Influence of Environment on Human Society: Physical and Social Adaption!
From the smallest organism to the highly developed system that is man, every living being reacts to its environment. The climate, the terrain, the topography and the general geographical or physical conditions that are regarded as advantageous to life otherwise are important factors that determine the behaviour of living beings. We are conditioned so closely to the earthly environment that if suddenly we were to be removed from this planet and placed on another, we would feel as uncomfortable and distressed as fish do when placed out of water.
From mountains to plains, from hot countries to cold ones and even from urban to rural settings, environment conditions human life and, therefore, human society. Not that environment alone moulds life; man moulds his environment according to his needs as far as practicable and, today in the age of science, the degree of practicability has increased more than considerably.
Man’s relation to his environment is known as the study of ‘ecology’ and the American sociologists Park and Burgess have developed the thoughts of what is known as the ‘ecological school’ according to which human and social development has been affected by the relevant environment to such a degree that the authors even venture to say that types of family organization as also mental diseases reflect the human acceptance of, or failure to adjust with, the environment.
Ecologists contend that the social phenomena of competition and co-operation, specialization and segregation, and invasion and secession are all conditioned by environment. A variation of the ecological thought is the ‘regional school’ which divides the United States into distinct regions according to the level of development and analyses the influences of environment upon such regional life.
H.W. Odum finds the United States easily fitting into certain regional patterns that establish a correlation between the geographical conditions of each region and its social conditions. Man’s activities, according to the ecological thought as well as the regional school, are conditioned by man’s surroundings. Understood in general terms, man’s environment conditions him in several respects.
The most direct influence of environment on man can be seen in his physical adaptation to nature. Nature requires this adaptation at every stage, in hot climates and in temperate ones, in cities with gas and polluted air and in country-sides where one can breathe fresh air. In fact, from early times human settlements have cropped up in places where nature has not been entirely uncongenial, where air and water are in abundant supply and cultivation relatively less difficult.
‘Physical adaptation’ is not exactly the same as ‘biological adaptation’ to nature, though the latter is very much connected with adaptation or otherwise in the former sense. Though some physical conditions are not totally inimical to life itself, they may not suit certain organisms biologically; and when such organisms cannot in any way adjust themselves to such physical conditions, a complete mal-adaptation takes place.
While human beings have a relative power of adapting themselves even to hostile surroundings, animals have less of resistance power in this respect and a polar bear or a salamander is not expected under normal circumstances to survive in a tropical country. Migratory birds, however, seem to exhibit a sort of a built-in system of adapting themselves to the environment by changing their abode in different seasons.
‘Social adaptation’ of man to his environment is a process that comprises of ‘adjustment’ or ‘accommodation’. Man chooses for himself such surroundings as would help him in fulfilling his wants, selecting such environment as is of value to him and rejecting conditions that are unsuited to the demands of his individuality.
Therefore, an individual who is dissatisfied with certain social conditions that are unsuited to the demands of his individuality. Therefore, an individual who is dissatisfied with certain conditions may think of moving to another society which could, as he thinks, cater to his needs in a better way. Man’s social adaptation can be described as the process of his adjustment to changing life conditions as he evaluates. Such changes are in relation to his life and expectations.
He does not merely adjust himself to conditions that are described by the anthropologist as material culture’, including the shape of the house and the size of the town in which he lives, with its systems of transportation and all such facilities that may be described as civic amenities. He must also adapt himself to his social heritage, his non-material culture’.
Views of Mclver:
McIver insists that a study of man and his environment cannot ignore the importance of the influence of social organization and institutions upon him. This heritage determines, no matter where an Englishman lives, his love for liberty and justice and an Indian’s preference for the thoughts of the other world.
According to McIver, therefore, man’s environment is:
(i) The ‘outer or the physical one’, which modifies him and is modified by him; and
(ii) The ‘inner one’, including his cultural heritage, the values, the norms and the ideals that have conditioned him ever since the process of his socialization began. Modern civilization has vastly moulded the former type of environment and thereby has reshaped the very structure of his non- material culture.