Previous/Library Cross-Cultural Observations by An Individualistic Collectivist
Prepared for PSYC 2000
Introduction to Psychology Section 4
Instructed by Lewis Roussel
Ichiro KASAI
Essay topic:
Cross-Cultural Observations by An Individualistic Collectivist
Thesis statement:
(1) America's individualism is in a dilemma in the society that imposes logical conformity to maximize efficiency, that deforms the individualism into egoistic one; (2) the individualism is not supposed to be wantonly abused, since the best spices are, albeit available at hand, in small bags.
  1. Reminiscence
  2. The Religion and Individualism
  3. The Industrial Revolution and Individualism
  4. The Individualism in a Dilemma

1, Reminiscence

It is peculiar to begin with telling one's past in a research paper, though, to help readers to know author's cultural background, and that helps readers to get better understanding of the cross-cultural observations.

I was born in 1957 and brought up in Shinjuku, Tokyo: the center of the megalopolis. When I was two and a half, my mother went to a hospital to deliver her second son. My grandmother came to help with the cooking, and I was an odd watcher. I watched her cooking in the kitchen and checked to see if she would bring the utensils back to the places where they were normally kept otherwise I required her to bring them back. I was a little soldier to maintain sovereignty at home. When I was four, I used to travel around with my toddler's bicycle. I used to travel around the radius of several miles and I could come back home. My neighbors watched me somewhere else far from home for such] a young boy. Psychologists explain that the behavior outward from home promotes the development of infant autonomous ability. When I was five, I memorized every station's names of streetcars in Tokyo. Although today only one line remains while others have changed to subway lines, there were more than fifty lines and hundreds of stations. I had topographical data in the right hemisphere of my brain, as well as linguistical data in the left hemisphere.

When I was seven, creativity and leadership emerged. I invented and initiated plays at parks such as rock climbing, walking on walls adventurously, exploring sewers, constructing tree top bases, etc. I once told my brother not to join the top spinning match because it was a gamble. I liked to watch the river beside the park. I noticed that the water became full of detergent bubble at ten o'clock in the morning because it lacked adequate sewerage. I knew it was bad when no one told me so. I noticed shady black liquid was coming out from a sewer to the river under moonlight. I knew it was worse. The criteria and analyzing ability was developing. There were many publishing companies there. When I was twelve, I used to make amateur radio equipment with vacuum tubes at home, and climb higher mountains. Mountain climbing was escalating to higher and harsher destinations. I have experienced panics in mountains.

When I was 18, I took a civil engineering course at the college because the word for civil engineering in Japanese language consists of soil and trees. "DO-BOKU" is civil engineering in Japanese, and I preferred soil and plants. I enjoyed my college life especially in the Nabe-no-kai (frying-pan club). The members often went outing, picked weeds up, cooked them, and ate them. Normally, they did not taste good as did vegetables at supermarkets. I could meet many friends of various personalities. We enjoyed discussing about nature and humans. My philosophy of the good old days is still living that humans do not enjoy with nature but in nature. "With nature" is a common expression in Japanese usage, as well as "in nature." Later I have noticed that it is based on animism which is observed in many places in non-Western culture, whereas in Western culture, humans in this world are centered by an authority: the God.

After graduating, I worked for a consultant company specialized in field measuring in tunnelling eleven years. Until now, I watch a dream repeatedly that the tunnel I engage collapses.

I recur a disastrous dream, a nightmare: I am working at a tunnelling site as a civil engineer. My job is to assure the rationality of the tunnelling. I observe omens at first. The steel supports are bending and the ground water is coming out. I finally announce people to evacuate. Then, it collapses. Getting out of it, I can see the sunset. The evening glow is beautiful. Suddenly the sky is burning westward. It is the greatest burning. Ah! My hometown is burning! I direct people to go back to the partly collapsed tunnel where the safer place remains; I am afraid of facing the after-blow (Kasai, "Loneliness").

