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Just a tiny nitpick...genetic roots aren't what make a people who they are. ;-)

Why aren't the Eskimos as advanced as the Japanese?

Because during WW2 the Eskmios were brutally bombed and their large cities reduced to dust. That's going to set a people back a few decades at least. Give them some time to catch up with the people whose countries weren't destroyed in the war.

Sez who?

Because they lived in a harsh environment that did not allow for agriculture or permit population to rise to high levels necessary for civilization.

More has been accomplished on this since 1998:

Did you bother to read the article?

5. Utter failure to comprehend the arguments of determinism, much less counter them.

No, it's actually a sophisticated argument: anything that turns out complex, or unpredictable, is definitely magic.

Free will is, in my opinion, the philosophical issue most subject to "proof by definition," especially in the media and in the popular imagination. People generally think of "free will" as meaning something like, "I'm able to make choices between different things, like red paint or blue paint." And...well, yeah ok I guess you could define it that way, but that's such a totally uninteresting proposition that I don't know why you would even bother talking about it. It shouldn't be that shocking that the giant decision-making machine known as the brain takes in information and then uses it to make choices.

The actual interesting proposition is whether "you" as some "agent" independent of the brain, are capable of "overriding" the choices that your neuron firings would otherwise make. And that is a very interesting question, one well worth pondering for thousands of years. However, we now know (or I should say, think we know, subject to further scientific inquiry) that that proposition is false, and that there is no such thing as "you, the agent," separate from your neuron firings. The whole notion of free will is really just a barbarous relic of an age when we didn't really understand the brain or causation, and we really should just stop talking about it like it's an unsolved mystery. But I guess we gotta write philosophy dissertations about something.

That's a positive way at looking at it. It was all the girls at your high school that turned you down, but just a bunch of neurons.

"However, we now know (or I should say, think we know, subject to further scientific inquiry) that that proposition is false, and that there is no such thing as “you, the agent,” separate from your neuron firings"

Errrrrrrrrrrrrr...which branch of science made that metaphysical claim, exactly?

Cause and effect.

I'm not saying it's correct, but it's a pretty easy idea to get your brain around, no?

#1. We are seeing an increase in the use of luxury toilet paper only because toilet technology has gotten better. The 1.28 flushers of today do an enormously better job than the 3 or 5 gallon flushers of the 1980s. (But please buy the professional grade only, not the run of the mill ones from the big boxes).

An unintended consequence of government regulations?

Case in point is Charmin, which had the reputation for being the best luxury toilet paper, at least at the turn of the century. However, there were many complaints about it blocking toilets. Today, your Charmin, along with a pound of solids, will effortlessly be sucked up by your professional-grade 1.28 gpf toilet.

Of course, what happens later on in the sewer system is a public externality:

(If you are going to buy a1.28 flusher, please do not pitch the sewer drains too much. Otherwise the water will run ahead of the solids: you need the water to move the solids along.)

How can a 1.28 gp/flush toilet be any "better" than previous models except in using less water per flush? The fecal matter disappears in both cases, although some earlier low-water models required multiple flushes to do the job. The difference is that the less water used in the flush, the less water there is to move the turds along to the sewer main and the more likely you are to acquire a first name relationship with your drain cleaning technician. As time goes by and sewer piping becomes shifted and infiltrated by tree roots the low flush toilets will be even more of a hassle. But plumbers will love the fact that you're paying for their new van and elk hunting trip to Colorado.

All I can say is that you have not used or installed a pro-grade low-flush toilet, or your bought the builder-grade from Home Depot.

A few days ago a retiree sitting next to me in a poker game said, "Everything changed once I figured out the air conditioning racket. One truck could do twelve thousand a day [in installs]."

A few years back we remodeled the bathrooms and we installed Toto's CST744SG#01 Drake:

SBUAU is absolutely correct in his assessment of the modern professional grade toilet. I can't recommend Toto's Drake highly enough. My plunger now gathers dust in the garage, rather than residing next to the toilet.

If there are professional grade toilets that must mean that there are also amateur grade toilets, keeping their college eligibility.

