Posted: September 4th, 2013
Origins of Civilization (ARCHEOLOGY and ANTHROPOLOGY)
The two arguments and ideas of Robert Wright and Jared Diamond unfold a contrasting view to the development of human being and his destiny. Each of the books lays its argument on one focused ideology or aspect, while they present contrasting views on what has led to the current complexity in human world. Wright argues that history and evolution of organisms and societies has been through interaction and cooperation of organisms and humans in concurring challenges, each time becoming more complex (Wright 12). On the other hand, Diamond presents rather a different view on why the societies are different from each other. While Wright acknowledges that biology play a part in development of organisms through interactions, Diamond believes that disparities among cultures and organisms is caused by geographical influences, as well as development of societies.
In “Nonzero, the Logic of Human Destiny,” Robert Wright asserts that human beings end up in higher and higher levels of complexity as culture evolves, the same way biological evolutions becomes more complex as evolution takes place. Complexity in his argument means the situation in which there is either a win or loss for all parties involved out of their cooperation in tackling issues, which the game theory refers to as Non-zero sum outcome. He argues that human destiny since the prehistoric time has evolved around the same pattern, growing more and more complex as they continue mastering challenges around them through cooperation. His argument simply put means that through cooperation of species that are alike since the beginning of life have led to more and more complexities of life such as from simple creature to creatures that are more complex as well as from simple villages to complex cities.
The title of the book, NonZero, is used to mean the win-win or loose-loose situation of human beings according to the game theory. The game theory suggests that in a game where all the teams work together or cooperate, there is a win- win situation, or all parties end up loosing. This is the opposite of the Zero-sum game where one party’s win is loose to another, such as a football march. Wright focuses on the non-zero-sum game, where through playing these games that require cooperation between organisms with the same genes such as humans. Through repeated playing of such games of cooperation, growth in both biological and social complexities is achieved, defining the human destiny (Wright 122).
On the other hand, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond argues that differences in power and wealth or development in the human societies such as Eurasian countries African countries was not due to their intellectual capacities (Diamond 430). Rather, he argues that it originates from the environmental differences, which results in positive feedback where the organism gains advantage from some of effects in the body. He cites that genetic or cultural differences such as resistance to epidemic diseases for the Eurasians were because of geographical influence, and were never intrinsic in the Eurasian genes. Therefore, he suggests that civilization of human beings especially Eurasians has been defined by the geographical influence in the different regions of the world. By this he means that Eurasian civilization was not because of their ingenuity; rather, it resulted from opportunities and need resulting to developments made possible by specific precondition. Thus, development of human being is decided by the geography, while Wright asserts it is decided by the cooperation in non-zero-sum games.
The title of the book refers to the means through which the Eurasians were able to conquer other regions, despite being outnumbered. Guns represent superior weapons of the Eurasians that accorded them military power to defeat the opponents. Germs on the other hand represent the epidemic diseases that many of their opponents had no resistance to, which weakened the opponents. Steel represents the centralized government of the Eurasians that were enshrined in powerful military power. Diamond goes ahead to show how geographic influence played a part in contributing to the superiority of the Europeans and Asians such as developing immunity to some diseases while other people were devastated by such diseases. Thus, the geographical advantage went to the Eurasians after the last Ice Age. Thus, the civilization of Eurasians is because of favors from the geographic and climatic features. The destiny of human beings in this case is not defined by cooperation or by playing of non-zero-sum games; rather, it is decided by the geographical and climatic influence on the different societies (Diamond 430).
Another difference between the two arguments of the writers revolves around their idea on biological evolution. Wright suggests that biological evolution follows interactions that results in benefits for both parties. This is to suggest that interactions between genes will contribute to benefits for the parties. This could be taken to suggest that through interaction of genes there is benefit since a complex organism is created, one that can probably have more resistance to some diseases. In addition, other issues such as politics, states and trade have occurred because of interaction and cooperation, or the non-zero-sum games played by people around the same area. He cites that through cooperation and interaction, leadership moved from village elders to chiefdom to more complex political entities until to the current level of statehood, and trade across the whole world. Agriculture has also advances from the interaction of people and their playing of the non-zero games that benefit them all. Thus, development of humans is achieved through their cooperation and interaction in tackling issues as they arise.
On the other hand, Diamond suggests that biological evolution is influenced by the climate and the geographic conditions that favor a particular grouping a particular environmental area. In this case, the Eurasians are favored by the geography. Through the influence of geographic and climatic conditions, positive feedback is achieved, contributing to stronger organisms, as the word ‘Germs’ in the title suggests. On the issue of agriculture, politics, and social issues, all are influence by the geography and climate of the particular region. In his book, diamond sets out to illustrate why some countries such as Europe have advanced, while other such as New Guinea are still ragging behind. He argues that the cultural differences and disparities are because of geography, and biology has nothing to do with it; rather, geography has influenced biology instead. He cites the advantage of geography has allowed Eurasians to produce food, learn ways of using their land well and planting specific crops rather than look for them, which spares them time for engaging in other purposeful activities that define their life as well as destiny of their society (Diamond 230).
The two works clearly tackle development and history of humans from very differing perspectives. While Wright believes that humans do shape their societies through interaction or non-zero games, Diamond believes geography has everything to do with it, and humans only have little influence. on the other hand, while Wright does believe biology does play a part in the development through interacting where he believes life evolved from interactions of genes that were alike to complex organisms, Diamond asserts that geography has got to do with everything concerning evolution; hence, the difference between cultures at different locations. The two account of origin of civilization show quite a difference, with Wright asserting civilization is brought about by the non-zero games of cooperation where all parties benefit, while Diamond on the other hand holds that civilization is brought about by geographical differences.
Diamond, Jared M. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999. Print.
Wright, Robert. NonZero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Las Vegas, NV: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print.
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