Jared Diamond responds to Romney's misrepresentation of "Guns, Germs, and Steel"


Given this quote, maybe this should be in Elections, or GD:

It was an interesting article. Thanks for posting.

Nice to see geographers in the news. Reminds me of how Bruce Springsteen had to respond to Ronald Reagan’s misunderstanding, an appropriation, of his song “Born in the USA”.

well, it may be an interesting article…but Jared is wrong and Romney is right.
Culture is everything.
Culture is the single, overpowering and most dominant feature that determines whether a country will be modern or third-world.
Obviously the physical geography has a role to play. But Jared Diamond vastly over-rates the physical side of things. Yes, he tells a fascinating story, covering the vast sweep of history of the whole planet. (Guns,Germs and Steel is a great read!)

But for a modern politician facing current issues (Like the OP’s reference to Romney looking at modern Israel and modern Palestine—200 yards apart, but totally different cultures)–you don’t need to go back 10,000 years to explain the differences. You only need to look at the current culture, over the past 50 years.

Jared explains the physical reasons: agriculture arose more slowly in one part of the world than another because of species of plants; development of trade was delayed for a thousand years because of lack of beasts of burden, etc

But today any country with the proper cultural values can can provide modern agriculture, modern “beasts of burden” ( trucks), and the roads , electricity, and trade and a culture of educated, literate people who make it all fit together.

But if a culture keeps women in burkas, or if a culture is based on a caste system that encourages the elite to disdain the starving masses, or if a culture encourages people to retire at age 50 (Greece)—then you will suffer problems. But they are problems that can be solved within a couple decades, just by deciding to change your own culture.

In the days of ,say,the feudal system, the peasants had no contact with other cultures, and did not know that there were other options. But today, we have television.

The problems may have long historical roots, with lots of geographic causes. But deciding to solve those problems–whether you want people to change their health care system, or stop terrorism,—it all boils down to their current cultural values.
And Romney was right to say so.

Right, even in his own intro IIRC, Diamond insisted he wasn’t arguing that geography is destiny - and then went on to explain very clearly how it is.

If Romney is right, what specifically is the cultural aspect of of the West Bank that makes it so poor? Are Palestinians culturally defective? Are Israelis culturally prone to military occupations?

Israelis are culturally prone to value higher education, and a modern western culture which values individual achievement and democracy.

The neighboring countries are culturally prone to autocratic regimes who do not value education, disdain western culture, refuse to value individual achievement, and practice “democracy” by arresting anybody who speaks out against the leader.

And surprise, surprise, the West Bank remains poor—just like it was when there was no Israeli occupation.

It’s all a question of culture.

So not only does Romney completely misunderstand Diamond’s book, but you completely misunderstand Diamond’s point in this essay?

Diamond’s theory doesn’t operate on the scale that Romney’s talking about, so it’s complete off-point for Romney to even bring Diamond up as having an incorrect view about what explains differences between Israelis and Palestinians. If you want to discuss why continent-sized areas progressed at different rates across centuries and millenia, then Diamond’s theory is relevant - perhaps not entirely correct, but it’s on point. If you want to discuss why small groups perform differently across a few decades, it’s completely irrelevant. By bringing it up as a foil for his “culture matters” point, Romney demonstrates that he either doesn’t have a clue or just wants to get in a soundbite attacking an academic who is generally disliked by conservatives.

And all Diamond’s essay here is saying is that slapping a single factor explanation on a complex multifactor situation is a recipe for developing bad policy.

Right, because there are no outside forces limiting Palestinian economic activity in any way. :rolleyes:

Not only are Palestinians prevented from a great many normal economic activities by military force, their social institutions and current cultural values are almost entirely shaped by the occupation. Now if you want to say that if the Palestinians want to improve their lot, they need to stop whining about how all their productive land has been stolen and all the roadblocks (often literal) in their way and start trying to reshape their social institutions and values to make the best of what they have, then you might have a point. But to suggest that Palestinians don’t have the level of affluence of Israelis just because they won’t choose to change their culture is beyond ridiculous.

The problem with Palestinians is they have lost wars and don’t feel they should suffer the consequences. This outrage has lead to them supporting leaders who just tap into that outrage and aren’t interested in actually improving things, a lot of these leaders engage in lots of personal corruption that adds to the misery of the Palestinian people.

Obsession over territory lost in war has, throughout history, almost never turned out very well for the obsessed party. It leads to future wars based on emotion instead of the reality of the current situation.

