What should I focus on in an essay about the theories of cultural/technological development discussed in Civilization and Guns, Germs, and Steel? I am supposed to discuss which theory is more convincing.
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I assume that, when you refer to Civilization, you are referring to the book by Niall Ferguson. I will base my answer on that assumption.
In order to write this essay, the first thing that you need to do is to explain what each author has to say about what Diamond calls “Yali’s Question.” In other words, you need to explain what Diamond and Ferguson each say about why the West came to dominate the world.
The two authors have very different ideas about this. Diamond argues that culture essentially does not matter. He says that the West came to dominate simply because of geographical luck. He says that Eurasia had the right conditions for agriculture to arise before it arose anywhere else. Eurasia also had the conditions that allowed agriculture, and the technology that went with it, to spread. In explaining why Western Europe came to dominate the world, he says that it was largely due to geography as well. He says that Western Europe was broken up into geographically distinct countries that constantly competed with one another. This competition drove progress in Western Europe faster than in other places such as China. In short, the West dominated because of luck.
Ferguson, by contrast, says that culture was everything. His six “killer apps” are all about culture. He says that competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the Protestant work ethic were what allowed the West to dominate. All of these are cultural things. Ferguson says nothing about geography. He basically says that the West had the best culture, one which allowed it to dominate.
Once you have laid out these arguments, you simply need to discuss which one is more compelling to you, personally. There is no wrong or right answer. You need to give good reasons to support your opinion, but you do not need to worry about being wrong.
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