[Paleopsych] Steve Sailer: Jared Diamond: the New King of All Media
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Steve Sailer: Jared Diamond: the New King of All Media
Steve Sailer Archive
July 24, 2005
Jared Diamond: the New King of All Media
By Steve Sailer
Stephen Jay Gould's death in 2002 opened up the position of our
most celebrated scientist-seer, a post currently filled in Britain by
Richard Dawkins. The job requirements seem to include starting out
as a specialist in one of the life sciences and then developing a
taste for generalizing about humanity. Among the contenders: Gould's
old rival, Edward O. Wilson (author of Sociobiology and
Consilience) and the younger Steven Pinker (How the Mind
Works and The Blank Slate).
In 2005, UCLA geographer and physiologist Jared Diamond has made
his bid, becoming omnipresent in the media with
bullet An environmentalist bestseller, Collapse: How Societies
Choose to Fail or Succeed.
bullet An exhibit at the LA Natural History Museum based on
bullet A three part documentary currently showing on PBS based on
his 1997 Pulitzer Prize winner Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates
of Human Societies, which stars Diamond and his Captain Ahab
(Note that Diamond is not shy about giving his books ambitious
Before Diamond began writing for a popular audience, around his 50th
birthday in 1987, he was a professor at UCLA's medical school and a
leading birdwatcher in New Guinea. His early magazine articles in
Discover and Natural History were collected in his initial and, to my
mind, best book, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of
the Human Animal. His subsequent big books, Guns, Germs, and Steel
and Collapse, were both sketched out in tour de force chapters in The
The power-to-weight ratio of Diamond's writing didn't improve when he
expanded them into doorstop books. As a prose stylist, Diamond, while
perfectly adequate, isn't quite in the same class as Gould, Dawkins,
Wilson, or Pinker, and his long books can be a tough slog.
Third Chimpanzee was also distinguished by a fair degree of courage.
Diamond tackled politically incorrect questions like: Why did most of
the big mammals that lived in North America at the time the Indians
arrived--such as wooly mammoths, camels, and horses--go extinct so
quickly after the first Indians arrived across the Bering Strait?
Diamond's answer: the Indians ate them.
In fact, back in 1986 Diamond published a study in Nature that is so
unfit for polite society that it would probably get him lynched by his
current admirers if they ever heard of it: "Ethnic Differences:
Variations in Human Testis Size." Personally, I don't have a lot of
first-hand experience, so I couldn't give you my opinion on the
validity of Diamond's findings on racial differences in testicle size.
But Diamond seemed pretty fascinated by the subject.
Unfortunately, the market for the uncomfortable truths is a lot
smaller than the market for what people want to hear. So after his
initial book, Diamond remained a cult figure.
But Diamond has certainly solved that problem. He turned to the topic
of race, offering impressive-sounding rationalizations for what
intellectuals wanted to believe anyway.
Diamond helped launch the Race Does Not Exist fad with his
November, 1994 Discover article "Race Without Color." In this, he
suggested that we could define races on any physical characteristic we
chose. Norwegians and Nigerian Fulanis could belong to the Lactose
Tolerant race and Japanese and Nigerian Ibos belong to the Lactose
The reason that defining Fulanis and Ibo as belonging to separate
races is obviously ridiculous is because the most useful definition of
race is not built on any particular trait. Instead, it's built on
ancestry. We all intuitively know that Fulanis and Ibos are more
racially similar to each other because they have more recent ancestors
in common with each other than they do with Norwegians or
Japanese. Race starts with boy meets girl, followed by baby.
That line of thought suggests that the most useful definition of a
racial group is "a partly inbred extended family," as I pointed
out a few years later in response to Diamond.
But, when it comes to race, obfuscation pays a lot better than
Diamond turned himself into Jared Diamond, Superstar! with his 1997
bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel. This book purported to Disprove
Racism, which he defined tendentiously as merely believing that
genetic differences in human capabilities along racial lines exist.
This book certainly made him a fixture as a speaker at the tonier
sort of conference. (For instance, I saw Diamond at legendary
financier Michael Milken's annual confab.)
Diamond's goal in his book was to explain why Eurasians conquered
Africans, Australians, and Americans instead of the other way around.
Conventional social scientists shy away from such a fundamental
question out of fear of what they might find. And Diamond duly
proclaimed genetic explanations "racist" and "loathsome." He
set out to reaffirm the equality of humanity by showing the radical
inequality of the continents. To him, the three most important engines
of history were location, location, and location.
"Why didn't rhino-mounted Bantu warriors swarm north to decimate
horse-mounted Romans and create an empire that spanned Africa and
His answer: rhinos and other African animals are impossible to
domesticate, unlike Eurasian beasts such as horses and cattle.
