NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Tonight, PBS begins a three-part National Geographic series called "Guns, Germs and Steel," based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Jared Diamond. The TV series examines why some civilizations rose faster than others, developed agriculture, bureaucracy, writing and the military technologies that allowed them to dominate other people. Why Eurasia, in other words, and not Mesoamerica or Australia? Professor Diamond argues that the single-most important factor is geography. Some civilizations arose among more easily domesticated grains and animals developed resistance to germs and used those advantages and others to get a big head start.
This past year, Professor Diamond published a book that looked at the other side of this equation: "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." The book examines ancient cultures including Easter Island, the Mayans and the Greenland Vikings. It also looks at the collapse in modern Rwanda, at the problems facing China today and the problems that we're creating for ourselves in this country.
Later in the program, how the Srebrenica massacre haunts the Dutch peacekeepers who stood by there 10 years ago.
But first, the rise and fall of societies. If you have a question for Jared Diamond, give us a phone call. Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com. Jared Diamond is a professor of geography and physiology at UCLA, and he joins us now from our studios at NPR West.
Congratulations on the new television series. Nice to have you back on the program.
Dr. JARED DIAMOND (UCLA; Author, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed"): Thank you. It's nice to be back, and I must say I'm going to hire you as my publicist because you did such a great job of summarizing two of my books in 15 seconds.
CONAN: Well, in that case you owe me some money. But your program starts in Papua New Guinea. Now this is the highlands of Papua New Guinea, to be specific, an agriculture-based civilization that did not develop quickly. How come?
Dr. DIAMOND: That's right. It's an interesting case. There are only about nine parts of the world where agriculture developed independently, beginning with the fertile crescent in China and then Mexico and the Andes and one of them is New Guinea. Most of the places where agriculture developed then went on to develop kings and advanced technology, but not New Guinea, and the reason is that the agriculture in New Guinea had such a limited base, only about nine crop plants. The main crops were not wheat and barley, which you can scatter by seed, but they're root crops. And there were no domestic animals. So New Guineans never were able to produce food surpluses that could feed inventors, scribes, kings and generals.
CONAN: But this--and this is a significant point in your book--this, you say, has nothing to do with intelligence.
Dr. DIAMOND: That's right. It has everything to do with what was available in New Guinea to domesticate. New Guinea did not have wild cows, sheep and goats, which the fertile crescent did. So, of course, it was the people of the fertile crescent who domesticated cows, sheep and goats and horses, which became the Sherman tank of ancient warfare. New Guineans, instead, had tree kangaroos, which have not been domesticated today. And that's no fault of New Guineans, nor does it stand to the credit of fertile crescent farmers. It's just that fertile crescent people had the cows around and New Guineans didn't.
CONAN: Now there's a question, I guess some people will remember that back in the Second World War, the people of highlands New Guinea had not been--of course, Europeans had discovered much in the Pacific in the years, but they had not found many people in the highlands of New Guinea. They were discovered--they discovered some Western culture, the so-called cargo, as they call it, the stuff that dropped out of airplanes during the Second World War, and there was a question that started Jared Diamond on his quest from a New Guinean named Yalli(ph). Here's an excerpt from tonight's program.
(Soundbite of "Guns, Germs and Steel")
YALLI: Why you white men have so much cargo and we New Guineans have so little?
Dr. DIAMOND: Yalli caught me by surprise 30 years ago. I had no idea what to say to him them, but now I think I know the answer. Yalli, it wasn't for lack of ingenuity that your people didn't end up with modern technology. They had the ingenuity to master these difficult New Guinea environments. Instead, the whole answer to your question was geography. If your people had enjoyed the same geographic advantages as my people, your people would have been the ones to invent helicopters.
(Soundbite of helicopter in flight)
CONAN: An excerpt from "Guns, Germs and Steel." Episode one of that series debuts this evening.
You'd been to New Guinea many times over the years. I think you went there first to study birds back in the '60s?
