The Duck of Minerva

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A Brief Note on the Latest Jared Diamond Controversy

February 6, 2013

Jordan Ellenberg finds Razib Khan’s rant against Jared Diamond’s detractors off target.

Look, I don’t for a minute think that a good deal of the objection to Diamond is anything other than political, but some of it is clearly a controversy of facts and of scientific interpretation. And these both obviously have political implications.

I’m also a bit tied of the way Khan has for years played his “who, me? I’m just practicing science” shtik — which seems to appear and disappear whenever convenient. It also almost invariably supports conservative sociobiological interpretations of human diversity.

Regardless, Tim Burke has useful things to say on the overall issue.

From my perspective, it is pretty obvious that living in a contemporary advanced industrialized democracy is a better bet on the whole “health and safety” thing than, say, living in Medieval Europe, the Ancient Near East, or Mesoamerica in the centuries before and immediately after the Spanish arrived. But that’s an entirely different debate than whether or not specific contemporary non-industrial peoples (1) demonstrate that point or (2) are “living fossils of humanity’s premodern ancestors.*

*And, no, I haven’t read the book in question. I am simply reacting to the recent public discussion. I would be very happy to learn that Diamond already deals with these issues in a satisfactory way. That’s the fun that comes from being an outsider to the fight.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.