Sunday, July 31, 2011

Deadly Weapon

Consider the recent past. The deadliest weapon man kind has created was the atomic bomb.Consider that this deadly weapon as informs us took,"Over the course of six years, from 1939 to 1945, more than $2 billion was spent during the history of the Manhattan Project(Mary Bellis," (Check out the link for more details)The Manhattan Project was the name of the atomic bomb project. Now this bomb whose power was feared after being tested costed our country billions. If that surprises you, even more shocking was the price of the deadliest weapon our ancestors had: its cost was zero dollars with tax. The deadliest weapons our ancestors had were livestock. The most important factor in determining the relative success of civilization was the extensive use of livestock because it allowed for human populations to become much denser and therefore gave us the secret weapon of germs.

Having livestock allowed many populations to boom. Diamond informs us,"One reason just mentioned is that agriculture sustains much higher human population densities than does the hunting-gathering lifestyle--on the average, 10 to 100 times higher (Diamond, 205). An important part of agriculture is livestock. The reason livestock is so important to the success of a civilization is because it brings a greater means of feeding a village, town, or city. This allowed for populations in the past to not only survive a longer time because they had enough energy, but also to settle down and start forming successful civilizations. The reason the hunter gather life isn't as successful is that they are taking a chance searching for food. For this reason many hunter gatherer groups had to stay small. This ensured that at least the small group would get fed. With livestock and the formation of greater populations, civilizations were a lot more successful.

With the rise of populations and agriculture human societies were both attacked and compensated for the devastation of those attacks. When populations were becoming denser with livestock, our living with the livestock gave diseases a new host. Diseases that our livestock had were passed to humans and often caused many epidemics. However, through evolution we surely adapted and formed barriers against those diseases. The reason disease was so beneficial to human populations was because it wiped out many foreign human populations. The world would not be the same without disease. When European countries set out to conquer foreign countries, the victory of the conquest would never have been possible without disease. Diamond informs us,"Far more Native Americans died in bed form Eurasian germs than on the battlefield from European guns and swords.(Diamond, 210) Without those deadly germs none of the conquererors would have stood a chance against the massive kingdoms they attemtped and succeded in destroying.

The evidence showing how livestock is the most important factor when considering the relative success of any population is irrefutable. However, let's pretend this wasn't so. Let's say that Eurasia for one reason or another never developed agriculture and with that any livestock. This would indeed make Eurasia the "loser" when compared with the Americas. The Americas would become the winners if they had an east-west alignment and the early invention of writing. With two out of the three factors, the Americas would have sooner or later become civilized and developed a form of agriculture. Steve Jones the head of the biology department at the University College London stated,"Humans are 10,000 times more common than we should be, according to the rules of the animal kingdom, and we have agriculture to thank for that. Without farming, the world population would probably have reached half a million by now.(Wikipedia)" While he puts into perpective the world view, if we zero in on just Eurasia we could see the devastating affects of never developing agriculture. This would have changed history dramatically. The Americas would have not been conquered, it's kingdoms might have survived and become more civilized.

There are many factors that tie into making a successful civilization, but of those factors like Diamond points out livestock is the most important. Without livestock dense and thus more civilized populations would have never developed. Without the denser populations germs would have not been so easily transmitted to humans. So many things in history would be much different. Diamond states,"That might not have happened without Europe's sinister gift to other continents-- the germs evolving from Eurasians' long intimacy with domestic animals.(Diamond, 214)" Without the deadly weapon the course of history would be another story.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A drive through my thoughts on Drive

I'm not one for books on studies of human behavior. The main reason for this being that I do not like to have my mind or thoughts categorized or classified by a complete stranger. This is mostly due to the fact that I don't yet know my own self completely and if I don't then I don't want anyone else thinking they do. For example I am very annoyed by the supposed psychological meaning of body language. Sure some actions can be justified as clearly meaning a specific something but not all. I don't cross my arms when I am discussing something with someone as a means of putting a barrier between that person and I, it's simply that I feel comfortable that way or simply don't know what else to do with my arms. I do this with many people including my closest friends and relatives so don't tell me I am trying to put a barrier between me and those people I care about. This is how I felt with the book Drive by Daniel Pink, like I was being categorized.

This is not to say that I did not like the book. I am indifferent about it actually. First because I already knew that I get motivation from doing things I simply enjoy even if they are hard tasks or even work. I was expecting it to be something major and something I had never thought about, but it wasn't. However, it did go deeper into this motivation 3.0 as he called it and I learned a few things of interest here and there. The biggest of these things were the "seven deadly flaws of motivation 2.0". When I though hard about these examples and the scenarios the author gave me, I agreed with him that they can be harmful. Pink's examples of how different companies have become more successful was quite intrigueing since I didn't much believe letting people do whatever they want would work. I am still a skeptical about it all, but perhaps there is some sort of pattern in the way our minds are programmed, or perhaps it's all "bull". In any which case, I will need much more convincing and a lot more evidence to finally draw up a true conclusion.