Dr. DIAMOND: That's right. I began in New Guinea in 1964 studying birds, and I'm still studying birds there but also working with and learning from these wonderful people.
CONAN: And it's interesting that the New Guinea highlands play--well, maybe it's not such a coincidence seeing as how much time you spent there--but it is an important element of your first book and your second. New Guinea is an example of a society that did not collapse.
Dr. DIAMOND: Yeah. New Guinea also is the site of the first of the three National Geographic PBS programs that will air tonight. I've learned a lot from New Guinea because it's got a thousand different tribes, a thousand different languages, that's one-sixth of all the languages in the world, so there's incredible human diversity. And these very smart, nice people who nevertheless did not develop Sherman tanks and guns and steel weapons. Well, why not?
CONAN: Which is not to say that they didn't have conflict or warfare.
Dr. DIAMOND: Oh, they had really bloody warfare. They had set battles and they had constant raids. In fact, the mortality from New Guinea warfare was traditionally higher than the mortality even in the center of Europe during World War II. For example, my last trip to New Guinea, a guy operating a computer in the next room to me was from the Fore people which whom I began to work in 1964, and his parents grew up in the Fore area in the traditional days of war and he told me that of his four grandparents, three were killed in tribal wars.
CONAN: The--there is a strong element--and I've just been reading "Collapse" over the past several days, but a strong element where you have to feel you have to respond to an element of--and this is my word and you can take it or leave it as you will--`romanticism' of US anthro--Western anthropologists.
Dr. DIAMOND: I have to respond to romanticism at the one extreme and I have to respond to racism at the other extreme. It's just difficult for people to see for people. That's to say we in the First World to see New Guineans or tribal people elsewhere in the world as people like us. On the one hand, there are lots of Westerners with racist perspectives who see them as primitive people, subhuman, who didn't make inventions because they were too stupid to do it. And at the opposite extreme, there are some hyperliberal anthropologists who say, `These people were so nice and so peaceful, they would never do any damage to their environment. And they were the ultimate green environmentalists and they never made war but they were peaceful.' Those two fantasies from the far right and the far left are equally erroneous. New Guineans are people like Americans and Japanese.
CONAN: Our guest is Jared Diamond. A series based on his book "Guns, Germs and Steel" debuts this evening on PBS, part one of the series. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let's get a call in from Skeeter(ph). Skeeter's calling from Eugene, Oregon.
SKEETER (Caller): Good day, gentlemen. Great program.
CONAN: Thank you.
SKEETER: I'm curious if your speaker has read Daniel Quinn's "The Story of B," where he contends that prior to 10,000 years ago, human beings had been for hundreds of thousands of years hunters-gatherers and worked maybe four or five hours a day and then had lots of time. But then once we got into what he calls totalitarian agriculture and that we started amassing extra food that the population started doubling, you know, first like every thousand years and then every 500 years and then every 250 years. Now it's down to like 30 or 15 years that the billions of us are doubling. And I just am curious if you've read that story, "The Story of B" and your reflections on totalitarian agriculture. I'll listen off the air.
CONAN: Oh, thanks, Skeeter.
SKEETER: Thank you.
Dr. DIAMOND: Good question. Well, I haven't read that particular book. Yes, what you say is correct and it's things that I've written about as well. It is true that until 10 1/2 thousand years ago, everybody everywhere in the world was a hunter-gatherer, and that raises the question why, since then, some people became farmers and went on to develop generals and standing armies and writing, while other people did not. And it is true that the development of agriculture produced a population boom, which is still going on today, and it's also true apparently the hunter-gatherers, on the average, work less than do farmers or at least did the first farmers, who in fact worked less than do my farmer friends in Montana today who get up at dawn and they're lucky to go to sleep at sunset.
CONAN: Population control--as you examine, people should not think "Collapse" is totally a jeremiad about the impending doom of us all. You do examine societies that do succeed, including the New Guinea highlanders. But population control, including some methods that today are regarded as completely unacceptable--this is a key element in all of these cases.
