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No Rousseauian fantasies and not a long tale of progress
on 23 July 2009
Jared Diamond's hard-hitting book paints a hyper-realistic and thorough picture of the place of mankind in the Darwinian evolution, of its tiny genetic, but huge `intellectual' differences with apes, of the deep animal roots of its behavior and of the evolutionary trade-offs explaining biological imperfections.
His book is divided in five parts.
Part one discusses the ascent of man and the great leap forward in the Darwinian evolution due to skeletal changes, upright walking and the use of tools.
Part two gives a full picture of man's life cycle: a limited number of offspring, parental care, mating selection with conception as only a by-product of copulation, social relations and life expectancy (slow aging).
Together with `normal' animal behavior like rape, infanticide, intergroup warfare or adultery, mankind has some unique characteristics like the menopause of women and the treatment of the latter through asymmetric adultery laws or genital mutilations.
Part three analyzes man's cultural traits, In the first place, the ascent of agriculture and its most important concomitant characteristics, like demographic explosions, rampant malnutrition, gross social and sexual inequalities, epidemic diseases and political dictatorships; also, language, art and technology.
Part four treats a unique and destructive feature of mankind: xenophobic killing of other human groups en masse, mostly in fighting for lebensraum. Man's arsenal of nuclear weapons can wipe out all living things on earth.
Part five analyzes man's assault on the environment (e.g., the self-destructive chemical abuse) and his mass extermination of other living species, on which depends his own survival.
Despite his pessimistic vision, Jared Diamond remains still cautiously optimistic because man has the power to find solutions for the actual dire state of the planet he lives on.
This book is a must read for all those who want to know who we are and in what kind of world we are actually living.