Is there really such a thing as individualistic and collectivist societies in the world?

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I keep hearing these terms but googling just provides vague generalizations making me believe there’s barely a divide between these two.

Can someone explain the core of the matter please?

Like, why would east Asian countries NOT be individualistic?

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8 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Those two terms are theoretical extremes and all real societies would fall somewhere in-between. It’s all just a question of how much the society favors the group verse the individual. A more collectivist society would have less individual rights than an individualistic one would and would instead encourage people to prioritize the group as a whole.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Those two terms are theoretical extremes and all real societies would fall somewhere in-between. It’s all just a question of how much the society favors the group verse the individual. A more collectivist society would have less individual rights than an individualistic one would and would instead encourage people to prioritize the group as a whole.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There’s no ELI5 version of this, because there’s no one way of looking at this. Societies are very complex things, and these terms are beginning to mean different things to different people, and all societies have elements of both. On top of that, everyone has elements of one category or the other that’s become just invisible so much they’re taken for granted without anyone ever thinking about it, so everytime we compare another society to ours, we only compare a few custums, laws or parts of their system to ours, not the whole thing.

A nation can also be socially collectivist and economically individualistic. Or the laws might be individualistic capitalism and the people act more like a tight knit community. Or they could be individualistic with their taxation and reduced social net, but then again be filled with people who do tons of volunteer work and donations.

America is supposedly very capitalist and individualist, worshiping billionaires. Yet, you subsidize losses of companies all the times, you have collectivist Home Owner Associations (HOAs) everywhere. Everyone balks at their taxes being used for universal program, yet they give more to charity on average than most industrialized nations.

Most Asian nations have low tax rates, low social nets, more of a “everyone for themselves” vision of work and prosperity, yet families stick together even more radically than anywhere else. In Korea and Japan people are expected to work 60-80h a week to better themselves or be labeled bums or a disappointment, with everyone competing so hard for every promotion you’d think they’re insane. Yet when a natural disaster strikes, the few with homes still standing volunteer to house as many as possible without being asked, and everyone lines up in an orderly fashion to receive disaster relief aid with very minimal crime, looting or incivility.

A separated pair of social and economic spectrums would probably be a better tool for this, but people can’t resist the allure of a simple metric that confirms or denies their opinion quickly without effort or nuances.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There’s no ELI5 version of this, because there’s no one way of looking at this. Societies are very complex things, and these terms are beginning to mean different things to different people, and all societies have elements of both. On top of that, everyone has elements of one category or the other that’s become just invisible so much they’re taken for granted without anyone ever thinking about it, so everytime we compare another society to ours, we only compare a few custums, laws or parts of their system to ours, not the whole thing.

A nation can also be socially collectivist and economically individualistic. Or the laws might be individualistic capitalism and the people act more like a tight knit community. Or they could be individualistic with their taxation and reduced social net, but then again be filled with people who do tons of volunteer work and donations.

America is supposedly very capitalist and individualist, worshiping billionaires. Yet, you subsidize losses of companies all the times, you have collectivist Home Owner Associations (HOAs) everywhere. Everyone balks at their taxes being used for universal program, yet they give more to charity on average than most industrialized nations.

Most Asian nations have low tax rates, low social nets, more of a “everyone for themselves” vision of work and prosperity, yet families stick together even more radically than anywhere else. In Korea and Japan people are expected to work 60-80h a week to better themselves or be labeled bums or a disappointment, with everyone competing so hard for every promotion you’d think they’re insane. Yet when a natural disaster strikes, the few with homes still standing volunteer to house as many as possible without being asked, and everyone lines up in an orderly fashion to receive disaster relief aid with very minimal crime, looting or incivility.

A separated pair of social and economic spectrums would probably be a better tool for this, but people can’t resist the allure of a simple metric that confirms or denies their opinion quickly without effort or nuances.

