The Fisking of the Diamond!
"Opinion The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
By Jared Diamond University of California at Los Angeles Medical School
Discover Magazine, May 1987
Gee, don't be shy Mr. Diamond. Why don't you use a title that tells uswhat you *really* think? ^O^
"To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught us that our earth isn't the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly bodies. From biology we learned that we weren't specially created by God but evolved along with millions of other species."
Yadda, yadda, yadda! Saying that bodies of study such as Astronomy "teach" would a tad anthropomorphic even if the lore taught by the sciences were not a "conditional" knowledge that may change without notice tomorrow. And note, pax Sagan, that as long as the Fermi Paradox is still in play our Earth will not be "merely one of billions" for aslong as it holds intelligent life. Thus, until a premise of that Paradox is proven wrong, it is still legitimate to regard the Earth as the center of the living universe. With a beginning like this I can't help but feel that terms like "smug self-image" is more properly our line to Mr. Diamond than his to us. ^_^'
"Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life,was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence."
Wow! And here I thought that disease was caused by germs that had already been in existence at the time the human race was formed. Silly me. I suppose we're also not supposed to notice that the division of sex roles into men as hunters and women as gatherers is pretty much universal in primitive societies? I understand that Mr. Diamond wanted his first paragraph to be an attention grabber in the way that any good writer or speaker should, but if he's going to be blaming agriculture for things that were and are present in hunter/gatherer societies as well then his essay has already jumped the shark. ^_^;;
"At first, the evidence against this revisionist interpretation will strike twentieth century Americans as irrefutable. We're better off in almost every respect than people of the Middle Ages, who in turn had it easier than cavemen, who in turn were better off than apes. Just count our advantages. We enjoy the most abundant and varied foods, the best tools and material goods, some of the longest and healthiest lives, in history. Most of us are safe from starvation and predators. We get our energy from oil and machines, not from our sweat. What neo-Luddite among us would trade his life for that of a medieval peasant, a caveman, or an ape?"
A fair summation of my own position that is not weakened by the factthat Mr. Diamond himself does not seem to be in any hurry to trade his own life for that of a caveman. ^_^
"For most of our history we supported ourselves by hunting and gathering: we hunted wild animals and foraged for wild plants."
Did we? Jane Jacobs called this into question in her book "The Economy of Cities" (New York: Vintage Books, 1970) and while I have never seen her hypothesis that hunter/gatherer and nomadic cultures were the result of failed cities proven neither have I seen it disproven. Absent such proof I must regard such an assumption on Mr. Diamond's part to be unwarrented.
"It's a life that philosophers have traditionally regarded as nasty, brutish, and short. Since no food is grown and little is stored, there is (in this view) no respite from the struggle that starts a new each day to find wild foods and avoid starving. Our escape from this misery was facilitated only 10,000 years ago, when in different parts of the world people began to domesticate plants and animals. The agricultural revolution spread until today it's nearly universal and few tribes of hunter-gatherers survive."
Mr. Diamond does deserve credit for a fair summation of the opposing view here. I should note that this particular view and even the phrase Mr. Diamond uses to describe it orginates with "The Leviathon" by Thomas Hobbes and does seem to have the evidence of history to support it. The chief caveat being less that "there is no respite" than that like Aesop's fable of "The Grasshopper and the Ant" the hunter/gatherer band is in trouble in adverse conditions in ways that the agricultural civilization is not. But with that exception stipulated, let us note Mr Diamond's summary and come back to it later.
"From the progressivist perspective on which I was brought up, to ask "Why did almost all our hunter-gatherer ancestors adopt agriculture?" is silly. Of course they adopted it because agriculture is an efficient way to get more food for less work. Planted crops yield far more tons per acre than roots and berries..."
A fact that cannot be denied. ^_^
"The progressivist party line sometimes even goes so far as to credit agriculture with the remarkable flowering of art that has taken placeover the past few thousand years. Since crops can be stored, and since it takes less time to pick food from a garden than to find it in the wild, agriculture gave us free time that hunter-gatherers never had. Thus it was agriculture that enabled us to build the Parthenon and compose the B-minor Mass."