Dr. DIAMOND: You're right on both scores. Yes, my book--my more recent book, "Collapse," is not a jeremiad about only societies that failed. It's also about societies that succeeded so that we can learn to imitate those that succeeded and not follow the ways of those that failed. In fact, the subtitle of the book is "How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." And, yes, it is true that population gets regulated in a whole lot of ways, hopefully in pleasant ways that we choose ourselves. But if we don't choose to limit our population, then population ultimately comes to limit itself in unpleasant ways that include warfare and starvation and disease and then within a society, abortion and infanticide and sexual abstinence and so on.
CONAN: One of the most compelling examples you give of this is modern-day Rwanda.
Dr. DIAMOND: Yeah. Modern-day Rwanda temporarily solved its population problems. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. And in the late '80s and early '90s, population was exploding to the point where the average food intake of a Rwandan was down to 1,600 calories or less, which is considered starvation levels. And it all exploded in Rwanda in April 1994. There are Rwandans who say explicitly when the population gets too high, one has to solve it by having a mass killing and, boy, they did it. In 1994, six million Rwandans killed nearly one million Rwandans and drove another two million into exile, and that temporarily relieved the population problems that are now coming back in Rwanda.
CONAN: We're talking with Jared Diamond today. Again, his new series on television, a National Geographic series, debuts tonight on PBS: "Guns, Germs and Steel." We're also talking about his more recent book, "Collapse." If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a phone call: (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. We're also taking e-mail questions: email@example.com. Back after the break.
I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
China addressed overpopulation and potential collapse with its one-child policy. Conflict in Rwanda a decade ago, as we've been talking about, was partially fueled by overpopulation. Seventeenth-century Japan averted demise by curbing deforestation and reforestation. The civilization of Easter Island declined because they used up those resources. Jared Diamond's inquiries into the history of global inequality reveal that geography gave some civilizations the upper hand and that human decisions largely account for failures.
Tonight, PBS airs the first installment of a series based on Professor Diamond's award-winning book, "Guns, Germs and Steel." We're talking to him about the series, the book and about his most recent publication, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." To see a preview of "Guns, Germs and Steel" and read an excerpt from "Collapse," you can visit our Web site at npr.org. If you have a question for Jared Diamond, a more immediate solution is to give us a phone call at (800) 989-8255, or shoot us an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And let's get another caller on the line. This is Leslie. Leslie calling from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
LESLIE (Caller): Hi.
LESLIE: Thank you for two absolutely wonderful books. I have a question. I'm a family therapist and I was wondering what your thoughts are on how kin networks and traditional family systems interface with and impact on some of the issues you talk about in both of your books, both development and collapse of societies?
Dr. DIAMOND: Well, Leslie, that's an interesting question which strikes home for me because I'm married to a family therapist.
LESLIE: There you go.
Dr. DIAMOND: Yeah. Great profession. And...
LESLIE: Thank you.
Dr. DIAMOND: ...yes, I've seen differences--big differences in family societies, in traditional tribal cultures like New Guinea and in the West, just as some starters. In New Guinea highland society, children are independent much earlier than here in the West. I remember on my first trip to New Guinea in 1964, going through a village, I was looking for carriers. There was a nine-year-old boy who volunteered. He went off, didn't ask his parents for permission. Returned about a month later and I asked, `Will your parents get worried?' He said, `No. Somebody will tell them that I went off and I got this job.' So independence of children.
Another difference is that in the United States today, for the most part, men and women choose their spouses and partners. In New Guinea, no; marriage is arranged, arranged by the clans who buy the bride. That's a difference. And still another difference is that old people have a much more satisfying life and they get--they have more important functions in traditional society than here in the United States. Those are some differences.
LESLIE: What about the role of the transgenerational passing down of approaches to seeing--you know, like you can see the collapse coming but if you have inherited this cultural blindness or approaches to violence. Do you see differences there?
Dr. DIAMOND: Yeah. The whole business of transgenerational learning...
Dr. DIAMOND: ...goes on for much longer in New Guinea than the United States.
