The roots of our society’s cultural evolution remain somewhat of a mystery. In an effort to illuminate the darkest, most mysterious corners of our collective history, researchers Andrey Shcherbak, Evert Van de Vliert, Christian Welzel, Amy C. Alexander, and Ronald Fischer analyzed 108 Old World countries.
Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. The aim of the study, appropriately titled “Got Milk? How Freedoms Evolved From Dairying Climates,” was to “shed some more light on the historical path” of the present-day distribution of civil liberties and political freedoms.
Lead author Evert Van de Vliert, a professor emeritus of organizational and applied social psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, told PsyPost the following.
“Our team felt that the present-day distribution of fundamental freedoms all over the world is ascribed too much to individual country leaders, to economic prosperity, and to good governance. We therefore wanted to shed some more light on the historical path that led to these and other proximate origins.”
The origins of civil liberties and political freedoms, Van de Vliert noted, need to be sought in the interaction of genes and climates.
Cold, wet climates suitable for dairy farming were associated with lactose tolerance in the year 1500. Naturally, this was associated with greater per capita income and higher child survival rates in the year 1800. In turn, this enhanced production power was associated with civil liberties and political freedoms in the year 2000.
In other words, according to professor Van de Vliert and his team, lactose tolerance led to longer life expectancy. Longer life expectancy, in turn, led to postponed parenthood. And it is exactly the postponed parenthood variable that has to be taken into consideration in the context of the cultural evolution of democracy, since postponed parenthood provided people to participate in activities of their choice, causing a monumental shift, orienting us toward long-term goals.
This means that our ancestors have “continuously, intelligently, and ingeniously adapted their habits to their habitats, a process that is still going on today,” according to professor Van de Vliert.
Like all studies, this one has several limitations, with the biggest one being the fact that the researchers had to rely only on data from the past five centuries. Their findings, however, also raise the question of global warming. How will climate change affect our society’s progress?
According to the United States Global Change Research Program, impacts related to global warming are evident in all aspects of the human society, from water supply and human health, over energy and transportation, to agriculture and food security.