How real is “Western Individualism”? — From a Collectivist Perspective.

In individualistic cultures, one hides behind cash and overlooks the human labor that it represents. One study justifying the difference between Western individualistic and eastern Asian collectivist cultures says that people in the former more often define themselves in things that are personal (eg: I am a contractor) while the latter in things that are relational (eg: I am a parent.) But the study does not consider that being a contractor is purely social, because that career is made real by the existence of others who are willing to pay money for it. One is always a contractor to others. A career, as much as it seems like a personal achievement, exists only by its value to peers. A contractor, therefore, is relational. Reading this article, as an “individual” activity, is social interaction with the author. Moreover, what one thinks they individually own is always made by people, to an extent, alongside machines. Browsing the internet is social communication, and adopting conventional hobbies and pastimes like going to the movies is influenced by the social norms: A society is telling you how you can spend your time, in highly capitalist country with advertised desires, the collective feel the pressures to consume specific things altogether. Many things in “Individualistic” culture are highly collectivist but only hidden by systematic censorship that benefits, we should ask, whom?

“I was just in the right place at the right time”

People from individualistic cultures attribute their successes to intrinsic attributes (“I’m really good at X”) rather than to situational ones (“I was in the right place at the right time”). — Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Behave, 2017

I lived a lot of my childhood in a collectivist culture. I relate to the research result above: I attribute my success to situational attributes as opposed to intrinsic ones. But the reason for this, which I think Western researchers do not consider, is that it is because I want to decrease alienation. There is a pattern in “individualistic” cultures researching collectivism: They ignore that they are collectivists hiding behind Alienation. One always owes it to the unique history, chances, meetings, of their lives that lead to their success, but one culture does not declare it, why? Personally, I attribute my success to situational attributes because I want to give the history of how I came to it to increase humility, inspire my peer, and invite collaboration: I give the full truth. I say “I am good and I like doing X because I tried it when I was 9 and I liked it, and I kept going, in and out, ever-sense.” In other words: “Don’t let me stand out too much, I am just like you, but I just happen to do this differently.” If I say “I'm really good at X,” it is too intimidating for my taste, so I always add how I got into it, in order to share. I add honest humility, and it comes by itself to my mind in order to feel connected. For example, I might say: “I like to write, yes, I got into it almost by accident, you can blog too, try This person inspired me to do it, check out his book,” etc, I invite them to join me and put myself down to their level, it gives more opportunities to the other person to also make themselves happier in the way that happened for me if they want to. Perhaps this is why China‘s culture created a manufacturing leader and the next global superpower: A lack of social barriers in helping others, a lack of toxic individualism, and sharing information without anti-social intimidation and reinforcements of inequality. In a so-called “Individualistic” society, the rich feel the need to behave as superior and alienate out of fear to fall short of expectations, in other words, the rich thinks that they must act smart and not be too transparent in their attitudes and thinking to justify how much money they have. Therefore, they do not help one another, because they feel the need to keep the interdependence of the poor on them, but these are only defense mechanisms at work that feed on shame and regurgitate it, for the rich and the poor. The system tells the rich that they must deserve it, even if they know they don’t, so they adapt by hiding their true selves with an impostor syndrome, while the poor find comfort in thinking that the rich know best in order to avoid burdened responsibility and agency.

The collectivism in learning a skill

“Chefs are incredibly passionate. Nobody who isn’t intensely passionate about food and cooking is going to go through the trials and rites of passage to become a professional chef. It requires a level of ambition, focus and drive that many folks simply don’t have, which is attractive in its own right. Cooking in and of itself is a skill that attracts others. Not, mind you, just because of the food, but because of what it says about the person. People who love to cook almost never cook solely for themselves; they want to share their cooking with others. Cooking, whether for individuals or for crowds, is an intimate and nurturing act, one that is at its core about connection.” — Dr. Nerdlove on How Men Can Stop Feeling Unwanted

Learning a skill and pursuing it is social. If you learn the piano, not only are you learning it for yourself, but just as you learn it for yourself, you want to show it to the other that is non-judgmental. In a society and culture that alienates others, we increasingly find ourselves in peers that are judgmental, they alienate because they themselves are alienated. If you are in that culture, you feel uneasy to think about the fact that you show your piano piece to people, as if learning the piece is strictly yours. But if we are in a shameless unalienating culture, you excitedly would love to show others your piano piece, the way you do for your best friend in the world that you currently trust, if our current culture managed to allow you to have that relationship. I believe there can be a world where we can stop hiding behind “individualism” and embrace the social nature of our achievements. When you want to play a piano piece for yourself, soon after, you want the people you love, that love you, to listen to it. We only keep it to ourselves if the outside world, and others, have hurt us before, but once we get over the hurt, or we heal it with time by ourselves, we are excited to show the piano piece to others again. There is collectivism in personal achievement.

Individualistic cultures are not very special

The research between individualistic and collectivist culture is credible and real, the distinction exists, but there is a lot more sociality and collectivism in individualistic culture than we are censored to believe. And we are censored to be alienated and individualistic in order to work anxiety-driven, which may be increasing narrow productivity at the expense of a good culture and mental wellbeing, for the benefit of a group of people that isn’t us, and we need to ask ourselves who and what is fueling this culture, and for the benefit of whom and what?




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