In order to fully comprehend humanities cultural growth from a single or even multiple geographical locations, an understanding of the importance of basic human necessity for survival must be explored. The need for humankind to want to survive and protect the ones they are closest to has been the driving force behind not only the spread of the human species but also the culture being created at the same time.
Human beings want to do well and be content. For these reasons we arrange our basic human necessity for survival, emotional stability, and self-awareness into categories. These categories can further broken down into the most basic at the bottom and the most complex at the top. In fact “the appearance of one need usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another” separate need being met. (Maslow, 1943, p. 371) Maslow pyramid of hierarchical needs best describes the development of humanity from primitive, prehistoric individuals to the highly evolved intellectuals of today.
Fig 1. Maslow’s heriarchial pryamid of human needs.
Generally speaking, basics needs, such as hunger and thirst along with shelter, drove cultural evolutions to occur. One of the biggest promoters of culture was the invention of agriculture at specific locations across the globe some 8,000-10,000 years ago. It was only after a location had the ability to support larger groups of people, by means of adequate food supplies, did the notion of culture come into play. There are many psychological and sociological who believe if we did “nothing other than maintain an interior homeostasis and defend against physical and psychological threats (we) would have little chance of long-term survival in a complex and changing environment.” (Pyszczynski et al., 1997, p. 6)
If we look around our world today we quickly see our basics needs being met with minimal efforts when compared to our ancient ancestors. We no longer have to labor long hour’s planting and harvesting crops, or raise, slaughter and clean the livestock for our dietary needs. Nor do we have to do hard domestic work, such as washing clothes by hand or creating meals from starch, any longer. In our modern day, we have microwaves, dishwashers, vacuums, washers/dryers, and local grocery stores to shop at and purchase all the goods we “need”. Our lives are considerably easier than our grandparents and our great-grandparents. What do you do with your spare time?
The more people who were able to accumulate in one geographical location lead to the likelihood of those people having the ability to accumulate more ideas about art, architecture, music, dance, and storytelling, both oral and written. Consequently, the result of a controllable, dependable abundance of food allowed for division of labor and the creation of various roles within a developing culture. This, in turn, resulted in the ability for ancient peoples to settle down in permanent communities creating societies based on cultural identity. In essence, they had spare time.
Humankind’s capacity to move into and inhabit new geographical areas and overcome various environmental pressures could be a result arising from differences within culturally alike clans (ie. culturally similar but politically different). In the prehistoric days of humankind, if your immediate clan had a difference of opinion with another clan, your clan could simply migrate to a new area. However, the consequence of such a migration could be harsh. The cultural evolution of your clan would inevitably be influence by the various environmental conditions (ie. cold, hot, dry, mountains, valleys, etc.) your clan eventually inhabited. As a result, we have numerous evidences of the establishment of unique cultures at various locations around the world, see map below.
Map 1 Prehistoric civilizations around the world.
Many human beings in Western cultures today do not worry about overcoming environmental conditions or resistance (lack of food, water, or suitable habitat, adverse weather conditions, predators, diseases, parasites or competitors). (Wright & Boorse, 2011, p.79) Therefore, the basic necessities have changeddepending on what culture you are a part of and where you live within that culture. The overall result of human necessity lead to the establishment of cultures with an emic (insider) verses etic (outside) knowledge of a given culture.
For example, today in America there are different cultural awareness’s depending on whether you were raised in the urban, suburban, or rural area. These cultural differences can be broken down in a variety of fashions. However, the major differences of these cultural awareness’s are ultimately influenced by population size, availability and usage of land, and types of transportation. Urban people tend to live at a much faster paced, independent lifestyle and are more connected to current cultural trends. Suburban people are more immediately involved in their children’s lives, while rural people live a life surrounded by nature, anonymity and solitude. No group is better or worse than the other. Each individual within these sub-cultural groups of American culture is having their basic necessities met the way they determine best for them. (Of course, the before mentioned cultural differences are not a standard or a norm. They are instead general statements.)
As you have just learned, the need for humankind to want to survive and protect themselves and those in their immediate clan has been the driving force behind the spread of the human species and the culture they created. The Maslow hierarchical pyramid of needs is one of best tools for visually seeing how humankind developed from primitive, prehistoric individuals to the highly evolved individuals seen today. Of course, the hierarchical pyramid of needs depends on the establishment of a steady supply of food by means of agricultural advancements and other basic needs being met. Once the basic needs of the human species were met ancient peoples possessed the ability to settle down in permanent communities and create societies based on an emerging common cultural identity.
The spread and development of culture was further aided by fractures within a clam, where groups were split apart due to a variety of reasons. New environments and experiences gave rise to unique cultures, which are evident if we look around us even today.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.
Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (1997). Why do we need what we need? A terror management perspective on the roots of humansocial motivation. Psychological Inquiry, 8, 1-20.
Wright, R. T., & Boorse, D. F. (2011). Environmental science: Toward a sustainable future. (11th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson, Benjamin Cummings.