When we use the word “society” or “mankind,” we often mistake imagining a homogenous situation, with it describing all of humanity as having the same select traits or culture. Wrong. Society is so diverse you could find different practices within the same settlement.
Each “society” has its own unique culture, which defines it and the behavior of the constituent people. This culture goes as far as influencing its religion and even the economy. It also has its effects on the individual and family levels since culture gets built on the collective values of the people.
Our focus today turns to collectivist culture and just what it means. You’ve probably encountered people who practice it without actually knowing the word that truly defines it. You’d also be surprised to find out that many people are either from or actively practice collectivist culture.
I’m sure by now you are wondering what all this talk of society, culture, and the individual is about and what collectivist culture is. Well, in this article, you’ll get firsthand information about collectivist culture, its origins, what it means, which countries are a part of this culture, and which aren’t.
What is collectivist culture?
The collectivist culture emphasizes and upholds the needs of the “collective” as a group over the needs, goals, and desires of the single individual. In cultures like this, the defining factor that shapes an individual’s identity is their relationship with other members of the collective and the interconnected nature of the bond between the people.
A collectivist culture has strong family values and encourages the cultivation of healthy interdependent relationships. Societies like this often have a single mind or approach towards literally everything; the individual is indistinguishable from the group and vice versa. In this kind of population, you notice that each individual is either connected or defined by a group or family. What the group believes, the individual believes, what the group upholds, the individual upholds.
We can correctly view the collectivist culture or society’s traits in the following aspects:
- The Individual: In a collectivist culture, the individual’s identity, their “self,” is defined solely by the other members of the society. So, an individual would introduce themselves thus, “I am a member of…XYZ”.
- Group loyalty: The backbone of the collectivist culture is the “group,” As such, each individual must be loyal to the group. Loyalty and camaraderie get greatly emphasized are encouraged.
- Decision-making process: In the collectivist culture, no single person can make an independent decision. Instead, every decision is dependent on what the group decides and what is best for the group.
- Work Dynamics: Unlike other societal structures, in the collectivist culture’s work dynamics entails working together. Group work is essential, and everyone gets urged to support the next person.
- Goals: Due to the collective nature of the collectivist culture, there isn’t any room for individual or individual dreams or desires; the group’s goals far outweigh and supersedes that of the individual.
- Rights: When it comes to rights, those of the community and family come before the individual.
Origins and history
Collectivist culture finds its origins in the 18th century in France. The earliest mention or influence of collectivist ideals can be found in “Du Contrat Social” or “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In this body of work, Rousseau argues that an individual can only find true independence in submitting their will to the general intention of the community.
Rousseau argues that each individual is bound by a “social contract” to other members of their society and thus must act only in the group’s interest. He believed that the rot of a people was directly linked to the pursuit of individual, selfish goals. Rousseau’s view of collectivism was, of course, encompassing philosophy, the economy, and politics.
But the actual “origins” of collectivism aren’t limited to from who or what piece of media we first see the concept; it also entails the causative factor. We need to find that “eureka” moment for Rousseau, the reason he resorted to putting out his thesis for what he considered the blueprint for a “better society.”
To know this, we must return to 18th century France once more; Rousseau had viewed the monarchy system and how it only represented the goals, desires, and laws of one person; the monarch. Rousseau thought this to be offering oneself into slavery and went against man’s destiny as ordained by nature.
Rousseau wasn’t the only enlightenment thinker who saw the efficacy of the collectivist culture. English philosopher Thomas Hobbes was also brought to a conclusion after experiencing the brutality of the English Civil War.
He believed that if left unchecked, humanity’s selfish desires would ultimately ruin society and the world. Hobbes witnessed firsthand the savagery and greed that was the driving force behind most wars and concluded that it was best for the collective’s goals and desire to come before that of the individual to better society.
What are some examples of collectivism?
We can find a plethora of examples of collectivism in our society today. These examples may have gone unnoticed before now but armed with the information on collectivist cultures leading up to this heading, you’ll start to see just how connected they all are to the collectivist ideals.
- Cooperation: The idea of cooperation strongly ties in with the collectivist work dynamics making it a great example of collectivism.
- Rights and Freedom: the drive behind rights and freedom draws inspiration from collectivism, putting the rights of the group before one individual.
- Solidarity: since collectivism upholds the group, it makes sense for solidarity and loyalty to be an example.
- Social Anxiety: social anxiety is one you might not have thought would be here, but alas, it is very dependent on the group or a group one wishes to interact with.
- Mediocrity: mediocrity is often a measure of one’s worth or achievement against that of a group or a collective
- Authoritarian Personality: this refers to the innate desire for an individual to aggressively enforce the rules and regulations of the authority. One such as this is said to exhibit true collectivist ideals.