OK, let's spot the hunter/gatherers Stonehenge and the stone heads of Easter Island. Even with that, the monuments built by civilization for the sake of aesthetics still outnumber theirs. If you doubt me then ask yourself "How many B-minor Masses have these hunter/gatherers composed and written down *lately*?" o_O
One reason why literacy is a feature of settled societies rather than of hunter/gatherer or nomadic herding cultures lies in the fact that books require stationary storage that only a settled society can provide. If you give up agriculture then you can kiss such things as mangas, mystery novels and 5 act Shakesphere plays goodbye forever. So yeah, art does flower best in a society sustained by agriculture and let's make no mistake about it. Perhaps that's why, in the 18 years since he gave this speech, a noted writer like Mr. Diamond hasn't dumped civilized life for that of a happy hunter/gatherer in spite of his stated preference for it? ^_^
"While the case for the progressivist view seems overwhelming, it's hard to prove. How do you show that the lives of people 10,000 years ago got better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results (surprisingly) failed to support the progressivist view. Here's one example of an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted eachweek to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania."
So you wanna know how they spend their leisure time? From page 29 of "War Before Civilization" by Lawrence H. Keeley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) we learn, "Thus many small-band societies that are regarded by ethnologists as not engaging in warfare instead evidence very high homicide rates. For example, The Kung San (or Bushmen) of the Kahari desert are viewed as a very peaceful society;...However, their homicide rate from 1920 to 1955 was four times that of the United States and twenty to eighty times that of modern industrial nations during the 1950s and 1960s. Before local establishment of the Bechuananland/Botswana police, the Kung also conducted small-scale raids and prolonged feuds between bands and against Tswana herders intruding from the east."
With leisure time like that wouldn't you rather spend a couple of extra hours weeding? ^_~
"One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, "Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"
And what's he supposed to say, "I wouldn't know where to begin because I don't have the skills!"? Or maybe, "Successful agriculture requires a community and where would I go for other people who are interested?". Would *you* say anything of the sort while talking to strangers or would you try to put the best possible face on it as well? If the mongongo nuts were as plentiful as he would have it would his people have spent that much time in murder and theft? o_O
"While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice andpotatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a bettter balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen's average daily food intake (during a month when food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and 93 grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended dailyallowance for people of their size. It's almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat 75 or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the 1840s."
Almost inconceivable by who? Does Mr. Diamond honestly think that drought only happens in civilized nations? In that case he won't mind if all of us stop donating to Food Aid, right? :P
"So the lives of at least the surviving hunter-gatherers aren't nasty and brutish, even though farmers have pushed them into some of the world's worst real estate."
That brings up a good question. If agriculture is so-o-o-o unhealthy and hunters are so-o-o-o cool then howcum them weak, scrawny farmers were able to push around all them mighty hunters? ^-^
"But modern hunter-gatherer societies that have rubbed shoulders with farming societies for thousands of years don't tell us about conditions before the agricultural revolution."
In that case why does Mr. Diamond bother to bore us with talk about the Bushmen? For that matter if hunting and gathering societies were better in the olden days while agricultural societies have only improved since they first started doesn't that imply a major advantage to life in a civilized society that makes Mr. Diamond's case worse instead of better? o_O
"The progressivist view is really making a claim about the distant past: that the lives of primitive people improved when they switched from gathering to farming. Archaeologists can date that switch by distinguishing remains of wild plants and animals from those of domesticated ones in prehistoric garbage dumps."
Wrong! If you stop and think about it a belief that technology is a good thing implies a claim about present and future as well as past. I might come back to this later.
"How can one deduce the health of the prehistoric garbage makers, andthereby directly test the progressivist view? That question has become answerable only in recent years, in part through the newly emerging techniques of paleopathology, the study of signs of disease in theremains of ancient peoples."
Translation: The archeologists finally figured out the virtues of forensic medicine! :P
"One straightforward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5' 9" for men, 5' 5" for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B.C. had reached a low of only 5' 3" for men, 5' for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks andTurks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors."
