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Jared Diamond

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Inspired by Gregory Cochran’s recent review of Jared Diamond’s 20-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning tome Guns, Germs, and Steel The Fate of Human Societies, here’s my new column in Taki’s Magazine:

Rough Diamond
by Steve Sailer
September 06, 2017

… Why are some races of humans so much more economically and scientifically productive than other races?

Diamond charmingly phrased this as Yali’s Question, after a Melanesian cargo cultist the UCLA physiologist had met on a bird-watching trip to New Guinea:

“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?”

It’s not that New Guineans don’t care about cargo. In fact, after observing American and Australian military men deposit upon jungle airfields vast quantities of delightful goods, they formed cargo cults to replicate the white man’s magic. As William Manchester recounted in Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War:

The native is no dummy. He can imitate any rite. He puts together a facsimile of a telephone with tin cans and string. He shuffles papers and speaks into the can; then he searches the sky, predicting, “Moni i kam baimbai.” (“Money he come by and by”)…

Frustrated, a New Hanover tribe formed a “Lyndon B. Johnson cult” in the 1960s. Even in New Guinea people knew that nobody was more effective with gadgets and telephones than Lyndon Johnson…. Somehow they amassed sixteen hundred dollars for a one-way ticket from Washington to Moresby and sent the ticket to the White House. Johnson didn’t arrive…. It seems a pity. LBJ would have made a marvelous king of the blackfellows, and he would have enjoyed the job immensely.

Read the whole thing there.

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Jared Diamond’s early 1990s book The Third Chimpanzee was a collection of smart magazine-writing at an admirably high level. Thus, the disappointment among his earliest fans over his long, tedious, tendentious and not terribly unpersuasive 1997 follow-up Guns, Germs, and Steel. Not surprisingly, GG&S was a huge hit. Undigested parts of GG&S became globs of the conventional wisdom. For example, one of the book’s most popular ideas is that non-Europeans fell behind in global competition because they lacked native animals suitable for exploitation other than as meat. 
At West Hunter, Greg Cochran scratches his head over this: 

He claims that since Africans and Amerindians were happy to adopt Eurasian domesticated animals when they became available, it must be that that suitable local animals just didn’t exist. But that’s a non sequitur: making use of an already-domesticated species is not at all the same thing as the original act of domestication. That’s like equating using a cell phone with inventing one. He also says that people have had only mixed success in recent domestication attempts – but the big problem there is that a newly domesticated species doesn’t just have to be good, it has to be better than already-existing domestic animals. 

Indian elephants, although not truly domesticated, are routinely tamed and used for work in Southern Asia. The locals in Sub-Saharan Africa seem never to have done this with African elephants – but it is possible. The Belgians, in the Congo, hired Indian mahouts to tame African elephants, with success. It’s still done in the Congo, on a very limited scale, and elephants have recently been tamed in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, such as the Okavango delta. Elephants have long generations, which makes true domestication difficult, but people have made domestication attempts with eland, African buffalo, and oryx.  They’re all tameable, and eland have actually been domesticated to some extent.  … 

It’s not exactly a secret that Africa invaded Europe on the backs of elephants in 218 BC under Hannibal of Carthage. Of course, those weren’t unusable African elephants, those were useful North African elephants, which, conveniently enough, are said to be extinct. But, obviously, Hannibal’s elephants must have been fundamentally genetically different from current African elephants, which proved so useless to sub-Saharan Africans. If only elephants with the right kind of genes had existed in sub-Saharan Africa, then sub-Saharans might have conquered Europe, instead of the other way around.

In fact, in my mind the real question is not why various peoples didn’t domesticate animals that we know were domesticable, but rather how anyone ever managed to domesticate the aurochs. At least twice. Imagine a longhorn on roids: they were big and aggressive, favorites in the Roman arena.

More fundamentally, Diamond is arguing for absolute genetic determinism operating within closely related kinds of animals to deny any relative genetic influence among humans. 
A less extremist view is that nature and nurture both play a role among both animals and humans. But intellectual moderation only gets you in trouble these days.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Jared Diamond 
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Last year, Jared Diamond published a long account in The New Yorker of stories his driver in New Guinea had told him about a bloody feud he’d led in the New Guinea highlands. (I commented on it here.) Now, the driver and another man are suing Diamond for $10 million, saying the story isn’t true.

