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Collectivism is the central meme of his column today.  It has two meanings, but he is really using the second one  2: emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity, rather than the more common meaning.   1: a political or economic theory advocating collective control especially over production and distribution; also : a system marked by such control

I say this since his discussion uses China as an exemplar of "Collectivism" which is certainly not the first definition of this very capitalistic state.  But, in his use, based on his essay, the Democratic party fits his definition.   A collectivist society is one that demands universal health care, while the whole of society ensures the health of the individual.  As progressives we feel so strongly about this that we are willing to subordinate the desire of the individual who says he would rather have a faster car than guaranteed health care.   In this important area we say the collective will trumps the individual.

He is not talking about democracy v. autocracy as much as differences in orientation:

You can create a global continuum with the most individualistic societies — like the United States or Britain — on one end, and the most collectivist societies — like China or Japan — on the other.

The individualistic countries tend to put rights and privacy first. People in these societies tend to overvalue their own skills and overestimate their own importance to any group effort. People in collective societies tend to value harmony and duty. They tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts.

He describes some recent psychological studies that illustrate this difference in social orientation, along with some historical explanations. (Unfortunately the N.Y. Times hasn't gotten the idea of links to sources yet.)  And then he continues:

Either way, individualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.

But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.

And here is his conclusion, which, refreshingly, is more an invitation for discussion.

..............Meanwhile, human brains turn out to be extremely permeable (they naturally mimic the neural firings of people around them). Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide.

Or stated another way: with saturation media controlled by those who possess power in all its incarnations, is the ideal of the individual as aggregates controlling their destinies by the democratic process reality or myth.

The rise of China isn’t only an economic event. It’s a cultural one. The ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.

Is he saying here that the progressive movement to the degree it elevates the common will over the individual a worthwhile competitor to the traditional conservative exaltation of the heroic individual?

It’s certainly a useful ideology for aspiring autocrats.

And he leaves us coming full circle......or does he?

Originally posted to ARODB on Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 01:53 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thought provoking or...... (5+ / 0-)

    Right wing talking points skillfully disguised to fool naive people like me.  Most on this site don't like the guy, but I find him frequently interesting.

    Here he captures some of the conflicting feelings many of us have about the Beijing Olympic Extravaganza.

    It is Berlin 1936, or something completely different, or a little of both.

    •  Time is the factor he leaves out (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and that in and of itself becomes misleading.
      While China, as an example, is changing it will take more time than those of us on earth today will probably live to see fully.
      With change comes upheaval and it ebbs and flows. We are seeing that to a degree now but the end result is many many year away.

      •  The last 30 years has been a revolution... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        from a communist agrarian society to an Autocratic capitalist society.  Which is a new catagory, which I believe would include the defacto current Russian Republic.

        The good comparison is with democratic India, something I don't have any good research on my fingertips.  

        We on this site decry what our democracy has become, and at what point is the problem inherent in the system , which almost begs for the voters to be manipulated by illusions.

        We decry the Right wing's illusions, but do we not have to get down to that same level to win elections, and is this compatible with "good" governance.

    •  The lesson of Berlin 1936? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      A pretty Olympics and a supportive population don't necessarily mean you have much of a future. It all depends on what you do with it.

      "And if you vant a second opinion -- you are ugly too!"

      by sagesource on Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 02:07:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am digusted by the 1936 comparisions (0+ / 0-)

        The president of China is not HITLER and the Communist Party are not NAZIS so please enough with the 1936 comparison. Just because it is not a democracy does not mean it is a evil empire. Hitler got elected at some point we often would like to forget. A great many dictators were elected before they decided to oppress the masses. China is not a dictatorship. They are a hell of a lot more than a pretty Olympics, try taking a quick trip to Walmart and see where 70% of that stuff gets made. It seems like nothing to you but making things is what made America great in the first place.

    •  Freedom and Democracy are not always linked. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Hong Kong didn't have Democracy as a British colony but had a ton of freedom.

      Singapore had Democracy but a lot less individual freedom.

  •  He still can't quite make the connection. (6+ / 0-)

    Together, we can do great things. In a world where it is every man for himself, schools disintegrate, bridges crumble, levees break, and people drown before your eyes.

    Government by the people is the solution, and not the problem. That balancing act between collectivism (working for and contributing to the common good) and freedom (personal automony) is what America was all about. We are falling off the wire now.  

