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Jool Study Guides - Guns, Germs, and Steel - Necessity's Mother - Chapter 13 - Part 2 (the middle 33%)


Cumulatively (Adv)

In a way that increases or adds up by successive additions.

Efficacious (A)


Vested interest (N)

A personal stake or interest in an activity, project, or decision

Bombastic (A)

Using language in a pompous, showy way

Diffusion (N)

The process of spreading something more widely.

Micro-climate (N)

The climate of a small, specific place within a larger area.

Generalisation (N)

A broad statement about a lot of people or things

Patent (N)

A legal right for an invention, giving the holder exclusive rights to use, make, or sell 

Pre-eminence (N)

Being considered superior or best in a particular field or area.

Foster (V)

Encourage the development of something

We don’t need another hero

Ladies and gentlemen, and that slug who keeps chewing up my cabbage plants (I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next), Diamond tells us that history is not full of heroic inventors (hit it Tina). Ancient idiots melting sand and limestone saw shiny, shiny glass left over in their fire pits, whereupon they finally gazed at their own ugly mugs and personal hygiene was born. Roman and Egyptian glass was just an accumulation of knowledge from ice-age Frank gazing at a shard of glass  (“Honey,...have you seen my teeth? They’re gone! All of them.”) to Roman glass windows. 

I shall work for the glory of piece!!! Tiny PIECES of my enemies! evil cackle

The industrial revolution seems to signify the moment humans began to use coal and then oil (which we still stupidly depend on), but Diamond suggests that through pure probability or luck, the conditions to discover these naturally occurring substances became clear long, long ago. The ancient Mesopotamians had a jolly great time heating rock asphalt, breathing in those delightfully toxic fumes, and extracting tons of petroleum. Naturally, the ancient Greeks figured out that lighting it on fire and hurling it at enemies was the MOST efficacious way to use it. As time went on, Islamic tinkererererers realised through more advanced thinking than just hurling it at poor enemies, and through careful distillation, that they could extract even more explosive elements from the petroleum, allowing them to … ah … hurl stuff at their poor enemies. There is a theme here. This allowed Islamic defenders to beat back thoroughly confused Crusaders who REALLY started to regret sailing hundreds of miles from home when defenders started hurling grenades at them. The Chinese had nailed gunpowder. Mediaeval technology was very much boom boom.  

“We don’t want it!!!”

…cried Americans about the humble electric kettle. Seriously, most U.S households don’t have kettles. Why not, you might ask? Well, why didn’t the UK have heebeejeebies about electric street lights? Why didn’t the U.S Congress want supersonic travel? Why didn’t everyone want efficient keyboards? Diamond identifies four factors that encourage a society to adopt new technology. 1) Relative economic advantage compared to current technology - wheels are great, but ancient Native Mexicans didn’t have anything to pull carts with wheels, so it’s either grandma or the cat…. Thus, there is no relative economic advantage to this new technology because the conditions for its use don’t exist. 2) Social value and prestige - in a very silly way, people care about designer brands that carry more social value and prestige. Those IDIOTS as I quickly hide my own designer t-shirt. Fools! 3) Vested interest - I’m typing this on an a QWERTY keyboard, which was designed to slow people down in 1873 because typewriters kept breaking. This keyboard makes no sense ergonomically or in terms of efficiency, but I DON’T WANT TO LEARN A NEW LAYOUT. Adults hate learning new things when they’re comfortable with their current option. Our vested interests prevent progress. 4) WOW, LOOK AT THAT!!!! - In 1340, two English royals saw an Arab army blasting the heck out of the Spanish army. Six years later at the battle of Crecy, England had big, loud, bombastic guns. 

Why did Australian Aborigines not get with the programme?

Many racist historians and colonialists thought Native Americans and Aborigines were idiots. Why didn’t they have all of those wonderful modern things that European settlers had, like guns, smallpox, and snuff? Here’s the list, in short order of reasons presented to explain this lack of development: 1. Life expectancy - longer lives mean more time to invent. 2. Slave labour - if you have slaves, you don’t need technological solutions that are more efficient. 3. Patent laws - if you invent it and copyright it, nobody can copy it. If you invent it and everyone and that mouse can copy it, why invent it in the first place? 4. Training - industrial societies have factories, thereby providing stimulus for more training to take place to work in these factories. 5. Societal organisation - modern societies are designed in a way where investing in technology makes you richer! 6. Sharing is caring - collective societies are expected to share their new wealth, whereas selfish societies like the U.S and UK (ooooo, that bites!) keep more for themselves. 7. Risk takers - some societies have more risk-taking cultures. 8. Science isn’t everyone’s favourite - only a few nations leant into science and they were mostly in post-Renaissance Europe. 9. Open ears and eyes - a forward-looking culture open to new ideas progresses faster, whereas traditional cultures looking backward don’t. 10. Religions - the Arab world pre-Islam was a leader in science. Religions influence research and progress. WE’RE NOT DONE! 11. War - what is it good for? Well, apparently, technological advancement as war makes each side rush to invent better technology to have a relative competitive advantage. 12. Centralised governments - a few people giving orders for the whole country can drive rapid advancement or DESTROY it. 13. Brrrrr…..we need heaters - Harsher climates may drive people to invent stuff like electric blankets and double-glazing to survive.  14. Resource scarcity - if you have a lot of oil, you’ll use it. If you don’t have lots of wood, you might burn something else instead. If you need trees, steal them from Ireland (that’s what England did!). Oh…my….lordy…I need a break after that. 


Diamond talks about the Navajo as an instructive example of a Native American tribe who accepted European settlers in the most successful of ways, by adapting to them in an economic sense, using technological advantages while protecting their heritage and culture. Not all tribes did the same. This is repeated across the world as individual tribes reacted completely differently to colonial arrivals. The Ibos in Nigeria prospered. The Chimbus in Papua New Guinea did likewise. Some people like coconuts (like me) and others loathe them (I don’t understand at ALL). Within this context of microclimates around the world, alphabets were seldom invented, despite it seeming painfully obvious that  it’s brilliant to us! Pottery cropped up everywhere because raw ingredients seem to stimulate the same usages.    

Hey, neighbour!

Your neighbours matter. If you lived next to Britain in history, the chances were high they’d turn up on your doorstep speaking REALLY LOUDLY IN ENGLISH and telling you to give them something or else. This interaction would allow diffusion of technology to take place. A more peaceful neighbour would do the same. If, like the Arab world, your neighbours, through the Silk Roads, were India and China, you’d get a TON of useful tech diffusion.  Until next time...

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