Jared Diamond: Convincing Argument, Faulty Conclusion
In his book The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond lays forth a compelling argument explaining why humans “smoke, drink, and use dangerous drugs” (192). Diamond claims that the primary reason people consume alcohol and drugs is because of an old animal instinct in which we display dangerous traits or weaknesses, paradoxically, as a means of strutting genetic superiority. While his argument is mostly sound, I have discovered flaws in its assumptions and conclusions. As I map out Diamond’s argument, I will explain as best as I can its flaws (as I see them), ultimately leading to my own conclusion: that people use drugs and alcohol not ...view middle of the document...
Upon his return from the inspirational plane flight, Diamond recalls a theory described in a paper published in 1975 by the Israeli biologist Amotz Zahavi, and relates it to his own experience with the incongruence of human alcohol and drug consumption. As Diamond describes, Zahavi’s theory can be explained as follows: a bird with a really long tail (three feet, for example) seems to be at a major disadvantage in terms of survival because of its slow speed and large, hard-to-miss-if-you’re-a-lion size. However, because the bird is alive, it shows other animals that, in order to overcome its seeming “disadvantage,” it must be superior in many other aspects. For example, the bird must be well adapted to fending off disease, escaping predators, or finding food. The same can be said of a peacock, whose large feathery display makes it quite noticeable (and slow), but the fact that it is alive speaks volumes towards its now certain assets. In essence, as Diamond notes, “the bigger the handicap, the more rigorous the test has passed” and the greater likelihood he or she will attract a mate (198).
Diamond believes this interesting paradox can be applied to human behavior as well. Indeed, human behaviors that are known to be dangerous, such as driving fast, consuming alcohol, doing drugs, and skydiving, are engaged upon on a regular basis. Why do we behave like this? Diamond believes we do so to display our ability to overcome obstacles and still survive. We show off our ability to take on risks without dying, hoping to attract mates. As with a long-tailed bird, potentially detrimental attributes and behaviors in humans may actually be used to display superiority and lead to greater odds of reproductive success.
Later on, Diamond again references his own experience to illustrate how Zahavi’s theory is alive in humankind today. Diamond mentions a young friend and biologist named Ardy Irwanto, whom he met during time spent in Indonesia. Ardy, Diamond describes, is a “kung-fu grade eight” (200). Diamond explains that kung-fu grade eights drink kerosene once a month to test their strength. Obviously, this behavior catches Diamond off guard when he first sees it, as he fears for the young man’s health. But Ardy assures him that because he is kung-fu grade eight, everything will be fine, as in fact it turns out to be.
The point is that humans, even non-Western ones who have had no exposure to things like advertisements, still participate in dangerous chemical consumption despite the obvious risks. Diamond finds this helps his theory, that human consumption of dangerous chemicals is largely due to an animal instinct we have in which we take on risks and survive, hoping to display our ability to overcome obstacles to potential mates.
While Diamond’s argument thus far is valid and makes good sense, I do not...