From Chronicles of Higher Education:

“While acting on vengeful feelings clearly needs to be discouraged, acknowledging them should be not merely permitted but encouraged,” wrote Jared M. Diamond in an essay in The New Yorker last April.

Now two of the subjects of that essay are acknowledging their own vengeful feelings. This week a lawyer filed a $10-million defamation claim in a New York court on behalf of two Papua New Guinea men whom Mr. Diamond described as active participants in clan warfare during the 1990s.

Mr. Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles and the author of the best-selling Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton, 1997), and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 2004), based the essay almost entirely on accounts given to him by Hup Daniel Wemp, an oil-field technician who served as Mr. Diamond’s driver during a 2001-2 visit to New Guinea. (The full text of the essay is open only to New Yorker subscribers, but a long summary is available here.

Mr. Wemp is now one of the lawsuit’s two plaintiffs; the other is Henep Isum Mandingo, a man who, according to Mr. Diamond’s article, was attacked and paralyzed on orders from Mr. Wemp.

For nearly a year, Mr. Diamond’s article has been scrutinized by Rhonda Roland Shearer, director of the Art Science Research Laboratory, a multifaceted New York organization with a sideline in media criticism. Ms. Shearer, a sculptor and writer, is the widow of Stephen Jay Gould, who preceded Mr. Diamond as a widely esteemed public interpreter of science.

Gould’s widow sure likes lawsuits. A few years ago she filed suit for malpractice against the doctor who had saved Gould’s life from cancer in 1982.

The Stinky Journalism website run by her Art Science Research Laboratory says:

Art Science Research Laboratory (ASRL) is a not-for-profit, 501(3)c, founded by Stephen Jay Gould, and Rhonda Roland Shearer in 1996.

The notion of Stephen Jay Gould founding a website to combat “stinky journalism” is hilarious. This is a writer whose biggest bestseller, The Mismeasure of Man, remains the epitome of stinky journalism. High class stinky journalism is what made Mr. and Mrs. Gould rich. As the AP reported on Mrs. Gould’s lawsuit against her late husband’s doctor:

“The lawsuit does not specify the damages being sought, but says that Dr. Gould earned $300,000 a year from speaking engagements alone, that “a seven-figure income was his norm” and that when he died he was about to enter into a book contract for more than $2 million.”

Here’s Stinky Journalism’s endless, poorly organized, poorly edited, and minor error-filled diatribe against Diamond.

This lawsuit against Diamond is also part of the cultural anthropology profession’s war against Diamond (which I discussed in 2007), who has become a best-selling author by mixing the human sciences with Darwinism (while clinging hard enough to political correctness to stay in the money). Although Diamond has made a fortune by coming up with politically correct rationalizations for the obvious huge gaps in achievement among the races, to cultural anthropologists, he’s not politically correct enough.

Forbes reports:

Complicating Wemp’s case, perhaps, is an interview he gave to Shearer’s researchers, in which he stated that the stories he told Diamond were in fact true.

But a Wemp friend and legal adviser, Mako John Kuwimb, explains: “When foreigners come to our culture, we tell stories as entertainment. Daniel’s stories were not serious narrative, and Daniel had no idea he was being interviewed for publication.”

Pacific Islanders are notorious for yanking the chains of visiting Western academics — just look at how Samoan girls snookered Margaret Mead in the 1920s. Moreover, guys like to tell stories about how tough they are, so when your driver tells you about how many men he’s killed protecting his family’s honor, you shouldn’t necessarily take him all that seriously.

So, I have no idea if this story is true or not. Diamond’s article was, literally, a story about a bunch of savages slaughtering each other in the jungle. That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t leave much of a paper trail.

I imagine Wemp would be happy to settle out of court for $100,000 or whatever, which is serious cash in PNG. Wemp’s lawsuit is ridiculous because obviously Diamond didn’t just make up the story. He heard it from Wemp, the plaintiff. The story Wemp told may or may not be true. If it’s not, the other parties named in it may have some kind of case against Diamond for negligence in credulously believing a blowhard’s tall tales. But Wemp doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

But all this raises once again the question that comes up practically every time The New Yorker prints a Malcolm Gladwell article, such as the one libeling Charles Murray that led to a shaming retraction from Gladwell’s editor David Remnick: Whatever happened to The New Yorker’s famous Bright Lights, Big City-style factcheckers? Or have I answered my own question?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Jared Diamond 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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