The Masters of the Future

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond argues that all human groups have equal mental capabilities – except for the inhabitants of New Guinea, who are clearly smarter than the human norm.

If this is the case, there’s money to be made.  Good performance in a lot of high-paying jobs requires intelligence above some fairly high threshold.  Such people are scarce [outside of New Guinea], and that means that their labor is expensive.   The fraction of individuals above a high threshold increases dramatically with a higher mean, and since people in PNG don’t have high incomes, there is a fantastic arbitrage opportunity here. You could locate some of the many geniuses that must exist in PNG,  rapidly and inexpensively teach them high-tech skills (which they would learn easily, since they’re geniuses, natch),  apply for H1B visas, and them resell them to the highest Silicon Valley bidder. This wouldn’t last, of course – these guys would not stay peons forever. They’d be generating their own start-ups in a few years, founding hedge funds, dominating the Vegas poker tournaments,  etc.  Some, less materialistic, would become grandmasters, win Fields medals, or write seminal books about the attractions of cannibalism.  Still, you could make a lot of money in the short run, and if you were careful to build good relationships with your employees, they might let you in on the ground floor of an IPO later.

Poul Anderson, always a visionary, foresaw this.  A character in one his books put it thusly:” I am a racist – a dedicated, fanatical racist – who maintains, and can scientifically prove, that his own race is inferior. The only true humans on earth, my friends, the main line of evolution, the masters of the future, are the lordly Melanesians. ”

Of course that character was feigning insanity, but still.

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82 Responses to The Masters of the Future

  1. First in with the required joke that others will immediately think of:

    “I, for one, welcome our new melanesian overlords.” The origin of the phrase is 1977, BTW, not Kent Brockman in The Simpsons.

  2. reiner Tor says:

    A couple of years ago I had an online conversation with someone who proposed that I read Diamond’s book. I pointed out to him that I had already read the book, and I mentioned Diamond’s statement regarding superior New Guinean intelligence as a sign of his insincerity. At this point my conversation partner flatly denied that Diamond ever stated that, and demanded a page number. Which in turn lead me to doubt my conversation partner’s sincerity, so I stopped the conversation.

    When I was reading Diamond’s book some eight years ago, I was as much of an anti-racist as one ever gets, yet this odd New Guinean intelligence thing immediately grabbed my attention. I very much doubt anyone can read the book and then not remember Diamond’s musings on the New Guineans’ supposed superior intelligence. (Not that my stupid eight-year-ago self found it implausible. I thought it was a counter-intuitive hypothesis but that it could very well be true.)

    • Insincerity may be harsh, at least for your conv partner. It usually takes an accumulation of crap before the mind revolts and says “wait a minute, that just makes no sense.” Unless it is an issue we are especially alert about, we usually just store stuff in some Miscellaneous Odd Facts file.

      • reiner Tor says:

        Of course. But someone who has read the book, advocates reading a book, states that he has a copy on his bookshelf, and is not aware of Diamond having made that statement seems disingenuous. My problem was not with his beliefs (as I already mentioned, I used to hold those beliefs myself), but with the debating tactic.

    • panjoomby says:

      Diamond’s damnably anti-scientific statements condemning a century of psychometric research with his data-less musings on New Guinea intelligence (b/c he knew a smart one) are on pp 19 – 21 of my 1999 Norton Paperback Ed. I would throw the execrable book out, but I wrote comments all over pp 13 – 22 & i like my comments!

      • reiner Tor says:

        At the time I was reading it, I was unaware (just like, no doubt, millions of other readers were and still are) that there was a huge body of psychometric research on the subject (PNG vs. white IQ). Later on, when I found out that such research did in fact exist, and had existed long before Diamond ever started writing his book, it made me feel a little bit cheated.

        Regarding his smart friend, I’m also not so sure he really was that smart. After all, he asked a question that even schoolchildren manage to ask, but that’s not in and of itself a sign of supreme intelligence. And his answer to that question was that whites have better magic. Is that an intelligent answer? I guess Diamond was willing to give more elaborate explanations to his friend, who was either unwilling or unable to understand.

      • Huge body of psychometric research?! Other than a few Piagetian studies, there’s nothing.

      • reiner Tor says:

        @elijahlarmstrong: You’re correct, in the sense that the huge body of research deals with HBD in general, not PNG vs. white.

      • reiner Tor says:

        But still. I mean, Diamond writes a book to prove something (namely the lack of HBD in terms of IQ, behavior, and related), and doesn’t even mention that there is research on that, and everything that we have points in the opposite direction of his thesis.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “When I was reading Diamond’s book some eight years ago, I was as much of an anti-racist as one ever gets, yet this odd New Guinean intelligence thing immediately grabbed my attention.”

