Individualistic cultures are about personal success, self-reliance and the primacy of the individual. They are less family-oriented than collectivist cultures, and people follow what they want to do with their own lives. Individualistic cultures tend to be materialistic and emphasize the importance of work or economic utility.
Individualist cultures are also more prone to internal competition. They are characterised by a greater degree of communication within themselves than those in collectivist cultures, but less communication between them.
Individualism is a dominant cultural value in most western societies. Some examples of individualistic societies include the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. It was also the traditional culture of Japan before modernization.
What behaviours to individualistic cultures have
Individualistic cultures tend to have a set of behaviors that demonstrate the individual vs the collective. These include:
1. High value in material gain
While individualists are not necessarily greedy, they do value the pursuit of wealth and prosperity. This is reflected in their attitudes to money, which they regard as a symbol of success.
2. Individual freedom
Collectivist cultures emphasize the importance of the group and believe that individual freedoms should be limited in favour of the tribe or family. This is not so true of individualist cultures who tend towards having greater personal freedom and expression. This includes a value for privacy, tolerance of opposing viewpoints and an acceptance of sexual freedom.
3. High value placed on success
Individualist cultures value individual success and achievement and believe that work is a moral duty. Individualists are therefore likely to be ambitious, assertive, confident in their abilities, competitive, self-reliant – and materialistic. They also have high standards for performance at work and education is extremely important as it is seen as a ticket to wealth.
4. Less emphasis on the group
Many individualist cultures place less importance on groups and the team, and more on the individual. This is influenced by the value placed on success. An individualist culture tends to value the individual more than a collectivist culture. In collectivist cultures, interpersonal relationships are thought to be more important than in an individualistic culture.
5. High level of competition in relation to survival
Individualism is associated with competitiveness, and this is seen as part of one’s natural competitive nature. Individualistic cultures are more individualistic in their work contexts than collectivists cultures and are less likely to engage in helping behaviours.
6. Greater emphasis is placed on the self as a unique individual
Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development emphasized the importance of early childhood experiences with caregivers and parents. Those from more individualistic societies tend to place greater emphasis on being unique as an adult than those from collectivist cultures who see themselves as part of something bigger (i.e., The Family).
What traits do individualistic cultures have
Individualist cultures are more likely to exhibit the following traits than collectivist cultures:
1. Optimism and confidence in one’s abilities and potential
People from individualist cultures display high levels of self-confidence and have a healthy sense of optimism – believing that one can get ahead through hard work and determination. This is a trait that has been found to predict moving up socio-economic levels. Individualist societies place a very high value on self-reliance. People from these societies tend to have more confidence in their ability to achieve success and are more likely to think that they can do something and really make it happen. They are also less likely to see society as a whole as a more important parameter of success than their own life.
2. High personal standards
Individualists tend to place greater value on self-enhancement than collectivists. This is because they have the belief that you can only be yourself in a truly successful society, not what others expect of you. In addition, they believe that to get ahead in the world you need to be successful. This is linked to the values of personal freedom and success.
3. Knowledge of many things
Individualistic societies are more likely to value knowledge and good education than collectivists societies which value practical skills over complex theoretical thinking. Individuals from individualist societies tend to be better informed of public affairs, and are seen as being more intelligent than those from collectivist cultures [although some argue this is because these people have access to better education].
4. Strong belief in the importance of work
Individualists rather than collectivists have a stronger belief in the importance of success in their specific life situation – work. This can be seen as a result of individualism’s emphasis on individual self-actualisation and excellence. This is linked with the idea that one cannot take life seriously if one is not working hard in a job
5. A greater level of self-reliance and independence
Individualists tend to value independence, relative to the influence of others, in their work and personal life. Individualists see themselves as being able to make decisions on their own without reference or reliance on someone else. They are also more likely to put the emphasis on individual thoughts and feelings than collectivists who tend to consider their actions will have consequences for others.
What are the benefits of individualistic cultures?
Individualist cultures may have some notable benefits over collectivist cultures:
1. Greater individualism
In an individualistic society, people are expected to act on their own as self-sufficient individuals. In a less individualistic society, those decisions are made collectively by the group and it can be argued that this can result in inefficiency, bureaucracy and lack of initiative.
2. Increased productivity and innovation
Individualist cultures are more likely to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, both at home and in the workplace. They are also more likely to allow individuals to express their individual selves through creativity. This can be beneficial as this boosts innovation by encouraging novelty and the free exchange of ideas, which can lead to new ideas from different perspectives.
