Study Questions for Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, Chapter 14
1) What was the key point (regarding conflict resolution) Diamond made
in relating the story of the Fayu tribes in
The Fayu "lacked political and social mechanisms, which we take for granted, to achieve peaceful resolution of serious disputes."
Also, during the past 13,000 years the pattern has been the spread of religion and government as tools of conquest. "government organizes the conquest, and religion...justifies it"
2) Describe a) the leadership structures and b) the systems of tribute/taxation of the various political structures. Be sure to understand the meaning of "egalitarianism" and how it related to each.
a. There are no formalized leadership structures. One becomes a leader through "personality, strength, intelligence, and fighting skills."
b. No systems of tribute/taxation.
c. Egalitarianism = "no formalized social stratification into upper and lower classes, no formalized or hereditary leadership, and no formalized monopolies in prestige and decision making." This does not mean that all members have equal prestige and power.
a. Other than leadership of kin-based clans, there are no formalized leadership structures. "Big-man" is an informal arrangement and has little power .
b. No systems of tribute/taxation. Instead, "reciprocal exchange" is the means for wealth and support redistribution.
c. Egalitarianism = similar to band. No stratification. Social differentiation invisible to outside observer.
a. Centralized governing power in the hands of hereditary chiefly class, which included generalized bureaucrats and concentration on luxury goods..
b. Chiefly class exacted tribute/taxes from commoner class (agricultural produce, labor) and redistributed it (feasts, rations, public works projects).
a. Centralized governing power, non hereditary. Well-developed, specialized bureaucrats.
b. Tax and redistribution. Varies from kleptocracy to state.
Be sure you read and fully understand the chart on pgs. 268-9.
3) What is a "kleptocracy" and why is it that commoners sometimes don't rebel against chiefs or heads of state?
A kleptocracy is a tax/tribute government in which leaders keep too much of the tribute and redistribute too little of it.
1. "Disarm the populace, and arm the elite.
2. Redistribute tribute in popular ways, "bread and circuses."
3. Monopolize "force to promote happiness, by maintaining public order and curbing violence."
4. "[C]onstruct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy." Religion provides a bond to people not related by kinship.
4) What is the "most fundamental distinction" of the state, mentioned on pg. 280?
"[S]tates are organized on political and territorial lines, not on the kinship lines that defined bands, tribes, and simple chiefdoms."
Also, states "are regularly multiethnic and multilingual," whereas bands, tribes, chiefdoms are not.
5) What are the two advantages of centralization, mentioned on pg.
1. States have a technological (including weapons) and population advantage.
2. States have centralized power which allows the concentration of resources and troops.
3. State ideology (religious and otherwise) can make "troops willing to fight suicidally."
6) Describe the "hydraulic theory" of state formation. Why
is Diamond unhappy with such an explanation?
In Mesopotamia, North China, and Mesoamerica societies constructed massive irrigation systems, which would have required a centralized bureaucracy to organize its construction and management. These systems emerged around the time that states emerged in theses areas. Historians have used these correlations to confirm their hunches. Diamond is unhappy with such an explanation because it assumes that these societies were forward thinking and knew of the benefits that the irrigation systems would provide without direct empirical evidence. Also, the hydraulic theory focuses on the "final stage in the evolution of complex societies." It does not explain what initiated the change from band to irrigated states. Irrigation systems actually pre-dated states. The Maya state had small-scale irrigation systems and never changed to large-scale even though they were a state.
7) What are three reasons that intensive agriculture led to complex
societies? (pg. 285)
1. "[S]easonally pulsed inputs of labor." After harvest, labor becomes available to centralized authority to harness.
2. Food production organized to produce food surplus that frees up portion of population for economic specialization and resulting social stratification.
3. Enhanced food production permits and requires sedentary living which allows accumulation of material possessions, development of technology.
Missionary goals of 1) pacifying nomads; 2) make them sedentary
8) Briefly summarize the 4 basic factors that made chiefdom and state
structures "inevitable" among populations with high densities.
1. "[P]roblem of conflict with unrelated strangers."
2. "[G]rowing impossibility of communal decision making with increasing population size."
3. Large population size precludes efficient reciprocal exchange and requires a blend of redistributive economy and reciprocal exchange.
4. High population densities make the distribution and organization of a multitude of band territories impossible.
9) Do you agree? Can you imagine the
10) What are the two ways in which "amalgamation" (small
units coming together to create bigger and more complex political
"[B]y merger under the threat of external force, or by actual conquest."
11) Give examples of each.
~Cherokee: Merger under threat of external force.