Dr. DIAMOND: Again, almost every village that I'm in, while most people die relatively early, like in their 40s, 50s, 60s, there's always somebody in their 70s, 80s and 90s. And in a society without books, it's those old people who are valued as the repository of knowledge. They're tremendously important there.
LESLIE: Thank you.
Dr. DIAMOND: You're welcome.
LESLIE: That's so interesting. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Leslie.
Here's an e-mail question from Matthew in Placerville, California. `After publishing "Collapse," which describes in so much detail mistakes made and lessons to be learned the world over, has there been any response from industry or government that they will take greater responsibility toward the environment now?'
Dr. DIAMOND: You bet! There's been lots of response. Last night, for example, yesterday afternoon, I was having tea with the secretary-general of the International Mining Organization, and he was describing to me what some mining companies are doing to try to get onto a sustainable basis and what he would like other mining companies that haven't yet seen the light to start doing. So, yes, industries have engaged on my new book in a big way.
CONAN: One of the fascinating aspects of "Collapse" is you're talking about industries and your conclusion that, well, businesses operate in the interests of business and should not be expected to act any other way unless people force them to.
Dr. DIAMOND: That is largely true, unfortunately. Namely, the way capitalist society is set up is that businesses have an obligation to act on behalf of their shareholders. And it's up to society to make the rules such that businesses will also behave in a way good for society as a whole, rather than just maximizing their own profits. But that depends upon the laws that our elected representatives pass and it also depends upon what we as customers and buyers do, what companies we choose to buy from and which we boycott.
CONAN: Another e-mail question, this from Roger Nichols in Bishop, California. `In your book, "Collapse," you ask what the man who cut down the last tree was thinking.' I presume he means on Easter Island. `I think he thought that if he didn't cut it down, then someone else would. Could it be that in humankind, greed is stronger than intellect?'
Dr. DIAMOND: Yes, that's one perfectly plausible scenario for what the Easter Islander who cut down the last tree said, namely, `If I don't cut it down, somebody else will cut it down.' Or maybe he said, `Well, don't worry. Technology will solve our problems by finding a substitute for wood.' Or maybe he said, `Well, this tree is mine and I can do whatever I want with it and keep the big government or the chiefs in Washington off my back.'
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Eric joins us from Hilton Head, South Carolina.
ERIC (Caller): Hey. How are you?
CONAN: Very well.
Dr. DIAMOND: Fine. How are you?
ERIC: Great. What a great show and I can't wait to watch tonight. I did not even know it was coming on. Two things really quickly. I think that if more people would read your first--I haven't read your second book, but if more people would read your first book, it would give them a much more clear understanding of different cultures and the way people are throughout the world in a positive way. That's that. And the second is: I was wondering if you've read "Nonzero" by Robert Wright. You're actually mentioned in his book a couple of times, I believe. Are you familiar with that book?
Dr. DIAMOND: I know of it. I haven't read it so I can't comment on it. And your first point about reading my first book, "Guns, Germs and Steel," for those who will not between now and this evening read my first book, you can at least see the television documentary which, I must say, is riveting in a way the book can't be.
CONAN: We do, Eric, by the way, think of these two books as a pair and "Guns, Germs and Steel" as the first of the pair. It's not Jared Diamond's first book. There are others including "Why is Sex Fun?" but I suspect PBS is in enough trouble already. They want to stick to "Guns, Germs and Steel."
ERIC: Is he happy with the way the television show has come out?
Dr. DIAMOND: I am ecstatic with how it came out and I can't claim the credit for it. Yes, I appear on camera. I'm Jared Diamond playing Jared Diamond playing Indiana Jones. But it's National Geographic and Lion TV who get the credit, and there's incredible stuff in there. For example, you're going to enjoy a scene of me explaining the role of domesticated animals when they put me in a pigsty with a 400-pound pig. And I got my lines right on the sixth try, but it took the pig 10 tries to get his lines right.
