I came across a comment recently, by Mr.Kumaarasami Perumal, on my blog, saying that my article on foreign vegetables(What would make Gandhi's salad bowl?) is inspired by Jared Diamond and talks only in geological terms and is least concerned in political issues. I have come across many criticisms with similar views on Jared Diamond's theory and addressing it as simplistic and inadequate to explain what he intends to.
To begin with, the article takes nothing from Jared Diamond’s book but the fact that Native American species like potato and tomato are dominating other vegetable species of the world, which is indispensable. I further dedicated two paragraphs paraphrasing the reason for the fact getting mentioned on the book just because my hesitation to leave it enigmatic and of course, to give an introduction to the book. The article stands on its own, completely intact, without these paragraphs for it is a Gandhian one. It argues against exotic vegetable dominating over indigenous vegetables. Jared Diamond’s way of looking at it would be exploring the scientific reason behind domination without commenting on its economic or social outcomes.
The article does try to find out the social attitude behind the preference but it is purely statistical. And I think any scientific hypothesis should not consider sociopolitical barriers more than their actual relevance. Trying to reach a compromise between science and existing political issues would get nowhere. Imagine compromising conservation with political views of majority. Gandhi’s proposal of indigenous self-sustainability, far-fetched as it is, cannot be attained by taking stand point anywhere near being moderate. A scientific article which is compromising on itself, of its content, has no value politically either, instead optimum must be reached outside article’s hypothesis, with the practicality.Considering social issues such as fate of exotic vegetable cultivating farmer in my article is, I think,unnecessary. Gandhian way of life is deeply political and has a solid economic vision, one would say, that an article based on such views can hardly be considered apolitical.There is a common miss notion that only issues of minority are to be considered politically significant, health and economic issues discussed in my article are aimed at majority, though a scientific article need not be.
Now, coming to the criticisms on Jared Diamond, firstly, it is not a simple idea to explain fates of human societies by geographical factors,but a profound one. Any illusion of it being simple is because of its seemingly obvious nature. He doesn’t try to ‘explain everything’ but the anthropology involved in deciding fates of human societies. He does not consider role of social or cultural attitudes in intercultural encounters merely because it is not what he is interested in. His field of interest is how some societies gained the power to exercise their cultural attitudes or rather prejudice and others couldn’t. For example he does not elaborate the role of religion played in the European and Native American interaction but never fails to mention it.
In fact, a book that I read recently, ‘1491’ by Charles C. Mann, claims that Native Americans within short exposure adapted to tackle most of the threats posed by Europeans and they could only have been exterminated by deliberate spreading of epidemic disease, the small pox. But this speculation, nevertheless, rests on the fact that lack of exposure, and therefore resistance, to the disease is because Native Americans had no large mammal species that can be domesticated except llama(which is only semi domesticable) and therefore no animal-human interaction possible to spawn new breeds of disease, as Jared Diamond mentions in his book. So it finally comes down to geography again.
Jared Diamond’s theory stems from the assertion that human beings of all races or societies are equal in their mental, if not physical, abilities and morality. This assertion, previously, apart from being politically correct, did not answer the dominance of one society over the other, both in the past and present. It is not reasonable postponing intercultural encounters and its aftermaths as inexplicable in terms of science. This is where Jared Diamond’s contributions gain significance as he brought geography as an important scientific tool to look into fates of human societies.
This is a strong anti racial message emphasizing on the fact that no human society is incompetent. He, in fact goes off the balance to prove that, one can sense that from the way he stresses upon feats of certain communities far beyond the potentials of their contemporary human societies like maize domestication by Native Americans which is considered man’s first feat in genetic engineering and canoe building of population what would become Aborigines dating back to 42000 BP. Both these communities are almost exterminated due to intercultural encounters.
I above mentioned that his theory is based on the assertion that all human beings are equal in their mental ability and morality. This further raises the question of ‘why does cultural attitudes differ among different societies?Various factors play a role on them; geography being one of them, I think they will be further examined in future. I had a question after reading the book, that why sociocultural attitudes sometimes supersede geographical endowment? I Thank author Jeyamohan for raising that question, on a conversation we had, about the rise of VijayaNagara Empire established by Nayak community who were basically herders taking over a well-established complex society of south Tamilnadu . I thought of Mongols as Nayak’s curious parallels, both were herders, both mastered horses (geographical reasons again). But giving it a thought, Jared Diamond does not falter here either, herder communities though cannot produce enough surpluses to afford society as complex as an agricultural society, can still support artisans like blacksmiths for necessary technologies of war. And it can be observed all over the world that a society which had just attained such a threshold complexity is far more aggressive than those that are further more complex. They are armed and have nothing to lose. It is much like an oppressed class given access to education.
And finally, there is a growing appeal among non-scientific communities, for views, particularly when proposed by a person affiliated with science, which criticize scientific theories that, they are generalizing and lack sociocultural or political insights. It is inherent nature of any scientific theory to generalize, which is the only mean to derive a concept. It is the authenticity and objectivity that matters. A scientific theory need not consider sociocultural or political issues more than their actual relevance, as I have mentioned earlier, for it is the nature of science to bring about a change in culture and politics not vice versa. A good scientific theory gains a political force on its own, I am reminded of Marxism at this instance. By mentioning‘actual relevance’ earlier, I mean their(cultural and political attitudes) scientific value, the reason for them to have evolved. History has taught us that scientific theories those shook the world in the past were nothing less than radical, so dubbing a theory as being radical, by itself cannot be a criticism.
Of course scientific viewpoints can be criticized; one of my personal favorites James Lovelock has laid some of the strongest criticisms against natural sciences. But he does that, as Fritjof Capra says, resting on more holistic, unconventional disciplines of science like microbiology and ecology. But scientific theories should never be confronted or criticized politically, unless they are politically inclined and manipulative.
All great scientific theories proposed on the past were simplistic on the surface, and were vehemently opposed for the nature, all their complexities arise when they are taken further to check for their pertinence and I think Jared Diamond's one is no exception.