Guns, Germs, and Steel contained a lot of useful information and
reasonable speculation. But a little thought raises serious questions:
bullet Not all sub-Saharan Africans lack domestic animals. For
instance, the Fulanis are mostly lactose tolerant precisely
because they evolved an ability to drink cow's milk as adults because
they herd cattle on a massive scale.
bullet It's true that Africans never domesticated the ostrich, but
a Mr. Hardy pulled off the trick in the 19th Century. In the late
nineteenth century, South African farmers raised almost a million of
these 300-pound birds to supply the fancy hat industry with feathers.
bullet Most strikingly, Diamond failed to recall that elephant-mounted
African warriors did swarm north to decimate horse-mounted Romans and
almost create an empire that spanned Africa and Europe in perhaps the
most famous feat of ancient warfare: Hannibal crossing the Alps.
(Although a biopic with Denzel Washington as Hannibal has long
been under development in Hollywood, the North African Carthaginians
were actually the Semitic descendents of the Levantine Phoenicians.)
But those are quibbles compared to the central contradiction in Guns,
Germs, and Steel: Diamond makes environmental differences between the
continents seem so compelling that it's hard to believe that humans
would not become somewhat genetically adapted to their homelands
through natural selection.
Most of his readers must have assumed that natural selection can't
work fast enough to diversify humans. But Diamond knows that's not
true, as his lactose tolerance illustration demonstrated.
This mutation didn't begin to spread until people started milking
animals sometime in the last 13,000 years. However, by now 98
percent of Swedes are lactose tolerant as adults versus two percent of
This example of human biodiversity is hardly trivial: evolving the
ability to digest milk has had a sizable economic and cultural
impact on, say, the Swiss.
Self-defeatingly, Diamond began Guns, Germs, and Steel by making a
eugenic argument that New Guineans are smarter than whites because
"natural selection promoting genes for intelligence has probably been
far more ruthless in New Guinea than in more densely populated,
politically complex societies..."
Of course, the reality is actually that while New Guineans are, on
average, no doubt better at Stone Age life than you or I would be,
people whose ancestors have survived for many generations in "densely
populated, politically complex societies" tend to be better at
functioning in the modern world.
As far as I can tell, Diamond only lectures, never debates. I've never
heard of him ever allowing himself to be dragged into a public
discussion with a well-informed opponent.
I talked to Diamond once after he gave a speech. We were chatting
nicely until I asked him a tough question along the lines outlined
above: Wouldn't different agricultural environments select for
different hereditary traits in different locales?
I mentioned how James Q. Wilson's The Marriage Problem has a
couple of chapters on how tropical agriculture in West Africa
affects family structures. Since women can raise enough food to feed
their kids, men don't invest as much in their individual children. So
wouldn't the kind of man with the most surviving children be different
in a tropical agricultural environment, where he doesn't need to work
too much to support them, than in a temperate agricultural
environment, where he does?
Now, Diamond has spent a lot of time birdwatching in New Guinea, which
is similar to Africa. So he knows all about what tropical agriculture
selects for. But he had no intention of touching that tar-baby with a
ten-foot pole. To get away from me and my question, he grabbed his
papers and literally dog-trotted at about 5 mph out of the auditorium!
Diamond can run, but he won't be able to hide from the facts forever.
I hear there are now several scientific papers in the publication
pipeline about racial differences in genes that affect cognition and
personality, each comparable in importance to the recent blockbuster
paper on the genetic roots of Ashkenazi Jewish IQ,
Diamond's latest bestseller, Collapse, is about "ecocide" or
unintentional ecological suicide, due to environmental disasters such
as deforestation. Ecological concerns are pooh-poohed by many
free-market ideologues, but environmental problems, which
economists call "externalities," are indeed inherent in any economic
system. And Diamond supplies a lot of useful, if overstated,
But "ecocide," while significant, is less important than Diamond
implies. That's why he spends so much time on trivial
edge-of-the-world doomed cultures, like the Vikings in Greenland and
the Polynesians on Easter Island, rather than on more important
collapses such as the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
Generally, homicide, not suicide, is the main cause of collapse.
Societies get invaded and overwhelmed.
Diamond cites the disappearance of the Maya--but what about the Aztecs
and the Incas, still going strong when the Spanish arrived? He points
to the Anasazi Indians--but there were also the Cherokee, the
Sioux, and countless others. He notes the Easter Islanders--but I
counter with the Maoris, the Tasmanians, the Australian Aborigines,
the Chatham Islanders (exterminated by the Maori), and so forth. He
cites the Vikings in Greenland--but how about the Saxons in
Britain and the Arabs in Sicily, both conquered by descendents of the
Still, Collapse can be valuable, especially if you look for the parts
where Diamond shows more courage than is normal for him these days.