Anonymous 0 Comments

[removed]

Anonymous 0 Comments

I can give my personal perspective on this, though it will probably not be complete, since it’s only my personal perspective.
I’m someone born and raised in a Western (“individualistic”) society who has since moved to an East Asian (“collectivist”) society and raising his kids there.

So first of all, I think the divide between them *is* exaggerated.
People on one side like to fetishize and fantasize about the other side, and end up exaggerating the differences.
West and East are more alike than they are different, broadly speaking, and when it comes down to it, we’re all just people.
Some families in the West are more collectivist (parents making decisions for their kids, even into adulthood) and some families in the East are more individualistic (parents letting their kids make their own choices early on).
So this is just about generalizations.

Second of all, yeah, the differences between them do end up being pretty vague.
I’ll see if I can put in examples as specific as I can, but most of them will end up being pretty vague.

In my experience growing up in the West, personal authenticity, expression and creativity are celebrated by the culture.
Right from daycare or kindergarten, we get a lot of messages about being “our true selves”, how “special” we are, that “you can be anything”.
We don’t like people who are “fake” or trying to copy other people.
By the time to we get to university and it’s time to choose a university major, we’re supposed to pursue a personal dream, or study something that we’re personally passionate about.
Everybody is different, everybody has their own dreams and life’s ambitions, and we need to encourage young people to find themselves, explore their dreams, do a lot of inward reflection, and express who they are with authenticity and individuality.

In East Asian culture, this is muted quite a bit more.
I mean kindergarten kids do still have some creative expression (drawing whatever pictures they like) and their own particular interests (some kids like dinosaurs and others like robots), but they don’t really get the same messaging from adults about being special or following their dreams.
They *do* get a lot of messaging about being respectful to their parents and teachers, not being too difficult, being considerate to their friends.
When it comes time to choose a university major, typically it’s the parents who make the decision (with input from the young person).
It’s not so much about following childhood dreams or passions, but more practically about what will provide money and stability for the family.
Family duties (taking care of your parents, taking care of your siblings, eventually providing for a family of your own) are always celebrated as the most important thing, much more important than your own “selfish” desires or pursuits.

(In the not-so-distant past, even choosing who to date or who to get married with was not an individual choice, but something decided mostly by your parents)

You can see how it’s reflected in popular media.
I mentioned how “authenticity” is celebrated in Western society.
The West often looks down on pop music, for instance, calling it “manufactured” or “formulaic” (in a degrading way).
The West highly celebrates artists (musicians, actors, directors, writers) who go against the grain, who have some unique personal vision.

In the East, it seems that artistic pursuits are just a job, like any other.
There’s no strong particular reason why a musician should be expected to be “authentic” any more than an office worker should be expected to be “authentic” in the way they write up their TPS report: it’s just a job.
Some musicians make pop music, some make more niche genre music, and that’s fine: both are just jobs.
Some film directors may have some extraordinary talent for unique films, and some may make films for a more mass appeal, and that’s fine.
The important thing is that both should be contributing something to society, and are taking care of their families.

Even something as simple as wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The West saw a lot of protests about mask mandates and pushing for masks (and vaccines) to be a personal choice.
You never really saw any of that in East Asia.
People might grumble about how useless some particular rule or another is, but they’re not going to protest about it or defy the rule.
Even if a rule is useless, the important thing is that everybody’s following it.

As a more extreme example, consider the reaction to being fat.
In the West, being fat is a personal choice, even to the point where close friends or close family members might not dare comment on your weight.
In East Asia, perfect strangers will feel comfortable just walking up to you in the middle of a grocery store and telling you “You’re too fat. Please lose weight”.
Being fat is everybody’s business: you’re being an eyesore (and thus inconsiderate) to people around you, you might be a burden on your family, and maybe more importantly, it means that you’re “selfishly” doing what *you* want instead of what everybody else wants.

