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View Diary: Darwin's Nightmare (199 comments)

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  •  Determinism (none)
    That's the general argument put forward against Diamond's book, that's too deterministic, that it doesn't leave open the idea that individuals can greatly sway the course, that it subjugates human action to background noise.

    And I think the book is guilty of all those sins, plus some very broad generalization -- none of which keeps it from being a very incisive, visionary work.

    The trouble with previous history is that it tried to put all the importance on human action, and completely ignored the geographic and ecological factors that greatly advantaged some locations.  It's a lot more comforting to think that "your team" won the game on a level playing field, than to admit that everything was tilted in your favor from the beginning.  Naturally, the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but I believe there's a preponderance of evidence that if you were to draw a line from Diamond on one end to a pure humanistic view at the other, the answer would lie much closer to Diamond's position.  The people of the tropics are like us, heck, they are us.  No better, and no worse.  Given different starting positions, there's no reason to think the current state would not be reversed.

    As for Africa today, it's very hard for these leaders of sterling morality to arise if the moneyed interests are engaged in kicking their feet out from under them.  How hard is to find someone willing to take your bribes?  From blood diamonds to chocolate to minerals, there are plenty of instances of corporate and foreign governments intervening to see that areas remained unstable.  Heck, there are at least a couple of good examples of our government intervening directly to see that African leaders who threatened to be "too leftist" were taken out.

    Political Cortex -- Brain food for the body politic.

    by Mark Sumner on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 09:04:47 AM PST

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    •  Okay (none)
      I haven't read the book, though it comes up so often that I'm just going to have to at this point. But I personally have problems when arguments about current human conditions are made on the basis of an ecological/deterministic argument -- largely because I feel that it wipes out the complexity of such a large social system.

      Chaotic things happen, and certain even sometimes small events that happen randomly (ie nondeterministically) can have huge effects down the road, IMO. I'm just not sure I buy the "temperate vs. tropical" argument, for example.

      I think that a great number of the problems in Africa and (to a large extent) South America have everything to do with colonialism -- the Europeans just got there first with the weaponry and diseases necessary to dominate and exploit. That's just as true, BTW, in temperate North America as it is in tropical South America -- though the colonists' different paths seem to have led to different forms of exploitation (or even genocide) of the native populations. All of that, so far as I can tell, seems to have come about through random means, though its effects down the road have, of course, been huge.

      Now, in Africa, we're talking about a particularly harsh and long term form of exploitation that only officially ended 40-50 years ago and has never really ceased in terms of economics. Again, I don't think that's a "had to be" in terms of ecology, I think that's a "it just happened this way, and events build on other events".

      Just a little copper coinage, hope I'm making any sense at all.

      •  An excellent book is Poisonwood Bible (none)
        by Barbara Kingsolver. She lived in Africa with her parents who were medical people,when she was a child. She has a brilliant perception and a biologist PH D mind like a steel trap. The story is incredible and so faithful to the area of the Congo that it is true while being a work with imaginary people.

        All you really need to know to continue being outraged is there. Even though it is an Oprah bookclub pick which will off put some people who are literary snobs. Like me. I was a number of years getting to read her and she is great!

    •  My problem with Diamond's book (none)
      I actually hadn't related his book with Africa's current plight.  His thesis centered around geography and the derminism talked about in Africa is largely social.  The big problem I have with Diamond's book is that a.) He ignores or writes off tons of evidence that would contradict his theory. Like a lot of so called historians his analysis is incredibly Euro centric with very little commentary on places and cultures that do not reinforce or would disprove his thesis.  I think the dangerous thing about Diamond's book is that while his well intentioned aim may be to show that we are where we are because of a force altogether not human, it nonetheless relentlessly reinforces the fact that Europeans ARE better.  

      In Africa today, the corruption is often the residue of learned behavior from the brutal social hierarchies established during colonialism.  Yes we did indeed help assassinate visionary leaders like Lumumba during our Cold War proxy battles, but at this point that situation has changed quite a bit.  There is a difference between understanding WHY something has happened and trying to constructively move forward to a solution.  At this point the problem in Africa is not so much that we are interfering too much, it's that we kicked them so hard for so long and are now ignoring them and not offering a hand up.  I like to believe in the transformative power of people, because if you believe that other governments or systems can keep you under their thumb indefinitely through THEIR actions, then what's the point?

      Arrogance and stupidity: it's a winning combination.

      by MatthewBrown on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 12:15:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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