      It was a pebble in the shoe for me. There was something very odd about him writing that.

  3. Robert in Arabia says:

    It is about time we all submitted to our natural masters.

  4. dearieme says:

    It’s not the only odd thing in that book. If I remember aright, Diamond dismisses all notion that Europeans “discovered” or “explored” anywhere, and then makes a considerable fuss about his own explorations, which would appear to have consisted of a little pootling about in PNG.

  5. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    This argument seems isomorphic with the following one:

    If women received 77 cents in the dollar for the same work as men, then some (or many) innovative entrepreneur(s) could make a killing by organizing an all-female company or companies to compete with those that mostly employ only males.

    I think you are gonna be called a sexist troglodyte.

    • peppermint says:

      …or, someone could split the difference and poach the best women, reducing their labor costs while getting higher-quality labor. This is what I say to leftists. They reply ‘muh glass ceiling, misogynist’.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are a number of American companies operating in Korea who specifically recruit women because their labor is so underpriced there. I doubt you could do the same thing in the US, though you probably could have in 1970.

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        What field to they operate in?

        For example, I have not noted a lot of Korean women in Silicon Valley companies.

        I have also not noted a lot of white women in the tech heavy ends of Silicon Valley companies. The women that are there tend to be Chinese and Indian, and they tend to be heavily concentrated in QA. However, in the really tech heavy stuff, there are some Chinese and Indian women.

        Still, males predominate.

      • Steven says:

        In fact, in Alan Greenspan’s memoir (“The Age of Turbulence”), he states that he ran an economic consulting firm in the late 1960s and that all five of his vice presidents were women. He says some people assumed that this was some kind of feminist statement on his part, but that he was simply looking for the best economists he could find at the salary he wished to pay, and that since he was one of the few not interested in paying a maleness premium at the time, he consequently hired women.

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        An interesting aspect of that paper is that it uses the word bigotry nine times in clear reference to Korean cultural practices (although some of them are simply to ‘bigotry’ per se.)

        I thought sociologists and other such people were of the opinion that no culture, other than the US, could be criticized. (As a further aside, they seem unaware that there are separate, but overlapping, male and female cultures among all ethnic groups I am aware of.)

        However, since there are no laws in the US mandating what people should be paid for certain work, it remains unclear to me why an all-female organization could not be created that would capitalize on the claimed differential in male and female wages. Since there would be no males in that organization, they could not base any discrimination lawsuits on unequal treatment …

      • goodspeed says:

        Interesting tidbit about women in Silicon Valley:
        “Women in Silicon Valley earn only 49 cents to a man’s dollar.

        That’s far worse than the national wage gap, estimated at 78 cents to a dollar. In fact, Silicon Valley’s income inequality is dramatically worse than the wage gap nationally in 1967, and even in 1950, when women earned 58 cents to a man’s dollar…”

  6. Bitter Bierce says:

    Diamond’s probably just peddling mental poison to his enemies, but he and his ilk also might have enough foresight to see that genetic engineering will make yesterday’s losers tomorrow’s winners and are preparing by humbling themselves.

    And you can ignore it all you want, but those losers have a score to settle. Some of the braver ones have said so. I’m not mind-reading. If Louis CK is right, we can look forward to being sodomized until the end of time.

  7. Jaim Jota says:

    Mobeta sapos man bilong save tok pisin. (Better you start learning tok-pisin).

  8. Ada Mantis says:

    In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond argues that all human groups have equal mental capabilities – except for the inhabitants of New Guinea, who are clearly smarter than the human norm.

    If this is the case, there’s money to be made.

    And if that isn’t the case, there’s money to be made. He’s not called Diamond for nothing.

  9. aisaac says:

    But you’re forgetting about the mighty and terrible power of white privilege, which would guarantee that PNG folks would stay oppressed at the bottom. I heard on NPR the other day that the reason blacks are underrepresented in science is that they’re not part of social networks involving scientists. It was never mentioned that Asians were Jew were once in the same situation yet somehow managed to succeed. But I have a hunch that white privilege would work on PNGians.

  10. dave chamberlin says:

    Jared Diamond was a man of his times. I was full of hopeful BS that we were all equal back when he wrote his still excellent book “Guns Germs and Steel.” What worries me a lot more than silly idealists wishing we were all equal is a almost complete lack of reporting about how fast a lot of desperately poor countries are unraveling. The professional class is leaving as fast as it can, the population is still increasing, and chaos is increasing. We don’t have any reporters like Cochran telling us with any analysis what so ever what is going on. Maybe he can start another blog called the “Worsening Shithole Report” and keep us informed.

