Harmony and the Dream

David Brooks, New York Times, Aug 13, 2008
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Writing in the New York Times, David Brooks trots out that old truism that Asian countries display a collectivist mentality while western countries display an individualist mentality. This may or may not be true, as Mark Liberman comments (in great detail), but the research he cites is wrong in a deceptive and misleading manner. This is not uncommon, and I have complained elsewhere about the misrepresentation of research that occurs both in blogs and in traditional media. What bothers me is that such misrepresentation perpetuates a systematic misunderstanding of one's own society. When we look at American society, for example, e pluribus unum, with its mass media and mass movements, with its million man marches and pageants and spectacles, I see a society that is as collective in its own way as China is in its. But that said, for myself, I have long since abandoned the simplistic description of 'individualist versus collective' forms of organization, and I think that alternative forms of organization within societies bears at least as much examination as the (tired old) east-west dichotomy.
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