centers of the brain dealing with verbal communication, interpretation of facial expressions and body language are more developed in girls even at this early age. Nonetheless, Larry Summers, economist and President of the prestigious Harvard University in the USA, was forced to resign after a 2005 speech in which he suggested that women’s under-representation in the top levels of academia is due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end.”
Professor Helmuth Nyborg at Aarhus University in Denmark did research which revealed that there are differences between the sexes when it comes to intelligence. This triggered massive resistance from his colleagues. He states that “Within the realms of psychology you are not allowed to talk about intelligence. You cannot measure intelligence and you cannot rank people according to intelligence. The entire field of intelligence is a so-called ‘no-go-area.’” If you still choose to proceed, you are a bad person. If you also look at differences between groups of people, not just between men and women, you are immoral and a “Nazi.” This is certainly the case for white scholars, though interestingly enough not always for Asian ones.
The problem is that this view is not logically consistent. If you believe that God, or some divine being or force, created all human beings exactly as equals, then you can talk about racism. If, on the other hand, you believe that human beings are the result of evolution, then the entire concept of “racism” is scientifically meaningless. The West at the turn of the twenty-first century is dominated by Darwinists who don’t believe in the theory of evolution. If you think that sounds like a contradiction in terms, consider the message of Guns, Germs, and Steel. The essence of Diamond’s beliefs is that evolution has been going on for billions of years, creating elephants and whales out of single-cell organisms, but then it miraculously stopped about 50,000 years ago and you are evil if you suggest that human beings were subject to evolutionary pressures after this. This is, rationally speaking, completely absurd, yet this is the unquestioned ruling ideology in Western media and academia today.
Diamond himself attempts to give a summary of his entire book in just one sentence: “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”
Yes, but what if different natural environments also changed the biology of different human groups in non-superficial ways, something which the theory of evolution should indicate?
The Near East had access to a wealth of useful local plants and animals. Four species of big mammals — the goat, sheep, pig and cow — were domesticated very early in the Fertile Crescent, possibly earlier than any other animal except the dog anywhere else in the world. Agriculture was launched in the Fertile Crescent by the early domestication of eight “founder crops,” the cereals emmer wheat, einkorn wheat and barley; the pulses lentil, pea, chickpea, and bitter vetch and the fiber crop flax. Thanks to this availability of suitable wild mammals and plants, people in this region could quickly assemble a potent and balanced biological package for intensive food production, which again led to complex, socially stratified societies with bureaucracies that needed some system of recording. According to Diamond, writing arose independently in the Near East (Mesopotamia), Mexico and possibly in China because those were the first areas where food production emerged in their respective hemispheres, a theory which appears plausible. This constitutes the strongest part of his work.
Eurasian crowd diseases played a huge part in the European conquest of the Americas. Cortes and Pizarro had superior steel weapons and armor against clubs and slingshots, but before the conquests of the Aztec and Inca Empires, deadly Eurasian diseases such as smallpox, often arriving long before the first Europeans got there, decimated much of the local population. Diamond correctly states that people with horses enjoyed an enormous military advantage over those without them. Only with the introduction of trucks and tanks in World War I did horses become supplanted as the main assault vehicle and means of fast transport in war.
Something momentous took place in the capabilities of early humans between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago. Diamond calls this the Great Leap Forward. Whether this was caused by a perfection of verbal skills or a general change in brain organization remains unresolved. Around 40,000 years ago the Cro-Magnons moved into Europe and after some millennia of coexistence displaced the Neanderthals. At about the same time we find the first evidence of human colonization of New Guinea and Australia via Southeast Asia. As Diamond writes:
“The rate of development was undetectably slow at the beginning, when hundreds of thousands of years passed with no discernible change in our stone tools and with no surviving evidence for artifacts made of other materials. Today, technology advances so rapidly that it is reported in the daily newspaper. In this long history of accelerating development, one can single out two especially significant jumps. The first, occurring between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, probably was made possible by genetic changes in our bodies: namely, by evolution of the modern anatomy permitting modern speech or modern brain function, or both. That jump led to bone tools, single-purpose stone tools, and compound tools. The second jump resulted from our adoption of a sedentary lifestyle, which happened at different times in different parts of the world, as early as 13,000 years ago in some areas and not even today in others. For the most part, that adoption was linked to our adoption of food production, which required us to remain close to our crops, orchards, and stored food surpluses. Sedentary living was decisive for the history of technology, because it enabled people to accumulate nonportable possessions.”
Jared Diamond accepts the possibility that there could have been major genetic changes until about 50,000 BC, but considers it “loathsome” and “racist” to suggest that genetic changes between various human groups could have happened after this. This is not sustainable when confronted with historical realities. Different groups of early humans in Africa, Europe, many parts of Asia, Australia and finally North and South America lived in different natural environments for thousands or tens of thousands of years after this and adapted to their local environments.
In fact, recent studies indicate not only that human evolution continued but that it accelerated and became greater during the last 10,000 years after the beginning of agriculture and the rise of urban civilizations, when our bodies had to adapt to new living conditions, new crowd diseases and different types of food. This is the theory behind the 2009 title The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, which I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read as of this writing.
The main theory of Michael Hart’s book Understanding Human History is that when early humans after about 60,000 BC left Africa and settled on other continents (he uses the out-of Africa theory as his starting point, but early human evolutionary history is highly complex and much-debated), the average IQ was about 70 or lower, almost certainly not higher than that. There are humans living in Africa today who have average IQs of less than 70, and there is no strong reason to believe that human intelligence has declined in the past sixty thousand years. This level rose slowly (not more than one IQ point per millennium) during tens of thousands of years due to evolutionary pressures, but more in some regions than in others. Hart supports the “cold weather” hypothesis which says that as the climate got colder, people developed higher intelligence in order to survive in the challenging natural environment, which essentially means that the further north you get, the higher the average IQ becomes.
