ALS Topic 23 - Individualist Cultures Vs Collectivist Cultures

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 8 December 2018
Venue: · Adelaide
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Note: About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.


Focus Questions

1. On a scale of 1 (individualist) to 5 (collectivist) where would you place your own personality?

2. Now that you have labeled yourself (Q1) what do you actually mean by that label?

3. It is often assumed (e.g. by journalists) that in supposedly collectivist cultures such as the Chinese, people are less selfish and more likely to help other people than in individualist cultues such as that dominant in the United States? How true is thia in practice? Think of examples.

4. Name three cultures that you would consider individualistic, and three cultures that you would consider collectivist. Why did you put them in these categories? How do they actually compare.

5. Think of ideologies: Communism, by the very name, implies collectivism, while capitalism implies individualism. How have these theoretical types played out when applied to actual countries (which might or might no be dominantly collectivist/individualist)? Religions are known to adapt even their core beliefs to local cultures (syncretism). Has this also been true of communism & capitalism?

6. Our personalities are an outcome of nature and nurture (what we are born with, and how experience shapes it). To what extent do you think that individuals can be lucky or not lucky by being born into a collectivist or individualistic culture that matches their personal tendencies?

7. Both locally and globally our lives are becoming ever more interdependent. Who do you think is best equipped to survive in tis complex environment: the individualist or the collectivist? [As an example, think of how most doctors used to function as independent professionals, but are now forced to function in teams].

8. By nature and upbringing I am an incurably individualist, but one who senses that the modern human world can only survive through intense cooperation with large numbers of other people. For me this has always led to great cognitive dissonance, frequent revolt against organizational decisions, and probably the absence of any real 'career'. If you were a career advisor, what would you consider to be the best option for a person like me?

9. Traditional English culture was famous for tolerating, or even celebrating, the eccentricity of particular individuals. There was sure to be someone in every pub who was fondly known as 'a character'. This was somewhat true also in the Australia where I was born in 1945. The Australian slang for an eccentric character was 'a dag'. Australia in 2018 has over three times the 1945 population and is a different country. What is the present attitude to eccentrics in Australia? Do you think this general public attitude now reflects an individualistic or collectivist tendency?

10. The slicing and dicing of 'big data' by both companies and governments is making it efficient for them to discriminate against us as individuals for differing from the average. In other words they are trying to force us to be part of statistical collections. [See Cathy O'Neil's book, Weapons of Math Destruction, for examples of this]. What evidence is there that people from so-called collectivist cultures will be less likely to resist being statistically herded or rejected than people from so-called individualistic cultures?

11. Defensive living - how cautious are people about their reputations, or their dignity in individualistic Vs collectivist cultures (or isn't this question relevant)?


Comments & Extra Reading

Thor May (2001) "Individualism or the Group?" @

Thor May (2001 ) ""When Is It Rude To Be Rude? - Politeness Across Cultures and Subcultures - 언제 무례하여 무례해지는가?" @언제_무례하여_무례해지는가   

Thor May (2003) "Korean, American and Other Strange Habits - You Do It Your Way - two books reviewed" @

Thor May (2018 ) "The Ambiguity of Courage" @ 
- The social outsider is found in all types of societies, but his or her fate in those various societies can be radically different. Here Thor gives an autobiographical account, described through two incidents, of being shaped as an outsider in Australian culture.

Thor May (2010) "Somebody Else’s Problem – Decision Making in China" @

Thor May (2010) "Cultural Operating Systems – Thoughts on Designing Cultures" @

Thor May (2013) "Ethical Behaviour is Harder for the Rich". The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Thor May (2014) "Are we too wealthy?". The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Madhu => I found this link where you can check or compare cultural characteristics of different countries such as individualism, power distance etc. 
=>> Thor May - Thanks Madhu. What a relief to find someone else who actually reads.

Thor May => Cultures are mostly organic - they grow without much conscious direction from anyone over long periods of time. But what happens when a synthetic, mass organization like a religion (e.g. the Catholic Church) or a one party nation-state (e.g. PRC China) decides to impose 'collective' social arbitration on everyone? Inevitably there will be some individual injustice, but for a common good? Perhaps sometimes. But the arbitrary and uninformed decisions of such leadership are also prone to mass catastrophe for the majority. A relevant outcome for such imposed ruling is China's one child policy: Audrey Jiajia Li (30 November 2018) "Can the Communist party get out of China’s bedrooms now, please?" The Guardian @

=> ian beutler - one point, Thor... an' i ws out tday chatting with some gd down-to-earth folk.. pple are getting MORE FEARFUL of speaking out, not to mention ACTiNG.. out...! ! ! ! !
=> Thor May - Yes Ian, they live with their heads inside fear-fertilized social media bubbles beamed out of smart phones, even walking down the street ... It's a new species.

Jared Diamond (1991, 2006) "The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal". Wikipedia summary at  . [Thanks Madhu for the reference]. Published by Harper. Volume at Amazon, 

Koshal (September 27, 2011) "Difference Between Collectivism and Individualism". DifferenceBetween website @  [comment: This is rather over-simplified]

Wikipedia (2018) "Collectivism". Wikipedia @ 

Wikipedia (2018) "Individualism". Wikipedia @ 

Thor May => Perhaps the most famous expression in English literature of the need to belong to a group is John Donne's (1572-1631) poem

"No Man Is An Island"

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Thor May (2015) @  =>

A while ago, for fun, I composed a mirror poem to John Donne's work:

"Each Man is an Island"

Each man is an island entire of itself; though every man
seeks a bridge, a link to the main;
if a town is washed away by the sea, the country
will restock, as well as if a politician were, as
well as if any collection of your Facebook friends or of your
silly dreams were; every man’s death saddens me,
because I imagined his shadow nearby.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the siren wails; it comes for you and me.

Gerard Hofstede (2015) "Individualism Vs Collectivism - world map" @  [comment: best not to take this map too literally]

Gary D. Gregory and James M. Munch (1996) ,"Reconceptualizing Individualism-Collectivism in Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 104-110. @ 

Liz Gold (June 27, 2018) "Collectivism vs. Individualism in the Workplace" Bizfluent website @ 

Psychology Wiki "Collectivist and individualist cultures" @  [comment: heavy on stereotypes. Treat with caution]
Nathalie Nahai (Jul 15, 2013) "How to Sell Online to Individualist vs

Collectivist Cultures" Psychology Today website @ 

Anamaria Knight (n.d.) "I or We? How Individual- or Group-Orientation Influences Cultures…and Education" Small Planet Studio @ 

Thor May (2015) "So You Love Humanity But Can’t Stand People?" - Humanity, when assembled as a state, also finds it hard to tolerate the individual. When should collective interests (e.g. those of a state) override the interests of individuals? Example: Many Americans see “the right to bear arms” as a triumph of individual rights over the collective rights of the state. The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


 Individualist Cultures Vs Collectivist Cultures (c) Thor May 2018 return to Ddiscussion