Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘individualistic

 

 

 

Wheat People vs. Rice People

In America, we say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

In Japan, people say that the nail that stands up gets hammered down

AMERICANS and Europeans stand out from the rest of the world for our sense of ourselves as individuals. We like to think of ourselves as unique, autonomous, self-motivated, self-made.

As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz observed, this is a peculiar idea.

People in the rest of the world are more likely to understand themselves as interwoven with other people — as interdependent, not independent.

In such social worlds, your goal is to fit in and adjust yourself to others, not to stand out. People imagine themselves as part of a larger whole — threads in a web, not lone horsemen on the frontier.

These are broad brush strokes, but the research demonstrating the differences is remarkably robust and it shows that they have far-reaching consequences.

The social psychologist Richard E. Nisbett and his colleagues found that these different orientations toward independence and interdependence affected cognitive processing. For example, Americans are more likely to ignore the context, and Asians to attend to it.

Show an image of a large fish swimming among other fish and seaweed fronds, and the Americans will remember the single central fish first. That’s what sticks in their minds. Japanese viewers will begin their recall with the background. They’ll also remember more about the seaweed and other objects in the scene.

Another social psychologist, Hazel Rose Markus, asked people arriving at San Francisco International Airport to fill out a survey and offered them a handful of pens to use, for example four orange and one green; those of European descent more often chose the one pen that stood out, while the Asians chose the one more like the others.

Dr. Markus and her colleagues found that these differences could affect health.

Negative affect — feeling bad about yourself — has big, persistent consequences for your body if you are a Westerner. Those effects are less powerful if you are Japanese, possibly because the Japanese are more likely to attribute the feelings to their larger situation and not to blame themselves.

There’s some truth to the modernization hypothesis — that as social worlds become wealthier, they also become more individualistic — but it does not explain the persistent interdependent style of Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

In May, the journal Science published a study, led by a young University of Virginia psychologist, Thomas Talhelm, that ascribed these different orientations to the social worlds created by wheat farming and rice farming.

Rice is a finicky crop. Because rice paddies need standing water, they require complex irrigation systems that have to be built and drained each year. One farmer’s water use affects his neighbor’s yield. A community of rice farmers needs to work together in tightly integrated ways.

Not wheat farmers. Wheat needs only rainfall, not irrigation. To plant and harvest it takes half as much work as rice does, and substantially less coordination and cooperation. And historically, Europeans have been wheat farmers and Asians have grown rice.

The authors of the study in Science argue that over thousands of years, rice- and wheat-growing societies developed distinctive cultures: “You do not need to farm rice yourself to inherit rice culture.”

Their test case was China, where the Yangtze River divides northern wheat growers from southern rice growers. The researchers gave Han Chinese from these different regions a series of tasks. They asked, for example, which two of these three belonged together: a bus, a train and train tracks? More analytical, context-insensitive thinkers (the wheat growers) paired the bus and train, because they belong to the same abstract category. More holistic, context-sensitive thinkers (the rice growers) paired the train and train tracks, because they work together.

Asked to draw their social networks, wheat-region subjects drew themselves larger than they drew their friends; subjects from rice-growing regions drew their friends larger than themselves.

Asked to describe how they’d behave if a friend caused them to lose money in a business, subjects from the rice region punished their friends less than subjects from the wheat region did. Those in the wheat provinces held more patents; those in the rice provinces had a lower rate of divorce.

I write this from Silicon Valley, where there is little rice.

The local wisdom is that all you need is a garage, a good idea and energy, and you can found a company that will change the world. The bold visions presented by entrepreneurs are breathtaking in their optimism, but they hold little space for elders, for longstanding institutions, and for the deep roots of community and interconnection.

Nor is there much rice within the Tea Party.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, declared recently that all a man needed was a horse, a gun and the open land, and he could conquer the world.

Wheat doesn’t grow everywhere. Start-ups won’t solve all our problems. A lone cowboy isn’t much good in the aftermath of a Hurricane Katrina.

As we enter a season in which the values of do-it-yourself individualism are likely to dominate our Congress, it is worth remembering that this way of thinking might just be the product of the way our forefathers grew their food and not a fundamental truth about the way that all humans flourish.

Nomad pragmatism versus submission to Allah; (Mar. 30, 2010)

The nomads (or bedwins) in the Arabic peninsula before Islam were highly individualistic, even within their clans.  The idols they came to ask for personal benefits and privileges had to satisfy their desires.  Otherwise, idols were discarded as pure rocks or woods.

