As Jared Diamond explains in the prologue to his famous book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies , Yali, a local politician, asks his question while they are strolling on a beach in New Guinea together in 1972. Yali asks, "Why is it that you white...
As Jared Diamond explains in the prologue to his famous book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Yali, a local politician, asks his question while they are strolling on a beach in New Guinea together in 1972. Yali asks, "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" Diamond writes that the entire book is an answer to Yali's question.
In the years since Yali and I had that conversation, I have studied and written about other aspects of human evolution, history, and language. This book, written twenty-five years later, attempts to answer Yali.
To New Guineans, the word "cargo" represents the material goods that Western people developed and brought into their country. Many Westerners considered themselves genetically superior to New Guineans and believed that the answer to Yali's question had to do with race. Diamond found this explanation absurd, as he had lived and traveled with New Guineans and found them at least as intelligent, if not more so, than the visiting Westerners.
Guns, Germs, and Steel is Diamond's explanation that environmental factors, rather than inherent genetic differences, are responsible for some human societies developing technology and expanding more rapidly than others. For civilizations to make the transition from hunting and gathering to more settled agrarian societies, certain preconditions concerning geography, climate, and access to domesticable plants and animals are necessary. In early human history, these conditions existed most abundantly in the Eurasian Fertile Crescent and certain other parts of the world, so these areas were first able to evolve complex societies and technologies.
Diamond answers Yali's question using a synthesis of botany, zoology, microbiology, and social science. The rise in food production in some areas was the first step to developing modern agrarian civilizations. That made possible larger, more sedentary societies. Not all plant and animal species offer easy domestication, so some areas had a clear advantage over other areas. Additionally, trade and ideas spread more easily on east-west axes, such as those on the Eurasian continent, where climates and seasons are fairly similar.
In conclusion, Diamond's answer is that the development of "cargo" had nothing to do with inherent differences in the people themselves but only reflected the differences in their environmental circumstances.