It's all about location, location, location!

Let's pretend you are a realtor trying to sell a house. Part of your job is obviously selling houses, but a very important aspect is also realizing when a house will be too difficult to sell. Why is this? Well sometimes the house will need a lot of work done to make it into a product that is worth buying. But the biggest problem you will face will be location. It takes a mere minute for someone to decide if they want a house based simply on location. Likewise plants thousands of years ago prospered in certain areas because of location. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond makes a great arguement for why location is very important when thinking about our past and why certain areas prospered more than others. The Fertile Crescent is a very important place not only because it is the first birth place of plants, but because it was the perfect location for plant domestication. The reason this location was perfect was simply because of it's climate, natural biodiversity, and topographical variety.

Part of having a perfect location is also having a perfect climate. The main reason why plant domestication was made so easy in the Fertile Crescent was because of the climate. Diamond states, "One advantage of the Fertile Crescent is that it lies within a zone of so-called Mediterranean climate, a climate characterized by mild, wet winters and long, hot, dry summers.(Diamond,136)" While the differentiating climate may not sound good, the fact is that this change in climate is great for plants. This climate helped plants develope genes to last the dry summer and then continue to grow when the rains picked up. Therefore all these changes within the plants genes allowed them to become more useful to humans thousands of years ago. These plants are annual plants, that conserve lots of energy to make huge seeds edible by humans. Once humans saw the fortune that layed in eating seeds, they began to domesticate them.

Another important reason why this certain area was the first birthplace of plant domestication was because of the biology of the plants themselves. Diamond informs us," A third advantage of the Fertile Crescent flora is that it includes a high percentage of hermaphroditic "selfers"-that is, plants that usually pollinate themselves but that are occasionally cross-pollinated.(Diamond, 137)" Plants in this area were able to reproduce on their on without the help of a second plant. This is extremely beneficial because this allowed plants to keep their useful inherited traits. That is when plants got a useful mutation, when farmers tried to domesticate that plant, the trait was often lost in cross-breeding. However, because these plants were able to breed themselves those mutations were never lost, and when farmers tried domesticating the plant they got a plant with a biology that was very helpful.

The last reason why this location encouraged domestication was because of its topographical variety. That is the area was very diverse in its landscape. This allowed many different plants the ability to survive in this area. Diamond explains, "A third advantage of the Fertile Crescent's Mediterranean zone is that it provides a wide range of altitudes and topographies within a short distance.(Diamond, 140)" While this concept is very simple, it had a great impact. The reason why plant domestication was much more favorable in this area was because it had a variety of environments from which different plants could prosper. This gave the hunter gathers a variety of areas that they could use to domesticate plants.

If all this were true of the flora in Mesoamerica, then it might have been much more advanced before being "discovered" by Colombus. This might have changed the course of history. Mesoamerica could have been the leader in a sophisticated civilization for the Americas. If Mesoamerica had just the right climate, biodiversity, and a varying topography, it would be a perfect land. However, this is not true. Mesoamerica didn't have all these factors that encouraged hunter gathers to domesticate plants. However, one must realize that this was obviously not because of the humans themselves it was all about location.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Guns and Germs, Anyone?

Hey everyone!

I hope you are having an awesome summer. Just yesterday I got back from a fun and frantic month in Europe. Eiffel Tower? Windsor Castle? The tiny island of my ancestors? Russian-speaking summer camp? Check, check, check, check. Mostly I was vacationing, but every once in a while I would think about how it all fits in with human geography. The world is such a large and varied planet, and yet each place is so small. It was cool thinking, too, about how the sweep of history and the sea of humanity have collided with geography to make each place its own.

I'm looking forward to this coming semester.

And speaking of which, don't forget that by the end of this week (the 17th) your first response should be up on the blog! I leave for Yosemite on Saturday, but if you have questions or post before then, I can respond. For those of you who might have forgotten the prompt, here it is:

(Covering the Introduction and Chapters 1 through 9)
Diamond emphasizes domestication and its role in the development of civilization. Consider one of the two scenarios and develop it:

1) Suppose humans did not evolve in and spread from Africa. Rather, imagine that humans evolved in Mesoamerica and spread, via Alaska, into Eurasia and the rest of the world. How would this affect animal domestication thousands of years later? How would societies develop in the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Africa compared to the actual course of history? Pay close attention to his argument about animal evolution alongside human evolution.

2) What would Diamond say are the three most important aspects of flora in the Fertile Crescent that made it the (first) birthplace of plant domestication? Summarize how each aspect encouraged (or rewarded) domestication by hunter-gatherers. What if these three aspects were true of the flora in Mesoamerica? Describe how the development of farming might have looked in the New World (timing, distribution, acceptance, etc).