    • People aren’t very interested in those countries. I’ve done some blogging on current affairs and people read most about their own country, then about the West in general. You start writing about how Libya’s oil exports are down to 250,000 b/d from 1.5 million b/d pre-war because of groups (never specified in the Reuters reports, perhaps tribes or clans) shutting down ports and pipelines as they presumably squabble over the wealth from that oil, you get few takers. Libya’s also a 24/7 arms bazaar and is destabilizing parts of North Africa.

      But it does not interest very many people.

    • And Reuters itself is only reporting on Libya because because of the threat of oil not being delivered to Europe. Over in Darfur, things are getting bad again, but there’s no oil there so the only reporting is by non-profit Western-aided outfits like Radio Dabanga. Interest level = total zero.

  11. baloocartoons says:

    If there was such a thing as a Reverse Nobel Prize, Diamond should be the first recipient. I’ve reblogged this and riffed on it here:

  12. Omar says:

    I have read Guns, Germs and Steel, and Diamond’s argument on this point is not what it is made out to be in this comment thread. What I understood from what he wrote was not that New Guinean were the most intelligent. It makes sense that they certainly are the most intelligent in their environment. And of course, they will most certainly not do well in an IQ test compared to other people who have greater exposure to modern technology. But measuring their mental capacity or intelligence in an IQ test would be as informative as judging Greg Cochran’s intelligence by how long he survives in the New Guinean jungle without any modern equipment. Diamond was illustrating this kind of error of using a metric to gauge a group’s mental capacity that is more suited in a different environment.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Since I happen to have the passage in front of me, you wouldn’t mind betting a few thousand bucks on that, would you?

    • gcochran9 says:

      You’re wrong. Diamond is quite explicit, even speculates on the evolutionary process that made Europeans so much dumber. Every word is utter horseshit, of course.

      The idea that there’s more than one metric is also wrong, of course. What counts are the abilities that pay off in Western machine civilization – the civilization that we all live in today, whether we like it or not. You may be better at tracking, but that won’t stop a bulldozer.

      And since I have my own personal copy of Castaway’s Baedeker, I am better prepared for the New Guinea jungle than most.

    • reiner Tor says:

      “measuring their mental capacity or intelligence in an IQ test would be as informative as judging Greg Cochran’s intelligence by how long he survives in the New Guinean jungle without any modern equipment.”

      The only time my IQ was officially measured, it was measured at 148, which is well above average. Nevertheless, i never considered myself street smart, so i might accept the proposition that i wouldn’t survive in PNG. (I would in no case survive b/c of my immune system.) Still, this would only mean that there are two separate skill groups, one for the jungle, and another for civilization.

      Then the statement “PNGns are less intelligent than Euros” would be changed to “Westerners have better civ mental skills, but PNG people have better jungle mental skills”. That would change exactly nothing about the statement “their worse school perf is due to innate, genetic differences”.

    • Toad says:

      “judging Greg Cochran’s intelligence by how long he survives in the New Guinean jungle without any modern equipment.”

      Why don’t we get to use modern equipment?
      There are a group of westeners living in the jungle of New Guinea right now. Their jungle survival skills seem to be adequate. He are some pictures of their camp in the jungle:

      Port Moresby – Photo Gallery

      Most of the population of Europe lives in the middle of a vast primeval forest (less obvious because some of the trees were removed for farming), and seem able to cope.

      Now, take away the Melanesian’s flint axe and give him a stone chopper. He would have no idea what to do.

  13. ironrailsironweights says:

    From (an admittedly old) review of Port Moresby airport at

    “Stymied by interminable delays in internal connecting flights the family (fretting wife, two wide-eyed youngsters) and I spent several hours in what has to be the least sanitary and most unsavoury terminal one could ever have the misfortune to be “holed up” in (this is the only expression that really fits)!
    Here’s some sense of what we faced: no air-conditioning (in the world’s hottest capital), no food outlet, no running water, blocked toilets, carpeting that was bedraggled and flea-ridden, very smelly in-transit customers (us included), non-existent passenger support/information services, a pack of “predators” stationed right outside the terminal waiting to fleece, rob or murder the uninitiated and/or unsuspected tourist/business traveller.


  14. Jaim Jota says:

    Diamand writes: “From the very beginning of my work with New Guineans, they impressed me as being on the average more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is.”

