Rough Diamond

Rough Diamond, by Steve Sailer.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of one of the odder best-sellers of the 1990s, polymath Jared Diamond’s ambitiously entitled but rather dry Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. …

Diamond marketed Guns, Germs, and Steel as the definitive politically correct answer to the query that must trouble anyone with much awareness of the world: Why are some races of humans so much more economically and scientifically productive than other races? …

The dominant trait of intellectual conventional wisdom in the 21st century: antiquarianism.

For example, you may have noticed the countless number of articles in recent years explaining why property values in African-American neighborhoods tend to be low. Occam’s razor would suggest this is related to the current high crime rates among blacks. After all, real estate markets are highly responsive to trends. But that’s not how you are supposed to think these days. Instead, you should blame all the contemporary troubles of blacks on redlining during the New Deal.

Stephen Jay Gould had popularized the postmodern form of antiquarianism in his 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man by attempting to discredit the 20th-century science of psychometrics by telling shocking stories, sometimes unreliable, about 19th-century scientists. …

But Diamond is not all PC; he transgresses subtly:

An important thing to notice about Diamond, however, is that he really is from the more hardheaded side of our intellectual realm. …

Diamond helped spread the current antiquarian penchant by making it less precious than Gould’s version. Instead of just blaming the differences between races on the hallucinations of long-dead gentile scientists like Gould did, Diamond admitted that there were significant differences in environment between the continents.

Yet that leads to a dangerous conundrum for Diamond, who is hardly unaware of the Darwinian insight that nurture can change nature. As I pointed out in my 1997 review of Guns, Germs, and Steel in National Review:

“Diamond makes environmental differences seem so compelling that it’s hard to believe that humans would not become somewhat adapted to their homelands through natural selection.”

When I met Diamond a few years later at financier Michael Milken’s annual confab in Beverly Hills, we were chatting amiably until I haltingly alluded to this fundamental paradox in his book. A worried look came over his face; he grabbed his lecture notes and took off out of the auditorium at about 5 mph. …

Blacks and everyone else:

America’s chattering classes … are obsessed with the manifold differences between black Africans and everybody else.

This is not all that unreasonable because recent advances in genetic science suggest that the prime division is between sub-Saharans and the rest of humanity. While the Out-of-Africa theory of human origins is usually positioned as explaining why there are no differences between Africans and the bulk of mankind, it suggests that every racial group outside of sub-Saharan Africa, even New World Indians, are more closely related to each other than to Africans. …

With the U.N. forecasting the population of Africa to explode in this century to 4 billion, it’s important for Americans to understand Africa (and thus Africans) better. Unfortunately, Diamond’s book simply isn’t very helpful for that.

Instead, a different 1997 book, Africa: Biography of a Continent by John Reader, offers an intriguing hypothesis rooted, like Diamond’s, in germs and megafauna, which explains not only African underdevelopment but the more pressing problem of the African predilection toward overpopulation, which is emerging as perhaps the foremost problem facing the world in this century.

Reader argues that due to the prevalence of diseases such as malaria and to competition with voracious herbivores like elephants and rhinos, sub-Saharan Africans (outside of highland Ethiopia) have seldom developed the cultural traits of self-restraint necessary for dealing with Malthusian limits on population.

Is Reader right? I don’t know, but it’s time we paid less attention to Diamond’s dusty excuses for Africa’s past and more about our world’s future.