ERIC: Well, I'll spread the word for everybody to watch tonight.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Eric.
ERIC: Thank you.
Let's go to Gerard. Gerard's calling from Conway, Alaska.
GERARD (Caller): That's Conway, Arkansas.
CONAN: Conway, Arkansas. They both begin with AK so I get confused. Go ahead.
GERARD: Thanks for taking my call. Mr. Diamond, I'm a political science major from the University of Central Arkansas, and in my developing nations class we read your book and talked about it at some length. One of the questions on the test, though, was about accusations that some of the claims in your book were racist. And I disagreed with that. I felt that your book was very much not racist. And I wondered if you could explain a little bit where those criticisms came from and how you dealt with them.
Dr. DIAMOND: Sure. More often...
GERARD: I'll take my answer off-line. Thank you.
CONAN: OK, Gerard. Thanks very much for the call.
Dr. DIAMOND: Usually, more often I'm accused of being too--there are racists who accuse me of being too anti-racist. But occasionally I'm also accused by the far left of being racist, and why do they say that? It's because I try to explain why it is that Europeans conquered the rest of the world and because I'm interested in that, that makes me a racist. But the fact is, this is the biggest fact of history. We better understand and explain it because we can't provide a correct explanation for it. People can assume it's because Europeans are bright, intelligent, white-skinned and higher IQs, and if you don't know what the real explanation is, you fall back on those racist explanations.
CONAN: E-mail question from Peter. `Since you cited the example, I'm wondering if you view the overpopulation in Rwanda as a local, cultural, ecological Rwandan problem or as an international, historical and geopolitical problem?'
Dr. DIAMOND: Well, let's think of what other countries in the world besides Rwanda have population problems. Afghanistan where--or Pakistan where population is continuing to explode; Bangladesh, which used to be joined in Pakistan but is now a separate country and has instituted effective family planning; Haiti, Kenya with expanding populations and perhaps most serious of all the United States and Western Europe, which have big populations that are growing, but unfortunately the average American and European has 32 times the impact on the world of the average Kenyan. So I'm much more worried about population in the United States and Europe than I am in Kenya and Rwanda.
CONAN: Yet you are seeing population trends in Europe, in particular, that are going down. You're seeing people--politicians in Italy and France urging people to have more children.
Dr. DIAMOND: They're going down in one sense and they're going up in another sense. It's true that Italians themselves, the birth rate in Italy is dropping because Italians are resorting to birth control, whatever the church tells them. But, of course, there's immigration going on into Italy. So it's not that the population of Italy is declining. It's that immigration is more than making up for the reduced birth rate among Italians. Now the same is true in other countries of Western Europe and in the United States and we're going to see whether it's true in Japan as well.
CONAN: Let's get another caller in; Jackie. Jackie in Drummond, Wisconsin.
JACKIE (Caller): Oh, you know, this is too timely. As we sit here, I am getting ready to go to Easter Island tomorrow and I have several questions. Was the demise of Easter Island a result of tribal fighting, or was it just a lack of resources? What type of impact is tourism having on Easter Island? And what's the temperature going to be when I get there tomorrow?
Dr. DIAMOND: OK. In reverse order: The temperature tomorrow, because it's now July and Easter is in the Southern Hemisphere, temperature is going to be cool. It can be windy and rainy. Take your anorak and a sweater, first thing. And then on your question about whether the demise of Easter Island was because of overusing resources or tribal fighting, it was both. They overused their resources and as a result, tribal fighting exploded because the tribes began fighting in dead earnest over not enough resources. And I may have missed a question. What's tourism doing to Easter Island today? You get a chance to see that tomorrow, you lucky person going to Easter Island.
JACKIE: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Jackie, thanks very much for the phone call.
CONAN: You do talk about tensions, though, on Easter Island these days between the remnants of the Polynesian society and the Chileans who were there from--the country belongs to Chile.
