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Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond

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Who are the "haves" and "have-nots" according to Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel?

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In Chapter 5 of "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies", Jared Diamond notes that the New Guinean island of Bougainville is of the same size as the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i. However, Kaua'i supports a population of 60 000 to 80 000 people while Bougainville has only 15 000. He asks why this is so and concludes that it is because Kaua'i was settled fifty to sixty thousand years ago and had interacted with Eurasia by 3000 BC whereas Bougainville was not settled until about 3500 BC and its interaction with Eurasia did not begin for another 5000 years.

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Jared Diamond asks why different civilizations on different continents developed at different rates. Why did, for example, mass production of bronze tools occur in Eurasia more than five thousand years earlier than in the Andes Mountains of South America?

Diamond believes that this differentiation can be traced back thousands of...

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years. In chapter 5, he addresses the question through the prism of the development of sedentary agriculture and the resulting differentiation into two groups: "History's Haves and Have-Nots."

The "haves" are those who possess what he calls "farmer power," and the have-nots are those who lack it. Historically, those societies that gained farmer power early had a huge advantage: they got a head start on progress toward guns, germs, and steel. In a sense, the winner of the modern drama often described as the rise of the West—he prefers the term "western Eurasia"—was determined long ago. Those who in modern times have prevailed and established dominance through guns, germs, and steel are those who were the first to adopt sedentary agriculture.

There is the associated question of why some adopted sedentary agriculture while others did not. Diamond wonders why there are some arable parts of the globe where agriculture did not emerge and populations continued to practice hunting and gathering into the modern era, and why agriculture sometimes emerged in areas where the soil was of marginal quality. He argues that agriculture developed independently in only a handful of places. From there, it spread either through the dispersion of knowledge to neighboring societies or through conquest. In other, more peripheral areas, untouched by these societies, people persisted as hunters and gatherers.

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In Chapter Five, Jared Diamond states that the "haves" were civilizations which managed to develop agriculture and food production industries (whether independently or through importation); these industries in turn provided a "head start on the path leading toward guns, germs, and steel." On the other hand, the "have-nots" were civilizations which failed to capitalize on local natural resources or imported resources to develop food production industries. These "have-nots" were thus left behind economically and politically.

Jared Diamond states that some hunter-gatherer societies managed to rely on imported crops to develop their own food production system. For example, in Egypt, local hunter-gatherers relied on Southwest Asian domesticated crops as well as "farming and herding techniques" to begin their own farming enterprises. As food production levels of these imported domesticates increased, the hunter-gatherers gradually phased out their own original diet of wild plants and animals.

On the other hand, some hunter-gatherer societies were conquered by foreign invaders who brought in foreign domesticates to the local culture. For example, Native Americans in the Northwest United States and Aboriginals in Australia were driven out or killed by Europeans who arrived on their shores. These invaders did not domesticate the local, wild foods; instead, they used the domesticates they brought in as seed to begin their own food production industries.

So, some food production industries were begun from the domestication of indigenous (local) crops while some were begun from imported crops. Yet others were begun because local hunter-gatherers decided to capitalize on imported domesticates. Whatever the source, those societies which managed to develop their own food production industries became the "haves," while those who didn't, simply became the "have-nots." This latter group was left far behind when those with hegemonic interests threatened their survival in their own lands.

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According to Diamond, the "haves" are those populations who developed food production early and successfully.  The "have-nots" are the populations of people who remained hunters-and-gatherers while the rest of the world was modernizing and stabilizing.

The result was that the "haves" were able to settle down, develop farming techniques, and as a result, move quickly into conquering because the development of farming naturally led to the development of "guns, germs and steel."  Today we know exactly who the "haves" are as compared to the "have-nots" simply by looking at the globe.

Chapter 5, Guns, Germs, and Steel

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