Research has shown that people feel friendlier towards a person that they did a big favour to. Yes, read that sentence again. You’ll grow to like a person when you’ve risked some benefit towards yourself in helping that person. You’ll sub-consciously justify it in the other direction, that the person has got to be very important to you in order for you to sacrifice so much for them. This also works for initiation. If you notice, people who had to undergo an arduous initiation regime, or otherwise give up something, would feel more committed and bonded towards the group when they received entry finally. This sounds very counter-intuitive, and I don’t expect you’ll be convinced till you see actual examples, but this may shed some light on why individualism does not necessarily make a person happy, and why there is a whole lot of countries in the world who value self-sacrifice for the good of the larger group.
It can be very hard to grasp the bridge between individualism and collectivism. Books about the topic often compare them in terms of extremes and opposites, citing countries like America against Japan, for instance. Reading the materials makes me aghast at how the companies could be so different. And yet, in reality, are they really like that? Of course I can’t judge until I’ve been there, but from the Singaporean groups I’ve been associating with, we haven’t been as collectivistic and “relationship-oriented” as the books state. I’ve hung out with Westerners, but they haven’t been as individualistic as one would expect either. Is it because the world is moving towards a “global village”, where cultural differences are stamped out by geographical co-operation?
And when one thinks of cultural difference, one invariably thinks of entertainment. Hollywood has infiltrated Asia for a while now, so many of us would be familiar with how they “get things done” over there. In the recent decades, though, the opposite has also happened, if you think about it. Anime and K-pop, believe it or not, are as large a part of the United States and Europe as Hollywood is in our land, or are going to be, gradually, steadily. Does this mean, one starts to think, that the Caucasians are also becoming increasingly… Asian?
There’s no definite evidence of that as yet, but we do know that Westerners are starting to favour cute, young people and things, which used to be an Asian preference (think of perhaps One Direction?). Americans can be pretty hot cosplayers, and you should see K-pop fans explaining the structures and politics of Korean groups. But Japan-ophiles and Korea-nophiles are still a niche crowd over there, and we don’t know if their liking for Asian entertainment really translates into office behaviour, just as how China still functions on their internal “connections” system. But even though anime is starting to cater a lot to international audiences (with obviously English names like Sword Art Online, or European settings like Gosick), the Japanese still leave visible remnants of their philosophy in the plot. We see things like “For the organisation, I will fight!” and “believe in him!” and all their “Hai!” to commands and their team uniforms that are so convenient for cosplay. They do it so happily! Will the Americans feel less argumentative after watching anime? Will they become more deferent to their own superiors and organisations?
I like collectivism. I like the feeling that I’m not lonely in the pursuit of my own goals, that when I feel weak I have a strong support network behind me, who will help me out knowing that I will reciprocate the favour in the future and feel great pleasure in helping others in return. However, I also love individualism. I love that individual efforts reap individual rewards, that people get what they deserve. Can we have a mix of both though? Or the question might be, do we actually already have a mix of both?