Inequality in Guns, Germs and Steel Report

Growth and Development

World Inequality in Jared Diamond’s

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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Introduction to Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Under the aegis of W.W. Norton, Jared Diamond published his Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. The book offers a new perspective on world history in the meaning of taking a global approach to all peoples and explaining their evolution in relation to environmental factors. It was translated into 25 languages and won the author the Pulitzer Prize.

The general idea is that those populations which first revealed an ability to manage the plant and animal life in a way that supported the improvement of their own life would later on be able to master other skills, such as reading or writing. Furthermore, these very same populations would reveal superiority in forming governments, creating technologies, military and defense structures and as such conquering the world and gaining power over other less developed populations. “A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history” (Barnes & Noble Website, 2009).

2. Inequality in Guns, Germs and Steel

Diamond recognizes the existence of world inequality from the early commencement of history through today. A relevant example of inequality is offered throughout the book’s second chapter, which reveals a time when the centuries of independence of the Moriori population ended with them being enslaved by the Maoris. Upon the arrival of the latter people on the territory of the Morioris, the aboriginals could have launched a combat and, theoretically, could have won it as their numbers were increased in comparison to the number of the invaders. However, the “hosts” were not aware of the actual intentions of the “visitors” and, also due to their long standing tradition of peacefully resolving conflicts, they withheld the attack. “They [the Morioris] decided in a council meeting not to fight back but to offer peace, friendship and a division of resources” (Diamond, 1997, p.53).

The natives did not get a chance to implement their peaceful approach. Throughout the following days, the Maoris viciously attacked, killed, ate or enslaved the Morioris. “Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse. Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori […] and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim” (Diamond, p.53).

The brutality presented in this story makes us believe that it must have taken place several centuries ago, probably even before our era. Sadly enough however, it happened during the nineteenth century, more exactly in the December of 1835. This particular scenario reveals an inequality based on differing cultural values. Despite the fact that they outnumbered the Maoris two by one, the Morioris revealed a superior mentality in recognizing the futility and disadvantages of combat, but rather focusing on peaceful approaches to conflict. Such an opportunity was not however presented and combat was launched by the Maoris. Despite being severely outnumbered, the invaders led a triumphant victory. The reason? The inadequacy of their adversaries.

The aboriginals came from a long line of peaceful ancestors, whose operations revolved around hunting animals and gathering the fruits they could find; they possessed little to none experience with war and few and underdeveloped weapons. The Maoris on the other hand came from a long line of warriors. In the words of Diamond, “the Moriori were a small, isolated population of hunter-gatherers, equipped with only the simplest technology and weapons, entirely inexperienced at war, and lacking strong leadership or organization. The Maori invaders […] came from a dense population of farmers chronologically engaged in ferocious wars, equipped with more-advanced technology and weapons, and operating under strong leadership” (Diamond, p.54). The inequality derived from this different ability to understand and control biology.

Despite its relevance and importance to understating world inequality from an environmentalist standpoint, the conflict between the Maoris and the Morioris remains just one of the countless examples offered from antiquity through today. For instance, in 1200 B.C., farmers and fishers from the Bismarck Archipelago north of New Guinea arrived on the difficult-to-reach islands in Pacific Oceans, beyond New Guinea and Melanesia; by 500 AD, they had colonized the islands. Then, in 1000 a.D., Polynesian farmers colonized New Zeeland — the group would break into two tribes, the Maori and the Moriori, who would later on collide (Diamond).

In 1500 a.D., Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil and claimed it as a territory for his country. The period also represented an ascension in arts, as numerous works, such as sculptures and cathedrals, had been completed. Books were being printed; advancements were being made in literacy and more focus was being placed on the learning process, with the opening of learning institutions; diplomatic services and approaches were gaining momentum; more inventions were being made and the first forms of copy right and patents emerged (Timeline). All these developments were however occurring in the more developed states, such as Spain, France, the Netherlands or Portugal.

Given this situation, as well as Diamond’s theory of world evolution, it could be argued that the inequality between populations felt in 1500 was due to the past understanding and abilities to manage environmental elements. As the developed peoples in Europe had managed to domesticate wild life, they were able to move up on the evolution latter and develop in terms of technologies, politics, economics and arts.

The explanation is simple — the Europeans became farmers; they enjoyed good climatic conditions, favorable geographical positioning and an adequate density of the population. All environmental forces being on their side, the Europeans grew crops and animals, gained food sufficiency and even abundance. This status quo allowed them time and finances to invest in the development of technologies. The new continent however was isolated from these resources and environmental benefits, failing as such to develop at the same pace. World inequality was as such maintained.

Diamond argues that world inequality goes hand in hand with an increasing social complexity and a material culture. Looking at global evolution for the past 13,000 years, the author states that inequality aroused whenever one population revealed a growing desire for social superiority, when they sought evolution and when they began to acquire material goods. Without gaining sufficiency from the hunting of animals and the gathering of wild plants, the peoples began to domesticate. It can then be observed how the complexity of developing societies increased and as more and more focus was being placed on the acquisition of materials goods. Then, a need for political organization became obvious.

Populations which developed from a social, economic and political standpoint would now be able to gain advantages and consolidate their superiority. This superiority, and consequently the world inequality, derived from the ability of the more developed peoples to create guns, germs and steel, in the understanding of guns as military power, germs as lethal microbes and steel as advanced technologies (Yonsei University).

4. Conclusions

Jared Mason Diamond is a reputable American writer, expert in the fields of ecology, history, physiology and environmentalist evolution. He is the author of eight books, three of which are best sellers and have transformed Diamond into the recipient of several awards. Guns, Germs, and Steel… for instance brought him a Pulitzer Prize.

The main idea in the book is that world inequality has been present since the early day of mankind existence and will continue to exist in its future as well. The author explains the apparition of inequality in terms of the peoples’ ability to comprehend and control the elements in nature. Otherwise put, he argues that the populations who were the first to domesticate animals and grow plants were also the first to read, write, create political formations and advance technologies — in short, they evolved at superior levels than those who did not domesticate wild life, creating as such a gap that is maintained through today.


Diamond, J.M., 1997, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, W.W. Norton

2009, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Barnes & Noble Website, last accessed on September 25, 2009

Guns, Germs and Steel, About the Book, Jared Diamond, PBS, accessed on September 25, 2009

Jared Diamond: Why Is the World so Unequal? Yonsei University, Retrieved from on September 26, 2009

Timeline the Sixteenth Century: 1500-1524, Timeline, last accessed on September 25, 2009

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