Yet I have not watched the nightmare after the Cold War. However, yesterday I watched another dream. That was: A tunnel which was constructed by a new method of which I had asked to re-evaluate the design collapsed by landslide. Fortunately no one was severely injured. Civil engineering needs collectivistic fiber: state level of planning, bureaucratic diplomacy, mediation in communities, precisely planned steps in designing rooms, manufacturing farms, and construction sites. I was bored of being a function of bulky organization. An individualistic civil engineer decided to change the career to an agriculturist: simply, farmer. After the one year course of the Fruit Vegetables Department in Yathugatake agricultural institute in Japan, I took the Rural Sociology in the School of Agriculture, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College.

Staying in Baton Rouge one year, I here summarize the points that I noticed. (1) People tend to analyze phenomena as one cause results in one effect, or if there are more than one cause and effect, then, they are likely to treat them as each cause directly and independently results in one effect. In reality, causes and effects are intertwined and to be treated by using the technique of multi-variable function and multi-dimensional procedure. (2) The society is well-organized, and everything is standardized according to the educational institutions in order to maximize economic efficiency. In college exams, there is no question that asks students what and how they think. Answers should not be students idea but instructors'. The educational system imposes homogeneous logic on students in a state that presumably respects for individualistic fiber. (3) The public and private bureaucracy is very efficiently functioning. The power accumulated by organizations is splendid. Space projects such as Apollo, Voyager, Magellan, Galileo, are the evidences.

2, The Religion and Individualism

Historically, individualism in English terminology was born in Europe.

The concept of individualism appeared first in France after the French revolution, when the word "individualisme" began to be used by socialists, liberals, and also reactionaries to describe what they regardedas the evil, anti-social impulses of self-interest. In its first appearances in English, "individualism" referred to the egalitarian social philosophy exemplified in the United States ("Individualism").

Individualism is a token of victory from feudal lords who had suppressed people for centuries; also it derives from religion. Christianity, as well as Judaism and Islam, has one distinctive figure: the God.

The essence of Protestantism ... is the direct relationship between persons and their Maker. People both are able to know God without the necessity of intermediaries and are directly responsible to their Creator (Spence 1287).

Comparing with Christianity, Japanese animism, or Shintoism, is primitive in nature, or less factitious.

In contrast with monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity, Japanese religion emphasizes neither one sovereign God nor a sharp distinction between the several gods and human beings. Mortals and gods alike share in the beauty of nature. The tendency of Judaeo-Christian theology is to think of a hierarchy with God first, human beings second, and nature a poor third. In Japanese religion the three are on more nearly equal terms (Earhart 7).

I may hypothesize that peoples in distinctive monotheistic cultures are more likely to be individualistic than peoples in polytheistic cultures with vague figures of gods.

The largest memberships of the religions of the world are Christians: Roman Catholics, Protestants, and so on; one third of world population is Christians. The second largest memberships are Muslims; one fifth of world population is Muslims. The third largest memberships are nonreligious people; they are one sixth of world population (Kammeyer et al. 522). Islam was founded by the Prophet Muhammad who wrote Islam's sacred book, the Qur'an, whereas Christianity's sacred book is the Bible. Both Islam and christianity believe in the same God and in the Old Testament prophets, and they acknowledge Jesus as a prophet (Kammeyer et al. 530). Both of them have distinctive scenarios of days living in other worlds: heaven and hell. Reincarnation does not occur; therefore, individuals are less likely to have longer term perspectives.

Interaction is conceived in a longer time perspective by collectivists than it is by individualists. Specifically, goals are closer in time among individualists; one expects tit-for-tat rewards for social interaction. Distant goals are more common among collectivists. One does not expect immediate reciprocity, but long-term reciprocity is most important. Furthermore, the time frame of individualists is bound by their birth (hence the great importance of one's birthday) and thoughts about the possible influence on one or two generations of descendants. The time frame of collectivists is likely to include a chain of dozens of generations of ancestors and descendants (Triandis 60).

