Thursday, April 26, 2007

What Are We Doing With So Much Cargo?

oh looklooklook! I'm not old blogger anymore! I finally got migrated! Was I the very last person? I'll never actually go back over 400+ posts and tag them all, but it could be a fun exercise in categorizing my mind!

Anyway, I finished it! You don’t know how many nights this book has put me to sleep. It has been on the top of my All Consuming list for so long that I thought it deserved its own blog post.

Jared Diamond is one fascinating thinker. He teaches in a medical school, has done biological research for as long as I've been alive, and yet his best known books, this one and Collapse, are really history. And anthropology. And a lot of other disciplines all combined into something new. He calls it “history’s broadest pattern” and I get that as I am a person who sees patterns and connections that other people too often (according to me) overlook.

Guns, Germs and Steel looks at the last 13,000 or so years of human history and asks why it has been dominated by Europeans. Diamond doesn’t believe it is because of any innate ability or intelligence. The title of the book comes from the proximate causes of the domination but what Diamond is looking for, arguing for, is what is the ultimate cause. And that is fascinatingly environment. Put in way too simple of terms, environment enhanced agriculture which increased population which increased invention which increased the engulfment of the rest of the world.

The lessons from that are fascinating when applied to the modern world and even to the world of our own making. I looked at the old husband and said, you know, we're just iron age farmers. And we could easily enough be stone age farmers. And a huge large part of what we've done with our lives is try to withdraw our support from the kleptocracy.

My favorite quote from this book is, well, I can't find it right now so I'll paraphrase: "Invention is the mother of necessity." Think about it. Gasoline was a dangerous by-product . . . until someone came up for a use for it in the IC engine. And this computer, necessity? Naw.

This book did take me forever to finish because it is like a text book. Diamond does not write in a fluid, organic way, but in an overly academic way. You know, he says, "In this chapter we will look at blah blah blah." Couldn't we just go ahead and look at it without the preamble and the summation and the redundancy in later chapters too? Ok, the style has its uses but I wish the man had a touch of the storyteller in him.

So now, maybe I'm on to read Collapse. Or maybe not quite yet.


Annie said...

I think one can learn, early on, what the writer has to say. I read the first chapters of Diamond's book. I hear you about his need to learn to be a storyteller.

Madcap said...

I haven't read this one yet, but it's on our shelf. My husband really liked it.

And I think I must be a New Blogger reject, b/c I don't see any signs of change when I go to post. Oh well. As long as I can still sashay around hither and yon to new and old I guess it's no big deal.

thingfish23 said...

CG - I know I trumpet it out a lot on other blogs as well, but Daniel Quinn writes along thos esame lines, especially in "The Story of B". The book's story really isn't all THAT fascinating, but it is structured around a series of "lectures" that are just awesome reading.

Here's an overview:

I know - Wikipedia is a copout, but whatever. It's a good starting point.

Thanks for stopping by.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I thought you migrated a long time ago mc -- that you and Jim in California had a convo about it.

Annie, I think if one only read the early chapters of his book, one would miss MUCH of what he really has to say. At least the details. Why does population pressure lead to states for example. What about diversity leading to "progress" (western) instead of stagnation (China), etc. There's tons in it to think about. Also I like in it that he doesn't value the western progress thing really more than the stone age farmer thing.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Hey thingfish! I read Ishmael years ago but not anything else by Quinn, at least not yet. So I'll go look. And I think Wiki gets a bad rap sometimes too. Thanks!

Madcap said...

Well, there was that new blogger, and then there seems to be another new blogger that has other tool symbols, etc. I was curious, so I went and started a new blog template under a different user name, and it looked quite different than the Maison blog.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I haven't updated my template yet because I figure I have to do that at a time I've got time to put the bells and whistles that I like back on it, since it says all my changes will be lost. Gosh, I remember the first time I tried to change it! LOL! That was pretty funny.

El said...

I read GG&S when I was pregnant, even brought it to the hospital with me (I got sick enough to be in the hospital; it wasn't by choice). My obstetrician commented on it, and I thought he would say something like "what an odd choice for a parturient woman" but instead he told me how much he enjoyed the book. I read Collapse last summer. Both were thought-provoking. What he had to say about Montana in the latter was really great.

And old Blogger vs. new? Are you stone age moving to bronze, or iron? I only like that I can categorize posts now, frankly.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I'm on the Montana chapter now and reading it sure makes you NOT want to move to Montana! I wish he'd write something about Southern Appalachia to discourage the do-gooders (like, I hear we made it on American Idol, gag me with a spoon and leave me alone!)

thingfish23 said...

Could you expound, please, on "do-gooders"? I think I have an idea, but I'd like it from the source.

I want to know what NOT to do when we (eventually) arrive in App-a-LATCH-a.

Pronounced correctly, right?


the Contrary Goddess said...

said close enough to right that we can tell you are trying thingfish! And if you aren't out to save us, and aren't out to change us, you'll be fine.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

I love Guns, Germs, and Steel as well - I think it is probably the best work of social science in the last fifteen years. If you like it, you might also like Malthus' Principle of Population, Hardin's The Tragedy of the Commons, and any of the less verbose Marxist works on technological determinism - I think the whole subject of how what we have shapes what we do and restrains our choices, like a monster we can't unmake, well, it is fascinating. It is why we love Frankenstein.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Nice to see you eric. I was wondering, but am not so rude to ask on your blog, but why are almost all the contributors to Hillbilly Savants male? That's my social science question.

I am now reading Collapse, and it isn't so academic, and seems like dear Diamond is a better storyteller with this book. But it seems to keep going back to "It's population stupid" and the fact that until we send people to the dissintegrators, there is no hope. 15% change is NOT going to do it. And collapse is real quick from the height of population and achievement.

I continue to ask the questions, who will survive (and answer it with, hopefully, my children),and with what skill sets.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

Yeah - I agree with your premise about skill sets - I myself am a fan of ol' Lord Baden-Powell. Also, the reason most of the contributors on HS are male is that most of the contributors, though not all, are from two groups of friends, one set from my undergrad, the other from Greene County and Knoxville in Tennessee. If you'd be interested in joining up, just shoot us an e-mail - we're trying to add several more interested female writers right now, actually (trying to balance it out), not to mention of course Kentuckyians, West Virginians, and North Carolinians. Regardless, just let us know, and keep up the good work. e.-

the Contrary Goddess said...

Oh, thanks eric! I really wasn't fishing for an invite as my plate if too full already, but I had noticed that and wondered about it.

I am also totally with you on finding it fascinating on how people (including myself) DON'T see the options and alternatives and thus so restrict what they can even envision for their lives.

One thing we've found, and perhaps I should write a post on this, but whenever we've come up against something that we can't figure out how to do it, we let it rest some and try to think of it differently. It is just classic "outside the box" thinking. And it is a continual thing, not a one time thing. Every decision, every method, is always being revisioned.