Behind Asian Fear of Individualism: 1

In a previous post, I asked your input on why Asians seem so mortally afraid of individualism. This is an important question because many Asian nations demonstrate abilities on par with the west, however this potential almost never gets translated into innovation. Let us be clear about one thing- innovation is not possible without individualism.

There are those who propose explanations based on culture, social conditions, genetics or similar external factors, but their seemingly good explanations don’t hold across cultures. An explanation for why China did not innovate do not hold true for Japan and the reason behind the stagnation of the Ottoman empire don’t hold true for various Indian empires. However it is hard to ignore that the Ottoman empires response to innovation was strikingly similar to those in Japan, China or India. To put it another way, the Turks reacted in a manner similar to the Japanese- though they had never seen each other.

There is something else at work and I will try to explain my theory in the rest of this post.

The assimilation of western ideas into Asian cultures is biphasic- useful technology is quickly copied and even improved, but ideas and modes of thinking are rarely accepted.

Why not? Why were Indians, Japanese and Turks proficient at copying handguns but so determined to ignore the printing press? I believe that this pattern is not accidental and is part of a world view. It was also not simply an aversion to change because guns changed the lives of people and empires as much as books. Let me use another example to illustrate my point.. Muslim Arabs have a surprising if veiled tolerance for western “sins” such as cyberporn, booze, drugs but a striking intolerance of apostasy and criticism of their culture. Are you starting to get the point I am making?

People have an innate aversion to be exposed as stupid and incompetent poseurs. However culture and traditions are largely about stupid, meaningless and often counterproductive posing. Civilizations which have been around for a long time accumulate too much cultural and traditional baggage. An unfortunate aspect of the human condition is that most people, even clever morons, cannot see past cultural and traditional shit.

Unlike many other continuous cultures a series of events in the west during the 1300-1500 AD timespan produced a large discontinuity from the past. Events such as the black death, a series of very bad harvests, various wars in the early middle ages caused a non-voluntary shutdown and reinstall of the OS, device drivers and programs in their cultural computer. As many of you know from experience, doing that often restores computer performance and allows the machine to do things which were previously considered impossible.

But what about cultures who did not have to reinstall their software from scratch and upgrade their hardware? For them, piecemeal installation of selected new software packages and complicated workarounds the dysfunctional OS are the only realistic option. Almost nobody wants to willingly reinstall the software or update the hardware in cultural computers.

So how does this tie into a fear of individualism?

Individualism represents an attempt to update the system, install officially unauthorized applications or update the hardware in a manner that conflicts with existing resource allocations, applications, processes and threads. The rejection by eastern cultures of post-renaissance thought, especially individualism, is therefore an attempt to protect an obviously dysfunctional cultural computer- though they will almost never publicly admit that.

The antipathy of eastern culture to printing, especially privately owned printing, in previous eras and dissenting electronic communication today is due to the subconscious realization that their systems are fragile and incompatible with any real reform. The ‘elites’ of eastern cultures have therefore always tried to buy time by selectively adopting post-renaissance technologies to keep themselves competitive, while actively ignoring the spirit and ideology that gave rise to them. Likewise, many asian behavior patterns stressing homogeneity and conformity are due to the subconscious realization that their systems are ill equipped to change without some major and unpleasant readjustments.

Even the west would not have changed on its own if things had not gone to shit in the 1300-1500 AD timespan. Luckily for them, occurrences beyond human control forced their hand.

Will write more in future posts on this topic.

Comments?

  1. Columnist
    August 31, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Very good post.

  2. Anonymous
    August 31, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    They’re *in* the computer?

    Cultures are computers.

  3. Nestorius
    September 1, 2011 at 1:09 am

    “Why were Indians, Japanese and Turks proficient at copying handguns but so determined to ignore the printing press?”

    Actually, powder guns were used by the Mamluk and Ottoman empires before they became known in Europe. The printing press was first used by Jews in Istanbul during the late 15th century. But the Ottoman government first used it in 1755.

    “The antipathy of eastern culture to printing, especially privately owned printing, in previous eras and dissenting electronic communication today is due to the subconscious realization that their systems are fragile and incompatible with any real reform.”

    Do you know about the heretic blogs and forums that are found on the internet in Arabic? I have seen many. This very popular news website, Elaph http://www.elaph.com, has so many “heretic” articles in it.

  4. Nestorius
    September 1, 2011 at 1:19 am

    “innovation is not possible without individualism”

    What about all the innovations that happened by pure chance?