    I had similar experience when I started teaching: Some students were providing bright answers, participating in class debates, etc. I did classify them as very intelligent. Yet their writen exams they were revealed as infantile, ignorant and dumb. It is difficult to estimate IQ through personal verbal contact without some objective artifact. Diamand talks about his impression and goes on qualifying it saying that New Guineans fail miserably when measured by Western standards. His mistake is equating “impression of intelligence” (alertness, curiosity, etc.) with “intelligence” (as measured by the IQ test). However, I concede that it may not have been a mistake, but a (well-intentioned) intent to confuse the issue of intelligence.

    • IC says:

      East Asians are exactly opposite of New Guineans here. This is evidence of level I (impression of intelligence) and level II (the ability to solve problems) as proposed by Arthur Jensen and confirmed by Rushton.

      “Jensen’s interest in learning differences directed him to the extensive testing of school children. The results led him to distinguish between two separate types of learning ability. Level I, or associative learning, may be defined as retention of input and rote memorization of simple facts and skills. Level II, or conceptual learning, is roughly equivalent to the ability to manipulate and transform inputs, that is, the ability to solve problems. ”

      Well, Geeks are good at level II bad at level I. So are often insulted by Street smart guys good at level I.

  15. Kit says:

    What book is that Poul Anderson quote from?

  16. Jim says:

    Surviving in a tropical jungle is not the real test. Throw him into the Arctic tundra.

  17. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda says:

    >>> That hiring policy would have more force as an example if Greenspan weren’t a loon

    How many people have written ==you== a check because they value your economic advice…. enough to pay for it?

  18. rnc says:

    Are there any examples of hunter-gatherer groups who have managed to assimilate successfully into modern societies? Or even stories of successful individuals with hunter-gatherer ancestry?

  19. dave chamberlin says:

    Jared Diamond wrote on page 285 in his book “Collapse” that New Guineans are “more curious and experimental than any other people” As proof he offers a story of how they did not know how to use a pencil and instead use it as “a plug through the pierced nasal septum.” I thought his book “Collapse” sadly delusional about a very important and serious subject. We can’t fix a problem if we don’t identify it and Diamond is dead set against any possibility that societies thrive or struggle because of variation in intelligence. It is a racist thought, period. So I guess we are all supposed to play make believe while third world countries continue to go down the toilet. It’s over population, its oppression by the super powers, it’s bad government, it’s anything and everything but it cannot be that one idea that can’t be mentioned, that the people in these rapidly deteriorating countries are not smart enough to operate a modern society. It is a lot of variables but to pretend human intelligence isn’t a factor seems ridiculous to me. I don’t mind head up their ass idealists most of the time, but in this particular case human misery on a scale we can’t imagine is probable because we refuse to identify the cause. As a thought experiment ask yourself what is going to happen to african countries if X number of years from now genetic engineering is offered to the next generation that raises IQ twenty points. I see little doubt that the human misery that is griping that continent would be greatly diminished. But of course I’m just a mean old racist to even mention this taboo subject, but the do gooders, the naive idealists, will just let the problem get worse and worse.

  20. Ralph Hitchens says:

    Omar has it right. Diamond was commenting on the fact that residents of PNG were just as smart about the environment in which they lived as we Westerners are about our own environment. And the theme of the book — to which he linked the PNG example — was that geography and the flora and fauna of various regions was a major determinant of the complexity of societies, along with their relative ability to exert dominance at great distances. Diamond is a quirky guy who demonstrated as much ability as anyone else to run an argument off the rails (proven in other books) but this is one argument that I think he got pretty much right. Made sense when he wrote it and still makes a lot of sense.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You’re wrong. Did you actually read the book?

      ” From the very beginning of my work with New Guineans, they impressed me as being on the average more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is. ”

      ” It’s easy to recognize two reasons why my impression that New Guineans are smarter than westerners may be correct”

      ” That is, in mental ability New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners [my emphasis] ”

      Diamond is crystal clear: he thinks people in New Guinea are innately smarter.

      I rather doubt that. For example, male cranial capacity in New Guinea is low, around 1270.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        Cranial capacity? This question is briefly addressed by Lewis et al. (2011):

        […] cranial capacity variation in human populations appears to be largely a function of climate, so, for example, the full range of average capacities is seen in Native American groups, as they historically occupied the full range of latitudes.>/i>

        The majestic heads of the Patagones did not prevent Charles Darwin calling them “the most miserable race on Earth.” They dropped out of the “Masters of the Future” contest, being extinguished as soon as they met Europeans.

      • reiner Tor says:

        @j3morecharacters, it doesn’t address the problem that it’s much more difficult to be intelligent with low cranial capacity, than being dumb as a rock with high cranial capacity. It’s the question of being a strong powerlifter with 100 pounds of bodyweight vs. being weak with 230 pounds. The former is impossible, the latter is possible, in fact, most 230 pound people are not remarkably strong.

