Human rights

Jared Diamond, Imperialist?

A human rights worker takes on The World Until Yesterday


Stephen Corry is the director of Survival International, a human rights group that specializes in issues involving indigenous people. He has written a long, thoughtful critique of Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday, a book that presents itself as an appreciation of tribal wisdom but by Corry's account recycles a lot of imperial myths. In particular, Corry complains, Diamond takes the paternalistic position that "'traditional' societies do nasty things which cry out for the intervention of state governments to stop."

An excerpt from Corry's response:

Not an illustration from THE WORLD UNTIL YESTERDAY.

The fanciful assertion that nation states lessen [violence] is unlikely to convince a Russian or Chinese dissident, or Tibetan. It will not be very persuasive either to West Papuan tribes, where the Indonesian invasion and occupation has been responsible for a guessed 100,000 killings at least (no one will ever know the actual number), and where state-­sponsored torture can now be viewed on YouTube. The state is responsible for killing more tribespeople in West Papua than anywhere else in the world.

Although his book is rooted in New Guinea, not only does Diamond fail to mention Indonesian atrocities, he actually writes of "the continued low level of violence in Indonesian New Guinea under maintained rigorous government control there." This is a breathtaking denial of brutal state-sponsored repression waged on little armed tribespeople for decades.

Read the rest here.

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  1. TOP. MEN.

    It’s the fallacious reasoning that order automatically equals peace. It’s the naive notion that people placed in power with the sincerest of good intentions will always have your best interest in mind.

    TOP. MEN.

  2. Jared Diamond defines “aggressively wrong.” He’s leftist boob bait.

  3. My first thought when I saw the headline was those stupid “He went to Jared” commercials.

  4. The state is what facilitates gamboling.

    1. -1 hunter gatherer

      1. -100,000 hunter gatherers in Indonesia

  5. Ah, but you see, Papua is an East- West running island without indigenous domestic animals, while Manhattan runs North-South and there is no shortage of protein because of all the pigeons.

    1. Ideas, newsletter, etc.

    2. I see you’ve read Guns and Steel:)

  6. You know, the tapestry of human history is so varied that I am sure if one looks long enough, one can come across instances where professional soldiers reduced the mayhem in some local fight between indigenous peoples.

    It’s just not that meaningful. Human nature is pretty constant, and the 20th century is rife with examples of how civilized peoples can go completely off the rails.

    1. Well, there was the Pax Romana, which suppressed quite a lot of local feuds while it lasted. Of course, the Romans also conscripted a bunch of troops from lands they occupied and wasted their lives fighting over who’d rule the empire from time to time..


      1. Romans were very successful in ending local barbarian feuds because they were quite willing to end the barbarians themselves. Ultimately, the northern barbarians simply upgraded their military game and became too numerous for the Romans to handle.

  7. I thought there were some nuggets of value in Guns, Germs, and Steel, but the stink of lefty multi-culti paternalism was all over it. When he just couldn’t help himself from saying that the New Guinea tribesmen were “at least as” intelligent as white folk, well, this latest offering seems the logical next step in the twisted multi-culti world he inhabits.

    1. I agree with your assessment, RC. I haven’t read anything else of his since as a result.

    2. That he managed to miss “the concept of political freedom” as a big reason why the West became dominant pretty much told me what I needed to know about GG&S, and Diamond in general.

  8. “The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?”

    How not to get stuck in a pre-neolithic backwards ass primitivism?


  9. Wow, big news!! “Primitive people act like dicks and kill each other. Modern people act like dicks and kill each other.” Sure modern people have better weapons, but its still fun to watch both sides argue over which level of human development leads to the highest rate of dickish behavior.

  10. Funny that the primary motivation for JD’s career = proving he wasn’t another rich white ‘eurocentric’ educated racist meanie and now he’s being accused of it. c’mon! what does a fella gotta do to make the common people love him?

  11. The state is responsible for killing more tribespeople in West Papua than anywhere else in the world.

    To be fair, there aren’t that many West Papuan tribespeople in Europe so, understandably, most of them would have to be killed in West Papua.

    Or is this sentence implying that Indonesia is on a global hunt for indigenous people but just happens to get most of its work done closer to home?

  12. I give you…….DRONES!

    *mic drop*

  13. The fatal flaw in any argument that says strong states are necessary to reign in violence is it ignores, as Dennis the anarcho-syndicalist would say, the “violence inherent in the system.” Fines, imprisonment, rules and regulations, all backed up with the implicit threat of violence. That’s Diamond’s blind spot. It’s Pinker’s blind spot. It’s former anarcho-capitalist and current squishy libertarian Michael Shermer’s blind spot.

    It’s a flaw that stands even if all their (debatable) statistics about the alleged violence of hunter-gather societies are true. It’s a flaw that doesn’t even take into account the state’s murder of millions in just the 20th century, or those who die from hunger, disease and privation because of reckless or, sometimes, deliberate state policies.

    Now it might well be that our lot is so unlucky that having a state is better than not having one. But Diamond, Pinker and Shermer aren’t even close to getting their inputs right. It’s not so easy as, “Ooh, look! Everywhere there’s a strong state, the murder rate goes down!” Not by a long shot.

  14. What bothers me the most is the idea that “primitive” people, including American Indians, have been killing each other like it was going out of style. This doesn’t pass the smell test; if they had, they’d have gone extinct thousands of years ago. Obviously most of their warfare has been more symbolic than blood thirsty. But this won’t support his interventionist agenda, so he doesn’t mention it, if he even thinks about it at all.

    1. Scarecrow Repair| 2.4.13 @ 2:39PM |#

      What bothers me the most is the idea that “primitive” people, including American Indians, have been killing each other like it was going out of style. This doesn’t pass the smell test; if they had, they’d have gone extinct thousands of years ago.

      Interesting theory, but no – it simply kept their respective populations in check such that they didn’t outstrip the natural resources around them in one generation.

      I’m not making a case for the “bloodthirsty savage” alternative to the “noble and pure” one promulgated by progtards, just pointing out that pre-colonial ‘indian’ (read: indigenous natives) tribes weren’t all singing kumbaya and dancing to the Great Spirit while engaging in their All Organic diets. The nomadic tribes waged wars on a near- constant basis, and routinely massacred their neighbors and kidnapped their women. Frankly, I think its par for the course for human history. Not holding anything against them.

  15. I love to see white people who believe themselves to be Champions of the ‘underclasses’ or ‘minorities’ tear each other apart for respective perceived failures to be submissive or constantly wracked with guilt for the injustices committed by the White Man and their Modern Institutions. Its so fucking funny. It should be a sport.

  16. On February 4 2013 Jared Diamond was interviewed on BBC TV about his new book ‘The World Until Yesterday’. He would not agree to a Survival International representative being there to debate his points.

    During the interview, he addressed Stephen Corry’s critique, claiming that Survival’s policies rest on ‘falsehoods’, and that the universal finding is that violence almost always decreases when there’s European contact of ‘traditional’ societies.

    Please visit to see more of Mr Diamond’s claims, and Survival’s response to them.

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