In Questioning Collapse Errington and Gewertz take issue with Diamond’s analysis of the development of New Guinea in both of his books.
1. What is one of their most important criticisms of Collapse in relation to New Guinea?
2. To what extent is Diamond’s specific argument about highland New Guinea weakened as a result of the criticism(s)?
3. Does Diamond's weakened argument matter (in favor of or against) in relation to Diamond’s more general argument in Collapse?
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Errington and Gewertz state that their major objection to Jared Diamond's argument in Collapse is Diamond's claim that societies make an active choice to either succeed or fail. They emphasize their objection by pointing out that even his Pulitzer-prize winner, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Diamond demonstrates it is nations' inequalities that lead to geographic determinism, which is a theory that geographical conditions shape cultural habits and characteristics and also lead to either a culture's rise or fall.
Errington and Gewertz assert that Diamond's thesis stems from a theory that societies are guided solely on "self-interested motivation." They further assert that Diamond's thesis is based off of an assumption that individuals within cultures can act rationally, free of any restraints, which is further based off of the "theory of methodological individualism," a theory that occurrences within a society, such as a society's rise or downfall, can be explained as resulting from the individual's motives and actions within the society.
Just as Errington and Gewertz assert, Diamond's theory of collapse is certainly based on a lot of assumptions. For one thing, other socialists have pointed out that the theory of methodological individualism creates fallacies by overlooking the "volatility" or vulnerability of the individual; in other words, on our daily lives, we rarely see the individual being able to act upon rational decisions without any constraints ("Methodological Individualism: Fallacies"). Furthermore, Errington and Gewertz point out that the notion of "rational self-interest" is purely a Western cultural idea and did not see New Guineans acting upon self-interests when they were working in Papua New Guinea. Errington and Gewertz see absolutely "no link between a selfish decision made in the short term and adverse long-term consequences" as Diamond asserts (p. 8).
Hence, Errington and Gewertz' most important criticism of Diamond's arguments in Collapse is that social consequences cannot be proved to be rooted in active decisions of the individual, particularly not decisions based on a Western understanding of self-interest.
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