Almost as though Greece had undergone at least 3 massive folk migrations in the Bronze Age and an additional 1 or 2 after the break up of the Roman Empire, ain't it? Or that Turkey has been the subject of nomadic invasion after nomadic invasion from the steppes even in that period as well as into the 1300s and beyond. Of course there's *no possibility* that such a series of invasions and migrations could alter the gene pool, is there? O no! I'm sure Mr. Diamond would not want us to think *that*. :P
"The evidence suggests that the Indians at Dickson Mounds, like many other primitive peoples, took up farming not by choice but from necessity in order to feed their constantly growing numbers."
The evidence suggests or the people looking at it suggest? My bet's on the latter. Strange use of the passive tense on Mr. Diamond's part isn't it? @_@
But let's assume for the sake of arguement that their SWAG* is correct. Is Mr. Diamond really saying that nutritional stress is worse than no nutrition as all? That between a life with food that doesn't give you all your vitamins and the prospect of starving to death he feels it's better to starve? I would say that is a choice he may be entitled to make for himself but not for anyone else! ^_^;
'"I don't think most hunger-gatherers farmed until they had to, and when they switched to farming they traded quality for quantity," says Mark Cohen of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, co-editor with Armelagos, of one of the seminal books in the field, Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture . "When I first started making that argument ten years ago, not many people agreed with me. Nowi t's become a respectable, albeit controversial, side of the debate."'
Ah! So somewhere along the line "The evidence" changed his name to Mark Cohen. That's very good to know. But it's also worth noting that by his own account his hypothesis is not as authorative as to justify a phrase like "The evidence suggests" much less as to pass a worthwhile judgement on the worth of civilization or technology over that of the primitive life.
'"There are at least three sets of reasons to explain the findings that agriculture was bad for health. First, hunter-gatherers enjoyed avaried diet, while early farmers obtained most of their food from one or a few starchy crops. The farmers gained cheap calories at the cost of poor nutrition. (today just three high-carbohydrate plants - wheat, rice, and corn - provide the bulk of the calories consumed by the human species, yet each one is deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential to life.)"'
Excuse me, wasn't Mr. Diamond deriding farmers as chumps for working harder than his beloved primitive hunters just a few paragraphs ago? Precisely how is getting what you want through hard work and sacrifice supposed to be cheap? It seems to me that in this context Mr. Cohen, like. Mrs. Malaprop, is using one word when he means another. Perhaps we should help him out and substitute the word 'plentiful' for 'cheap'? ^_~
"Second, because of dependence on a limited number of crops, farmersran the risk of starvation if one crop failed."
That particular pony won't run. In "War Before Civilization" Keeley points out that in times of drought hunter/gatherers tended to go to war against their neighbors in a desperate attempt to get food. Do you think they'd go in for war for that reason if they weren't running the risk of starvation during drought as well? Farmers, unlike hunter/gatherers, have the option of storing food and using irrigation to alleviate their problems. These days improved transport gives us even more ability and it's noteworthy that in the late twentieth century and early 21st Century the only time famine occurred was when a government deliberately starved its people or there was a civil war where one faction or another was deliberately starving people.
"Finally, the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease. (Some archaeologists think it was the crowding, rather than agriculture, that promoted disease, but this is a chicken-and-egg argument, because crowding encourages agriculture and vice versa.) Epidemics couldn't take hold when populations were scattered in small bands that constantly shifted camp. Tuberculosis and diarrheal disease had to await the rise of farming, measles and bubonic plague the appearance of large cities."
Nice to know that in this speech Mr. Diamond apparently didn't think Malaria or Smallpox ever had the ability to lay waste to hunting/gathering clans. I'm sure the clans in question wish he had thought correctly. But this sort of thing worked 2 ways: Let us note that the reason so many hunter/gatherer Indians died out from Smallpox was that being isolated meant they hadn't built up the immunities that the members of any Eurasian culture could take for granted. The isolation that Mr. Diamond wishes upon the human race would be a costly one in the long term. >_<
"Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day."
Except, of course, when there is drought. At that point hunter-gatherers starve because they "have little or no stored foods and no concentrated food sources". Sucks to be them. ^_^;
"Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others." In other words, social parasites like Jared Diamond or Paul Erhlich would no longer be able to exist. I suppose that *is* a point in favor of the hunter-gatherers, but that's still a little too drastic for me. ^_~
"Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing élite setitself above the disease-ridden masses." "Disease-ridden masses", eh? That reminds me. I wonder how much of the Malthusian philosophy is nothing more than misanthropy given a voice? o_O
"Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average,one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean mummies from c. A. D. 1000, the élite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease."