Hmmm . . . I see a need for a "silkier" toilet product made from actual silk. And it would be all natural, not as a roll but as little balls of actual unprocessed silk. Cocoon-like balls of pure wonderful softness.

Japan: Diamond says, of ceramics: " shellfish ... could now be opened easily". You can open shellfish easily by tossing them into the hot embers of a fire. Odd that a chap in his line of work doesn't know that.

The things that Diamond does not know but should are legion. Why the man has the reputation he does is beyond me. I read Guns, Germs, and Steel back when it came out and found it such rubbish that I could not believe that any educated person could have any respect for it. It combines equal parts of breathless sensationalizing of the obvious "we now know the Earth is round" type and complete garbage "just so" stories whose falsity should not require more than a moments thought to realize. His section on China alone should have disqualified him from being considered a serious thinker.


And his claim that people in New Guinea are the smartest he knows even as they struggle to emerge from the Stone Age was my first indication.

It was his insistence that it was moral for his friends to move to Colorado and build a nice home, but then block anyone else doing it for me.

But come on. Even if we allow for the fact he teaches at UCLA. This is not merely mood affiliation. Partly it is avoiding accusations of racism - he can literally say some of his best friends are in the Stone Age. But it is also vital for his book. His entire argument hangs from that one small thread. If he started out saying that Papuan hunters struck him as marginally functional, no one would buy his parenting tips. By claiming that they are geniuses, he can sell whatever schtick he has today.

Actually this is very common in child-rearing. That is why Norwegian males seem dragooned into carrying their child on their chests in a sling and so on. Someone found a tribe somewhere doing something and said that they were, like, totally in tune with nature and so we should, like, totally copy them. Why do parents buy this time and time again?

By the way, has he never asked himself what a Stone Age tool for opening shell fish would look like?

Does Diamond claim that the Papuans are geniuses, or just that they practise forms of child-rearing that are optimally suited to their environments? I have not read his latest book (I did read 3rd Chimpanzee, GGS, and Collapse though), but based on excerpts and reviews, he seems to be arguing that Day-Before-Yesterday's tips on parenting and treatment of older people will be beneficial in margin cases in modern societies;. i.e,, children will learn to be tougher to deal with adverse situations (not the norm in modern societies, but which occur fairly often in the "jungle") and older people will learn to be more careful in their daily lives.

I would not mind if Diamond claimed they were optimally suited to their environment. It is a common assumption among anthropologists although that does not mean it is right. Robert B Edgerton wrote a book about that. But that the Hewers of wood and Drawers of Water he employed are some of the smartest people he knows? Well, he does live in L.A. but even so.

If Diamond wanted to critique modern child rearing practices, he could have gone to visit his nearest Lubbavitch community. I am sure they would have loved to talk to him. Or if he wanted to go a little further afield, I am sure he could find some Amish. There he would have found pretty much what he found in PNG. However, it is a common trope in Leftist media that the Judaeo-Christian tradition is, like, totally oppressive and disgusting, while whatever people with bones in their noses do is, like, totally brilliant. So Diamond has to dress up whatever he is selling as the wisdom of the sort of people who find coke bottles in the desert.

It is also hard to measure because they are so far away. Which is the point. Diamond might feel guilt about not living as a Lubbavitcher or at leats a more Frum life. Alas, he can't live as a Stone Age hunter and gatherer in L.A. So it is a cost-free recommendation because no one is going to take it up.

That is the other objection - he is not saying their life is optimal for jungle living. He says we can learn from it. Really? Have you seen what the murder rate is in PNG? They have a rape problem on par with South Africa. What precisely should we be learning from them? How is it working for PNG, much less for the students of UCLA?

His book is likely wrong in parts, but the core of it is not even wrong. It is meaningless posturing. Mood affiliation. He doesn't mean it and if he does, he shouldn't.

Have you seen what the murder rate is in PNG? They have a rape problem on par with South Africa. What precisely should we be learning from them? How is it working for PNG, much less for the students of UCLA?

