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Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Moderator: hansioux

Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby Hokwongwei » 29 Dec 2014, 11:29

The NY Times has this interesting opinion piece that would be up most people's alleys here I think.

TL;DR version: Americans and Europeans and Northern Chinese are selfish because they grow wheat. Southern Chinese are group-based because they historically grow rice, which requires more cooperation. The article then takes a really weird turn to start talking about the Tea Party and Ted Cruz. You can ignore that part.

However, I think a big issue here is how we define selfish. While the majority of TWese people have no qualms about sharing money and other things with family members, the way that most people drive here cannot be described as anything other than self-centered. So I think it's more of a correlation than causation thing. Or perhaps it's just that everyone in the world is selfish; we're just selfish in different ways.
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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby hansioux » 29 Dec 2014, 12:28

Hokwongwei wrote:The NY Times has this interesting opinion piece that would be up most people's alleys here I think.

TL;DR version: Americans and Europeans and Northern Chinese are selfish because they grow wheat. Southern Chinese are group-based because they historically grow rice, which requires more cooperation. The article then takes a really weird turn to start talking about the Tea Party and Ted Cruz. You can ignore that part.

However, I think a big issue here is how we define selfish. While the majority of TWese people have no qualms about sharing money and other things with family members, the way that most people drive here cannot be described as anything other than self-centered. So I think it's more of a correlation than causation thing. Or perhaps it's just that everyone in the world is selfish; we're just selfish in different ways.


Not sure. I don't really buy it.

Science can prove how the source of food can affect two groups of the same species to diverge down the road. For example, chimpanzees and the bonobos are separated by the Zaire River. While chimps in the north have a drier climate and less abundant food during dry season, the bonobos simple do not have to worry about the lack of food. The two species evolved to have completely opposite social order. Chimps in many ways are like humans. There's hierarchy, while clans war and even kill their own kind. The bonobos simply do not kill. Everyone is equal, including gender equality.

Since most people these days do not farm, as world's populations are concentrated in cities, I don't know if human ethnic groups have been separated long enough to have such social behaviors encoded in our genetics, to the point that even after being removed from the farming cultures that these traits would persist. Or maybe it's just reinforced culturally?
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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby Hokwongwei » 29 Dec 2014, 12:46

I believe the argument is that it's reinforced culturally. Nobody would buy it if researchers tried to say Europeans are DNA-coded to be individualistic. Regardless, I agree that the convergence of societies worldwide as people adopted city culture and technology, not to mention the all-present influence of globalization, means that agricultural trends that may have shaped society way back when have a limited ability to explain our current behaviors.
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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby Xeno » 29 Dec 2014, 21:47

I can't read the article (it's behind a paywall for me) but it sounds like some hokey pop science/evolutionary psychology thing. People really love these "just-so" explanations of complex phenomena. Also: Jerry Coyne doesn't like her much. That alone doesn't mean anything... but it shows it's certainly not the first hokey article she's published.
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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby Ermintrude » 29 Dec 2014, 22:25

'Americans and Europeans stand out from the rest of the world for our sense of ourselves as individuals. We like to think of ourselves as unique, autonomous, self-motivated, self-made. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz observed, this is a peculiar idea.'

It's a peculiarly absurd idea to bunch Europe as a homogenous sub-culture of America (the US?). Ottomans, Vikings, Sephardic Jews, Ashkenazim, Catholics and Proddies, Gauls, Celts, Greeks, Poles, Magyars, Finns, Romani, French Algerians, etc, are clumped together as a monoculture called 'Europe'. But maybe that's just me, being a 'unique' Euro.

Many places in Europe are not even wheat-growing areas. Nor, I guess the US. In Europe, I think sometimes the grapeline is more of a key cultural determiner.

There are also plenty of other reasons for Chinese north south cultural differences, other than crop.
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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby Ermintrude » 29 Dec 2014, 22:29

No Google Scholar at skool. Turn It In doesn't work properly. It's fun listening to the reason the library and IT dept give for why our skool IT is shit. :lol:

I need a VPN for flob, otherwise I just get a white page.

Edit: wrong thread. Delete, if you have nothing better to do.
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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby superking » 30 Dec 2014, 02:50

Evolutionary psychology is the next big thing. You can expect more bullshit in the coming decade.
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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby cyberguppy » 30 Dec 2014, 10:04

Here is my "just so so so" explanation.

Firstly for all humans, your genes are wired to make you think your family comes first before other humans, then your tribe, then maybe your nation. Animals are all wired the same way - it's a survival pattern that got you here so you carry it's meme.. You're carrying the messenger, like us all.

Non of us are purely individual. We all fear rejection, losing face etc in some kind of way so we care about what other's think.

Why are non asians are more individualistic? The belief system passed down is that going against the grain, defying the trend etc is self realization and progress. A path that can be littered with all kinds of glorious possibility (and failures) instead of humdrum of everyday rice planting cooperation.

btw - rice planting, playing in sports teams, working in companies, going to school are all cooperation activities that do somewhat influence how you treat others.
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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby Hokwongwei » 30 Dec 2014, 14:49

cyberguppy wrote:going against the grain


I see what you did there!

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Re: Putting it in scientific terms: Why East Asia isn't individualistic

Postby finley » 30 Dec 2014, 15:21

Ermintrude wrote:'Americans and Europeans stand out from the rest of the world for our sense of ourselves as individuals. We like to think of ourselves as unique, autonomous, self-motivated, self-made. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz observed, this is a peculiar idea.'

Personally I think it's not just "peculiar" - anyone who has actually lived in Asia (as opposed to getting all their cultural information from bad Hong Kong kung fu movies) would recognise it as a gross oversimplification at best, or complete unmitigated bollocks if you're feeling uncharitable.

It would be equally "accurate" to assert the precise opposite, thus: many Asian cultures tend to be more compliant in the face of family or clan dictates, but everyone else can go fuck themselves; the wider world simply does not exist. Westerners (in very general terms) are more likely to recognise the huge social and economic benefits that come with co-operation and trust. Asians are therefore "individualistic", and Westerners are "Group-based".

But that's just a historical coincidence. It wasn't that long ago that most of Western Europe (and the US, for that matter) was a low-trust society where strangers were usually trying to kill you or exploit you, and it was acceptable or even expected to cheat or mislead The Other. Southern Italy (and no doubt a lot of other places) is still much like that ... just like some of the shittier Asian societies today.

And incidentally:

1) I hate the modern idea that armchair pontificating with sciency-sounding words in it is science.
2) Rice does not need standing water. It does better - like most plants - on free-draining soil with adequate water. Paddy fields are flooded because some varieties of rice tolerate flooding, while weeds (mostly) do not. Since flooding occurs seasonally in some areas, it was used as a simple way to kill weeds and perform irrigation in one hit; eventually, people came to believe rice would only grow with this method (and no doubt seed selection turned that into a self-fulfilling prophecy). It's actually a pointlessly labour-intensive method: "Upland" rice varieties grow pretty much like wheat.
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