in Individualism-Collectivism and Social Capital (2004) [pdf], allik & realo — after looking at some, you know, actual data — come to the same conclusion that i have been babbling on about here on the blog (if you can read between the lines/read my mind, that is), and that is that paradoxically it appears that, in societies in which the members are MORE individualistic, those same members are oriented MORE towards the group, the whole group, and nothing but the group (i.e. NOT their extended families or clans or tribes) than in societies in which the members are NOT so individualistic.
this seems paradoxical, because you would think that the more individualistic a bunch of individuals were, the more selfish and self-oriented they’d become; but what in fact seems to have happened out there in The Big World is that those individualistic individuals are more concerned about the commonweal than non-individualistic peoples are — the individualistic individuals are, in fact, more civic minded, more democratically minded, and NOT very family minded (in the sense of the extended family, that is).
oddly, the whole world is not like this, only some peoples are. as riley jones said on twitter the other day, it’s almost like people evolved…to be different!
from allik & realo [pg. 32]:
“[I]ndividualism does not necessarily jeopardize organic unity and social solidarity. On the contrary, the growth of individuality, autonomy, and self-sufficiency may be perceived as necessary conditions for the development of interpersonal cooperation, mutual dependence, and social solidarity…. Psychologists have also noticed that the consequences of individualism are not always detrimental. For instance, it has been noticed that individualism (as it is conceptualized in psychology) is also associated with higher self-esteem and optimism (Kitayama, Markus, Matsumoto,&Norasakkunkit, 1997); individualistic cultures are higher on subjective wellbeing (Diener & Diener, 1995; Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995; Diener & Suh, 1999; Suh, Diener, Oishi,&Triandis, 1998), and they report higher levels of quality-of-life (Veenhoven, 1999). People in individualistic cultures tend to have more acquaintances and friends (Triandis, 2000); they are more extraverted and open to newexperience (McCrae, 2001); and they are more trusting and tolerant toward people of different races (Hofstede, 2001)….
“According to Hofstede’s (1991) definition, ‘individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family.’ Collectivism, on the other hand, ‘pertains to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty’ (p. 51). Linking to theories of modernization, Hofstede (1991) claimed that industrialized, wealthy, and urbanized societies tend to become increasingly individualistic, whereas traditional, poorer, and rural societies tend to remain collectivistic….”
here are the results from allik & realo. they took at look at the degrees of individualism both in different countries and in different u.s. states to see if there was any correlation between individualism and collectivism (measured by looking at social capital or interpersonal trust) in those places (see their paper for their methodology and where they got the data from — putnam was one of their sources). first, the countries (click on charts for LARGER views!):
you’ll recognize all the usual, long-term outbreeding suspects** in the upper right-hand corner (most individualistic and most trusting): great britain, the anglo nations, and the netherlands in the lead; the scandinavians (a bit less individualistic than the brits/dutch) following; then the swiss, germans/other germanic populations, and the french and italians; then the eastern europeans; trailing way behind are groups like the turks, brazilians, and nigerians. the one big outlier is the chinese, and the authors, as well as other researchers to whom they refer, all admit that they have no idea why the chinese show up as so trusting — in other surveys, too, apparently. i can’t explain it, either — but, then, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. (~_^) (maybe.)
next, the u.s. states. it’s south dakota all over again!:
hackett fischer couldn’t have drawn a tidier chart of his four folkways! there are the yankees (and scandinavians) in the upper left-hand corner — the most individualistic with the most “social capital” a la putnam [pdf]. in other words, the longest outbreeders again. in the lower right-hand corner are the backcountry southerners who stem from populations that inbred for longer (i.e. the scots-irish and border reivers**). they all have the lowest amounts of individualism and social capital (although, paradoxically again, they probably feel like strong individualists, but that’s just antipathy towards government, i.e. outsiders having any control over their lives — i know the feeling! (~_^) ). and states with a mix of outbreeders and inbreeders — like new york and illinois — fall in between.
more from allik & realo [pgs. 44-45]:
“Where Does Social Capital Come From?
“A mere correlation (no matter how high it is) between measures of social capital and individualism tells us nothing of course about their causal linkage. What we can conclude is that individualistic values appear to be conducive to social capital and social capital appears to be conducive to individualism (see also Inkeles, 2000)…. As noted in our introduction, individualism can be seen as a consequence of modernization. Modern, rational societies are built on the self interest of individual actors whose independence and inalienable individual rights form the core of their political and economical life. Many social scientists have predicted that one inevitable consequence of modernization is the unlimited growth of individualism, which poses serious threats to the organic unity of individuals and society by paving a road to social atomization, unbounded egoism, and distrust (Etzioni, 1993, 1996; Lane, 1994). Existing data, however, provide no support for such pessimistic prognoses. On the contrary, we saw that individualism appears to be rather firmly associated with an increase of social capital, both within and across cultures. Paradoxically, in societies where individuals are more autonomous and seemingly liberated from social bonds, the same individuals are also more inclined to form voluntary associations and to trust each other and to have a certain kind of public spirit…. Thus, the autonomy and independence of the individual may be perceived as the prerequisites for establishing voluntary associations, trusting relationships, and mutual cooperation with one another.”
i think that the social scientists have it exactly backwards: individualism is not a consequence of modernization, but rather modernization is a consequence of individualism. and this individualism first got going in the early medieval period (although its roots may go even further back — see here and here) in the northwest corner of europe (barring ireland and the highlands of scotland) with the outbreeding program put into place by the catholic church and tptb.**
the english were some of the earliest individualists (see here and here and here), and they pretty much invented the industrial revolution and neat things like liberal democracy. oh, and they were also the first in europe to cease being so crazy violent in the medieval period.
peoples are individualistic because they have certain innate traits that were selected for via evolution, and one way (i think) to set up the conditions for those traits to be selected for is to avoid close mating, i.e. get rid of clannishness. over the long-term — we’re talking evolutionary processes here, not overnight quick fixes. the process started in northern europe in the early medieval period (or perhaps even a bit earlier), and after a thousand years or so, these societies were filled with individualistic individuals having a strong orientation towards the wider group, i.e. societies with a lot of trust and a lot of social capital. that’s the recipe for individualism-collectivism.
**for more on the historic mating patterns of various european (and other) populations, see the “mating patterns in…” series below (↓) in the left-hand column.
previously: me and max and mating patterns and the individual and where do clans come from? and corporations and collectivities and liberal democracy vs. consensus building and mating patterns, family types, social structures, and selection pressures
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