    Please don't tell me you feel sorry for Ben. Ben is a well cared for dalmatian and has not been harmed by my political views.

    by Bensdad on Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 02:03:59 PM PDT

    •  Sure, China can put on an impressive Olympics... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Allogenes, SciVo

      but they can't build schools that will withstand earthquakes.  This shows that corruption is not eliminated in an autocracy.

      Perhaps it takes a different form.

      •  I don't think schools that aren't.... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        amRadioHed, qi motuoche

        ...earthquake proof are necessarily due to corruption. We have hospitals all over California that we have not retrofitted because of money.

        They can build schools that will withstand earthquakes. But for a nation of over a billion, that may take time.

        Please don't tell me you feel sorry for Ben. Ben is a well cared for dalmatian and has not been harmed by my political views.

        by Bensdad on Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 02:50:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  China's culture of corruption is ancient. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Totally entrenched. The emperors hid from disease in their sacred city, while local officials exploited their positions for self-aggrandizement. It was a kind of bureaucratic feudalism, as opposed to the old European aristocratic feudalism and the new American corporate feudalism. To this day, it's so bad that they actually have the death penalty for taking bribes, and even that isn't enough deterrance. It's just taken to mean that you have to be very, very careful in whom you deal with.

        Doesn't John McCain look tired?

        by SciVo on Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 03:02:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Tired old crap..... (0+ / 0-)

    ....from Oriental Wisdom 101. Modern-day China is more groups fighting for advantage and power than a "harmonious collective." And ancient China, collective or not, was one of the world's greatest economic powerhouses, not just in one historical period, but in two or three at the very least.

    As usual, Brooks is talking out of his ass and what he says smells of stale farts.

    "And if you vant a second opinion -- you are ugly too!"

    by sagesource on Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 02:05:28 PM PDT

  •  One of the funniest doonesbury's ever was (3+ / 0-)

    during the time Duke was ambassador to China (under Carter, I think) and he's writing a report home:

    Duke: "I wish I could think of another word for 'teeming'".

    Honey: "Please, sir, try!"

    Brooks has managed to avoid "teeming" and "yellow horde".

    "For a man who will turn 72 this month, he's a surprisingly immature politician--erratic, impulsive and subject to peer pressure"-Newsweek.

    by Inland on Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 02:11:53 PM PDT

  •  What an idiot (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dwcal, SciVo, qi motuoche

    He cites China and Japan as collectivist societies and then says individualist societies have stronger economies. Uh HELLO? ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION?

    And by his own definition, one of his cited examples of 'individualist' society is clearly 'collectivist': Britain has government-operated taxpayer-funded healthcare for all, and the least respect for privacy in the developed world (at least in terms of CCTV camera count per capita). The English are renowned for self-effacement.

    But then, we knew he was an idiot already.

    •  Idiot indeed (0+ / 0-)

      Britain's healthcare system is the most government-controlled of them all. It's not just single-payer government insurance like Canada, but a National Health Service where all providers are employed by the government. If those individualistic Brits approve of universal, public healthcare then shouldn't be any problem to us Americans.

  •  Brooks seems to be making an argument for (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arodb, Allogenes, SciVo

    the Democratic platform.  This is not a zero sum game.  A healthy society needs to have elements of individualism and collectivism.  Adding some elements of collective societies, like universal health care, would only strengthen us.  The radical individualism advocated by the Republican party and the gutting of the safety net has been a disaster for this country.  

    •  Yeah, that's why I posted this.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      He seems to be saying that individualism will have a new competitor on the world stage.   And what I get out of this is every system has its own characteristic pathologies.

      We have the resurgence of evangelical religions, to the point that science is under pressure when it does not confirm to some fundamentalist values. And, whether we want to admit or not, monotheism has become our national religion.  To deviate from this is to forego the opportunity for political power.

      I felt he was defining a new way to discuss this issue, but many here see him as just a right wing mouthpiece.  

      •  Brooks is weird. (0+ / 0-)

        He'll have a good day where he seems fair and makes sense. Then he'll throw out some crappy partisan hit job based entirely on what I call psychic hotline analysis, presuming to read minds and see the future. You never know which Brooks you'll get.

        Doesn't John McCain look tired?

        by SciVo on Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 03:06:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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