3. Greater self-concept
Individualism is linked with a healthy sense of self-concept – an internalised concept regarding one’s personal identity, strengths and abilities. What is important to the individual, and believes in their own self-worth. In a collectivist culture, it can be argued that this can be a hard-won achievement because it is not seen by everyone as a priority.
4. Greater autonomy
Individualism means an increased level of autonomy in the work context, where people are much less likely to be led by managers or the majority view of society as a whole – that there are ultimately common interests based on working together for the common good. People are allowed to make decisions on their own.
What are some of the arguments against individualistic cultures and why they are wrong
Many tend to gaslight individualistic cultures as being self-absorbed and self-centred, however, this is not the case at all. In fact, individuals from individualist cultures are expected to put themselves in a group’s best interest – another aspect of collectivism.
In our society as a whole we are more individualistic than collectivist, and place much greater emphasis on productivity and innovation than other societies. Britain has led the way in terms of individualism and productivity for centuries!
In addition, what these critics fail to mention is that they have in fact created an even more individualist culture. They are only hiding behind this critique because they are letting themselves down by not striving to be individually productive and innovative. In fact, they are contributing to a decline in their own culture.
The idea of individualists being self-absorbed is also associated with narcissism. It is argued that in collectivist cultures, people struggle to express their individuality as they are expected to be part of the group.
Why individualistic cultures are better for you
The most important thing in life is you and your loved ones. You can’t do good in the world until you have good in your own life. You also have to strive for success in order to be able to help yourself and others.
In an individualistic culture, you are able to do this, if you put your mind to it. People who live through their own minds will always make the most of themselves and get further ahead as a result. Conversely, those who live as part of groups will never succeed because they do not have their own minds, and so are unable to evaluate their own thoughts and beliefs for themselves.
They typically breed a culture of optimism in which everyone is encouraged to form their own opinions and ideas. They invest in themselves because they see the value in doing so, and they are not reliant on others to provide them with opportunities.
Why individualism is greater than collectivism
As a society, as opposed to being individuals in a group, we are much more likely to reach our full potential. Collectivism restricts and holds back those who believe in their own thoughts and beliefs. Let them express themselves.
The greatest thinkers, writers, inventors and entrepreneurs are those who express their individuality through the ideas they choose to express, regardless of consequences or outside pressure that they may be subject to.
Society is a construct, whereas the individual is the one true thing in life. There is only one way to achieve greatness and that is through your own mind. Who’s ever done anything of note for someone else? No great achievement has been made for anyone other than the person who did it.
Individualism is greater because it gives people a sense of purpose and meaning – a quest to succeed and achieve, a drive to work hard and innovate, a determination to amass capital and wealth. These are the qualities of success, ambition and greatness.
The truth about selfishness and self-interests
The critics of individualism claim that they are not in the interests of the greater good, yet it is the individual who benefits most from their own work. In fact, it is society as a whole that profits most from people working for themselves. Businesses build businesses so they can generate more profits for themselves – their own good. This makes them money to invest back into growing and developing their business even further.
In terms of job creation, people are able to do this more easily in an individualistic culture. If they can’t make a successful business for themselves, they will surely go somewhere else where they can have the chance to do so.
Another great example of this is the high rate of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley – which is a hotbed of individualism – rather than Silicon Valley itself being the result of collectivism.
The truth is, those who work in Silicon Valley are seeking to make themselves rich from the work they do. It’s not to be altruistic or to better mankind, but because they see a chance for personal gain. These are the people who have the most ambition and drive and as a result, they go on to do great things.
This is not a bad thing, what’s wrong with wanting to get rich and help yourself? Everyone wants more. If you don’t want more you’re less likely to work hard for it. Instead, people will just sit at home and do nothing.
Individualism vs collectivism – what you need to learn
There is no individual without the collective. We live in a society together; we have always done so and always will. But, there are some things that matter more than others.
Your own welfare, your own needs and your own desires should be the most important thing to you. You are an individual, it is the sole reason anyone can be described as such. Others don’t describe you as such, you do that yourself! Make the most of yourself if you want to.
Our society encourages individualism and autonomy. It is something that is part of the human condition. Do what you want, as long as it’s legal and within the bounds of reason, go for it! You are allowed to be selfish and every man for themselves if they wish to be or not. Just like everyone else though, you will reap the rewards of your own labor and your own efforts.
We are all the same, but at the same time, we are different to one another. We all live in society and benefit from its existence. Individualism is a part of this, but it is not without motive as collectivism would have us believe. Collective societies could never create any kind of wealth or prosperity because other people don’t create things for you – you do it for yourself.