One of the putative fundamental cultural divides of societies is the degree to which core values center on the individual versus the tribe. The origination of this came from lifestyle differences related to everyday sociality.
Psychologically, growing up in an individualistic social world biases one toward the use of analytical reasoning, whereas exposure to more collectivistic environments favors holistic approaches. Thinking analytically means breaking things down into their constituent parts and assigning properties to those parts. Similarities are judged according to rule-based categories, and current trends are expected to continue. Holistic thinking, by contrast, focuses on relationships between objects or people anchored in their concrete contexts. Similarity is judged overall, not on the basis of logical rules. Trends are expected to be cyclical. ~ American anthropologist Joseph Henrich
In those regions where rice was cultivated as the primary grain, a collective culture grew along with the crops. Before mechanization, growing rice took twice as many hours as wheat. To deploy labor efficiently, especially during planting and harvesting, rice-growing societies developed cooperative labor exchanges.
Conversely, cultures which relied upon wheat and other grains that could be independently grown led to cultural individualism. This is most apparent in the Fertile Crescent, where concocted religious creeds became the brittle glue of tribal association among its flinty peoples, who are given to petty bickering to the present day.
Even as individualism took root, the kernel of existence remained collective in the form of the family. The term familism is used for the value system whereby the interests of the family trump those of its individual members.
The folkways of familism independently evolved in early agricultural societies throughout the world. It appears a natural social order, as the family continues to this day to be the foundation of human sociality.
Familism is the origin of loyalty, and of honor: integrity which is a credit to one’s origins. Over time, individualism warped the term honor to refer to the individual, slighting reference to familial association. Nonetheless, these 2 terms are universally held in the highest esteem as moral values.
While Occidental societies evolved capitalist economies founded on the fabled principle of individualistic enterprise, the Orient supposedly retained its collective flavor. This was true only to an extent. China was first unified by invasion of wheat-growing northerners into the rice-growing provinces of the south during the 2nd millennium bce.
The upshot is that relatively independent-minded people banded together for conquest. This theme of materialist group aggression has replayed countless times throughout history.
Colonialism altered social and economic development wherever it landed. Western powers were simply continuing a well-established world tradition of conquest. The British hegemony that began in India in the early 18th century was simply a new twist to an old story. India was first colonized by Muslim Central-Asian nomadic tribes in the 11th century.
The British, seriously irritated over running into the red in trade with China, solved its debt problem militarily in the mid-19th century. The British solution also involved taking Chinese territories after China’s defeat. Most notable was Hong Kong being ceded to Britain in perpetuity, with political control of “leased” to the UK for 99 years. This remnant of British imperialism was finally cast aside in 1997, only because China had become a formidable power.
Forcible entry by Americans into Yokohama harbor on black ships in 1853 provoked the Japanese to radical societal overhaul: abandoning their stable feudal system for a reckless joy ride into militarism and colonialism, in an imitation of what Western powers had done for centuries.
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At the societal level, individualism versus collectivism is a charade. Individualist cultures managed their conquests via cooperative venture, albeit involving coercion via conscription.
Collectivist cultures have been no better at providing equitable social structures than individualistic ones. The so-called collectivist countries of the far East have long had the same social stratification problems that plagued the early comers to capitalism under the alleged aegis of individualism. Hence, we see a practical limit to the human capacity for cooperation and compassion, especially at the societal level. Once again, this owes to the firmly entrenched mind-set of predominant materialism within the men of the Collective.
Male social dominance is the primary reason for the ubiquitous deficiencies in decency. One need look no farther than the pathetic position of right-wing politicians on social welfare, such as in the United States, to comprehend the short-sighted and curmudgeonly inclination of capitalists and their sycophants.
Collectivism does assist in slipping into groupthink. Consensus toward colossal misadventures is easier. The history of China and Japan are exemplary.
Japan rebuilt itself after its modern militaristic spasm ended in ruined defeat in 1945. By the end of the 1970s, Japan had become a wondrous economic power, though afflicted with the same social, environmental, and economic diseases of the West, including intense environmental degradation and a persistent underclass. The miraculous Japanese economic engine stalled at the end of the 1980s and has not recovered, with no effective remedial collective action.
China’s enthusiastic adoption of the filthiest form of “free enterprise” from the early 1980s has generated staggering levels of pollution, corruption, and wealth inequality. China’s totalitarian government remains, so far managing to ride the capitalist tiger that it unleashed.
Though called “communist,” Chinese political operatives appear collective only in uniformly being like pigs at a trough. Government officials who are not corrupt have been the exception in China. The ascendency of Xi Jinping to Chinese leader in 2013 led to a historic stab at lessening corruption, albeit coincident with a drive by Xi to consolidate power, thus influencing who was targeted.
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Despite similarities in societal outcomes, there are interpersonal behavioral norms that differ between individualistic and collectivistic cultures.
People from individualistic cultures are more likely to use confrontational strategies when dealing with interpersonal problems; those with a collectivist orientation are likely to use avoidance, third-party intermediaries, or other face-saving techniques. ~ American communication scholars Myron Lustig & Jolene Koester
In more collectivist cultures with traditional social ties, friendships are predetermined by the familial ties. There is less need to put yourself out make friendships than in individualistic cultures, where affiliative relationships must be formed via initiative.
Small talk, flirting, and other facile communications are more important in individualist cultures. There is a greater emphasis on physical appearance, as first impressions can be crucial in acquaintance encounters. Relationships tend to be more casual and transient in individualist societies.
Styles of song and dance differ between the 2 cultures. Collectivist cultures have a higher cohesiveness in their singing, and more synchrony in their dancing. It is no wonder that rock and hip-hop, which emphasize “doing your own thing,” evolved in individualistic societies.
There are also worldview and orientation distinctions. People in collective cultures tend to be environmentally holistic in viewing situations, whereas individualists are object-oriented analysts.
Concern for the group runs nominally stronger in collective cultures. While this may not influence polity outcomes for society as a whole, it has great effect on interpersonal interactions, including nonverbal communication conventions.
Japan, which retains a strong collective streak, and its people prone to groupthink, is notably miserly in its social welfare system; stingier than even the United States. This is a sorry echo of the macho feudalism that the Japanese embraced for many centuries before taking up the cudgel of modernity. The Japanese underclass are the perpetual out-group.
Individualism has its staunchest adherents in the United States, where a man’s ‘freedom’ is practically a religion; but its strength varies somewhat by region and tribe. The mid-Atlantic and central Midwestern states hold individualism especially dear, while Southeasterners are the most traditionalistic and less individualistic. Whites and black Americans are more individualistic than Mexican Americans, who emphasize group and relational solidarity.
Individualism is a wellspring for selfishness, narcissism, sociopathy, and crime. In comparison to Western European cultures, which also embrace individualism, the extreme example of the United States provides ample evidence for these broad conclusions.
Western man has created chaos by denying that part of his self that integrates while enshrining the parts that fragment experience. ~ Edward Hall