A close reading demonstrates that Diamond is quite unenthusiastic
about mass immigration. For instance, in his chapter about the
ecological fragility of Australia, he relays this optimistic hope for
better policy in the future: "Contrary to their government and
business leaders, 70 percent of Australians say they want less rather
than more immigration."
Diamond also points out that the quality of immigrants matters. In an
interesting chapter comparing the two countries that share the island
of Hispaniola, the mediocre but livable Dominican Republic and
dreadful Haiti, he notes that one reason the Dominican Republic is
now both more prosperous and less deforested and eroded than tragic
Haiti is the difference in their people:
"... the Dominican Republic, with its Spanish-speaking population of
predominantly European ancestry, was both more receptive and more
attractive to European immigrants and investors than was Haiti with
its Creole-speaking population composed overwhelmingly of black former
Ironically, when I left the "Collapse" exhibit, with its warnings
about overpopulation, at Los Angeles's Natural History museum, I
turned out of the parking lot onto Martin Luther King Boulevard,
where the billboards were in Spanish. In LA, the African
Americans have been pushed off even MLK Blvd. by Latin American
"I have seen how Southern California has changed over the last 39
years, mostly in ways that make it less appealing... The complaints
voiced by virtually everybody in Los Angeles are those directly
related to our growing and already high population... While there are
optimists who explain in the abstract why increased population will be
good and how the world can accommodate it, I have never met an
Angeleno ... who personally expressed a desire for increased
population in the area where he or she personally lived...
California's population growth is accelerating, due almost entirely to
immigration and to the large average family sizes of the immigrants
after their arrival."
Unfortunately, Diamond's bravery then breaks down again. Rather than
call for doing something about immigration, such as enforcement of the
laws against illegal immigration, he merely laments, "The border
between California and Mexico is long and impossible to patrol
No, it's not. Israel, with two percent of America's population, is
successfully fencing off its West Bank border, which is ten percent as
In another important section, Diamond illustrates how ethnic diversity
makes environmental cooperation more difficult. He praises the Dutch
as the most cooperative nation on earth and attributes their awareness
of and willingness to tackle problems to their shared memory of the
1953 flood that drowned 2,000 Netherlanders living below sea level.
(Unfortunately, he doesn't mention whether Holland's rapidly growing
immigrant Muslim population remembers when the dikes failed 52 years
Diamond notes that there are three possible solutions to what Garrett
Hardin called "the tragedy of the commons," or the tendency for
individuals to over-consume resources and under-invest in
responsibilities held in common, leading to ecological collapse.
bullet Government diktat.
bullet Privatization and property rights -- but that's impractical
with some resources, such as fish.
bullet "The remaining solution to the tragedy of the commons is for
the consumers to recognize their common interests and to design, obey,
and enforce prudent harvesting quotas themselves. That is likely to
happen only if a whole series of conditions is met: the consumers form
a homogenous group; they have learned to trust and communicate with
each other; they expect to share a common future and to pass on the
resource to their heirs; they are capable of and permitted to organize
and police themselves; and the boundaries of the resource and of its
pool of consumers are well defined." (My emphasis)
(A classic supporting case that that Diamond doesn't bring up:
American shrimp fishermen in Texas were universally denounced as
racists in the late 1970s when they resisted the government's efforts
to encourage Vietnamese refugees to become shrimpers in their waters.
French director Louis Malle made a movie, Alamo Bay, denouncing
ugly Americans fighting hardworking immigrants.
(What got lost in all the tsk-tsking is that fishing communities
always resist newcomers, especially hardworking ones, because of the
sizable chance that the outsiders who don't know the local rules or
don't care about them will ruin the ecological balance and wipe out
the stocks of fish--all things for which Vietnamese fishermen are now
The evidence Diamond assembles indicates, although of course he never
dares to state it bluntly, that the fundamental requirement for
dealing effectively with environmental danger is: start with a
population that's limited in number, cohesive, educated, and affluent.
Needless to say, mass immigration from the Third World works against
all those characteristics.
My conclusion: keep in mind while reading Diamond's bestsellers that,
after a promising start, he mostly sold out to political correctness.
Then you can salvage something from his books.
It's not edifying behavior from a tenured professor--but in the
current climate, we have to take what we can get.
[Steve Sailer [email him], is founder of the Human Biodiversity
Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His
website www.iSteve.com features site-exclusive commentaries.]
78. mailto:steveslr at aol.com
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