Dr. DIAMOND: That's right. Easter Island was taken over by Chile, and for quite a while the native Easter Islanders were treated rather badly. They were shoved into one enclave in a corner of the island, and the whole island was operated as a sheep ranch. Nowadays, the Chilean government is going to some more effort on behalf of the Easter Islanders, but there are still differences between the recent immigrant mainland Chileans who run the place and the Easter Islanders themselves, the descendants of the people who built the great stone statues.
CONAN: Jared Diamond is the author of the book "Guns, Germs and Steel," and stars in the series that begins tonight on PBS, "Guns, Germs and Steel."
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And here's an e-mail from Tom Cook in Iowa City. `Can you comment on the role of religion in the collapse of societies, both positive and negative?'
Dr. DIAMOND: Good way to sum it up: Religion has a role in the collapse of societies, both positive and negative--that's to say, religion strongly motivates people, and it can motivate people either to do good things or to do destructive things. For example, religion in the Indian subcontinent is used to motivate people not to raise cattle for beef but instead to spare cattle and to use them for plowing and other purposes. And that's a way in which religion buttresses people doing things that rather subtly are ecologically sensible. Religion could also motivate people to do some crazy things like killing all the people next door because they belong to the wrong religion, or religion may motivate people to say humans count, animals don't count; we can use world resources because we were placed here on Earth by the creator to use the world and that will go on for a few decades until you've used up the world.
CONAN: Let's talk now with Gen. Gen, calling from Phoenix. Hello, Gen.
GEN (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hi. You're on the air.
GEN: Hi. I have a question for Jared Diamond. What about the--if you look at the development of societies all together and you look at the European societies and you were talking about how you didn't want to sound racist or anything, but there's theories that whites are superior because they have better brain capacities and stuff like that, so could that be due to the fact that as Europeans lived in harsher environments and climes, they had to--in order to adapt to the environment they had to come up with more advanced tools and other things in order to survive vs. the more equatorial people where they didn't have to have as many tools and other things in order to have a comfortable life. Could that have in turn affected the development of the brain of people that lived in the northern regions like Europe where we have later--all the modern societies basically have come from and...
Dr. DIAMOND: Yeah.
GEN: ...you know, monarchies and all that other stuff while still in Africa we--still very tribal and stuff like that? So...
Dr. DIAMOND: Yeah, that's a fair question and people often raise it. There are two answers to that question. One is that all the important innovations underlying European society were not made in Europe itself, but were made further south, especially in the Fertile Crescent and what's now Turkey. That's where agriculture developed, where metal tools, where writing, where empires developed. All of those things were imported into Europe and Europe didn't start making its own contributions until about a thousand years ago with the development of windmills and water powered technology. That's one thing.
And the other thing is that as far as living in harsh environments are concerned, there are people who live in even harsher environments than Europe, such as the Inuit or the Eskimos and New Guinea highlanders--much more difficult environments than the relatively benign ones of northwestern Europe. But the Inuit and the New Guinea highlanders were not the ones who conquered the world, and both of those things make clear that it's not the case that Europeans rose to higher challenges.
GEN: OK. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call. E-mail--this from John Arndt(ph). `I read somewhere that Australian Aborigines had agriculture tens of thousands of years before anybody else, but gave it up to become hunter-gatherers perhaps because climate change made farming impossible. Do you have a comment on that?'
Dr. DIAMOND: Yes, the comment is that's untrue. No, Aboriginal Australians did not become farmers tens of thousands of years ago. Aboriginal Australians have always been hunter-gatherers. There are some parts of Aboriginal Australia where developments were going on that might eventually have led to farming, such as the preparation of seed cakes from small seeded wild cereals. But, no, Aboriginal Australians have ever been farmers.
CONAN: Our guest is Jared Diamond. He's the author of "Guns, Germs and Steel," more recently, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." A television series based on "Guns, Germs and Steel" debuts this evening on PBS, thanks to National Geographic. We'll have more with Jared Diamond after we come back from a short break. If you'd like to join us, (800) 989-8255; or e-mail us: email@example.com.
