The Historical Process: The Views Of Jared Diamond, William Mc Neill, And Hans Zinsser

1402 words - 6 pages

When pressed with explaining the progression of human society to its current state and, more broadly, the historical process in general, one has several possible options. Three of the most compelling views, however, can be attributed to Jared Diamond, William McNeill, and Hans Zinsser. Although each offers a distinct model of how to understand chance and how history explains evolution, they all take radically different approaches. Diamond proposes that everything is explicable by a few simple laws and principles, and even goes so far as to suggest that there are no alternatives in history. McNeill argues that although there are loose, regulated principles at work, they do not dictate or explain everything; instead, he suggests that they create broad general patterns but adds that while there is pattern, there is also a fair amount of chance. Zinsser suggests simply that historians have largely disregarded disease as an agent of change. While all seem to be sound, when examining these three views on a more fundamental level, while focusing specifically on the role disease has played throughout history, it is evident that Zinsser’s stands as the most well-reasoned.
To understand why, let us first examine Diamond’s theory. Diamond, a professor of geography and physiology, offers the most deterministic point of view. He is of the opinion that history and its outcome can be easily explained by applying a few laws and principles, and accordingly that history has no alternatives. And as per Diamond’s postulation, it is indeed easy to retrospectively explain historical outcomes with these laws and principles, as evidenced by Diamond in his 1997 expository book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. In it, Diamond attempts to explain the dominance of Eurasian civilizations while discrediting the idea that their supremacy was due to any sort of inborn natural superiority. To do so, he offers eighteen factors for consideration including population density, geographical and climate conditions, and abundance of natural resources, among others. In regards to disease specifically, he suggests that Eurasian peoples increased resistance to pathogens due to biogeographic factors was a significant contributor to the history of modern civilization. In essence, Diamond’s explanation attempts to recategorize history as a hard science.
Diamond’s proposal is not without its flaws, however. While it is relatively easy to retrospectively attribute plausible causal factors to almost any event, there is no guarantee that any of these factors were the true cause. Moreover, Diamond’s simple laws and principles seem to justify the outcome of any historic event simply because they are deterministic in nature. On a moral level, this is particularly chilling when Diamond applies his laws and principles in explanation of Eurasian hegemony. Another criticism of Diamond’s view comes from John R. McNeill, son of historian William McNeill, whose own...

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