The Diamond Lens

One of the less thought-of perks of travel is the sheer volume of time you have to spend idly. From the perspective of someone in the fast-paced rat-race of modern society, the unproductivity can seem daunting. But spending idle time is one of the most important things for living.

And in the idle hours living in Raglan, when I wasn’t surfing, eating, or working, I read Guns, Germs, & Steel by Jared Diamond. Everyone should read that book. Everyone should read it immediately to begin digesting its profound implications. It should be prescribed reading to douse the flames of national and racial pride. It should be read to uproot the pernicious vines of religious intolerance. And it should be read to sow the seeds of humility and unity.

Guns, Germs, & Steel filled in for me the final gap in my understanding of how everything came to be. And it relieved me of a huge cognitive dissonance I scarcely knew I was carrying.

The cognitive dissonance was as follows:

I’ve known for a long time that all humans are genetically similar. We are all the same. That is a confirmed truth. But how then do I account for the substantial differences between Western society, and all the vestigial societies of the world: the Aboriginals of Australia, the Native Americans, and the First Nations of Canada?

If we are all the same, why has Western culture dominated the world? Without anything to explain it, it is easy to assume a fundamental superiority. But how can this be if we are all the same……?

And without an explanation, I was tacitly, fundamentally racist.

***

Here’s where I stood before reading that book:

I came to understand the big bang theory in university. How the soupy broth of our universe congealed into stars. And how those stars baked, to our benefit, the heavier elements we are all made of. The weight of their super novae can be felt in every stainless steel fork ever forged.

I understand how our solar system was formed; a child or grandchild of the first generation of stars. I can envision the Earth, and all the other planets and debris, swirling around the infant sun in a stellar dance of gravity. A dance that continues today, and can be experienced. It affects the seasons. It is a dance that echoes in a cold winter’s chill and in a hot summer’s breeze.

Then there’s Earth itself: a nascent planet in its most violent, inhospitable phase. I can see it. Meteor bombardment. The moon breaking off in a massive collision. The oceans eventually cooling. Then continental drift.

I’ve climbed the walls of valleys carved by glaciers. Glaciers that stampeded across the land during iterative ice ages. Ice ages caused by the tilting of Earth’s axis due to the gravitational tug-o-war between Venus and Jupiter.

My planet’s history. I understand it.

I also understand life arising in primordial tides. Molecules arranging themselves in greater and greater complexity, clawing their way up an entropic incline.

Eventually those molecules would begin replicating cell walls, and proudly earn the distinction of being called ‘life’. From there, life is a continuum propagating throughout the millennia. We as humans futilely categorize organisms into discrete species, but life more closely resembles a spectrum. And when viewed as a spectrum, spread out across the eons, evolution takes on a dazzling hue.

Life on Earth’s history. I understand that too.

This account of creation is a wonderfully intricate, evident, profound, appreciable, and inspiring one. It satisfies my demand for substance. And I get it.

It brings my story¬†from the creation of the universe up to the birth of the human race. It’s only the first half of my story though.

***

On the other side, I understand myself. How I came to be me.

As an adult I lived with my parents. This is damn near anathema in modern American culture; detrimentally so. In retrospect I consider myself fortunate.

I was blessed the insight into my parents’ characters and the stories of their lives. That insight is beyond valuation. From that insight I’m able to understand why they raised me the way they did. So I know why I have all the strengths and weaknesses that I do.

Having leaped outside my cultural bubble, I also understand it, and how it has impacted my personality and worldview. I can see the chisel marks that my culture has made on my character; in a national, state, and regional context.

I’ve applied every speck of history still adhered to my cerebellum to understanding the cultural environment of my parents, so I’m able to fathom how that contributed to making them who they are.

I use my knowledge of American history to understand the historical context in which American culture arose.

And finally, I imagine the context of American history in the slow march of all that is human history.

So what I’ve created is a web that connects me to my parents, me to my culture, my parents to their culture, that culture to the history of its nation, and that nation to all of documented history.

That web represents the second half of my story. The story of now through the past few millenia since homo Sapiens began roaming the Earth. It is Humanity’s story, and my place in it.

And on the edge of that web is the gap.

THE gap.

A vast chasm between the cultural, historical explanation of the world, and the scientific explanation of the cosmos. A void that left me vaguely disconnected from the history of the universe. A divide that perpetuated the existence of the aforementioned cognitive dissonance.

I lived my life without much awareness of, or concern over, that gap. I had priorities other than constructing a cohesive belief system and an unfractured origin story. Priorities like eating, drinking, chasing women, following cultural programming, masturbating, and entertaining myself.

But then I read Guns, Germs, & Steel by Jared Diamond. And the gap disappeared.

Jared Diamond makes this claim; that the dominate societies of today rose to power through their proximity to, and thus access to, large domesticable mammals and high caloric grains at the time of the agricultural revolution 13,000 years ago.

They are not dominant today as a result of any inherent superiority, God- or genetic-given.

His book explains how access to those vital resources, following the agricultural revolution, lead to increased food production which in turn lead to population blooms.

Farms that could support large populations could support inventors developing guns and steel, among other things. Tools that could be used for conquest.

But those lucky societies reaped a benefit even greater than picks and shovels, as Diamond explains. Feces. Large, dense, disgusting cities, and exposure to livestock feces in farmlands would, over generations, imbue a population with immunities to the germs contained therein. Those germs would eventually ravage the societies of distant continents with greater effect than bullets ever could. And so it went for the Incas, the Aztecs, and nearly every native population in the Americas.

The Diamond lens shows us that 13 of the 14 large, domesticable mammals we have today originated from near the fertile crescent. All five of the major ones do: cows, sheep, horses, pigs, goats. Llamas in South America are the only exception. And a majority of the high caloric grains originate from the Fertile Crescent as well. Did you ever wonder why it was called the Fertile Crescent?

It makes too much sense to deny that these societies would grow to dominate the world. As they have done. It makes equal sense that they’d bring along with them all their superstitions, religions, and culture. And it makes sense that centuries later they’d look back and think so smugly how fundamentally superior they are.

Guns, Germs, & Steel lays out the broad sweeping factors. Filling in the details is only a matter of historical reference.

So this book represents the missing link to an infinitely intricate chain. It bridges the gap between the madness that is human civilization, and the elegance of nature.

Reaching the bottom of the last page was like standing back to gaze upon a grand mural for the first time after painting the final brush strokes. Unfortunately you probably won’t feel the same transcended connection. But the history outlined in the book is yours and mine shared.

Knowing the story is intrinsically valuable, but the implications offer further advantage.

Diamond’s book details a rational explanation that dispels the arrogance of national and racial pride. Since reading it, I’ve adopted the more humble belief that societies dominate today as a simple consequence of that one resource-rich corner of the world.

Finally, in finishing this book, I felt a profound comfort. A great fracture was finally closed between the world that I experience every day and the universe to which I know I belong.

I am who I am because I stepped out of a super nova. I am who I am because my parents, culture, and schooling deeply influenced my personality. And I am who I am because, tracing along a narrow chain of causation across thousands of years, certain plants and animals were located just right.

There was no God chosen covenant.

There was no inexplicable genetic mutation.

There is no superior race or way of life.

It came down to grain and cattle.

Humble yourselves folks.

Thank you for reading.

-C

Leave a Reply