Converts to the Way of Grain

by ritualofoak

Diamond, Jared. 1997. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Chapters 4,5,6 and 8. Norton, New York, United States.

Jared Diamond opens part two of Guns, Germs, and Steel with a personal anecdote that I think helps ease the reader into his explanation of “the rise and spread of food production” (pg 83). One of the complaints I heard in class about Diamond’s writing style was that it felt impersonal and hard to relate to. Hopefully with this introduction readers will be able to absorb more of the discussion Diamond is trying to facilitate.

While I really appreciate Diamond’s writing style I found it very difficult to pick out specific sentences to analyse. I found that his dialogue held it’s weight not based on one strong sentence but on the cumulative strength of his paragraphs. I found that his writing style worked less on the principle of building up to a climactic end, but instead like the plodding construction of a pyramid. Facts building on facts that then build into well supported thoughts.

From chapter 4 to 8, Diamond describes the process by which humanity switched from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to one of more agricultural leanings. The take home lesson boils down to that as the density of humans rose, the natural abundance of the earth was depleted to the point that a new food source needed to be used to maintain the growing population. While this points towards a conscious decision to switch to agriculture Diamond explains that it is more likely that “…Food production evolved as a by-product of decisions made without awareness of their consequences.” (pg 106). This is a concept that we discussed last week after reading chapter seven of Guns, Germs, and Steel. As food production increased, density too would increase. Diamond describes this as an “autocatalytic process – one that catalyzes itself in a positive feedback cycle, going faster and faster once it has started.” (pg 111) This is an intuitive process and is very obvious in the modern world.

From there the dominance of agriculture expanded as a result of the resources it offered the converts to the way of grain. Technology (guns), a standing military (steel), and the advantage of unintentional biological warfare (germs). All three were made available by the time that was permitted to certain members of the civilizations that grew around agricultural hubs. Artisans, scientists, and farmers. These things have all had a very visible effect on the world, and it is very easy to see the dominance they’ve had. All from the accidental advent of agriculture.