So he hates the "masses" for being disease ridden and he hates the "aristocrats" for *not* being disease ridden? Looks like our good Mr.Diamond is a bit hard to please. :p
"Similar contrasts in nutrition and health persist on a global scale today. To people in rich countries like the U. S., it sounds ridiculous to extol the virtues of hunting and gathering. But Americans are an élite, dependent on oil and minerals that must often be imported from countries with poorer health and nutrition."
Nice to know he thinks America is L33t! ^_^
But did you also notice that he's skimmed over the fact that the "countries with poorer health and nutrition" are the ones who don't have much in the way of a decent agriculture? Hmmmm! @_@
"If one could choose between being a peasant farmer in Ethiopia or a bushman gatherer in the Kalahari, which do you think would be the better choice?"
Decisions, decisions! Why don't we go back to Keeley and pages 134-135 of his book to help us out on this one?
"...in fact, there is plentiful evidence of trade, intermarriage, and the incorporation of individual San as "clients" or serfs by the Khoikhoi and Bantu tribes...In recent descriptions of these patron-client relationships by historians and anthropologists, the arrangement is depicted as benign, voluntary, and mutually beneficial. But a description of San clientship by a Bantu Tswana chief has a very different tenor: The Masawara[that is, the San] are slaves. They can be killed. It is no crime. They are like cattle. If they run away their masters can bring them back and do what they like in the way of punishment. They are never paid. If the Masawara live in the veld, and I want any to work for me, I go out and take any I want." I will leave to the readers as to how many of them would like to run out and live the life of a happy, fun Bushman life after reading those words. On the whole I think I'd rather be an Ethiopian farmer than oneo f them. ;>_>
"Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well. Freed from the need to transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and under pressure to produce more hands to till the fields, farming women tended to have more frequent pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer counterparts with consequent drains on their health. Among the Chilean mummies for example, more women than men had bone lesions from infectious disease."
Well, let's compare that to the egalitarian relationship of the sexesin the hunting/gathering societies, shall we? o_O
"For a few blankets, an Indian father of no particular rank wouldgladly sell his daughter, who might be no more than 12 years old. Such deals were a venerable tradition in the north country, a chief would demand and get a horse or two for a daughter." P. 41 of "The Old West:The Canadians" by Ogden Tanner, Time-Life Books, 1977.
Oh my! See the value that hunting/gathering cultures put upon women?With the right parents a woman can aspire to be sold for 2 horses! Two whole horses! How could any woman possibly resist the urge to go outand become a happy and obedient squaw because Jarrod Diamond told herto when she learns something like this? I mean, TWO WHOLE HORSES! What greater value can be put upon any woman's total worth than that? :p
BTW, I hope the more discerning readers have picked up a small sense of sarcasm from that last sentence in spite of the awe one feels at realizing just how much better feminine life can aspire to be in a hunting/gathering culture. ^_~
"Women in agricultural societies were sometimes made beasts of burden. In New Guinea farming communities today I often see women staggering under loads of vegetables and firewood while the men walk empty-handed. Once while on a field trip there studying birds, I offered to pay some villagers to carry supplies from an airstrip to my mountain camp. The heaviest item was a 110-pound bag of rice, which I lashed to a pole and assigned to a team of four men to shoulder together. When I eventually caught up with the villagers, the men were carrying light loads, while one small woman weighing less than the bag of rice was bent under it,supporting its weight by a cord across her temples."
Hm, 110 pounds! That does sound bad, doesn't it? Well, before we go any further let's use an excerpt from page 342 of Peter C. Newman's book,"The Company of Adventurers: The Story of the Hudson's Bay Company" (New York: Penguin Books, 1987), to contrast that with the happy life of a hunter/gatherer's squaw:
' "Chipewyan women", observed Diamond Jenness in his definitive study of Canadian Indians. "were the first to perish in seasons of scarcity.In winter they were mere traction animals; unaided, they dragged the heavy toboggans. In summer, they were pack animals, carrying all the household goods, food and hide on their backs. It was nothing out of the ordinary for a Chipewyan woman to be lugging a 140-pound pack insummer and dragging twice as much on a sled in winter."'
