How does Norman Yoffe's criticism of Collapse in the book, Questioning Collapse, weaken Diamond's argument regarding the importance of the environment for the Mayan society's evolution? Also please...

How does Norman Yoffe's criticism of Collapse in the book, Questioning Collapse, weaken Diamond's argument regarding the importance of the environment for the Mayan society's evolution? Also please state reasons why it does not weaken Diamond's argument. In your opinion why is Diamond's argument better?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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First of all, I will be basing my answer to this question on the chapter by McAnany and Gallareta Negron in Questioning Collapse, not on anything that Yoffee himself writes.  This is because McAnany and Gallareta Negro’s chapter is the one that specifically addresses the fate of the Maya.

In Collapse, Diamond argues that there are four sets of factors that helped to cause the collapse of the Mayan civilization.  Two of these were related to the environment.  He argues that the Maya caused deforestation and erosion.  He also argues that there were repeated droughts that did great harm to the Maya economy.  These environmental factors were not the only factors that caused the collapse, but they did contribute to it in important ways.

By contrast, McAnany and Gallareta Negron deny that there was any serious drought.  They argue that there is no evidence for widespread serious drought in the area where the Mayan empire was.  They argue that the Maya did not really cause that much environmental degradation either.  They point out that the Europeans who settled in what is now the United States did much more in the way of deforestation than the Maya ever did.

If McAnany and Gallareta Negron are correct, Diamond’s conclusions are called into question at least to some degree.  If there was no drought in the Maya homeland, one of Diamond’s four factors is disproven.  If the Maya did not cause environmental degradation, a second factor is disproven.  This would mean that half of Diamond’s argument is false (in addition, they deny the accuracy of Diamond’s arguments that do not have to do with the environment).

My own view is that Diamond’s argument is still stronger.  One reason for this is that there appear to be many scholars who disagree with the conclusions of McAnany and Gallareta Negron. For example, this study and this study argue that drought really was very important in causing the Maya collapse.  As another example, this study argues that warfare was an important factor (McAnany and Gallareta Negron deny this as well).  My view is that McAnany and Gallareta Negron are committed to the idea that the Maya collapse never occurred at all.  They feel that it is in some way insulting to the modern day Maya to imply that their civilization collapsed and that their ancestors could have been in some way to blame for this.  Diamond’s argument clearly has support among other scholars (even among experts in the field, which Diamond is not).  McAnany and Gallareta Negron feel that Diamond is simply wrong on all counts.  I do not agree and, it seems, neither do some scholars of the Maya.

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