    • Meta
      September 1, 2011 at 6:17 am

      Things happen by chance, but it takes some mental freedom to recognize that it would be an innovation. If Noone had noticed the petri dish with mold in it, or not brought attention to it, antibiotics would never have been discovered.

  5. Nestorius
    September 1, 2011 at 1:41 am

    From what I see, innovation comes from the will to know the truth. If there is no will to know the truth, innovation will only come by chance.

    An ideology can be dated by the date of the first of its name. The word “individualism” was first used in 1827. Therefore, individualism dates to 1827 or few years before, but innovation was already there before it and did not nead this ideology.

    To summ it up, innovation comes from two main things:
    1] The will to know the truth. Human acts are based on wills. Most of the times, the will to know the truth comes from not understanding what’s happening around, due to the presence of conflicting knowledges. This mixture of true and false knowledges leads to mental pain which can only be cured by knowing the truth and eliminating the false.
    2] Isolating oneself from the world and not partaking in its pleasures (mainly sex). Sex and other similar pleasures lead to the loss of testosterone. The mind needs testosterone to function well and to stay sharp.

    I’m talking here from personal experience. I was like that before even hearing about the ideology of individualism.

  6. September 1, 2011 at 5:59 am

    The tumult surrounding the era of the black death clearly has an important link to Western ascendancy. Corvinus Diabolicus is definitely onto something here.

    However, the black plague epidemic pretty much swept all across the Eurasian landmass. In fact, I think it’s thought to have started in East Asia or the Subcontinent and gradually made its way to the West. The destruction and depopulation it caused was hardly exclusive to Western Europe.
    The same OS reset does not seem to have resulted in the same cultural rebirth elsewhere.

    Also consider that much of Islamic and East Asian civilization was also given a major “reset” by the Mongol invasions. Then again a couple hundred years later by Tamerlane.
    Baghdad for instance was one of the great centers of science and innovation on Earth until it was razed to the ground by Genghis’ armies.

    Actually the sacking of key cities in history such as Alexandria and Baghdad probably did much more harm than good. With the main centers of knowledge removed, the creativity of these civilizations never seemed to recover. In fact, repeated invasion seems to make cultures more defensive and socially conservative. Innovation is a luxury that they give up in place of the undivided pursuit of civilizational survival.

    Perhaps plagues have the potential for instigating a civilizational rise because they are going to occur in the first place because there are far too many people trapped in zero sum subsistence. Thus those already most malnourished and weak are more likely to die.
    If certain conditions are right: perhaps a sudden precipitous drop beneath carrying capacity allows an opportunity for something beyond subsistence.

    I might also put forth the idea of a civilization’s staple grain as a key factor:
    -Rice tends to result in extremely high population densities locked in perpetual zero sum struggle. No one has room for innovation.
    -Wheat where it grows reliably(Southern Mediterranean) seems to result in a similar dynamic, though less extreme. There is some opportunity for innovation.
    -In much of Europe, however, wheat is not completely reliable and rye with its tendency to rot and ergotism is not a total replacement. Civilizations were forced to rely more heavily on dairy and other alternatives. Perhaps more potential for surplus. And without surplus: no innovation.

    Also: the importance of new world crops cannot be understated. The potato alone turned relative backwaters(i.e. much of Germany) into populous powerhouses overnight.

  7. September 1, 2011 at 6:11 am

    I see cultures, societies not quite as computers, but as brains.

    In effect each individual is sort of like a neuron.

    Thus a code of behavior that has weak justifications on the individual level might result in a coherent, logical, and competitive society.

    For instance, there was this one South Park episode that pokes fun at the story of the book of Mormon yet praises the cohesiveness and unity of the emergent Mormon community.

    Conversely, it’s possible for a society to commit suicide because its members are behaving rationally…

  8. MC OToole
    September 2, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Thousands of years ago China created vast rice farming operations and those who joined this group effort were well fed while non joiners went hungry. Thus those more independent types tended to die off. Conformity is stressed in Japan as well. A popular saying in Japan in “The nail that sticks up is the one that gets hammered down”.

    • September 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      The need for collective involvement could be reinforced by the needs of the crop itself.

      Perhaps we could also predict that crops that depend on intensive collective labor or a collectively maintained irrigation system are going to cause a highly conformist and despotic society to emerge.

      Rice fits this profile. And so does wheat when grown in river flood plains. (i.e. Egypt, Mesopotamia).

      When rulers can not only control the food supply, but the water supply necessary to grow food, you’ve got a double dose of despotism.