Aha! Now we know Mr. Diamond's *true* objection to the 110-pound loads the one woman was carrying. He thought she was a slacker for not carrying 30 more pounds, right? :P
But to make up for this let's take a moment to see just what valued members of the hunting-gathering community they really were by the way Chief Matonabee describes them: "Women were made for labour. One ofthem can carry or haul as much as any two men can do. They also pitchour tents, make and mend our clothing, keep us warm at night...Though they do everything *[they] are maintained at a trifling expense; for as they always cook, the very licking of their fingers in scarce times is sufficient for their subsistence.*" pp. 342-343 (emphasis mine).
[Begin sarcasm module]
Boy, what a bunch of warmhearted guys these hunter gatherers were, weren't they? Doubtless every civilized woman who reads the good chief's words will now want to run out and become a happy hunter/gatherer's squaw, right? Hm! Then again, maybe not! :P
"As for the claim that agriculture encouraged the flowering of art by providing us with leisure time, modern hunter-gatherers have at leastas much free time as do farmers."
I think that at this point we should note that Mr. Diamond apparently can not tell the difference between leisure and idleness. An important difference is this: If you are doing so because you choose to do so then it is leisure. If you are so so because you have no choice then it is idleness.
"The whole emphasis on leisure time as a critical factor seems to me misguided. Gorillas have had ample free time to build their own Parthenon, had they wanted to."
And doubtless they would do a better job of it than the average EcoFreak as well, right? ^_~
The fact that skill has something to do with the building of a Parthenon or the writing of a novel or the building of a plane seems to have eluded our poor Mr. Diamond. How much skill of that sort did Mr.Diamond's Bushmen ever gain? o_O
"While post-agricultural technological advances did make new art forms possible and preservation of art easier, great paintings and sculptures were already being produced by hunter-gatherers 15,000 years ago, and were still being produced as recently as the last century by such hunter-gatherers as some Eskimos and the Indians of the Pacific Northwest."
And in some places they're still being practiced today but so what? Not that easy for much of any of it to last when you don't have the means to keep it. Civilization as a whole is not merely superior in making art but in keeping and maintaining it as well. ^_^
"Thus with the advent of agriculture and élite became better off, but most people became worse off."
Have we? Anyone want to go eating bugs with the hunter/gatherers instead of sitting down to beef because they don't feel better off? o_O
"Instead of swallowing the progressivist party line that we chose agriculture because it was good for us, we must ask how we got trapped by it despite its pitfalls."
Perhaps because our ancestors figured out that hard work is better than starvation and chose the Ant over the Grasshopper? ^O^
'One answer boils down to the adage "Might makes right." '
That brings up an interesting question: How often has wimpiness made right? O_o
A society that doesn't have the muscle to protect itself and its members isn't going to do well at establishing justice either. ^~^
"Farming could support many more people than hunting,..."
Very true. ^_^
"...albeit with a poorer quality of life. (Population densities of hunter-gatherers are rarely over one person per ten square miles, whilefarmers average 100 times that.)"
Yeah, that's why we always notice how many people move from high population density areas to lower population density areas. Wait a minute! You tell me that the reverse is the case? How can this be? Mr.Diamond by implication has just defined "quality of life" as being less than "one person" per 10 square miles. How dare the nasty facts suggest that Mr. Diamond could possibly be wrong! @_@
"Partly, this is because a field planted entirely in edible crops lets one feed far more mouths than a forest with scattered edible plants."
Again, let us note that this is true. ^_^
"Partly, too, it's because nomadic hunter-gatherers have to keep their children spaced at four-year intervals by infanticide and other means, since a mother must carry her toddler until it's old enough to keep upwith the adults. Because farm women don't have that burden, they can and often do bear a child every two years."
Those nasty farm women! How *dare* they have options that the hunter-gatherers don't have? And isn't Mr. Diamond such a wonderful defender of womanhood for not wanting women to have any choice in this matter at all? u_u
"As population densities of hunter-gatherers slowly rose at the end of the ice ages, bands had to choose between feeding more mouths by taking the first steps toward agriculture, or else finding ways to limit growth."
