Posted: September 3rd, 2013
Evaluation of Energy and the Evolution of Culture
Energy and Evolution of culture is a paradoxical anthropological piece of literature. Leslie White in the book Energy and Evolution of Culture is of the opinion of energy is the definition of all living and non-living elements in the universe. Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel: Facts about Human societies, bases his arguments on the environmental factors comparing peoples of different continents living under different circumstances stating environment is the reason behind development of societies. On the other hand, Robert Wright defines the origin and history of life. He states that evolution of man was biological resulting in complex beings who were able to make new societies and cultures that were more complex than their predecessors were. He attributes the development into societies as inevitable. All the writers have a central point of view on evolution of cultures. The modern cultures have been formed because of evolution of old cultures. The evolution theory attributes it to adaptation to new climates due to the necessities of survival. The development in culture and society has been carried out in stages due to the environmental conditions necessitated by the need to survive, thus he emphasizes that evolution is the key behind developments into new cultures.
Leslie White’s work is a collection of paradoxes. He denies the reader the right to self-determination on issues regarding society and culture and resorts to making final judgments about the evolution of cultures and societies into new civilizations. He plays the role of being a judge and jury, which is impractical. He states, “the urge inherent in all living species, to live, to make life more secure, more rich” (White,43) .This shows that he attributes the changes in man’s lifestyle as a necessity due to the environment filled with harsh conditions that man is exposed to. He lays emphasis to agriculture as the reason behind evolution and that each element is based on power to drive the evolution process. He defines and classifies the organization of man as consisting of two classes, one of association and the other of survival by adjustment to the external changes surrounding man. The two organizational classes play a very significant role in the phases of man’s evolution. The first class man is able to interact with those around him such as castes or companionship clubs. This influences how one thinks and how one behaves and results on the formation of an individual that has a new way of thinking. He develops a theory as to why some cultures, which were considered as thriving, but later receded in their levels of dominance. He puts forth his theory by stating that theses cultures ceased to be dominant because these cultures did not develop new ways of developing because of their social structures (White, 53).
Jared Diamond in his book also talks about power and technology .He says that evolution of man is based on necessity and opportunity (Diamond, 13). He is of the opinion that that the efforts of evolution into civilized cultures are not because of mental superiority but because of different stages of development each attributed to certain conditions that necessitated such developments. He describes those stages from hunting and gathering to agriculture and later on into great empires and nations built out of the adequacy of food and the basic human needs. His basis of this argument is that environmental factors have had a very strong impact on the development of man into civilized societies due to the different circumstances attributed to weather. In relation to White’s works, he shows man’s cultural change is fueled by the urge to fulfill his needs and the availability of opportunity. This is also the same for White, who states that man is driven by the urge to have something and the need to fulfill his necessities (Diamond, 27).
Moreover, he links the growth of the societies to the political, agricultural and economic growth. He leads the reader to think Western Europe is responsible for all the innovation and technological advancements, whereas they arose in Asia and the Middle East, which are regarded as the first civilized societies of man, dating to thousands of years ago. However, his work is not devoid of criticism because he fails to acknowledge the interactions of societies in history that led to trade and thus the exchange of ideas. For example, trade with China in the ancient times led to sale of gunpowder and glassware whereas China bought tusks from slave traders in Africa. Thus, advancements cannot be solely attributed to their own innovations but also due to the interactions with numerous societies to learn new ways of doing things.
Robert Wright’s Non-zero: The Logic of Human Density is a book that bases biological and cultural evolution on non-zero sumness, whereby the acts of creating new interactions are not equal to the losses or gains (Wright, 17). Non-Zero aims at demonstrating natural selection develop complex cultures and societies with increased cooperation around the world. He states that for societies to evolve there must be cooperation and communication amongst them .He also regards human intelligence as just a stage in the evolution of man because of the different advancements as years go by. He seems to agree with White on some level that the evolution of man is biological, but White had not involved interaction and communication between cultures as a reason for the developments and advancements in cultures and societies. He argues that the human was developed because of the evolutionary process, which however did not intend them to become the current organisms with high levels of intelligence, but it facilitated them to becoming such due to the discovery of new tools and technologies that enhanced the development of humans into highly intelligent beings (Wright, 33). He also argues that the complexity of the environment that an organism exists in breeds a new complex organism that has adapted to such conditions. He states that evolution is because of complexity resulting from the ability of the human mind to process information clearly thus, better and more advanced cultures and societies breed out of such relationships (Wright 46).
Wright argues that the increase in complexity results in non-zero sum benefits so the human society evolves to become more complex resulting in more benefits because of these complexities. For instance, complex communication has enabled people to interact at a global level such that companies are able to sell more goods to global consumers in contrast to periods that lacked such complex communication methods, which confined trade within a country or region. Such situations will also breed new and more complex ways in the future as man is still considered to be on the evolution path. Man was just a victim of circumstance making the evolution process inevitable for him coupled with his existence in an ever-changing environment thus he had to change his tactics for survival (Wright 47).
Thus, these writers affirm that the evolution of man is based on natural selection and the need for man to develop ways that are sufficient for his existence. The theories also provide the facts that the development of societies brought forth societies that are more advanced .These advanced societies breed better and thus the evolution process is in continuation, as man develops more ways for survival enhanced by the new technology and communication among societies as stated by Wright, that complexity breeds complexity. Communication among societies also has a great role to play in the development of new cultures, which are more civilized because of their interactions with other cultures such as via marriage resulting in offsprings who are different in thinking and behavior. Thus, the change in culture and the evolution of man was inevitable and because of necessity, man’s evolution was destined to happen. As seen from early societies which had developed new thinking coupled by their existence in environments that were different from each other resulting in societies that were different in levels of civilization owing to the different conditions that these societies were exposed to (Wright,49).
Diamond, Jared M. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1998. Print.
White, Leslie A. Energy and the Evolution of Culture. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1949. Print.
Wright, Robert. Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print.
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