      And on the local level, if you’re the nail that sticks up, your family, your neighbors, your village council can also mess with your access to food and water.
      They can’t afford dissent: you could equally screw with them, so you get beat down pre-emptively for being a liability to the community.

  9. September 4, 2011 at 5:52 am

    Another thought:

    Asian society has already undergone a bloom of individualism and the corresponding social collapse.

  10. Anonymous
    September 4, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Staple food = rice (carbohydrates)

    Mainly carbohydrate diet = low testosterone

    Low testosterone = beta characteristics

    Beta = socialist tendencies

    Entrenched socialism = rigid caste statism (Confucianism)

    => stifling of individualism and creativity for thousands of years

  11. doclove
    September 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Did the environment create an “innovation gene” or “individualism gene” in Europeans? English Historian, Arnold Toynbee, stated that civilizations rise because of very bright productive people trying to overcome, adapt and survive their environment. Civilizations collapse or at least stagnate when the consumer unproductive people cause too much strain on their civilization. Europeans were the first to create “democracy” or republics in Ancient Pagan Greece and Italy(Rome). A republic or the notion of individual rights and individual liberty except for the top leaders and/or top leader , noblemen and/or king, would not reach non Gentile(non Jewish) European people until the 20th century Some Gentile Europeans were establishing democracy or republics with the concept of citizens rather than subjects of the state(the king is the state), no king or a limited kingship, even lowest citizens having rights against the state, elected representives of the citizens, and the philosophical search for the truth etc. sometime between 700-500 B.C. No culture besides that of Gentile Europeans even attempted and failed at this until the 20th century. Gentile Europeans have never been successful at all of these concepts for longer than 500 years before failing. Even the Celtic cultures before smashed by the Italians were moving in that direction for government, republics, and away from kings. Imperial Rome(a return to kings oops megakings—Emperors) came to be when its previous republican government collapsed. However, the rise of Christianity which could not be crushed by Imperial Rome and took over the Roman Empire came to pass. Even with the return of kings in the Middle Ages, there was the competing power of the Christian Catholic Church. The Middle Ages even saw a return to republics in northern Italy. The English noblemen made the king sign the Magna Charta in 1215. Gentile European Kings in the Middle ages were more likely to consult(at least sometimes) with a formal assembly of nobles and sometimes clergy and commoners for well over a millenia. Think of the English Parliament, Polish Sejm, and French Assembly(which brought down the French kings and established a republic before 1800 A.D.). The king in theory if not practice was a Constitutional or limited King throughout most of European history. The return to republics or at least constitutional limited monarchy and not absolute monarchy, individual liberty with individual rights and individualism started to make a comeback first in England in 1215 A,D., then again in England in the 1600s A.D., and finally in the USA in 1776 A.D. It reached all European cultures wherever they were in this world, even ones not in Europe,before the year 2000 A.D.
    We must not discount that Gentile European cultures even with Kings were by far more likely to allow or even require all its subject able bodied males to be armed. Even when Robert DeBruce, king of Scotland, changed the laws requring all his able bodied male subjects to be armed after forcing the English out of Scotland in the 1300’s. The English outlawed arms for most of the Scottish people when they conquered it in the 1200’s. Ancient Republican Rome required its male citizens be armed too. This has an effect on innovation or more likely individualism which precedes innovation too. European cultures such as the USA and Switzerland allow its citizens to be armed unlike any “democracy” in Asia. Even in South Korea, for example, the right to be armed is allowed but by far more restrictive than in the USA or Switzerland. South Koreans must check out and check in their rifles usually within a 24 hour period of time from police stations after paying an expensive yearly license fee. Needless to say, most citizens do not own arms, and even of the few who do own arms are severely restricted from accessing their arms in South Korea. An individual who can back up his right to his individual rights, individual liberty and individualism with effective violence by being armed is by far more likely to express his individualism and innovation.
    The Orthodox Christians have their bishops(metropolitans) vote on what is to be believed and how to run things throughout their domain. Even the Catholic Christians do the same with their Archbishop Cardinals and Pope, and the Pope has more authority than even the top Orthodox Bishop, but even the Pope according to Catholic Cannon law must consult with his Archbishop Cardinals before doing many if not most things since the Council of Jeruselem under the 1st pope, Pope Peter(apostle to Jesus) in 40 A.D. Oddly, Pope Peter andmany if not most of the church leadership were Jewish, and they were there to decide what to do with the Gentile conveerts and Jewish converts to their new religion, Christianity as explained in the Acts of the Apostles book in the Bible. However, for most of its history, Christianity has been a mostly Gentile European religion until this point history, despite the fact that most Christians may not be of purely European descent today and since 1600 A.D., and that the majority of Christians until Islam took over the Southwest Asia and North Africa were of course non Gentile Europeans. However, Christianity has held sway over Gentile European people for longer than any other genetic and cultural stock of people. Christianity seems to have had some positive influence concerning individual rights, even though many Christians were the biggest tyrants against individual rights.
    Advocatus Diaboli, I’m not discounting anything you say. I’m just questioning and adding to it. Europeans may or may not have individualism and innovation genes in greater proportion to other cultures. Even the Jews who are individualistic and innovative have had considerable Gentile European admixture-see Askenazi European Jews being more individualistic, innovative and having higher IQ’s than other Jews. Although, I agree that the confluence of genes and culture create individualism then innovation.