The large wood carved idols were very prized by the rich tribes because they were imported and were expensive.

Here you have a nomad from the tribe of Mudar arriving to give sacrifice to a rock idol named Saad (Happiness) around Jedda: he wanted his preferred idol to protect his flock of camels and wanted his stock to fructify.  The camels smelt the blood of sacrificial animals on the rock and got agitated; they fled to the desert.  After gathering his camels the nomad returned alone to his idol and declaimed a poem saying: “We came to Saad to unite me with my camels.  Saad divided and dispersed us. Who is Saad in fact? He is but a stupid rock lost in a sterile desert.”

Another example is told of the famous poet Umru2 Al Qaiss, a leader of a Christian-Jewish sect clan. He came for benediction for his next vengeance raid on a rival clan that assassinated his father. The oracle demanded Al Qaiss to be patient and he got angry and said: “Go suck my father’s dick.  If he were your assassinated father you would have not been consulting me anyway”

Islam of submission to one and all-powerful Allah was hard on pre-Islamic tribes to swallow: they needed control over their idols.

The Prophet Muhammad’s verses, lambasting the arrogance of the Pharaoh of Egypt for refusing Moses message to believing in one God, is memorized and recalled by Moslems when they target dictators “taghia”.  The Pharaoh had retorted: “only senile people and weak in their mind submit to another God but me

It is interesting how Moslems, especially urban living Moslems, criticized harshly and verbally their “taghia” leaders, but practically submit to them as long as he is in power.

Submission to Allah in Islam is but a continuous and relentless call against arrogance and blatant individualism: Being considered as equal in a society of believers (man/woman, free man/slave, regardless of race and origin) was anathema to nomadic customs and traditions.

The key verse in the Koran is “We created you man and woman; we have constituted you in confederations and tribes so that you get to know one another.”

The quick victories of Moslems in the first century after the death of the Prophet are mainly due to this spirit of equality of believers regardless of race or origins. It swept away caste and clan affiliations and ancient hierarchical privileges in its advance toward Africa and then to Far East Asia.

Equality among believers was the power of Islam until dynasties of Caliphs had to rely on clans, tribes and castes in conquered lands for support to their dictatorship.

The Moslems have this impression that the current Western civilization, especially among the political leaders, doesn’t give a damn about a God, but plainly submit to power and money. The Western leaders acquired this basic knowledge never to admit that they are no believers in one God, but to constantly ask for His benediction before the start of a war or a critical campaign.

Mainstream Moslems tend to agree that Western leaders think like the Pharaoh “Only the weak in the mind (the common people) believe in one God”

Modern Europe re-defines Christianity; (Nov. 5, 2009)

A few years ago, the European Parliament was considering attaching a clause in the Constitution that Christianity is the foundation of Europe’s civilization. It didn’t pass and Europe saved its modern identity as promoter of human rights and human dignity. How could a religion (one of the many in Europe), one of the various attributes in the vast matrix of a civilization be the exclusive characteristics of Europe?  Europe is a heterogeneous society of Nordic, Slavic, and Mediterranean climate and cultures and was dominated intermittently by several Empires.

Modern Europe has extended to its citizens a minimum of human rights.  This respect to human dignity was not the case until late in the 20th century.  Respect of man did not evolve historically as a continuum but in bounds. Retrospective historical studies tend to discover just the illusion of human respect for rights and dignity.

Europeans claiming Christianity to be the foundation for Europe’s new trend for “mercy, forgiveness, and kindness” (trying to attach these attribute to Europeans) forget that for many centuries the strongest faith in Europe was the taste for violence such as in the Inquisition, the chasing out of the Moslems and Jews from Spain, the Crusading campaigns, the conquest of overseas lands with the benediction of Papal Rome, the division of the conquered lands among the European monarchs by Papal decrees, the religious mass massacres among the Christian sects and factions with Papal consent, the so many wars in Europe where the Catholic Church was an integral party, and the worst of all the Dark Age in Europe that lasted from 400 to the 15th century because the central religious power in Rome was apprehensive of rational thinking and forbade the influx of scientific works that might rob it of its temporal power.