        If you believe in evolution (or, for that matter, Intelligent Design) you should believe that since brain tissue is probably the most expensive tissue in our body, it must serve some very important function to justify that. I.e. this should mean that larger brains should be ceteris paribus more intelligent. On the other hand, if you believe not in Intelligent, but in Stupid Design, than of course it’s possible that brain size contributes nothing to intelligence.

  21. Jim says:

    It’s not just the variation of g that is important but also other tempermental and personality traits that all probably have some degree of genetic variation. I doubt that effective mass-scale genetic engineering is just around the corner. These phenomena are very complicated. Fifty years ago people thought that effective social engineering was just around the corner.

  22. panjoomby says:

    nobody’s arguing that different peoples are not a good solution for their own environments. however, there is a vast amount of decades of psychometrics literature in which certain points become quite clear (no matter how non-PC). diamond rejected tons of data, then made his own conjectures based on no data. in doing so he made errors of logic (many in a just a few pages): it’s PC/OK to assume PNG’s are smarter (but it’s of course racist to assume the reverse). It’s okay to accept a PC belief without data. It’s okay to dismiss data as ill intentioned if it’s on the other side. it’s okay to throw out occam’s razor if you wax eloquently enough, etc. there is much respectable research on (lack of) test bias, “g,” mean population differences, etc. he pretended it was all bad & that his mere subjective impressions are much more worthy of our consideration.

  23. Man Mountain Molehill says:

    Guns Germs and Steel is just another piece of stylish west bashing. It’s obvious from the introduction on just how intellectually dishonest Diamond is when he introduces his friend Yali as a “politician”. Yali is founder and proprietor of the Cargo Cult. These are the people who believe that god distributes airplanes full of cargo from heaven, and that the west steals their share. The way to attract cargo is to build a bamboo airport in the jungle. Very intelligent.

    -Guns: The Chinese had guns, but never figured out how to make effective use of them. Also, if Sun Tzu is such a brilliant military strategist, how often have the Chinese defeated a western army?
    -Germs: The most deadly plagues in history originated in China. Africa is full of deadly diseases. Without sophisticated western medicine the average survival of westerners in Africa was measured in weeks. Europe is not some sort of wellhead of highly infectious diseases, Europeans happened to be the people who explored the world, and introduced isolated primitives to various germs. Isolated primitive peoples are unusually sensitive to foreign pathogens.
    Steel: Everyone from the Greeks on knew sophisticated iron working. It took Europeans to do it on an industrial scale. Evil us!

    • Laban says:

      “Steel: Everyone from the Greeks on knew sophisticated iron working. It took Europeans to do it on an industrial scale.”

      Paul Kennedy in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers pointed out that eleventh-century China’s iron output was 125,000 tons a year, not surpassed by the UK til around 1830.

      • Ilya says:

        @ Laban: in 1830, population of China was in the vicinity of 400 mil, while Great Britain’s was below 25 mil. What’s your point?

  24. Ilya says:

    Oh ok, 11th century. Still, according to Wikipedia, China’s population size during 11th century was around 50 mil ( England+Wales+Scotland (i.e. UK minus agrarian Ireland) was 16 million (

  25. Man Mountain Molehill says:

    Chinese peasants live in filth that would have disgusted a 14th century German. That explains the diseases.

    China has, at various times in the past exceeded the west in math, science, elaborate mechanisms, ship building, bureaucracy and so on. Yet they never achieved liftoff. Meanwhile, something happened in Europe ca 500 years ago. In one of his Time Patrol series Poul Anderson suggested that it was the tension between state and church that lead to the dynamism, too much of either stifles development.

    Steel is an optimum alloy of iron and carbon, iirc it’s around .1%. Too much carbon makes iron brittle, too little makes it too soft. Smiths knew there was something special about the top layer of a vat of molten iron, but didn’t know exactly what it was. The best armor and swords have been steel for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. What’s his name in England invented injecting air into the melt to make steel on a much larger scale. I don’t think there’s anything about this idea that couldn’t have been developed in Rome or China, but somehow they never thought of it.

  26. Jim says:


  27. Jim says:

    Regarding comparisons between China and Europe, remember that in the 12th century China was devastated by Mongol invasion. The role of the Mongols in the different development of Western Europe and the rest of Eurasia is not mentioned as often as I would have thought it merited. Western Europe was completely untouched by Mongol invasion.

  28. Jim says:

    Yes, there may have been indirect consequences but over a large part of Eurasia the Mongols had a very direct catastrophic impact.

  29. Pingback: Against Unidimensionality – spottedtoad

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