- Group Think: This is a state where individuals cannot have independent thoughts outside of the ones suggested or upheld by a group. This group can be that of their friends or family, a collective.
- Conformity: this example of collectivism speaks to the desire to act in similitude to the customs of the people they find themselves closest to. Yet another show of the collectivist ideals
- Harmony: harmony describes a singleness of action, sound, or behavior; it cannot define the quality of a single entity but a group, making it an excellent example of collectivism.
- Taxes and Regulation: for the benefit of the collective, taxes represent the best way to truly make sure each person contributes to the betterment of everyone else.
- Communism: This is an understandably extreme example of collectivism where the government forcefully takes control of all the capital and enforces whatever rules they consider best for the state.
- Norms: this refers to the customs a group abides by and the practices it considers normal and accepted. To comply with a model is to obey the rules of a collective.
What are the differences between individualism and collectivism?
We have, by now, thoroughly fleshed out collectivist culture, collectivism, and all it entails, now we must go even more profound. Newton’s third law states that there is an equal and opposite reaction; by this logic, collectivism cannot exist in a vacuum; it must have an equal and opposite version.
Collectivism upholds the group, making the collective goals the most important and encouraging teamwork and solidarity. Collectivist societies are often ones where there is no inequality in wealth or status; all are equal. The group is the most significant unit, with no one individual being more remarkable than this unit. It stands to reason then that the opposite would be a concept that places the individual at the forefront instead.
That concept is known as individualism, and it too has a rich history and equally valid points that support its practice. It is a widespread philosophy as well. The difference between the two schools of thought makes them whole, the core of the separate concepts. Here are a few differences between Individualism and Collectivism:
- The individual: the collectivist believes the group defines the Individual while the individualist upholds the pure identity of the individual.
- Group loyalty: in a collectivist culture, all are loyal to the group, even to their detriment, but the individualist is dedicated first to the “self.”
- Decisions making: while there is a consideration for the group’s welfare in the collectivist culture, this isn’t the same for the individualist, who makes decisions considering themselves first.
- Work Dynamics: while group work and support are the benchmarks for collectivist culture, the individualist culture encourages solo work more.
- Goals: at the heart of both concepts is the term “goals,” for the collectivist, the group’s goals are more important than the individual’s, but for the individualist, it is the other way around.
- Rights: The rights of the individual are not crucial in the collectivist culture, just the group’s, but in the individualist culture, the rights of the Individual are paramount.
Is the United States a collectivist culture?
The United States is hailed as the “New World,” offering great opportunities to many who find themselves there. The United States upholds the values of the single person above all else, putting a premium on enterprising individuals.
The United States is built based on independent thought, action, and of course, enterprise, making it the farthest thing from a collectivist culture you would find anywhere.
Highly collectivistic cultures
Collectivist cultures or societies are those that represent and uphold all the ideals of collectivism. These select people are the ones that built their community on the foundations and values of the collectivist concept.
Examples of these are the following:
- Europe: Germany, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Greece
- Asia: China, Korea, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia.
- Africa: Nigeria, Cameroun, Namibia, Uganda
- Americas: Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, Cuba, Colombia.
It is important to note that just because a country is listed as a collectivist, it operates a form of a political system that solely reflects extreme collectivism like communism. Some nations on the list are of socialist and democratic governments even. Sometimes, unwittingly, people can adopt both ends of the spectrum, somehow managing to strike a balance that offers all the good of both concepts and none of the bad.
Highly collectivistic cultures can also be said to be the ones who have taken the concept a little too far, akin to extremism. An example of that is the communism practiced in China and the former USSR, where the people had no real say, the government decided what was to be law, and they had only to obey.
Collectivism, at its core, is intended for good only. Still, like all things, it can be twisted to suit the evil machinations of whoever seeks to further personal gain, given the opportunity. The resultant version of collectivism then goes on to undo the good intentions of the originators of the movement by stealing the rights of the people and imposing laws on them. These laws are often meant to benefit or enrich the select few who made them; the rules are set on the masses by force through abuse of power.
But with that being said, we must also bring to light the positives. A highly collectivist culture is one where everyone works together to better the group and not just themselves; it’s a utopic society where no one is left out or made to feel less. It is a healthy, symbiotic paradise, self-sustaining and ever-enriching to all and not just one.
While we seek an end to war, famine, wealth inequality, we must consider that we have been doing so the wrong way, or at least, we’ve not considered all our options. Carefully implemented and integrated, the collectivist ideals can improve the lives of a people, all of them and not just a few individuals.
For a world in short supply of positive values and regard for family, friendship, loyalty, and solidarity, collectivism can create a new way of looking at the world. Once a society adopts collectivism, it is on its first step towards betterment, ensuring that the needs of all will be met and that moving forward, any decisions will reflect the needs and goals of the group.