You are currently viewing Episode #16 – Why A Culture Of Individualism Might Ruin Our Chance For A Future

Episode #16 – Why A Culture Of Individualism Might Ruin Our Chance For A Future

It’s episode #16 and originally we thought we should focus this episode on individualism but there are plenty of positives to individualism, I didn’t want people thinking we were against the philosophical, political or psychological definition of the word. Instead, what I wanted to focus on what a culture of egocentricity, of a growing sense of selfishness. 


Key Messages: Be open to listening to others, especially if they hold a different view to you; be supportive of those around you; don’t fall for the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality


Topics we’re discussing today include:

  • Individualism vs collectivism

  • Rise of narcissism

  • Minimal group paradigms (i.e ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality)

  • Polarization of politics

  • Stu’s favourite quotes from books he’s read

  • Where do we go from here


Individualistic cultures: stress the needs of the individual over the needs of the group as a whole. 

  • Uniqueness

  • Autonomy

  • Independence

  • Self-sufficiency


Collectivist cultures: stress the needs of the group over the needs of the individual.

  • Helpful

  • Dependable

  • Supportive


Individualism and narcissism have grown around the world, and it’s that distinct combination rather than either on it’s own, which has created the current situation where we are seeing people unwilling to embrace self-sacrifice for the collective good (this relates to more than just the coronavirus pandemic, more than even climate change, and filters down into our daily lives). 

“Research on NPD suggests that Americans in their 20s are three times as likely to have experienced NPD than people over age 60.  Comparing similar-aged people across decades also shows a dramatic increase in narcissism.  As evidence, the researchers discuss some of the impact that increased narcissism has.  Young people are more likely to focus on achieving success, making money, and personal fame.  They are more likely to have cosmetic surgery, report higher levels of self-esteem, and measure lower on empathy.” Why Are There So Many Narcissists? 


“Both individualistic practices and values increased across the globe over time. Specifically, statistical models indicated that individualism has increased by about 12% worldwide since 1960.” – Individualistic Practices and Values Increasing Around the World 


I don’t want to get bogged down in the specifics of individualism vs collectivism as defined by psychologists, as there is evidence suggesting individualistic nations are more altruistic, more generous, than those of collectivist nations (as in collectivist nations, a clearer distinction is usually drawn between my group vs the other groups, and less focus is given to the welfare of the entire population). What we’re referring to today, is more to do with the focus on ourselves and our individual needs, more so than the needs of the entire group as a whole. 


“Decades of psychology research reliably find that dividing people into defined groups causes them to treat members of other groups worse. This is true even when the groups are nonsensical. In what are called minimal group paradigms, people can be induced to downgrade the value of a stranger’s welfare when told merely that the stranger is a member of an arbitrarily created “Blue” group instead of the subject’s own “Green” group.”Could A More Individualistic World Also Be A More Altruistic One? 


We all hate group projects at school, yet that’s precisely what we’re being asked to do as adults. There are so many juxtaposing ideas, hypocrisy, irony and a billion other big words to describe what is essentially the greatest challenge of humanity, as it has been throughout history. 


In a world where the individual is valued more highly than anything else, there has never been a time where selflessness is more important. The only chance humanity has of avoiding the disastrous future we’re currently sprinting towards, is by adopting a culture of respect for one another, of accepting responsibility for our past actions, and making the changes necessary to improve our impact on this planet we call home.  


A few psychology studies were done in America looking at the perceived polarization of American politics over the past few decades. What they found is that “it’s the social identifying role of ideological affiliation that’s paramount in guiding our negative emotional responses to those on the other side of the political fence.”Why Has America Become So Divided? In other words, the reason we have such strong feelings against the others who don’t believe what we believe, has less to do with the beliefs they actually hold, and more to do with them just being a part of that group; it’s why we see politicians regularly switch positions without a significant loss of support, it’s why people use naming-calling as a response rather than trying to figure out what the underlying message they’re trying to get across actually is, and it’s why we block people on social media who post something we don’t agree with, with little regard for the rest of their personality or beliefs. 


The media and “influencers” in the largest definition of the term, who thrive off controversy and conflict, promote division in society as that gets them the greatest attention on their posts. It’s then the selective consumption of news and information sources, those which confirm the beliefs we already hold and those that highlight the political conflict, which results in the vicious cycle of us believing there is conflict at every corner, which then creates conflict at every corner. 


Social media has given everyone an equal playing field for sharing their opinion, regardless of their experience or knowledge on a given topic. I mean, that’s what we’re doing now too, so I definitely do see the hypocrisy. 


Our opinions have become a defining factor in being segmented by others. If you disagree with someone on one topic, you’re much less likely to engage them in a discussion on another topic, even if it’s completely unrelated. 


Biologically, humans developed a section of the brain which contained our anxiety around existential threats like being eaten by a predator. Coupled with this, we evolved with a focus on strong social connections to help us survive the daily perils of life, and establish ourselves at the top of the food chain. Now, however, with the existential threats of being eaten by a lion or a bear no longer a part of our daily concern, the social ties we so relied on in the past have become our biggest source of anxiety in the present. Other’s opinions, amplified by the echo chamber of social media have resulted in increased mental health issues across the world. 

By accepting the support of one another, from all corners of the Earth, from every race, culture,  belief system, gender & political party, we can work together to create a new shared identity, one that represents the best for the common good and not just the small minorities that are currently in power. Empathy and caring for each other is the key – this is what we should be teaching in schools, not just memory. 


Stu’s Favourite, Relevant Quotes:

“A string of facts, however well attested, has no power to correct or dislodge a powerful story. The only response it is likely to provoke is indignation: people often angrily deny facts that clash with the narrative ‘truth’ established in their minds. The only thing that can displace a story is a story.” – Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics in the Age of Crisis by George Monbiot 

“If given a choice between a potentially great hardship and doing nothing, people gravitated toward what was most familiar and comfortable. That was why leadership was needed. To do what was necessary rather than what was easy….Remember, it’s easier to believe an outlandish lie confirming what you suspect than the most obvious truth that denies” – Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan 

“But everyone believes in something, you know? And what we choose to believe in says a lot—not only about the kind of people we are, but about the kind of people we want to be, and the kind of world we want to live in…Usually to make something truly great, you need to start from scratch, Royce remembered him saying. You need to break everything down, strip away the impurities, and it takes great heat to do that, but once you do, then the building can start. The result can seem miraculous, but the process—the process is always a bitch.” – The Death of Dulgath by Michael J. Sullivan 

“This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution.” – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

“The ability to listen to anyone has been replaced by the capacity to shut out everyone, particularly those who disagree with us or don’t get to the point fast enough….

Neuroscientists at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles recruited subjects with staunch political positions and, using an fMRI scanner, looked at their brain activity when their beliefs were challenged. Parts of their brains lit up as if they were being chased by a bear. And when we are in this fight, flight, or freeze mode, it’s incredibly hard to listen…

[Social Media] It’s democratic in that everyone can air an unmediated and unedited opinion. But it’s undemocratic in that people selectively listen to only those who make them feel secure in their positions, which breeds insular thinking and so-called alternative facts.” – You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy

“We are now perched on a strange cusp of history,” Edmond continued, “a time when the world feels like it’s been turned upside down, and nothing is quite as we imagined. But uncertainty is always a precursor to sweeping change; transformation is always preceded by upheaval and fear. I urge you to place your faith in the human capacity for creativity and love, because these two forces, when combined, possess the power to illuminate any darkness.” – Origin (Robert Langdon, #5) by Dan Brown 

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