We'll also be talking about the role of the Dutch troops at the massacre of Srebrenica 10 years ago today.
I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the House of Commons earlier today, promising a vigorous and intense manhunt for the terrorists responsible for last Thursday's bomb attacks in London. He also said there was no specific intelligence available that could have helped to prevent the attacks. Florida Governor Jeb Bush has visited the areas where Hurricane Dennis did its worst damage. The storm made landfall yesterday along the Florida-Alabama Panhandle, leaving tens of thousands without power. You can hear details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.
Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, how adults cope with attention deficit disorder.
Right now, we're continuing our conversation with Jared Diamond. His book "Guns, Germs and Steel" has been adapted into a television series that begins tonight. We're talking about how some societies rose to the heights of power and about some that have come crashing down. That's the subject of a subsequent book called "Collapse." We're taking your calls at (800) 989-8255 and your e-mails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And here's an e-mail from Jim in East Lansing, Michigan. `Professor Diamond, I very much enjoyed both of your books. I was heartened to hear you on NPR. As someone in the humanities, I wonder--you talk about the ultimate geographical causes of global inequality, but while these seem necessary, they strike me as not being entirely sufficient--that is, although rhinoceros-mounted shock troops could possibly have defeated the technology of the Roman Empire, as you say, cultural forces such as Roman imperial discipline may have ultimately prevailed. I wonder what role you give those cultural causes.'
Dr. DIAMOND: Cultural causes, of course, make a difference between societies within the same continent--or even between different continents, but it's not the case that there are cultural differences between entire continents. It's not the case, for example, that Eurasian societies were on the whole more imperialistic than African societies. In the 1800s, the Zulu state of Southern Africa did a fantastic job of organizing an army and organizing a judicial system and raising general havoc and conquering people and setting up within a few decades a state and turning Africa for thousands of miles upside-down. That's imperialism on a large scale.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Shamus. Shamus from Corvallis, Oregon.
SHAMUS (Caller): Yes, Mr. Diamond, I'm a big fan of yours, and I was curious if you were aware that many socialists look at your books and theories to be in support of Karl Marx's theory of the evolution of society.
Dr. DIAMOND: Well, if that causes socialists to go out and buy my book and like my books, I'm glad for anybody to like my books for any reason.
SHAMUS: You're not aware of the connection, though.
Dr. DIAMOND: I actually have had correspondence with a couple of Marxist groups, one in the UK and one in the United States, who point out that Marx emphasized the role of materialism in society and so one can see a connection.
SHAMUS: OK. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Shamus.
Here's an e-mail from Anne McDermott. `I lived in PNG'--I assume she means Papua New Guinea--`for six years in the '90s. My husband was a professor at the University of Papua New Guinea and I was the first manager of Transparency International. Living there was wonderful and fascinating. The only downside of living among such wonderful and diverse people was the level of crime and governmental, international business corruption. What do you see as the future for countries like this where most are bright, interested in the rest of the world, value their traditions yet want to import parts of the Western world? The unrest in the country is not military and it affects everyone--nationals and expats.'
Dr. DIAMOND: Well, you're right, and I've been working in Papua New Guinea for 40 years and the two problems that you mention are problems that New Guineans themselves worry a lot about. Yes, there is crime. The capital, Port Moresby, is considered one of the more dangerous cities in the world and, yes, there is corruption. All right, there's corruption in the United States, but on the average I think there's more corruption in Papua New Guinea. These are things that New Guineans themselves worry about a great deal. Whether their worry will translate itself into solving these problems, keep posted. I don't know what the answer will be.
