Geographic Determinism – Four Environmental Differences

From the book Guns, Steel, and Germs by Jared Diamond, there are four major geographic deterministic reasons for the disparity and cultural differences between people historically. (Again, a post mostly for my own notes.)  Specifically this is a follow up to my post on Yali’s question.dragon-fly-by-eschipul

From the book:

“The striking differences between the long-term histories of people of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the people themselves but to differences in their environments.” – pg 405

Just four sets of (environmental) differences appear to me to be the most important ones.” – pg 406

1. Differences in plants and animals available as starting materials for domestication

“The first set consists of continental differences in the wild plant and animal species available as starting materials for domestication. That’s because food production was critical for the accumulation of food surpluses that could feed non-food-producing specialists, and for the buildup of large populations enjoying a military advantage through mere numbers even before they had developed any technological or political advantage. For both of those reasons, all developments of economically complex, socially stratified, politically centralized societies beyond the level of small nascent chiefdoms were based on food production.” – pg 406

“On each continent, animal and plant domestication was concentrated in a few especially favorable homelands accounting for only a small fraction of the continent’s total area. In the case of technological innovations and political institutions as well, most societies acquire much more from other societies than they invent themselves. Thus, diffusion and migration within a continent contribute importantly to the development of its societies, which tend in the long run to share each other’s developments… That is, societies initially lacking an advantage either acquire it from societies possessing it or (if they fail to do so) are replaced by those other societies.” – pg 406

2. Diffusion and Migration

“On each continent, animal and plant domestication was concentrated in a few especially favorable homelands accounting for only a small fraction of the continent’s total area. In the case of technological innovations and political institutions as well, most societies acquire much more from other societies than they invent themselves. Thus diffusion and migration within a continent contribute importantly to the development of its societies, which tend in the long run to share each others’ developments…  That is, societies initially lacking an advantage either acquire it from societies possessing it or (if they fail to do so) are replaced by those other societies.” – pg 406-407

3. Diffusion within Continents of technology and domestic plants and animals

“Related to these factors affecting diffusion within continents is a third set of factors influencing diffusion between continents, which may also help build up a local pool of domesticates and technology. Ease of intercontinental diffusion has varied, because some continents are more isolated than others.” – pg 407

4. Continental Differences in area or total population size

“The fourth and last set of factors consists of continental differences in area or total population size. A larger area or population means more potential inventors, more competing societies, more innovations available to adopt – and more pressure to adopt and retain innovations, because societies failing to do so will tend to be eliminated by competing societies.” – pg 407

There is something nice and compact about breaking such a complex topic as the history of the world’s people’s culture down to four primary environmental factors. And if correct, what balance of power gets shifted globally with the advent of global warming? Something to think about….