Charles C. Mann is the author of three of my favorite history books: 1491. 1493, and The Wizard and the Prophet.
why Native American civilizations collapsed and why they failed to make more technological progress
why he disagrees with Will MacAskill about longtermism
why there aren’t any successful slave revolts
how geoengineering can help us solve climate change
why Bitcoin is like the Chinese Silver Trade
and much much more!
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(0:00:00) -Epidemically Alternate Realities
(0:00:25) -Weak Points in Empires
(0:03:28) -Slave Revolts
(0:08:43) -Slavery Ban
(0:12:46) - Contingency & The Pyramids
(0:18:13) - Teotihuacan
(0:20:02) - New Book Thesis
(0:25:20) - Gender Ratios and Silicon Valley
(0:31:15) - Technological Stupidity in the New World
(0:41:24) - Religious Demoralization
(0:44:00) - Critiques of Civilization Collapse Theories
(0:49:05) - Virginia Company + Hubris
(0:53:30) - China’s Silver Trade
(1:03:03) - Wizards vs. Prophets
(1:07:55) - In Defense of Regulatory Delays
(0:16:51) -Finding New Wizards
(0:18:46) -Agroforestry is Underrated
(1:18:46) -Longtermism & Free Markets
Okay! Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Charles Mann, who is the author of three of my favorite books, including 1491: New Revelations of America before Columbus. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, and The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World. Charles, welcome to the Lunar Society.
Charles C. Mann
It’s a pleasure to be here.
Epidemically Alternate Realities
My first question is: How much of the New World was basically baked into the cake? So at some point, people from Eurasia were going to travel to the New World, bringing their diseases. Considering disparities and where they would survive, if the Acemoglu theory that you cited is correct, then some of these places were bound to have good institutions and some of them were bound to have bad institutions. Plus, because of malaria, there were going to be shortages in labor that people would try to fix with African slaves. So how much of all this was just bound to happen? If Columbus hadn't done it, then maybe 50 years down the line, would someone from Italy have done it? What is the contingency here?
Charles C. Mann
Well, I think that some of it was baked into the cake. It was pretty clear that at some point, people from Eurasia and the Western Hemisphere were going to come into contact with each other. I mean, how could that not happen, right? There was a huge epidemiological disparity between the two hemispheres––largely because by a quirk of evolutionary history, there were many more domesticable animals in Eurasia and the Eastern hemisphere. This leads almost inevitably to the creation of zoonotic diseases: diseases that start off in animals and jump the species barrier and become human diseases. Most of the great killers in human history are zoonotic diseases. When people from Eurasia and the Western Hemisphere meet, there are going to be those kinds of diseases.
But if you wanted to, it's possible to i