Religions, which have definitive canons such as the Qur'an and Bible, often function to legitimatize, to provide ideological support or justification for the status quo. Saddam Hussein frequently employed traditional Islamic rhetoric to justify his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Moreover, he denounced the U.S. and Western defence of Kuwait as "infidels" and characterized his military campaign against them as a jihad (holy war) (Kammeyer et al. 527). Rudyard Kipling edified in his "The Five Nations" (1903) that:

A favorite idea was that Europeans could and should "civilize" more primitive nonwhites. According to this view, nonwhites would eventually receive the benefits of modern economics, cities, advanced medicine, and higher standard of living. In time, they might be ready for self-government and Western democracy. Thus, French people spoke of their sacred "civilizing mission" (McKay et al. 1154).

His sophism of the White Man's Burden might derive from covenants between the God and the chosens. One of the roles of missions was the role as sweets in sweets and sticks: a role in imperialism. Using the religion with the definitive textbook, antibiotics, and vaccines, they could easily impose their doctrine. Statistics say 85% of population in the Philippines belongs to Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, Catholicism has affected the human traits tremendously; it has been assimilated by dominant indigenous folk religion that is a kind of animism.

3, The Industrial Revolution and Individualism

Max Weber analyzed Protestantism and capitalism in his "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" (1904):

Protestant ethic was a system of beliefs and action involving a commitment to hard work, frugality, self-denial, and acquisitiveness. It was this legitimation (or justification) of the profit motive that contributed to the development of the values and personality traits that characterized the spirit of capitalism in the Western world and led ultimately to the development of the capitalist economic system (Kammeyer et al. 523).

And, Spence observed in 1985 that:

The more specific origins of contemporary American attitudes toward work and material success are also found in our Puritan heritage. Protestantism sought to destroy not only any form of intervention between the individual and God but also distracting loyalties to human social institutions. Individuals exist for the glorification of God, and all of their activities should be directed to this end. It thus becomes a prime religious duty to remain in the world and to engage in productive labor. Work, in its humble, everyday sense, is a calling and successful achievement is to the glory of God (Spence 1288).

This work ethic was quite well matched with the Industrial Revolution since the late eighteenth century. The invention of steam engines and vessels, which made shipping transportation tremendously cheap, promoted specialization of production. Applying modern science and technology to the production process increased the efficiency of production.

Adam Smith argued in his "Wealth of Nations" (1776) that economies are most efficient when the government does not intervene. ... In 1830s David Ricardo applied Smith's idea in international trade that each country efficiently doing what it can do best, the economy will become more efficient. Applying it to individual level, Durkheim's Division of Labor, or Specialization of Labor, is: If everybody does what one best does, the whole economy will be most efficient (Gasiorowski).

The Industrial Revolution promoted individual freedom, or individualism. My case is at point. I was bored of my job, and I had savings. For the sake of the Industrial Revolution, I did not have to just engage in food foraging but enjoy an intellectual journey to widen my perspectives. Individualism may not be promoted without high productivity, but drawbacks are that (1) it consumes a lot of irreversible fossil fuel; (2) the fuel prices are determined by free market regardless of its irreversibility; (3) consequently, massive debt shall be passed onto our descendants.

4, The Individualism in a Dilemma

Lately, psychologists depicted the decay of America's individualism as:

A central theme in Western European history for about 800 years has been the decline of the medieval synthesis or, alternatively, the emergence of individualism. Two hundred years ago individualism was a moral and religious ideal capable of legitimizing revolutions and inspiriting sober and thoughtful minds. Sometimes in the last century, however, social thinkers began to regard individualism in more ambivalent terms, even in some cases as a possible indicator of social decay (Hogan 533).

The defining mark of contemporary American culture is the celebrated idea of liberty without limits. Freedom is cost in purely individualistic terms, there being no notion of, nor respect for, the common good. The individual is entitled to do exactly as he pleases, short of the most blatant and egregious violation of another person's rights. There is endless talk of the rights of the individual, but nary a word spoken of any concomitant responsibilities. Right and wrong are relative, having no discernible objective reference or content. That which burdens the individual is seen as unfair, and anything that restricts choices is condemned. This is the heart and soul of the new freedom. It is also the heart and soul of our psychological and social disorders (Donohue 221).

