The purpose of a human is to adapt and survive in their surroundings. I agree with Jared Diamond’s theory about social inequality in that the reason that some people thrive while others survive is because of the resources around them. In a place where there are a higher yield of resources, these people will thrive and grow exponentially while in other cultures with less raw materials to work with will spend all of their time trying to survive. This does not mean that one culture is better than another, just that they have adapted differently to their surroundings. Three main resources that allowed other cultures to adapt better than others are fertile lands, the domestication of plants, and the domestication of animals. Two cultures that are easily comparable in these regards are Ancient Egypt and the !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert.
Diamond states that the reason that some cultures have more resources than others which produces more material items is because of geography. While he is specifically talking about New Guinea and the United States, we can also apply these to other cultures like Ancient Egypt and the !Kung. During the time of the ancient Egyptians, they were living in a very fertile area. Their civilization was blessed with the abundant water source of the Nile river which also brought very productive silt down from Ethiopia (Goldschmidt 11). The river also allowed them to travel to different places so not only were they able to spread their ideas and culture, they had the ability to take on new traditions, habits, and gain new resources by introducing themselves to new environments and peoples. Regular flooding not only enhanced food production but it allowed the people to be isolated from other people predators (Goldschmidt 11). While the climate has a very wide range, from 57 degrees Fahrenheit to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, most people consider this climate to be advantageous. Egypt was also known for their abundance of natural mineral resources like copper, silver, and gold. This allowed Egyptians to start producing weaponry that was more technologically advanced than just bows and arrows. With this advantage they were not only able to hunt better but were able to capture and colonize other societies in order to expand their kingdom. They also had an abundance of limestone and sand which aided in construction (Goldschmidt 8). With the ability to construct houses they were able to protect themselves from weather elements and were better able to survive. However, not only did they protect themselves, but they were able to protect and store their food resources from the weather and insects. The advantages of their geography allowed them to increase their population which gave them time to do other things like advance their technology. They were able to focus their time on constructing massive pyramids and creating their religion. Their geography not only allowed them to increase their population from the inside but also from the outside as they captured other people and created their social hierarchy. The !Kung people however, did not have the same advantages as the Ancient Egyptians. The area they are located in, the Kalahari Desert, is an arid region with mostly brush and grass (Shostak). There was no stable water source to sustain them staying in one place so they became and still are a semi-mobile people. The only water source the ones they find and use until they dry up and the rain which is between five to forty inches. They also had a large range of temperature, from well below freezing to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, because of certain circumstances like lack of permanent shelter and lack of resources, this was considered to be a harsh environment. The !Kungs geography did not allow them to focus their time on any thing other than producing and finding enough food for themselves, a vast difference from the Egyptians abundance.
A key factor that affected whether or not a group of people was able to become a civilization and become more advanced than other people is the domestication of plants with agriculture (Diamond). Food is a basic necessity of life and having a stable food source allows people to settle down and focus their energy on other needs and wants. The development of farming made it so that people were able to spend less of their time on finding food and more of their time enhancing other aspects of their lives. Ancient Egyptians, because of their fertile geography, were able to cultivate the land into producing massive amounts of food. The Nile, with its constant flooding, deposited nutrients that replenished the soil (Naylor 17). These nutrients allowed them to domesticate plants like barley and other cereal plants that became staples in their diet. Other domesticated crops included a variety of vegetables like onions, garlic, leeks, lettuce, radishes, choriander, cabbages, cucumbers, watermelons, melons, and peas (Arkenberg). While these were a little harder to maintain because they had to be watered reguarly, they also provided the Egyptians with variety of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that they otherwise would not have had. They also learned how to harness the water power of the Nile to irrigate their crops (Goldschmidt 15). Not only were they able to produce more food with the integration of farming into their lifestyles but because they were able to also form architectural buildings, they were able to store many of the cereal crops for long periods of time. With all of these things combined they were able to get out of the hunting and gathering lifestyle which before had taken up all of their daily lives and move to a lifestyle that was more permanent. Having a permanent lifestyle allowed them to expand on other technologies like language, writing, ect. The !Kung do not have the fortune of being able to domesticate plants and instead rely on the gathering of native wild plants that are near to where they happen to be setting up camp. Plants that they cultivate include mongongo nuts, baobab fruits, water roots, bitter melon, or !Gwa berries (Shostak). The mongongo nut makes up 50% of their vegetation diet due to it being the most abundant of the plants, though there still isn’t very much of it. Even as we talk about what the !Kung people gather in their plant resources, all of these resources are very scarce and the women of the band of people spend days trying to find enough to meet the needs of the rest of their people. Finding these resources is a time consuming job that does not allow them to focus their energy on less important things. This hinders them in their ability to advance technologically and thus puts them in the area of being socially unequal.
