In his discussion with Jared Diamond, Yali commented on the differing “lifestyles” between white colonists and native New Guineans. For Yali, the obvious difference was that Eurasians had more material goods than the locals and he wondered why that disparity existed. Yali’s question was based on his local observations but it can also be seen as a much larger critique on the unequal distribution of wealth and power between different peoples and cultures across the world. These inequalities have allowed some countries to conquer or control other nations and the ramifications of these differences are still seen today. Diamond argues that a prehistoric examination of why and how different civilizations developed is the best way to understand how Eurasians were able to “dominate the modern world in wealth and power.” (Diamond, 15)
Many academics have tried to answer Yali’s question and explain the rise of a powerful Eurasia in the 16thcentury and its ability to control or exterminate peoples in other parts of the world through European colonization. I think that it’s less important to determine who wants to address this question but rather look at how they might determine their answers and the consequences of their assumptions. Scientists, for example, have asserted that differences between Europeans and others may be based in biology. The problem with this approach is that it says some groups are genetically superior to others; i.e., white Europeans are biologically more intelligent than those of African descent. The genetic approach that societies advanced differently because of inherent biological differences found between the populations is not only racist, but it also ignores evidence showing that social environment and education play an overwhelming role in determining an individual’s intelligence. A historical, geographical approach will challenge this biological argument and reveal that environmental factors have given advantage to some societies over others.