Personifications of power, heroism, evil, and (in)competence have been prevalent motifs in historical and contemporary narratives about conflicts, at least in the West. Are the conflicts and their solutions products of individuals as prime movers, or, perhaps, is it the individual who surfaces as the product of a cultural system and must act within the system’s confines? An anthropologist, Leslie A. White, argued that such may be the case (In Ethnological Essays, 1987, pp. 287, 290):

“To be sure, culture is dependent upon the human species and could not exist without it. It is true also that the human species is composed of discrete physical entities that we call individuals. But the scholars that we have just quoted are doing more than to give utterance to these obvious and trite commonplaces. They are asserting that the individual is a prime mover, a determinant; that he is the cause, culture the effect; that it is the individual who “is responsible” for change in the culture process; and that, therefore, an explanation of “the larger configuration” of culture must lie in consideration of the individual.

And it is this proposition that we reject—and reverse: it is the individual who is explained in terms of his culture, not the other way around…. If the likelihood of an individual’s making is a significant contribution to cultural advance is conditioned by the accidental time of his birth, so is it affected by the place on the cultural landscape in which he finds himself. If chance should place him near the center of a culture area where the rate of interaction of cultural elements tends to be highest, he will be more likely to serve as a neural locus of a significant cultural synthesis than if he were born and reared on the periphery of the area.”

What do you believe? Can you support it with examples?

Conflicts and Roles of Individuals