The murder rate in Papua New Guinea (10.4 per 100,000) is a third what it is in South Africa, on a par with the more orderly Latin American countries (e.g. Costa Rica) and similar to what it was in the U.S. ca. 1980. While we're at it, the murder rate in South Africa is about half what it was 20 years ago.

A genuine question: why do you say that GGS is "utter rubbish"? I, as a layperson with no knowledge of anthropology, found it a very interesting book containing convincing arguments. Where exactly in your opinion did Diamond go wrong? Are his facts wrong? Does he leave out facts that contradict hos theory? Or is his logic unsound?

I am not the person who said it was rubbish, and I enjoyed the book, but my objection is that if the New Guineans are so smart, why didn't they modify their environment, as the Europeans and many East Asians did, so they wouldn't need the survival skills that Diamond is so enamored of?

@Larry: The question you just posed is the central question Diamond tries to answer. It's the whole purpose of the book, and his answers contain plausible arguments. Maybe it's time for a reread?

"if the New Guineans are so smart, why didn’t they modify their environment, as the Europeans and many East Asians did?"

Yeah, I mean, that is the question. In that, it is literally the question that is posed in the first page of the text. The remainder of the book consists of a number of attempts to answer it--some more convincing, some less so. What the book does not really attempt to engage with is the line of argument that goes "I'm smarter than Aristotle because I have a car and a laptopt computer."


If the idea that germs played a big part in the European takeover as the dominant population group of the North America was a big revelation to you (or conversely, played a big part in the failure to the same in Africa in-spite of having a similar level of military success as they did in North America) then I am glad you read the book. If the idea that there was an technological advantaged to be had from being on the largest and most populated landmass on the planet was a revelation to you, then I am glad you read the book.

To me those things were trivially obvious to anyone who had read much literature on the subject. And the moment Diamond leaves the trivially obvious behind, he starts revealing serious flaws as a critical thinker. Take a look at his section on China for example. China was for most of recorded history as advanced or more advanced then any European civilization. They happen to be on a downswing around the time that Europe began the industrial revolution. Now you can look at this one of two ways. Either civilizations all have there ups and downs even as arrow of technological progress generally moves forward. Under this model, china had the bad luck of being on a down swing when just as the Europeans were hitting an up swing. Or you can do what Diamond does and invent a "geographic" explanation for why China failed to have the industrial revolution first in spite of the fact that they were first in so many other things.

Put it another way, look up how long it took gun powder, the printing press, or any number of other things to be invented in china and make there way to wide spread use in Europe. Now look up how long it took the industrial revolution to spread from Europe to China. Diamond has no good explanation for why we should not just mark that up to time and chance happen to all.
There is lot of other similar flaws. The more Diamond talks about something, the more it generally seems he does not know much about it. For example, to mark up European conquest of South American as being a forgone conclusion is to be ignorant of how it happened. It took a lot of luck (or bad luck depending on your view point) for the Spanish to be as successful as they were). Had a few things change, and the whole history of the period would have been markedly different. This is particularly true of the Inca empire.

Diamond wants to create "rules" that govern the sweep of history. But if you dig down very far into it, history seems very prone to the butterfly effect and very resistant to any kind of rule. Diamond fails to dig down into history and consider what it would mean for his theory if key events in history that were very much in doubt had gone the other way. For example, "The conquest of Vienna, the Moguls turning around before they trashed Europe, the Spanish discovering the Inca empire at its peak instead of just after an extremely brutal civil war, and on and on the list could go. Any one of these things could have happened. And had they happened, they would have sharply change the course of history.

I should have said "Mongols" not Moguls. Hopefully you knew what I meant.