There are Europeans claiming that it was Christianity that set the foundation of the individualistic character in Europe, a non-conformist attitude to the collective norms, rituals, and traditions, the will for self-realization rather than clinging to the behavior of rank and file; these chauvinistic Europeans are also relying on entrenched illusions.  The Christian Church was the personification of harassing free thinkers and burning who defied the Christian central dogma for many centuries. Once baptized as a Christian at birth, you had no other alternatives but to obey the Christian laws.  Christianity was the most exclusive religion among all religions:  It coerced colonized people by force into Christianity.  As “Saint” Augustine wrote “It does not matter the faith of a new convert; what counts is what time and rituals will produce in the long run on him and his descendents.”  This is exactly the tactics of western globalization “Promote the consumerism of technological gadgets and the world will acquire faith in the superiority of western civilization”

It is paganism that disseminated liberal thinking of individuality.  A pagan could worship any other idol in foreign lands (with different name but with the same potency in his mind) and he was never persecuted. A pagan could switch idols that suited his interest of the period and his community would not persecute him or ex-communicate him on his God’s preferences.

The modern principle of universality (which means that individuals of all genders, races, colors, and origins have the same mental potentials and capabilities as human and that the differences reside in societies) was never a Christian dogma. Christianity never had this meaning of universality in its dictionary of laws; a slave was a slave by birth and should accept his condition and offers his miseries and plights as sacrifices to God Jesus who suffered for the entire humanity and forgiveness of the “original sin” that never existed. The discovery by the Europeans of the universality of mankind was due to the de-colonization process, an implicit discourse on the role of society during the 20th century.

How could equality and fraternity have emerged from Christianity in order to claim that Europe’s roots are Christian? Lactance in 314 wrote “People are born equal. In societies where people are not considered equal then justice is not served.  Yes, within the Christian communities there are rich and poor, masters and slaves by the flesh but they are equal in the spirit.”  How sweet! Lactance was repeating St. Paul’s ejaculation that added oil to the machinery of the caste system. Gregory “the Great” considered charity what was offered to nobles reduced to poverty because of the huge suffering they felt of being considered within the rank of the poor classes; thus, the true poor people by birth were so used to their way of life that they didn’t need much charity to survive.

The Western Christian Churches (Catholic and Protestants) supported and maintained the caste system of nobility and the “others” non-noble classes.  The feudal lord had the right to crush his vassals with all the might he possessed as a father had the rights over his kids.

There are many Europeans who claim that it was Christianity that promoted the separation of the spiritual off the temporal power on the basis of Jesus saying “Give to Caesar what is due to Caesar and to God was is due to God”;  this is total nonsense.  Most of the wars in Europe were launched by monarchs against the temporal influence of Papal Rome in state matters.  Neither the Catholic Church not the various Protestant sects relinquished their temporal “rights”.

Protestantism had this indirect advantage that it weakened the central power of Papal Rome; thus, Islam scientific manuscripts were permitted to enter Europe; this new openness to rational discovery was the main catalyst for the Renaissance period and the qualitative jump into modernity.  It does not mean that the previous sentence of Jesus had no influence in the mind of modern Europe; it does not mean also that Christianity willingly relinquished its temporal influence based on that sentence.  The Prophet Mohammad also urged Moslems to acquire knowledge even from China; it worked for four centuries; it does not mean that Moslems remembered that encouragement most of the time.

There are Europeans, when pressed to give an identity (other than their State), they might opt for their religious denomination (with utmost reluctance in Europe) and thus, when a European says that he is Christian it is sort of family name, the latest in heritage, as cathedrals, old churches, and the paintings, sculptures, and music of the Renaissance period. Christianity cannot be used as identification because it won’t do: most of the US citizens also claim to be Christians, as is the case with Latin Americans; does this means that they could also be considered Europeans or European civilization roots?

Modern Europe is democratic, secular, with laws guaranteeing free religious beliefs, free speech, gathering, and opinions, human rights, sexual liberty, welfare states, open borders and travel.  Modern Europe is anathema to the principles and practices of Christian Churches.  Christianity must be glad that the modern European civilization is giving it not just a mere face lift but a totally different identity.

Note 1: This topic was inspired by the last chapter in the French book “When the world became Christian” by late Paul Veyne.

Note 2:  Ten years a go, Europe was the scene of large genocide; not just between “Christians and Moslems” but among Christians of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox on the basis of “ethnic cleansing” in former Yugoslavia.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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