Another scholar, the military historian Victor Davis Hanson, attributes the continuous prowess of Western militaries since the era of classical Greece some 2,500 years ago to democratic institutions and willingness of the free yeomanry to accept effective military discipline while retaining their independence and initiative. "Western ideas of freedom, originating from the early Hellenic concept of politics as consensual government and from an open economy . . . were to play a role at nearly every engagement in which Western soldiers fought," Hanson writes.348
To the extent that such long term cultural traits indeed exist, what might be their origin? Nisbett cites the fact that Chinese civilization was founded on rice farming, which required irrigation and central control; hence ordinary Chinese found themselves living in a world of complex social constraints, whereas the ecology of ancient Greece favored activities like hunting, herding, fishing and trade, which could be pursued without an elaborate social organization. Did rice farming encourage the conformity for which eastern societies are known and small-scale farming the rugged individualism of the west? Given the propensity of the human genome to adjust to its environment, including the social environment, it is not impossible that many societies have left their imprint in the genetics of their members, and that the character of different societies reflects the personality traits of those who were the most reproductively successful in them. This is perhaps what Darwin had in mind in allowing that people might take some credit for their evolutionary progress. The extent to which such a process may have happened in history cannot yet be determined. The novel issue of recent human evolutionary change is of particular interest, however, because it bears on the question of which future directions human evolution is likely to take. As Darwin noted, the fact that man has evolved to his present state "may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future."
Was this article helpful?