10. The Old World Empires

10.0 Introduction

Jared Diamond observes that youngsters raised in more evolved societies than their own perform equally well as their little friends1. Conversely, evolved societies that are displaced or that occupy less favorable conditions than those they were accustomed to, may disappear. The Norsemen who occupied Greenland were wiped out in the fifteenth century, due to a small Ice Age, whereas Eskimos continued to prosper in the same environment. The garrison left by C. Columbus on Hispaniola during his first return to Europe had disappeared when he came back. Diamond concludes that the differences between the histories of human groups is not related to differences in intellectual capacities in favor of evolved societies because “primitive” people are more intelligent, on average, than the members of evolved human societies. This is evidence. In our modern societies, we keep all adults alive regardless of their industry and level of intelligence whereas in primitive societies, an adult unable to care for himself is bound to die.

If intelligence is not the reason for the disparities observed, what is?

Diamond lists four sets of differences in the environment that specified the fate of human cultures. The first is the differences in wild animals and plants species available as starting materials for domestication. The second is the geographical barriers that impeded the facile diffusion of technological innovations and political institutions within some continents (human settlements located in mountains and on islands are more isolated than the civilizations arising on the rim of the Eurasian plain). The ease of inter-continental diffusion of innovations (e.g. between Asia, Europe and Africa, compared to Oceania, Australia and the Americas) is the third factor that explains the disparities in evolvement of various human societies. The last set of factors, according to Diamond, consists of differences in area size or total population size. A larger area means more potential inventors, more competing societies and ultimately more innovations to adopt.

The role played by these differences is not disputed. However, additional factors must be taken in consideration. The same Europeans moved to South and North America about five hundred years ago but the disparity in the level of development reached now in North America (Canada and the US) as compared to the rest of the Americas, is striking. US citizens like to see themselves as descendants of industrious, hard working British, French and German people who colonized Canada and the US, whereas lazy Spanish and Portuguese people colonized South America and Central America. This is Hubris. Many Germans and French moved to South America, Argentina was during a long time a British –controlled dominion and many Spaniards and Mexicans populate North America. Negroes helped develop North America. My own experience is that hard-working people are found all over the globe. Productivity is another question. The top 20 multinationals of the world produce an output 28 times larger than Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product. To produce this output these multinationals use only 3.6 per cent of the workforce that produces Pakistan’s GDP.

Environmental factors alone (e.g. the availability of solid fuel and of waterways to transport it) are part of the explanation but are not likely to be the whole of it. Human factors are decisive. Diamond labels one of these crippling human factors “kleptocracy” and “typical aberrations of local politics”. Another factor is violence: he notes that male New Guinea adults are easily murdered. The same precariousness of life is true for adult males in contemporary Colombia, who are readily disposed off. It is plausible that not only these factors of social instability but additional modes of social interaction play as much a role as environmental factors in the final outcome.

References chapter 10.

1. J. Diamond: Guns, germs and steel. The fates of human societies. 1998. WW Norton & Co. New York, London

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