Home______Mother cultures, Individualist & Collectivist: Why Bush Should Have Hired a Cultural Anthropologist Before Deciding to Invade Iraq

Americans say the squeaking wheel gets the grease. Japanese say the nail that stands out gets pounded down. A speaker in the West will be introduced as "distinguished" while an Asian speaker begins by saying he knows little about the topic.

Various research reveals differences between the two. Cross-cultural scientific studies indicate individualism as a deep feature of Western cultures as distinct from most others. This research perhaps will pioneer a new way of looking for so-called universal human values, and it should. Collectivist cultures comprise 70 percent of world population but virtually all data of social science and psychology derive from individualistic Western cultures. "Universals" of human behavior may apply only to advanced, materialistic societies, a minority of world population. Collectivism predominates in most cultures of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. The most strongly individualistic cultures include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands. Other Northern European countries also rank high.

Values most important in the West are least important worldwide.
  • Novels in the West focus on a lone figure seeking private goals. Stories in the East celebrate duty to kin or other authorities, despite personal temptations. Huckleberry Finn leaves civilization behind. Krishna, in the Bhagavad-Gita, is persuaded to do his duty, and plunge into battle. More

    (What about justice in cultures? See John Rawls & social justice, 7 January.)


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