Theoretically speaking you should be able to see the same trend in the Southern Hemisphere the further south you get, but Antarctica was uninhabited by humans until very recently, and the only people who live there for any extended periods of time even today are scientists. In practice, therefore, this principle only applies to the Northern Hemisphere. People from Sweden or Russia should accordingly have higher IQs than people from the Nile Valley. Similarly, Koreans or Japanese should have higher average IQs than people from South India or New Guinea. Both of these examples roughly correspond to observed reality.
Changes in human anatomy and physiology that lead to higher intelligence do not come cost free, since larger brains require larger amounts of energy as well as larger heads, which create strains on the muscular and skeletal structure. However, in challenging cold climates, the advantages of higher intelligence outweighed these costs.
The Upper Paleolithic is the last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, roughly speaking 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. The so-called Upper Paleolithic Revolution is the name given to the phenomenon that after 50,000 BC, Homo sapiens began to demonstrate signs of a new level of sophistication and abstract thought. The first stone tools made hundreds of thousands to a couple of million years ago by early humanoids were very crude and can barely be recognized as man-made objects. In contrast to this painfully slow rate of progress, rapid changes occurred during the Upper Paleolithic with the introduction of such innovations as sewing needles, early ceramics, bow and arrow, harpoons, fishhooks, flutes for music etc. Archaeological evidence so far indicates that few or none of these inventions were made by groups of humans in tropical regions; they were made by humans living in cooler climates. Michael H. Hart writes in Understanding Human History:
“Whatever the exact dates of the inventions listed may be, it is plain that the rate of technological advance was much, much higher in the Upper Paleolithic than in preceding eras. What was the cause of this great increase (the ‘Upper Paleolithic Revolution’) in the rate of technological advance? It is sometimes said that the rapid rate of intellectual and technological progress in recent eras results primarily from the fact that we are building on the foundations that earlier peoples laid. While this may be one factor, it is certainly not the whole story. After all, at most times in the distant past, human beings were not making advances over the achievements of earlier generations. The main reason why the rate of progress increased during the Upper Paleolithic was simply that humans living then were more intelligent than their distant ancestors had been. (One aspect of that greater intelligence, of course, was their greater linguistic ability.) Similarly, an important reason why the rate of progress has been even higher in recent millennia than in the Upper Paleolithic is that human intelligence has continued to grow, and is higher today than it was then.”
Technological progress accelerated during the Neolithic Era, or New Stone Age. In the Neolithic Revolution, agriculture arose more or less independently in at least half a dozen separate regions around the world, which brings us to a couple of intriguing questions: Why did this development not begin until after about 10,000 BC, and why did it then occur in several widely separated places within a few thousand years? Why was agriculture not invented in 30 or 40,000 BC even though plants and animals suitable for domestication existed already then, and humans lived in all major landmasses except the Americas?
In Michael Hart’s view, useful plants and animals were a necessary factor for the rise of agriculture, but not a sufficient one; a population with a minimum level of intelligence was needed, too. The reason why agriculture wasn’t invented by any early humans forty thousand years ago is that none of them had yet developed the necessary intelligence to successfully make the conceptual leap that was required to start growing food. Hart believes that the “threshold” level required to originate agriculture even in a region with suitable climate, plants and animals was a mean IQ in the high 80s. Following tens of thousands of years of evolutionary pressures, the average IQ of some human groups had finally become high enough, but agriculture was nevertheless not introduced first in challenging northern climates.
Hart considers the alternative geography-focused hypothesis for the development of civilization presented by Professor Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel. He suggests that the comparative backwardness of pre-colonial Australia and parts of the Americas compared to major Eurasian civilizations was entirely due to geographic factors, climate and the lack of a favorable flora and fauna. Surprisingly, he is willing to consider the possibility that there could a genetic component to intelligence as long as this reflects poorly on whites, which in my view is so intellectually dishonest that it seriously undermines his conclusions.
Michael Hart is careful, and in my view correct, in not dismissing everything Mr. Diamond says out of hand. The ancient Near East really did have a favorable climate as well as a far greater local supply of useful and easily domesticable plants and animals than any other region, which is in all likelihood a very important reason why agriculture and urban civilization emerged so early there; both Australia and the region we know as the United States were indeed badly lacking in such species. However, according to Hart the facts do not support Diamond’s theory when it is applied to a comparison between sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Mesoamerica. As regards fauna, SSA had a great advantage over Mesoamerica as it was not completely cut off from the civilizations of Eurasia. Some important aspects of Eurasian technology like pottery-making, bronze working and ironworking reached SSA from the Middle East, as did the use of domesticated camels, sheep and goats:
“Using his criteria, civilization should have begun earlier in SSA than it did in Mesoamerica, and it should have progressed more there (prior to the European expansion of modern times) than it did in Mesoamerica. In fact, though, by 1000 AD, Mesoamerica was far more advanced than SSA was, or ever had been. For example, Mesoamericans had originated writing on their own, had constructed many large stone structures, and had built large cities (rivaling any existing in Europe, and far larger than any in sub-Saharan Africa). Furthermore, the Mayan achievements in mathematics and astronomy dwarf any intellectual achievements in SSA. We must therefore conclude that, although Guns, Germs, and Steel is an informative book, the obvious superiority of Mesoamerican technology to that of sub-Saharan Africa appears to be a fatal blow to the main arguments presented in it.”