Once in a while I give a recap of classic, important articles. In the past, you could see recaps on this blog of God is the Machine by Kevin Kelly, Why the Future Doesn't Need Us by Bill Joy, We Are The Web by Kevin Kelly and The Long Tail by Chris Anderson . I saw reread an article on Edge written by Jared Diamond on the differences in human development on different continents. Just like his book (Pulitzer Prize winning) called Guns, Germs and Steel, a terrific overview of the last 13.000 years in human history based on the article.
There is are a few complementary book to Guns, Germs and Steel. One is called Conquests and Conflicts: An International History by Thomas Sowell. Another The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community by William McNeill. Both highly recommended. McNeill shows us the increasing role of cooperation, community and interdependency. Sowell documents the case of how geography (harbors, arable land, navigable rivers, freedom from monsoons and tropical disease) and ideas/culture (fundamental beliefs and principles widely shared or disseminated) make the world what it is today. The key distinction among human communities is "human capital", the spectrum of individual and collective learned behaviors that produce distinctive patterns of skills and attitudes. The positive form of this capital is based on flexibility/receptivity to cultural transfers and willingness to apply those transfers in different contexts. Sowell shows that these cultures are more competitive and resilient.
While Jared Diamond shows us primarily the (external) environmental factors driving the evolution of human history and development, McNeill and Sowell (also) demonstrate the impact of internal factors like cultures and (cooperative) mindsets driving this evolution. In my view it is a combination of both internal and external factors driving the our human development, complemented by luck. Furthermore, I believe in the earlier days of human development (deterministic) environmental factors were more important than internal factors like culture, ideas and mindset relative to todays' situation. Why ? The human history is all about increasing empowerment and autonomy of individuals, about increasing voluntarism, about using more and more tools en technologies. On top of that, in todays world, geography and other environmental drivers (germs, diseases, guns, etc.) seem to be less relevant for competitive advantage relative to (internal) learning capability. Access to data and information is free and more ubiquitous everyday, now it's more about participation and cooperative skills and attitudes. The only thing that complicates my analysis the (likely) future lack of (external) resources on this planet for everybody (oil/energy, food, water, etc.).
Tools are hacks. Technology changes the evolution of evolution. It is an infinite game according to Kevin Kelly. Agriculture enabled industrial evolution (see quote below from Jared Diamond) which enabled digital revolution (electricity) enabling the current biotech revolution enabling the current/coming nanotech revolution with accellerating speeds. Hockey stick curve stuff (see among others Juan Enriquez on TED in this great presentation). So what do we need to survive and gain an edge in the digital, biotech and nanotech periods ? Geographic advantages (like in Sillicon Valley/Green Valley) ? Environmentally cleaned physical spaces ? Other environmental factors like Jared Diamond describes ? Density of people ? In my view it is nowadays more about a mindset of people: openness, peering, sharing, a global scope and a heartfelt acceptance of diversity in all forms. It is basically internal. This resonates with the (some of the) findings and conclusions of Diamond, McNeill and Sowell. It is increasingly about the soft factors, although not exclusively. See my earlier post on the increasing importance and interrelationships of Identity, Authenticity and Creativity/Innovation. In my view, without these soft, internal factors we will not be able to stop global warming, resource depletion and other problems.
What do YOU think about the above analysis ? Thanks.
"We began by identifying a series of proximate explanations - guns, germs, and so on - for the conquest of the Americas by Europeans. Those proximate factors seem to me ultimately traceable in large part to the Old World's greater number of domesticated plants, much greater number of domesticated animals, and east/west axis. The chain of causation is most direct in explaining the Old World's advantages of horses and nasty germs. But domesticated plants and animals also led more indirectly to Eurasia's advantage in guns, swords, oceangoing ships, political organization, and writing, all of which were products of the large, dense, sedentary, stratified societies made possible by agriculture.
All other things being equal, the rate of human invention is faster, and the rate of cultural loss is slower, in areas occupied by many competing societies with many individuals and in contact with societies elsewhere. If this interpretation is correct, then it's likely to be of much broader significance. The broadest pattern of history - namely, the differences between human societies on different continents - seems to me to be attributable to differences among continental environments, and not to biological differences among peoples themselves. In particular, the availability of wild plant and animal species suitable for domestication, and the ease with which those species could spread without encountering unsuitable climates, contributed decisively to the varying rates of rise of agriculture and herding, which in turn contributed decisively to the rise of human population numbers, population densities, and food surpluses, which in turn contributed decisively to the development of epidemic infectious diseases, writing, technology, and political organization. In addition, the histories of Tasmania and Australia warn us that the differing areas and isolations of the continents, by determining the number of competing societies, may have been another important factor in human development."