And Mr. Diamond knows this how? Through his Ouija board? o_O
What we have here is a variant of Rousseau's "State of Nature" myth but the trouble with such myths is that, however confident a philosopher may be when they make these little dramas up, they are never backed by evidence and indeed seldom seek any. Thomas Hobbes' "State of Nature" myth was also as lacking in evidence for the purposes he was using it for but at least it had the advantage of describing primitive life as it had actually been observed.
"Some bands chose the former solution, unable to anticipate the evilsof farming, and seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed untilpopulation growth caught up with increased food production."
"The evils of farming" being that women had more choices about when they would bear more children and that there was more food to go around? Hmmm! Mr. Diamond's definition of 3vil is an interesting one. @_@
"Such bands outbred and then drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter."
It's also true that a hundred healthy farmers will outfight one malnourished hunter or even one healthy hunter. ^____^
"It's not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn't want."
Which then begs the question as to how "sensible" those hunters truly were if their culture proved wimpy in the moment of truth. @_@
"At this point it's instructive to recall the common complaint that archaeology is a luxury, concerned with the remote past, and offering no lessons for the present."
At this point it is instructive to wonder how many Bushmen or gorillas have gone on archaeological expeditions lately. Archaeology *is* a luxary and one that only the civilization that Mr. Diamond hates can afford. :p
"Archaeologists studying the rise of farming have reconstructed a crucial stage at which we made the worst mistake in human history. Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare,and tyranny."
As opposed to the starvation, warfare and tyranny inherent in the hunting/gathering lifestyle? o_O
"Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest-lasting life style in human history."
Successful at what? u_u
"In contrast, we're still struggling with the mess into which agriculture has tumbled us, and it's unclear whether we can solve it."
Yeah, 3 square meals a day, a nice warm shelter, increased leisure options, career options, personal liberty and the ability to read and write for pleasure are so *messy*, aren't they? But somehow I'm not in any hurry to see Mr. Diamond and his fellow Ecofreaks "solve" these things for me, are you? ^-^
"Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited from outer space weretrying to explain human history to his fellow spacelings."
OK, I'm supposing. Among the things I'm supposing is that I don't think he'd be able to engage in intersteller travel if his people hadn't been wise enough to invest in things like the technology and civilization that Mr. Diamond apparently dispises. ^O^
"Finally, at 11:54 p.m. we adopted agriculture. As our second midnight approaches, will the plight of famine-stricken peasants gradually spread to engulf us all?"
Actually, I'm still wondering just how much hunting/gathering a spacefaring culture would bother with. And isn't Mr. Diamond's question a bit of a non-sequiter in relation to its prelude? o_O
By the way, I've noticed that these days in 2006 Michael Moore is obsessing over weight. Would he be doing that if people getting enough to eat were really that much of an issue? @_@
"Or will we somehow achieve those seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture's glittering façade, and that have so far eluded us?"
Excuse me, they've *eluded* us? As I write this all of us enjoy the blessings of literacy, indoor plumbing, video games, and not least of all the assurance that we know where our next meal is coming from in ways that hunter-gatherers do not. Once again, if Mr. Diamond does not like these things why has he not sought out a wilderness spot, shed his clothes and gone out to live the life of a happy Bushman if he doesn't like where he is at? Perhaps the blessings of civilization have eluded them but, as I read one of my Conan novels, you can be assured that they certainly haven't eluded *me*. Perhaps Mr. Diamond hasn't looked hard enough? ^-^
All the same, there is one thing to keep in mind as we conclude Mr.Diamond's little essay...Anyone who follows the doctrines of a Jared Diamond or a Paul Erhlich is the sort of person who hates civilization and regards it as a mistake. If you doubt me, keep in mind that Mr. Diamond has just told us as much himself. ^_~
Update: Corrected my misremembering of Jane Jacob's book from "The Economic History of Cities" which it wasn't to "The Economy of Cities" which it actually was and added publisher and copyright date to the reference as well. While I was at it I corrected some of the formatting typos as well. *^_^*: