Guns, Genomes, and Steel

I’m currently watching the PBS version of “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” based on the book by Jared Diamond. My take is that Guns, Germs, and Steel is a story of the rise of the genomeplex — that assortment of different species (cows, dogs, men, etc) that together make up the foundations for human culture.

In short, Diamond’s argument is that biologically-driven efficiencies in every plant and animal in the genomeplex except for homo sapiens led to the rise of homo sapiens. Clearly, biologically-driven efficiency is a powerful argument. If one’s crops provide less protein, or one’s animals are less docile, one is not going to get as far in life.

But neglecting to mention our species in a story of the rise of our genomeplex is strange. One line from the documentary I think sums of Diamond’s blindspot:

pigs do not give milk

This is obviously incorrect. Pigs are mammals. Pigs suckle their young.

Further, as far as human-drinkable milk goes — neither did cows! The ability of adults to drink cow milk comes from a mutations (several of them, occurring independently, in different places and times). Our ancestors could not drink cow milk. But our ancestors’ children were mutants.

Lactose tolerance is one mutation that occurred in some populations but not others, but there are other mutations like this too.

The rest of our genomeplex is not equal in productivity. Our species is not either.

The difference? The other animals and plants are to the extent they serve us. Humans are valuable in themselves.

Most of this world, like most of our genomeplex, has no inherent value. But humans do. And radically, all humans are equally precious.

Categorization and the Nature of Science

Does the Core and the Gap exist? That is, does a generally well-off realm known as the Functioning Core contain goods associated with globalization (wealth, peace, etc), while a realm known as the Non-Integrating Gap lack these goods?

Mountainrunner, surprisingly, appears to say the answer is no. While he does not say so directly, he notes that (in general) anything that exists in the Gap exists within the Core, and vice versa. In response to my claim that the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto is not surprising because it happened in the Gap, Mountainrunner wrote:

My point is this: this is about violence and death and ideology that is not specific to Islamists or the Gap. Heads of state were targeted. The IRA reminded Thatcher they only needed to be lucky once, she needed to be lucky all the time. Italy, Greece, Hungry, etc. Take your pick and you’ll find attacks on leadership.

A similar mistake is made by those who deny the existence of “race,” or often the “generations of warfare:” a misunderstanding about what categories are.

Categories are not Platonic ideals, true forms that are immutable through time and space. Categories allow us to explain variance. That is, a categorization is useful if categories within it correlate with clusters in frequencies of some traits. Consider again the Core and the Gap. There are rich people in the Gap, and poor people in the Core. There are those with IPTV in the Gap, and those without electricity in the core. For that matter, there are gang rapes in Darfur and gang rapes in Dallas.

But the terms “Core” and “Gap” really do explain variation in these things. Don’t believe it? Run the numbers yourself. The same is true with regard to race, and my assumption is that the same is true with regards to the generation of war.

Objecting to the Core/Gap categorization because you can cite assassinations in Core countries is like objecting to the concept of race because you know some East Asians who drink milk. (Because I am unaware of any large dataset on war that’s been used to test xGW theory, sadly we’re still in the realm of mixed methods when it comes to the generations of war.)

The moral of the story: categories explain variation. That does not mean they explain all variation. That does not mean they are supposed to.

Anything else is just… unscientific.

Also on the web: Against xGW, for William Lind? On another aspect of Mountainrunner’s post.