Jared Diamond, Author of Upheaval

Published on19 MAY 2020

In this episode of Talks at GS, Jared Diamond discusses his latest book, Upheaval, in which he analyzes how nations have coped with challenges throughout history, and gives his perspective on how lessons from past challenges can apply today.

On confronting the coronavirus crisis: “So COVID-19 is a problem facing the world, but, of course, there are other problems facing the world of which a prime example is climate change, over-exploitation of limited resources, but the fact is that the world has not gathered together to face the enemy of climate change. And yet the world may be gathering together to face the enemy of COVID-19. Why the difference? I think it's clear. COVID-19 kills you within a couple of days, and if you die there's no doubt that you died of COVID-19 whereas climate change takes a long time to kill you, and it kills you more indirectly, for example, by air pollution or by flooding sea levels. So, COVID-19 is a visible enemy that perhaps for the first time in world history the whole world recognizes that every country — Bolivia, the United States, Mongolia — we all face the same enemy of COVID-19. It's a more dramatic enemy than climate change.”

On confronting political polarization in the US: “I've been working in the jungles of New Guinea for the last 55 years. [For] New Guineans, all communication is or was face-to-face. You talk with a New Guinean, there's no cell phone, there's no computer, there's no telephone. You are sitting two or three feet from the person and you're looking them in the eyes, and you feel their body language and you smell them. It's a real person. If you got a real person in front of you, you have some inhibitions about being insulting to a real person whereas if your communication is words on a screen, it's easy to be insulting and disparaging to words on a screen. So my hunch is that the breakdown in civility, including political compromise, in the United States in the last couple of decades has been because of our decline in face-to-face communication; that we're experiencing people not as people but as words on a screen.”

Explore More Insights