Monday, November 18, 2013

Flip of the Cultural Poles



The earth’s magnetic field is said to be due for reversal sometime soon. This is when the current North Pole would become the South Pole and vice versa. However, we may be witnessing a different kind of Pole reversal taking place in an altogether different sphere; i.e. in the socio-cultural sphere.

There are two extreme cases of socio-cultural organizations in the human society; one promotes collectivity over individuality and the other promotes individuality over collectivity. Generally, western societies under Judeo-Christian culture are pro-individualist and the Arabic societies under Muslim culture are pro-collectivist.

I believe that collectivist societies are beginning to become more individualistic while individualistic societies are gradually turning towards collectivism. Further I believe that, it is their own individuality coupled with the collectivism of the Muslim societies that drives the individualistic Western world towards collectivism and conversely it is their own collectivity coupled with the individualism in Judeo-Christian societies that drives the collectivistic Arab world towards individualism. The current socio-political development in the respective societies points to this phenomenon.


The so called pro-democracy (term given by the western media) agitations in the Arab world are a sign of these societies turning towards individualism. They may be frustrated by their authoritative governments which in turn can be thought of as a form of collectivism but it cannot be ruled out that they are also unsatisfied with their culture that forces them to conform to a certain way of life that restrict individuality. According to Islamic scholars the Quranic view of the world is a collectivist one. It is not a secret that Muslims in general consider the rights of their society to be more important than their own. Therefore the so called revolution that is taking place in the Arab world could be thought of as an indirect revolt against the collectivism in their society. Although it cannot be determined what part the western governments play in this reversal, it is apparent that Muslims who are in the forefront of these agitations are the liberal minded western educated youth.

On the other hand, the threat of terrorism by the so called Muslim fundamentalists is causing the western world to curb the rights of individuals over that of the society. The governments are given right to eavesdrop on conversations and to access private information about individuals in lieu of national security. These types of legislatures would have been deemed as encroachments of individuality decades ago but today these and other stringent security measures at public places (again against individual rights) are a part of daily life in today’s western societies.

Western societies are increasingly unnerved by the growing pockets of sub-cultures, especially among Muslims, in their midst that resist assimilation in to the western culture. As a way of discouraging the formation of non-western sub cultures in their midst, western societies may be driven to be less individualist and more collectivist in the future. The noted growth in minority populations in proportion to the majority in western countries may also hasten these trends.

Additionally, there are inherent forces that drive the western societies into collectivism. Some of these may be attributed to the ill effects of capitalism. Too much greed and too much power on the hands of a few can drive a capitalist system into saturation as evident by the current economic melt down. The regulatory mechanism put in place to circumvent such melt downs in the future could indirectly affect how individuals are allowed to exercise their rights over that of the larger society. Natural disasters and the government’s inefficiency in coping with such catastrophes have also highlighted the importance of collectivism in western societies.

Thus it appears that forces both from within and outside of the Arab and the western worlds are driving those societies towards their respective opposite cultural Poles. What is interesting is that each cultural Pole is its own force of change in addition to being a negative force on the opposite Pole. Like earth’s magnetic poles I wonder if these two cultures oscillated between the two poles throughout their history and if so to what extent monotheism played a part in it.

To achieve a balance between these two extremes, a culture should be immune to the forces that drive it to the extremes both from within and outside. In such an ideal society, the existence of the individual should mutually depend on that of the society. In this context, individualism and collectivism become irrelevant concepts. I believe that such a society could adept to any situation without being driven to extremes, either by individuals being more important than the society or by the society being important than the individual or by both being important or by both being unimportant while maintaining the mutual dependence between the individual and the society. However the adaptability depends on the society's ability to maintain the mutual relationship between the individual and the society.


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