Finally, the last thing that Diamond believes contributes to social inequality is the domestication of animals. By domesticating animals, people are able to both produce more food and severely decrease the amount of manual labor they must do in their every day lives. In ancient Egypt the domestication of animals allowed them to focus on many things. The Egyptians were able to domesticate animals like donkeys, cattle, sheep, and goats (Goldschmidt 15). By domesticating things like cattle and goats, they were able to get both meat and milk. The adding of milk to their diet was important because like farming, where one plant will yield multiple crops, a goat or a cow will keep giving milk; it is a renewable resource. These domesticated animals not only were used as a resource by themselves but they also helped with domesticating plants. Donkeys and cattle allowed them to cultivate their crops much more easily because they could be used as burden animals. They also could be used to graze the left over harvest from that current crop load and their manure was another way to fertilize the land. This cut down the amount of time that people had to spend collecting crops and allowed that time to be spent else where. Finally, sheep were a good domesticated animal because they provided the basics, meat, but also wool. This allowed people to make more comfortable clothes and is an example of a technological advancement that they were able to accomplish due to spending less time finding food. Besides domesticated animals, living so close to a vital water source made it easier to hunt wild animals. Not only would the water source bring many wild animals but it allowed Egyptians to also fish. With these technological advancements they were able to cut down practically all of the time that they needed to spend on finding enough food to support their civilization. However, because the Egyptians were so powerful they had not only fathered a civilization but they also had enslaved people creating a social hierarchy. This hierarchy made it so that the higher classes didn’t even have to worry about finding food. The !Kung people had no animals to domesticate. There were hardly any animals around to even hunt. !Kung men had to travel sometimes great distances to hunt things like wildebeest, gemsbok, giraffe, various reptiles, and birds. When they did find these animals, every part of it was used for something, whether it was the hide for blankets or the bones for marrow (Shostak). Nothing is wasted in the !Kung community. Their quest for wild game is time consuming and often produces very little meat compared to the ancient Egyptians domesticated animals. While the ancient Egyptian culture was able to spend time on moving forward with their technology, the !Kung have been unable to move forward because they have to spend their time hunting.
Fertile geography, domestication of plants, and the domestication of animals are the building blocks of creating a society that will advance socially, culturally, and technologically. There is a vast social inequality when comparing a civilization that has these three things to one that does not. This is because food is peoples primary concern and without these three things, it takes a lot of time and energy to produce enough. If a group of people is in an area that does not have fertile geography, like the !Kung, there is not going to be enough food for them to expand and start focusing on advancing. The reason that countries like the United States is able to stay ahead in the social, cultural, and technological areas is because they have things like domesticated animals, fields of crops, and fertile soil. Most people do not have to worry about foraging and hunting for their food. This is important anthropologically because it allows anthropologists to see why some groups are ahead of others in certain things. This is not saying that one group is better than another. It just means that people adapt to their surroundings in different ways the best they can. People make the most out of what they have and when there isn’t much, anthropology shows that these societies do not become as advanced as others. This is why there is social inequalities, because no place has the same geography or resources so no place is going to adapt in the same way.
Arkenberg, J. S. “Plants Divine, Wild and Domestic.” Ancient Egyptian Plants: Introduction. Dept. of History, Cal. State, 2002. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/botany/index.html>.
Goldschmidt, Arthur. Brief History Of Egypt. n.p.: Facts on File, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 20 Nov. 2012.
Naylor, Phillip Chiviges. North Africa : A History From Antiquity To The Present. n.p.: University of Texas Press, 2009. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 20 Nov. 2012.
Shostak, M. “The !Kung of the Kalahari Desert.” The !Kung of the Kalahari Desert. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://www.ucc.uconn.edu/~epsadm03/kung.html>.