CONAN: You raise some interesting questions along those regards in your comparison between the two nations that share the island of Hispanola, between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Dr. DIAMOND: That's right. Here we have two islands. There's New Guinea, whose eastern half is a democracy; Papua New Guinea in the western half is run by Indonesia, which is a thinly veiled military dictatorship. But closer to hand, the island of Hispanola in the Caribbean--What?--a hundred, 200 miles from Florida is also divided between two countries as different as PNG from Indonesia. On the western half of Hispanola is Haiti--poorest country in the New World, one of the poorest in the world with just desperate, depressing poverty; 99 percent deforested, virtual collapse of state government. On the eastern half is the Dominican Republic, which is six times richer than Haiti, a leading exporter not only of great baseball players, but also the world's third leading exporter of avocados. And the Dominican Republic has the most comprehensive national park system in the New World; one-third covered by forests, much less problems in a hurricane like what we've got now than in Haiti where with the forests gone, on the slope you get massive soil erosion, flooding and mudslides.
CONAN: Let's get another caller in. Terry from Traverse City, Michigan. Hello, Terry?
TERRY (Caller): Yes. I'm sorry. The phone's going to die on me there.
CONAN: All right. Well, it's come to life, Terry; go ahead.
TERRY: Thank you. Nothing worse than dead air. Dr. Diamond, I know it's difficult answering all these questions. I don't even know how to phrase it let alone to answer it in a short term. But I'm thinking of the anthropologist Marvin Harris and Gerhard Lenski, the sociologist--are you familiar with either of them?
Dr. DIAMOND: Yes, with Marvin Harris--I've read some of his books.
TERRY: There is a sense there, especially in Lenski, who's a sociologist, of there being these major transitions rather than a society that is somewhat discrete and isolated dying, but rather where there's a fantastic transition, like the transition from hunting and gathering to horticulture in the Levant that comes about as a consequence in each case of some major change in the relationship of the method of production of subsistence to--its relationship to the biophysical environment, so we go through these major changes where a new mode of production has to come up or they're done for. And you know, then we go through to agriculture, then to industrialization and so forth. Anyway, I'm trying to set a context that if you've been reading about, as I have, peak oil, and it suggests we're on the downslope, perhaps since 1970 in the world as a whole, this is going to be one of the most dramatic shifts--if there is anything to shift to--that one can do in time because it takes maybe 50, 60 years even if there was something to transist to. I wonder what your thinking is about that.
Dr. DIAMOND: Yeah. My...
TERRY: If I made any sense.
Dr. DIAMOND: No, you made sense, and my thinking about that is the thinking of the big oil companies, which is that the big oil companies are decreasing their investment in exploring for oil because the big oil companies know better than anybody else how much oil there's likely to be out there, and they've concluded that there are not big discoveries of valuable oil fields out there waiting to be made, and so they're investing less in oil, and some of them are starting to invest in wind power and other stuff. I'm willing to learn from the conclusion of the oil companies themselves. And similarly, with the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, it's not American oil companies who are crying out to drill in the wildlife refuge; a number of them have said they don't want to have anything to do with it. There's not likely to be much there, and it's politically too loaded.
CONAN: Terry, thanks for the call. And one final e-mail question--this, from Frank Landis at the University of Akron. `I loved "Collapse" and I'd like to ask Dr. Diamond to speculate. What would a sustainable global society--however you phrase it--look like? Endemic warfare as in Papua? A permanent global caste of the wealthy and powerful? What about the Western ideal of technological and social progress?'
Dr. DIAMOND: A sustainable society--world society is going to be one in which either there is not warfare or there's not warfare on a large scale, as in the 20th century, because that almost by definition is not sustainable. It's going to be a society which recognizes world interconnections, which recognizes that when some remote country like Afghanistan or Somalia collapses, that now affects the rest of the world, including the United States. It's going to be a society with little difference between the economies of First World and Third World countries because it's just not viable, sustainable in the long run, for there to be rich people consuming 32 times more resources than poor people. And it's going to be a society that is sustainable--that's to say that it's consuming resources only at the rate at which those resources can be grown or produced.
CONAN: Jared Diamond, thanks very much for being with us, and again, congratulations on the new TV show.
Dr. DIAMOND: You are welcome. It's been a pleasure.
CONAN: The television series "Guns, Germs and Steel" begins tonight on PBS. Jared Diamond is also the author of "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," and he joined us from our studios at NPR West.
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