April 2, 2010

It's climate, stupid!

During the Cold War there was a popular term: “The North-South Divide”. It used to refer to how rich countries in the North such as the US, Germany. the UK and even the USSR would exploit the poorer countries in the South such as the Congo, Colombia or Cambodia.
So, how did the countries in the North become rich in the first place?

There are several not so politically correct theories that claim that under right conditions, countries in the north reach a stage where people cannot live comfortably off the fat of the land, and they start inventing technology. The population is too big, the time in which you can plant and harvest crops is not enough to feed all the people, thus the inhabitants of such places have to become more inventive and creative in order to survive and prosper. They start developing equipment, establishing a personal discipline that is superior to other countries, and then going and conquering them either militarily or through investments, cultural invasions or by loaning them money they cannot repay and plunging them into debt.

Countries in the South remained more backward than the Northern countries because people there did not need to assert themselves as much as the climate is warmer and the land is enough to feed everybody. So, human beings under such circumstances remain the lazy creatures that they are. They will just do the minimal effort to get the minimal result, and then relax and enjoy life. Living in a land that is abundant, full of beautiful women and good friends that lies under a hot (sub) tropical sun near the sea is not a supposedly the best environment to become an inventor or a conqueror.

Or is it so? Some people will point to the highly developed ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome and say that these were not exactly “cold” countries. Some will also point to the Islamic Empire or the Ottoman empire that was very rich and prosperous while the cold Europe was poor and backward.

One needs to keep in mind though that while climate is a powerful factor, it is not the only factor. Other hardships also influence the people’s power to invent and propel the civilization forward. Overpopulation is one. A good government also needs to be in place to facilitate such progress. In any way, there has to be the right combination of relative freedom of forces of adversity coupled with opportunity to make people reach deep inside themselves and start taking measures towards improving their lot. So maybe it was the overpopulation in those times and not enough food that compelled those countries to develop? I wish to know the truth.

However, the way the world stands now, it does seem that overpopulated countries of the North are much better disciplined culturally than the overpopulated countries in the warmer regions. Try living in Sweden and then go and live in Italy. Try living in Japan and then go and live in Indonesia. You will see that streets are not as clean in the warmer areas, people as a rule come late to business or social engagements, or not show up at all, and there is less general rush as well as overall sense of responsibility than in the north. The North is more organized, cleaner, more highly industrialized with people resembling well-oiled automatons. But they all look unhappy and tense. And wouldn’t you be?

The warmer areas are more devil-may-care, with garbage lying around, the population striking all the time and protesting against the rulers, but the people, by and large, look happy. Their lives are not as stressed-out, there are fewer divorces, there is friendship and good interaction among people. Take your pick. Which on would you prefer?

There are also countries in between such as France, for example, or China. These combine both the qualities of the cold and the warm areas in many aspects of the daily life. There are also countries that are in the warm climate, but which were only recently settled by immigrants from the North- such as Australia, Singapore and Taiwan. There are warmer countries such as Malaysia who were whipped into discipline by British colonial overlords and hard-working Chinese newcomers.

The you have Israel which is ethnically a land populated by Jews, but many of these had lived in Northern Europe and brought a great deal of ideas from there. Hence, it is also a combination of being laid-back and progressive at the same time.

Religion also become stricter as you move from cold to warm. Compare the very liberal countries of Scandinavia, the British Isles and the Netherlands where drugs, pornography and sex are more tolerated to the much stricter states in the South of Europe which had traditional Catholicism ending with yet much stricter Islam down in the Middle East.

The reason may be the way people react to life’s temptations in cold vs. warm climates. I guess a Swede and a Dutchman may not be so sensual to begin with because of a colder climate, and will not need to be controlled as these will, generally, not react as passionately when presented with the opportunity to satisfy their senses be it through sex, drugs, intoxicants or other such stimulants.

The people in warmer climates are more probably more into sensual gratification because of the weather. A Frenchman and an Italian are supposed to be great lovers and an Arab and a Turk are legendarily even more love-crazed. Hence, since the more south you go, the more you need to restrain people from going bananas when presented with temptations, the religion naturally follows the pattern and becomes stricter and stricter ending with the Saudi Arabian variety of Islam where you cannot even look at a woman.

I guess, because in the old times, the male inhabitants of that area were so passionate that the very sight of a woman would make them lose their minds and stimulate sexual aggression on their part strict protective measures had to be instituted to preserve social harmony.

One recalls the famous examples of Italians pinching a girls’ buttocks as she walks down the street versus the complaints by the French that when a beautiful woman walks down the street in England, men won’t even look in her direction

I have always suspected that climate has been one of the main variables in the equation. The warmer the climate, the more passionate, friendlier, but lazier the people and the colder, the less friendly, less sensual but more industrious the population. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but by and large, the pattern does seem to hold. At least in this day and age.


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