Originally published on Medium
I have a pet theory that I have no evidence for, except for personal observations gathered over the odd forty years that I’ve been alive. This theory is that cold weather peoples suppress individualism because their climates can kill them.
Think about it. If you live in a place where the environment annually changes to a freezing cold desert, then going off on your own can kill you. In a place where the geography is lethal, people can’t afford individualism, and that enforces communality. communitarianism, and cooperation ahead of individualism.
Up until the 1950s Sweden was an agrarian society where people lived in the countryside for the most part, and were exposed to the environment in a way that they aren’t today. Small huddles of population extended over a vast bit of geography with a weak central government forced society to develop toward solidarity and cooperation.
The economic miracle of Sweden went on, with obvious interruptions, from about 1910s to the 1950s. From the 1950s, Sweden has heavily industrialised, and a first world country. In the 1900s, it had the economy of a modern day Congo with all the social ills of a poor country. For instance, it had rampant alcoholism where mothers daubed their infants mouths with cloth infused with vodka to quell the hunger pangs. Malnourishment was endemic, and its culture was that of a very stratified class structure.
Within 50 years it would be the most developed and rich country on Earth for a while, no doubt because its industrial base wasn’t destroyed in the Second World War and could turn its factories to overdrive to help rebuild Europe. Egalitarianism and workers rights are a new phenomena, and aren’t as firmly affixed to the culture as we’d like to think.
Cultural changes are slow and ponderous, however. Parents teach their young about things they know, not what they think will happen. My grandparents generation raised my parents to the standards that existed before before the war, before the powerhouse economy, before the economic miracle.My parents raised us to account for the 50s and 60s. My generation raise our young based on the 80s and 90s.
Changes creep in, things develop, but the core is still there; the core of a cold weather people where the environment still kills despite central heating and modern building codes and the internet. The culture doesn’t change as fast as the app cycle, and that is both a curse and a blessing.