(Side note: as East Asia becomes more Westernized, fat shaming in particular is becoming noticeably less common, even just within the last 10 years)

Anonymous 0 Comments

[removed]

Anonymous 0 Comments

I can give my personal perspective on this, though it will probably not be complete, since it’s only my personal perspective.
I’m someone born and raised in a Western (“individualistic”) society who has since moved to an East Asian (“collectivist”) society and raising his kids there.

So first of all, I think the divide between them *is* exaggerated.
People on one side like to fetishize and fantasize about the other side, and end up exaggerating the differences.
West and East are more alike than they are different, broadly speaking, and when it comes down to it, we’re all just people.
Some families in the West are more collectivist (parents making decisions for their kids, even into adulthood) and some families in the East are more individualistic (parents letting their kids make their own choices early on).
So this is just about generalizations.

Second of all, yeah, the differences between them do end up being pretty vague.
I’ll see if I can put in examples as specific as I can, but most of them will end up being pretty vague.

In my experience growing up in the West, personal authenticity, expression and creativity are celebrated by the culture.
Right from daycare or kindergarten, we get a lot of messages about being “our true selves”, how “special” we are, that “you can be anything”.
We don’t like people who are “fake” or trying to copy other people.
By the time to we get to university and it’s time to choose a university major, we’re supposed to pursue a personal dream, or study something that we’re personally passionate about.
Everybody is different, everybody has their own dreams and life’s ambitions, and we need to encourage young people to find themselves, explore their dreams, do a lot of inward reflection, and express who they are with authenticity and individuality.

In East Asian culture, this is muted quite a bit more.
I mean kindergarten kids do still have some creative expression (drawing whatever pictures they like) and their own particular interests (some kids like dinosaurs and others like robots), but they don’t really get the same messaging from adults about being special or following their dreams.
They *do* get a lot of messaging about being respectful to their parents and teachers, not being too difficult, being considerate to their friends.
When it comes time to choose a university major, typically it’s the parents who make the decision (with input from the young person).
It’s not so much about following childhood dreams or passions, but more practically about what will provide money and stability for the family.
Family duties (taking care of your parents, taking care of your siblings, eventually providing for a family of your own) are always celebrated as the most important thing, much more important than your own “selfish” desires or pursuits.

(In the not-so-distant past, even choosing who to date or who to get married with was not an individual choice, but something decided mostly by your parents)

You can see how it’s reflected in popular media.
I mentioned how “authenticity” is celebrated in Western society.
The West often looks down on pop music, for instance, calling it “manufactured” or “formulaic” (in a degrading way).
The West highly celebrates artists (musicians, actors, directors, writers) who go against the grain, who have some unique personal vision.

In the East, it seems that artistic pursuits are just a job, like any other.
There’s no strong particular reason why a musician should be expected to be “authentic” any more than an office worker should be expected to be “authentic” in the way they write up their TPS report: it’s just a job.
Some musicians make pop music, some make more niche genre music, and that’s fine: both are just jobs.
Some film directors may have some extraordinary talent for unique films, and some may make films for a more mass appeal, and that’s fine.
The important thing is that both should be contributing something to society, and are taking care of their families.

Even something as simple as wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The West saw a lot of protests about mask mandates and pushing for masks (and vaccines) to be a personal choice.
You never really saw any of that in East Asia.
People might grumble about how useless some particular rule or another is, but they’re not going to protest about it or defy the rule.
Even if a rule is useless, the important thing is that everybody’s following it.

As a more extreme example, consider the reaction to being fat.
In the West, being fat is a personal choice, even to the point where close friends or close family members might not dare comment on your weight.
In East Asia, perfect strangers will feel comfortable just walking up to you in the middle of a grocery store and telling you “You’re too fat. Please lose weight”.
Being fat is everybody’s business: you’re being an eyesore (and thus inconsiderate) to people around you, you might be a burden on your family, and maybe more importantly, it means that you’re “selfishly” doing what *you* want instead of what everybody else wants.

(Side note: as East Asia becomes more Westernized, fat shaming in particular is becoming noticeably less common, even just within the last 10 years)