The Unexplored Cultural and Social Aspect
The Unexplored Cultural and Social Aspect
The much acclaimed publication has over the years been the subject of much praise and negative criticism in equal measure. Till date, debate still exists in social and anthropological circles on whether Jared Diamond was right in his analysis and explanation of the Eurasian dominance in the last few centuries. In his book, ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ Jared Diamond attributes the dominance of the Eurasian cultures, especially the western ones, to geographical and environmental factors rather than the more widely accepted explanation of biological and cultural superiority. Mr. Diamond asserts that geographical and environmental accidents were the primary cause of the white Eurasian domination over other global cultures. He ignores the effects and impact of culture on the differences in the development of humans in various parts of the world. He claims that even though culture and social factors could have played a role, they were just secondary factors and not the primary causes of European domination. Diamond further asserts that even morally upright countries could be extremely poor as a result of various geographical factors. Also, cultures with low morals and poor cultures could still flourish. The basic point is that culture did not play any significant role in the rise of Europe to power.
This essay brazenly takes the approach that Diamond ignored. It explores the various cultural and social factors that contributed to the widespread domination of other cultures and societies by the western Eurasian cultures. The author tracks the development of various human races around the world up until the time Eurasia surged forward in the Great Leap of around 50,000 B.C. In general, it looks at a ‘what if?’ situation of cultural and social impact on early human societies.
Background information and definition of key terms
The account goes back to around 11,000 B.C, the period towards the last ice age and the commencement of the Recent Era. This period also marked the beginning of social organization, evident in the development of village life among humans in some areas. Over time, the Eurasian continent and especially the European countries grew in leaps and bounds. The author of the book contributes this to the exposure of favorable geographical and environmental factors. The Europeans were able to domesticate various animals and plants and start various agricultural practices which led to increase in population and an eventual dominance over other cultures.
- A) Eurasia – This is a term used to describe the combination of the European and Asian continents into a single and extensive landmass.
- B) Western cultures – These are the cultures that occupied and still occupy the western portions of Eurasia. They are primarily made up of Europeans. The western cultures consist of nations such as Italy, Spain and Great Britain.
Cultural and Social Factors Contributing to the European Dominance
The world systems theory can be used to explain the developing dominance of the Eurasian nations from around 11,000 years B.C. The theory proposes that the world can be divided into economic units that traverse national boundaries to encompass many countries. The theory divides the world into three economic units namely core countries, semi periphery countries and periphery countries. Naturally core countries dominate over other countries in terms of economic strength and in terms of other areas. Europe as a core region was favored by its geographical and climatic environment and quickly rose over other regions. However, apart from the geographical and environmental factors, cultural and social factors also played a leading role in the early European dominance. The renaissance period is especially notable as the main driving force behind the development and growth of Europe.
The renaissance period
This is a period that started in the late thirteenth century and fourteenth century. It was characterized by increased intellectualism and artistic brilliance. The eminent scientists such as Isaac Newton and philosophers belonged to this age. The agrarian revolution and industrialization also characterize this defining period in Europe’s history. The change started in Florence Italy at the beginning of the fourteenth century. A new spirit of reformation, social change and governance started blowing across Europe. Explorations to other continents by the likes of Christopher Columbus reached its peak in the 16th century, further opening up Europe to other trading opportunities. In the same century, religion played an enormous role in the development of Europe. It is at this time that some people led by figures such as Calvin and Martin Luther broke away from staunch Catholicism to launch Protestantism especially in England. The economy and trading power continued to rise with the beginning of the slave trade. The salves from Asia and Africa were used to provide labor on farms and plantations. Between the 17th and 18th centuries the development of science and industrialization took Europe to unprecedented levels with the inventions of new machines and the uncovering of unknown knowledge. European expansion and growth continued growing in leaps and bounds throughout the 19th century. The only disruptions were due to the two world wars that took place in 1914 and 1945 respectively. However, Europe quickly rebuilt herself and continued growing. Today, even though it has been overtaken by large economies such as the United State, Europe continue to be both an economic and democracy giant.
- a) Writing
This was one of the main contributors to the development of European domination. Writing mostly developed as a result of the establishment of political organization. Establishment of political organization required transmission of information and keeping of historical accounts and records. Writing eventually led to the penning down of scientific ideas. This led to the improvement of scientific knowledge in chemistry, physics and biology. This led to various inventions which significantly improved the European lifestyle.
- b) Competition between European States
Before the unification of Europe into one economic and cultural unit, the different nations were involved in various types of trade and agriculture. This led to fierce competition between the European states. This trade and agricultural competition led to the development of better products in an attempt to outdo each other. Eventually the whole of Europe produced more advanced and higher quality products than other cultures.
- c) Social organization
Social organizations such as villages and towns developed earlier in Europe than in other cultures. Domestication, agriculture and trading led to development of cohesive social units that would work together to boost productivity. This led to a stronger and more united Europe that easily conquered other nations. Religion, as a social aspect, also brought people together to form strong religious groups.
- d) Political organization
The development of social groups eventually led to political organizations. These political organizations acted as the glue that brought people together under one leadership umbrella. This further increased the strength of European nations.
All the above factors eventually led to the establishment of strong military troops that could easily conquer other nations. They also boosted trading which further emphasized European domination.
Diamond’s approach in his book, ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ is largely Geographical. It does not take into account the effect of various fundamental social and cultural factors. Religion, for example, had a significant impact on the development of cultures and societies based on beliefs. Political impacts are also largely ignored. For example, there is no mention of key political figures that altered the direction of history during their reigns. Generally, I feel that the book is too off balanced. In his attempt to denounce racism and oppose biological and cultural superiority, the writer goes too far and leans on only one side of history. The book is good and captivating to read, but it lacks a certain salient additive which is culture and society. I would compare the book to a meal with a lot of other spices but no salt.
Diamond’s book, though off balanced, provided a fresh insight into the aspect of differential national and regional growth. It sets out to answer the question, ‘why are some countries poor and others rich?’ However, in its attempt to answer that question it ignores the key aspects of culture, politics and religion which were also prime factors in the growth and development of Eurasia. The essay, therefore, has attempted to fill out the blank spaces left unanswered by Jared Diamond’s book, ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’.
Diamond, J. Guns, Germs, and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. 2nd ed. London: Vintage, 1998. Print.