I agree with your last paragraph. I believe history is very often driven by contingent events. But I admit I did not read or interpret Diamond the same way you did. I felt his core thesis was sound even where I thought some of the examples he discusses were improper fits in that thesis (like the China example.) Indeed, I paid little attention to the parts involving the industrial revolution, and any big changes that have occurred within the past half-millenium. I focused more on the evolution of agricultural societies from hunter-gatherer societies, and given my ignorance of paleontology and archaeology, the things he talks about were novel and interesting to me (not so much the parts about the European invasion of the New World, which are common knowledge; he starts with that event because he wants to take the reader back from result to proximate, and eventually ultimate, causes.) For cultures that are constantly in competition with their local environment (a common condition of hunter-gatherer cultures), it seems like Diamond's theories in GGS explain why some cultures turned out different from others, and why some cultures struck upon agriculture and animal husbandry earlier than others. Origins of old forms of industry (like metallurgy) can also be explained through similar processes. I think GGS is over-ambitious if it tries to explain everything up to the present day, but I thought Diamond made it clear that his theories work up to, say, 500 years ago. For more recent events, we must look for other explanations. My personal opinion is: wherever and whenever cultures stopped being in competition with their environment and instead came into competition with other people (neighboring cultures as well as excess local population), a different set of dynamics took hold. There is another (imperfect) book by Acemoglu and Robinson, which describes an institutional theory that I found somewhat convincing when it comes to explaining the relative progress of highly civilized societies.

Although the critiques of Guns, Germs, and Steel have merit, I give Diamond more credit than that.

For one, South American was doomed. Yes, a stronger Incan empire or for that matter a more immediate and violent response by the Aztecs would've crushed the first conquistadors' expeditions. But there were plenty more where they came from, and the South American civilizations would've eventually succumbed, most likely within a couple of decades. One of the reasons the Incan empire was in disarray was because European diseases had already started sweeping through South America (one guess is smallpox), killing royalty and creating urgent questions of succession and civil war among the Incans. So it was no coincidence that Pizarro happened upon the scene while the empire was distracted; disruption and weakening of the empire was inevitable.

Pizarro was indeed somewhat lucky but even if the Incans had annihilated his party, the Spanish would've simply sent another stronger one. With armor, swords, guns, horses, and Indian allies even a small European party could stand up to a much larger Incan army. And the Spanish had naval supremacy too, not that they even needed to use it much. But even a tiny fleet of caravels could outmaneuver and outgun an entire Incan army.

And while Diamond's attempts to explain China's failure to keep ahead of Europe technologically are indeed weak, he also admits that they are weak.

While I do think Diamond pushed his thesis too farm, especially when applying it to differences in historical era civilizations, I agree it was a very useful book.

1. MR is now officially a skull-measurement linkblog.

Did you read it? The subject cranks people up, but curiosity about human history comes naturally to me anyway.

Its sad that you don't understand the difference between physical anthropology and phrenology.

#1 It is interesting that the known written genealogy of certain family can cover most of the hypotheses about
the origins of the Japanese.

The richest man in Japan and the founder and CEO of Softbank, major stock holder of Yahoo and Alibaba, was born
in Japan of Korean ethnic origin. He retain his Korean/Chinese surname
but his children have now adopted Japanese surname Yasumoto (安本?)

According to the Chinese Wikipedia about him
It was reported that according to a Japanese magazine 《文藝春秋》 1999 Nov edition Son alledgedly said that
his family line of "Son" was diff from most other lines of "Son" in Korea and that his ancestry was from
the lines from Sun Tzu the author of the famous author of The Art of War.
After migrated to Korea, the 22nd generation migrated to Japan and he is the 3rd generation after that.

In ancient times country borders are fuzzy concept roughly defined by secure fortresses. They were porous with
respect to armed militia. There were large movement of people to and fro across the so called "Chinese/Korean"
border. High officials in trouble with the "Chinese" emperor often self exile to the "Korean" side. The
top 50 Korean surnames all have the equivalent Chinese words

Modern Japanese surnames date only to the 19th century, hence tracing them through genealogy is a bit difficult.

#1 is excellent. Good job by Diamond.

#2. I again find myself defeated by your Straussian puzzle. I'd like to think the connection is 'over the top signalling within the American liberal establishment', but I'm afraid it's more like 'Russian signalling that Poles can hear but Americans can't.'

The NYT article is really awful, comically absurd fear-mongering.

Who the hell gave Ravi Shankar $4,500 to play Woodstock?

And Sly and the Family Stone got more than the Who? Actually I can see that.

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