13 september 2010

The Origin of Inequality - Part 2

The narrative of this documentary is mostly based on the Historical research done by Jared Diamond, "Guns, Germs & Steel" (1997)

"(...) certain environments allowed for more possibilities than others, either offering the Human 'many opportunities' or either limiting him to an extreme degree.

For instance, after the time Humans firs set foot on the Australian continent some 10 000's of years ago, all big mammals that existed there, went extinct. The same happened in Native America: by the time of the arrival of humans, all big mammals -- except for the llama and the closely related alpaca -- were either hunted to extinction or perished through the climate shift.

With everything discussed so far, a pattern has now emerged. South America had just one domesticable specie, while North America, Australia, and Sub-Saharan Africa had none. In contrast the remaining 13 mammal species all existed on the Eurasian continent (including North Africa), because the natural environments there were more supportive of those species. Merely by determining the spread of these animals, the course of history already became predictable.

Obviously once a particular technique of food production had been found, that method was then able to spread to other peoples/societies -- crops and animals could be used outside of the area where the method was first 'discovered'. Though here again the environments played a decisive role.

If one look at the size and the orientation of the big landmasses of the earth, one will notice that there are differences. For instance the American and the African continents have a smaller surface than Eurasia. If we then look at the orientation of the landmasses we see that America and Africa both have a vertical orientation on the map. The vertical distance between the two remotest points of the continent is called the 'north-south axis'. Eurasia has a very broad horizontal orientation, which is termed a 'west-east axis'.

Why is this relevant? It has to do with the climate differences on the different latitudes of the Earth, such as the Equator. These latitudes run horizontally across the globe -- on maps this is depicted as horizontal strokes. This implies that on a landmass with a large horizontal axis, the longest distance of that landmass will find itself laying entirely within one latitude or climate. Hence Plants and Animals that are able to live on one area within one latitude, will most likely be able to live in other areas within that same latitude.

However with Africa and America -- because of the vertical orientations -- the landmasses are more 'divided' by different latitudes. One merely need to consider the desert on the equator in Africa, nearly 'cutting off' the upper and the lower halfs of the continent from each other. Thus different latitudes will 'cut up' the continent, making transfer of Animals and Plants along a vertical axis more difficult. Let's illustrate this with a practical example: for instance, while the llama existed as a domesticated animal in South America -- and while a type of wheel had been invented in Mexico -- the two never met. As a consequence of this, the wheel never got any practical application other than being used for small toys. The two area's were 'cut off' from each other through the climate barrier of Central America."

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