Note Germany, which lost Alsace-Lorraine, northern Schleswig, and some other territory following its defeat in World War I. A large segment of German society remained obsessed and enraged with this to the point that it and other grievances gave Adolf Hitler a platform to work on. After World War II Germany lost some more land, but basically focused on rebuilding the land they still had, which dramatically improved their lot.

Obviously Germany had some better things playing into its rebuilding than Palestine, but if Palestine can’t get over the fact that it lost the war their lives will never get better.

The idea that the cultural value of education is the root of the West Bank’s economic problems is something that people on either side of the Mid-East peace debate can have a good hearty laugh at.

I’d say a worse problem for Romney isn’t that he mischaracterizes Justin Diamond’s work. It’s that Romney mischaracterizes David Landes’ work and Romney said his views were based on what Landes wrote.

Landes didn’t dismiss physical climate as a historical determinant. In The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, climate is one of the main factors Landes credits with the rise of western civilization. Admittedly he also credits culture as a major, and arguably the primary, factor. But if Romney thinks Landes holds that “culture makes all the difference” he needs to go back and reread the book.

Moved MPSIMS --> GD.

Shoulda trusted my instincts to begin with.

Where does this idea of comparing Palestine and Germany is coming from?

I’ve been reading a number of threads and other online material where every time this topic of Palestinians accepting their awfull situation, Germany post WWII is used as an example where, apparently, a “loser” side accepted what was coming and then eventually got back on their feet. As if that factor of “accepting their fate” especially with land being taken by various countries is this deciding factor that made everything else possible for Germans.

It is such a nonsense as I have 20 different ways of dismantling any notion that two situations are similar in shape or form. It is so beyond intellectual dishonesty to suggest something like that but makes a great talking point in an neverending spectrum of Israeli apologetics and their supporters who are buying this nonsense.

I’ve conceded Germany and Palestine are very different. But here’s the thing, Palestine cannot win by fighting do you dispute that? Once we’ve accepted Palestine is truly bitch slapped and cannot hope to prevail on “pushing the Jews into the sea” or whatever rhetoric Hezbollah or Hamas are using these days, then we need to then think “what could Palestine do to improve its situation?” The biggest single thing it could do would be to quit killing Israelis.

I have a lot of sympathy for Israel, they’ve won countless wars and are expected to just return all the lands they won in warfare and do nothing to prevent future aggression. This is a restriction that no other country on earth has ever had put upon it, but Israel still manages to maintain good international relations with most of the world and has a great society within its borders, with racial and religious equality. Based on how Israel treats actual Israeli Arabs, I have no doubt how good the Palestinians could have it if they would stop trying to kill Israelis.

So you have absolutely no frigging idea at all what Palestinian culture is like, do you?

If women in “Palestine” wore burkas you’d have a point, but they don’t so you don’t.

I spent quite a bit of time there and I never saw a single Palestinian woman in one.

I have to agree, but the poster’s essential point is valid: women in the Palestinian culture are definitely second-class citizens, as they are in every Muslim and/or Arab nation. This cultural norm cripples the ability of those nations to compete in a modern world–not that many of them show any real interest in doing so. Institutionalized misogyny removes half of the productive population.

The cause of Arab/Muslim poverty and marginalization is their continued use of medieval governmental/religious systems that can never be as dynamic as those of the Western democracies (or as those of places like China and Russia, for that matter). The secondary cause is the continued proclivity of the leaders of those nations to blame their problems on external influences, such as Israel or the United States. The tertiary cause is a culture that glorifies violence as a solution to problems.

To return to Romney: he probably didn’t read more than two pages of Diamond’s book. Diamond postulated a starting point for human civilizations based on geography, but acknowledged that divergences would certainly occur from that point. A comparison of Middle Eastern cultures based on Diamond’s work is therefore misplaced at best, shallow and stupid at worst. It seems that every time Romney opens his mouth, he stuffs a foot in it.

Holy shit is this veering off topic.

The problem with Romney’s remarks has nothing to do with the values of Palestinian culture. It’s that he cited Jared Diamond as making arguments Jared Diamond never made. Romney misrepresented a famous academic in an attempt to sound informed. He is either ignorant or a liar.

Not that I endorse the repression of women, but how does Japan manage to compete in the modern world?

Their lives won’t get better because the Israelis won’t ever let them get better. And it doesn’t matter in the slightest if they get over past wars when they are constantly being attacked, harassed and screwed over by the same people now.

They can’t win at all. Period. Unless you want them to commit mass suicide, I fail to see the point of them “accepting” that.