Witness Marxist deterministic theory at its finest, at work in paleoanthropology. The idea that agriculture was a devastating discovery for humanity's overall well-being was most definitely the popular line of thinking twenty years ago. It was constantly harped on when I was getting my degree in college (at exactly the same time the article was written.)
Being a dumb, idealistic teenager, I simply accepted this as fact. We were happy hunter-gatherers in the past, and through some unclear chain of events all got trapped into this nasty, brutish, and short lifestyle known as agriculture. Yet even then I had the inklings of doubt... if agriculture was such an obviously awful way of life, why did people choose to live that way instead of the, according to my professors at any rate, obviously better hunter-gatherer lifestyle?
In truth, I still don't know the answer, but the searching for it is most likely one of the earliest events that lead me away from the milquetoast progressive beliefs I once held to the somewhat crunchier small-L libertarian ones I hold today. Agriculture may have caused very visible health problems for its adherents, but it most definitely provided some advantages, and very real ones at that. If it didn't, do you really think the hunter-gatherer lifestyle would've been shoved to the margins more than ten thousand years ago?
Nowadays, being better versed in Marxism than I once was, it's pretty obvious to me why the thought that agriculture was worse than hunting and gathering was so popular at that place and that time. Marxist theories of anthropology were still dominant theoretical forces, given less-red names like "cultural materialism." With the Berlin Wall still sturdy and strong, it was much easier to practice the time-honored academic tradition of holding a belief contradicted by everything around you.
Twenty years later, with Communism completely discredited, markets and freedom ascending, and the West's (in particular the United States's) utterly unreasonable inability to collapse and die on schedule still an embarrassing problem, I wonder if anything's changed over in theory-land? Certainly in Diamond's own later works one must scratch much deeper to get at the Red underneath.
Then again, considering how popular Communism's masonic children Environmentalism and Anti-globalization are, I can't help but think that the bloody, murderous bitch is still with us. There are no fools quite like old fools, and as long as they have people very young, stupid, or ignorant to talk to they will still get a hearing.