Guns, Germs and Steel
I recently read a book by Jared Diamond called Guns, Germs and Steel. It intends to explain the world we live today through the humankind’s history in the last 13.000 years. Although it’s quite environmentally deterministic, there are some things that might deserve our attention:
- Colonies ended up being dominated because of the technologically advanced guns and fatal diseases carried by the Europeans, consequences of the centralised power and animals’ domestication respectively, as well as large population. All this factors, however, were only possible because of agriculture, which permitted work specialisation;
- In the evolution of human gathering from band to tribe to chiefdom to state (always growing bigger, more centralised and more complex), important problems we have nowadays, especially wealth concentration, hyper exploration of natural resources, violence and lack of “humanity feeling”, all started in the chiefdom phase, 7,500 years ago. Then, population gathering achieved thousands, decisions making was centralised and people didn’t know everybody else anymore (if a New Guinean happened to encounter an unfamiliar New Guinean while both were away from their villages, the two engaged in a long discussion of their relatives, in an attempt to establish some relationship and hence some reason why the two should not try to kill each other). If the population size of evolution is controlled, is nowadays complexity actually inverting the centralisation aspect
- Why would an elite gain popular support while maintaining a more comfortable life than commoners? Kleptocrats have resourted to a mixture of four solutions:
1. Disarm the population and arm the elite
2. Make the masses happy by distributing much of the tribute received in popular ways
3. Use the monopoly of force to maintain public order, curb violence and therefore promote happiness
4. Construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy
- Early government centralisation (221 B.C.) helped China to lead numerous technology advancement, amongst which sit gunpowder, the wheel, a writing system and the ship industry. On the other hand, due to political disputed in the 15th century, many advancements – notably the naval industry – were discontinued. In that case, centralisation was pretty bad. So the lesson seems to be a little bit of everything in moderation, i.e. government to organise consensual big projects, but not to stop the entrepreneurial endeavours of inventors and adventurous.
I haven’t yet organised many other thoughts in my mind...