mardi, août 12, 2008

The individual and the collective

The NYT columnist David Brooks has been investigating some fascinating by-roads recently. He's was the the sole Times conservative columnist for way too long, until they decided to augment their editorial page with William Kristol. Now he is routinely out-rhetoricked, which is probably a good thing.

All of these folks are really good writers.

But the ones who hold your attention past the second clever paragraph are the ones who are willing to stray away from orthodoxy, liberal or conservative, and fellow the logical questions, even when it takes them away from the thundering herd. Thus Maureen Dowd gets a little dull, while Nick Kristof continues to challenge.

Back to Brooks-his column today is on the way some nations/peoples think in terms of the group, and others in terms of individuals. Here in America, and in Western Europe, we tend to think individualistically. But most people see life in terms of the group's well-being, and tend to look at their own achievements in a group context.

There are pluses and minuses to each perspective. But if Brooks is correct, then it raises a whole host of questions about how we Americans view other societies-and how they see us. What of our attempts to "export" democracy? Is there a way democracy can be more oriented towards group welfare? What can we learn from collectivist culture? What can they learn from an individualistic society like ours?

Taking a step back, and viewing culture from this kind of sociological lens, also helps us, as individuals, cast a cool eye at the way we judge conflict-and individual bias. Just this morning, as I read about Georgia and Russia, I was feeling very disturbed by the whole idea of tribalism, and the insanities it leads to. That's my Western prejudice.

Now I'm wondering whether it's not built into the gene pool in some societies-and how to make it a force for health, rather than illness.

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