  12. doclove
    September 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I’m clearing up what I wrote above and adding to it. Most of Celtic Europe in Spain(Hispana), France with Belgium(Gallia) Switzeralnd(Helvatia), and England with Wales(Britannia) was conguered by the Ancient Italains under the Roman Republic or Early Roman Empire. Unconquered Celts remained in Ireland(Hibernia) and Scotland(Alba). Even in the Old Irish language, there was no seperate word for man and warrior, but there were seperate words for man and warrior in Middle Irish and of course Modern Irish languages. Even the Ancient Celts called upon all able bodied men to train and fight when necessary for war. The Ancient Republican Romans and the Ancient Democratic Greeks e.g Athens and Thebes did the same with all its citizen men. Even undemocratic Ancient Greek Sparta under kings and an assembly required its citizen males but definitely not its subject males to train for war. The idea of a citizen soldier and/ or militia seems to be a very Gentile European concept which has also had an effect on individualism and innovation too. If you mention the Ancient Persians, they were a Gentile (Indo) European people at the begining of their history.Even the Israelis are largely descended from Gentile Europeans, e.g. Ashkenazi Jews. The survivor European Jews who fled after the World War 2 Holocost Europe are the most responsible for the creation of the modern current Israeli state despite it having many if not most Jews being of other than European blood and cultural heritage. The European Jews were the leaders and the definite majority at modern Israel’s foundation. Many if not most of todays’s Jews are of Gentile European genetic ancestry and culture for over a thousand years. There is about a 50% Gentile European blood in European Jews with 80% of it coming from women and 20% coming from, and the other 50% is from Semitic Southwest Asia. Persecution failing to kill them all and their early entry into urbanized life & work and their insistence on education etc. combined with their 50%Gentile European ancestry may have weeded out the dumb unproductive uninnovative Jews.You may declare Jews as being more innovative than Gentile Europeans, but my point still stands. I see no other culture with as developed of a concept of a citizen-soldier or low born subject commoner militia soldier as at has been in Gentile European cultures since ancient times.

  13. doclove
    September 4, 2011 at 10:50 am

    It’s really the European Jews who have been the most innovative and have the highest IQs of all Jews. The Ashkenazi European Jews’ 115 IQ have one standard deviation above Gentile Europeans 100IQ and Soutwest and North African Sephardic Jews 90-100 IQ. The Gentile Europeans have at the very least been more innovative than the Sephardic Jews if not the Ashkenazi Jews. .Like I said before, the Ashkenazi Jews have 50% Gentile European blood in them.

    • hans
      September 6, 2011 at 3:33 am

      Indeed, and the other 50% is Caucasian/Turk peoples blood, making the Ashkenazi as about as Jewish as my hamster.
      I always chuckle when some blond blue-eyed or Turkish looking guy calls himself Jew. Oddly they almost always are in positions of power.

  14. September 5, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Perhaps there need not be any debate over whether a society’s collective gene pool or external circumstances shape its nature.

    Because clearly these two factors are interlinked just as nature and nurture for the individual. To ignore either would be folly.

    If external circumstances lead a civilization gradually towards increasing dependence on rice cultivation, a significant impact on the collective gene pool ensues.

    Or conversely, if the society’s gene pool already has developed some prerequisite set of critical traits, a sudden shock or cataclysmic event might merely allow this latent potential to be expressed.

    A common error in thinking that’s been perpetuated by political correctness: that the nature of humanity stays constant for even a single generation, let alone throughout human history.

  1. September 4, 2011 at 1:39 am

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