Friday, December 21, 2012

The Thanks We Owe to Winter

The qualities that allowed us to survive the ice ages of Europe are the same ones that allow us to compete and achieve in the world of business.
"The evolutionary advantage to compete and succeed in the world of business
 as in the world at large - that is the thanks we owe to the ice age winters."
No where in the annals of history, except for a few rare instances, do we find the people of the southern regions of the world marching north to attack the civilizations of the higher latitudes.  We don't see the Africans leaving their continent to rape, pillage and plunder the Europeans.  We don't see the peoples of the Mediterranean pushing northward to subjugate the civilizations of the colder climes.  What we see is just the opposite, a consistent onslaught of people from the north against people of the south.  

According to historians, Will and Ariel Durant, the raiders were inevitably "Nordic" Scandanavians, Sythians, Baltic Germans, Englishmen, and Anglo Saxons, and "one or another of these fair-haired, blue-eyed "blond beasts" swept down through Russia and the Balkans into the lazy and lethargic South in a series of conquests marking the dawn of recorded history."  Even in our own land in our own time did the industrial North go to war against the plantation South, and defeat them.

What is it about the northerly latitudes that have made us such aggressive and unilateral victors over our neighbors to the south?  Historians of less enlightened ages have argued that the matter is one of racial supremacy. But that argument is easily put to rest by the advanced Mayan, Aztec and Incan civilizations of pre-Columbian America, and other B.C. overachievers in the middle East and southern Europe. 

If not race, what then is responsible for this incredible record of domination of the northern peoples over equatorial ones?  The answer may very well be our winter clime. Winter presented a fiercely challenging environment to our early ancestors and all the civilizations that preceded industrial society.  Imagine what life must have been like for early man during the ice age, huddling in caves of northern Europe against the unyielding barrages of winter.  Here in New York and New Jersey, millions of have been living in cold dark caves once again, after being battered by Hurricane Sandy, so it's not too hard to imagine. The human species responds to challenge and adversity by adaptation - both physical and social - and winter appears to have honed our survival skills, hardened us against our most dangerous and deadly foe, namely, the environment.  If you can become master over  the forces of nature, it's easy to go an conquer your neighbors, and thus we have done.

The qualities that allowed us to survive against the European winters of the ice age are still within us.  Human beings are equipped with "instincts" to preserve the individual, the family, the group, or the species.  Some of these characteristics, such as pugnacity, greed and hoarding, are no longer necessary for physical survival, but they have made it natural for us to battle each other in the realm of business.  There is no longer any need to hoard food for the barren winter months, but how far removed from that is the desire to hoard cash.  The ferocity that enabled us to stand our ground as we were buffeted by wind, snow and rain, now allows traders to stand and outshout each other on the tumultuous floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  The spark of ingenuity within us that led to the innovation and development off new tools and weapons for survival, lead us today to develop new technologies.  The evolutionary advantage to compete and succeed in the world of business as in the world at large - that is the thanks we owe to the ice age winters.