Liberty without limits and glorification of individuals have appeared in American families. A family is a basic institution of society because of the role of producing decent progeny. Children are reared with steady parents to develop their judgment criteria. Otherwise the development may be barred and hard to mature. Contrary to this, people having their options tend to base values upon themselves. Adoption, divorce, and remarriage deprive children of time to develop their subjectivity: the source of personality, that causes lack of self decision-making and promotes selfishness. "At current rates, half of all American marriages begun in the early 1980s will end in divorce. One out of four children is not living with both parents (CHERLIN 325)." Freedom is perverted. Sociologists observed America's high divorce rate as:

Another factor contributing to the increasing divorce rate is the growth of individualism. Individualism involves the belief that people should seek to actualize themselves, to be happy, to develop their interests and capacities to the fullest, to seek to fulfill their own needs and desires. With individualism the interests of the individualism take precedence over the interests of the family. People in our society have increasingly come to accept individualism as a way of life. In contrast, people in more traditional societies and in extended families are socialized to put the interests of the group first, with their own individual interests being viewed as less important. In extended families people view themselves as members of a group first and as individuals second. With America's growing belief in individualism, people who conclude they are unhappily married are much more apt to dissolve the marriage and seek a new life (Zastrow et al 384).

American psychologists have proved that children need decent human relationships to develop, especially maternal, as well as humane contact:

For more than 20 years, researchers have been experimenting with mother deprivation and isolation of infant monkeys. In a classic series of experiments, Harry Harlow and his associates raised infant monkeys in total isolation. The infants lived in individual cage, with a mechanical mother figure, which provided milk. Although the infant monkey's nutritional needs were met, their social needs were not. As a result, both their physical and social growth suffered. They exhibited such bizarre behavior as biting themselves and hiding in corners. As adults, these monkeys refused to mate; if artificially impregnated, the females would not nurse or care for their babies. These experiments provide dramatic evidence about the importance of being with others; even apparently innate behaviors such as sexuality and maternal behavior must be developed through interaction (Brinkerhoff 138).

With respect to the long term effects of 'maternal deprivation', mechanisms have to be determined for several distinct outcomes: mental retardation, dwarfism, delinquency, 'affectionless psychopathy' and possibly depression (Rutter 79).

Family style has been changing in the transition of society. Sociologists have named the family style as a nuclear family, and the bond of a wife and husband is first to place the center of a family and having few children without grandparents. The change to the nuclear family was a tremendous trend in all industrialized countries. Capitalists have needed ample workers; governments have promoted the policy of moving population from rural regions to cities where people have gotten free from carking vertical kinship and burdensome community cooperation. Getting incomes from enterprises is considered a primary need to be independent humans. The logic that the Division of Labor maximizes efficiency of production does work. However, maximized utilitarianism urges people just leaning forward and gives them no pastime to refine human culture, or human wisdom. Like the movie in "Modern Times," people must work monotonously at offices like laborers in mass production factories. America's individualism is in a dilemma in the society that imposes logical conformity to maximize efficiency, that deforms the individualism into egoistic one. Maximized utilitarianism deprives people of humane lives.

A cross-cultural psychologist, Harry Triandis, believes the distinction between individualist and collectivist cultures is the key to understanding many cultural contrasts. The lower economic productivity of collectivist cultures is offset by evidence of a healthier quality of life. These societies have among the lowest rates of homicide, suicide, juvenile delinquency, divorce, child abuse, and alcoholism.

... narcissistic individualism ... are detrimental to societal development; on the other hand, communitarian individualism should be most desirable if the criterion is economic development. If the criteria we wish to maximize are physical and mental health and those we wish to minimize are divorce rates, criminal rates, then, communitarian collectivism has much to recommend it. As societies evolve and become affluent, mobile, a shift from collectivism to individualism is inevitable. However, by emphasizing the communitarian aspects of these constructs we can maintain healthy cultural change (Triandis 106).

The individualism is not supposed to be wantonly abused, since the best spices are, albeit available at hand, in small bags.

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