In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Jared Diamond about the rise and fall of civilizations. They discuss political polarization, disparities in civilizational progress, the prospect that there may be biological differences between populations, the precariousness of democracy in the US, the lack of a strong political center, immigration policy, and other topics.
This thread is for listeners’ comments.
It is inspirational to witness how clever one can be when they investigate without an agenda.
I took some terms from the podcast and suggest that they are the final frontier of anthropology and a great title for the next book- Imbeciles, Hotheads & Tweeters. There is huge gap in human research and it’s ironic considering the plentiful quantity of test subjects. The socially-functioning moron is shunned by an academic society designed to exclude them. That was the whole point at first.
However, the time has come to open up and broaden the perspective. Not to open the doors to the mob but to open the examination of humanity to foolishness of all forms. I hear the testimony regularly- “I don’t know how to talk to those people” or “they are clearly not thinking thing through” and finally “I don’t get it” followed by a shrug. Many scholars turn away and pursue easier puzzles like gene splicing or particle physics. Those who publicly appear to be on the job about the moron problem are only dancing around it.
We can all agree on one thing. Many of us, in and out of academia, want to live in a world that isn’t designed or administrated by morons. We are discovering, to our horror, that democracy cannot exist in any desirable form without a critical mass of the electorate who share this aspiration. Why would seemingly well-adjusted and reasonably intelligent people choose to be morons?
Many have covered the mass-psychology of systems like fascism but what if that is what happens after too many have settled into a moronic life? Maybe modern scientists can do an end run around political theorists and identify a single measurable brain function that determines if someone is operating in a moronic format. A comparison can be made with any academic who is confident that they are not a moron.
I’ve read Guns, Germs, & Steele several years ago, so I’m familiar with Diamond’s central premise about the availability of domesticatible (sp?) animal species in Europe vs Africa, but I’m sceptical. While I’m nowhere near an expert in this area, it is fairly clear that the ancestor species of our domesticated animals, and for that matter our fruits & vegetables, were radically altered by domestication and cultivation. Just imagine a milk cow trying to survive in the wild, or see how we turned wolves into Pekinese and St. Bernards for example. Apples and bananas were distinctly unappetising-looking things just a few centuries ago .
How do these ancestor species prior to domestication differ from the ornery, unfriendly animal species elsewhere? Apologies if JD already addressed this in his book or elsewhere. Memory isn’t what it was.
From what I recall, he covered it. The idea is that even the native species had traits that made them more or less suitable for domestication than others. He included the differences between zebras and (wild) horses: the former are much more inclined to kick at (rather than run from) threats and don’t have the kind of social hierarchies that can be exploited by humans. For plants, and important consideration is whether they can be bred reliably. An example was the difference between almonds and acorns. The former could be reliably bred to be non-bitter. For acorns the details of their genetics, how they pollinate and the long generation time means that it would be very much more difficult (impossible?) to even start down the route of trying to breed them for food.
From what I remember, Dr. Diamond wasn’t talking about modern varieties, which are radically different from their pre-domesticated forms, he was talking about the differences between wild species that makes some feasible to (start to) domesticate.
But how would we know if the Zebra ancestor was more of a biter than the ancient horse ancestor if we have only their modern descendants to go by? Teeth in the fossil record?
So, there are at least a few cases where wild versions of domesticated animals persist or at least persisted into historical times. I’m not claiming to be an expert, just that with my limited knowledge, I don’t think our epistemological position is as bleak as your post indicates (at least in my interpretation of your post indicates).
I’m sure that if you dug into the research literature you’d be able to figure out what things we can be confident on, which things are contentious and uncertain, and whether Dr. Diamond’s thesis presented in his book is based on a good understanding of the state of our knowledge or not.