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Convergence of Eastern and Western Collectivism

My high school political science teacher said once, that the political spectrum is not linear, but rather circular.  If one go far enough toward one extreme, one circle back from the other extreme.

So it is with the polarity of Western Individualism and Eastern Collectivism.  Where the West has often maintained a tradition of individualistic accomplishments and thoughts, the weight and size of Western society has forced the evolution of Western Individualism toward Western Collectivism, and the ultimate convergence of both the East and the West toward a singular form of collectivism.

The evolution of Western Collectivism is a curious one, partly due to its relatively recent signs of momentum.  Even though it has been predicted for a long time now that the West would evolve into its own form of collectivistic consciousness, no one really knew how it was going to change, and no one could have predicted that the West’s own ardent worshipping of individual achievements would somehow turn into a new form of collectivism.

Amidst the continual political talks of “privatizing the Government”, (well, the reasoning of the Individualist goes, the Private individual knows better than the Collective Government), one finds that the “privatization” is a new euphemism for a new collective re-organization.  In fact, what is called “private entities” in the West are no longer the bastions of Individualism, but rather new forms of Collectivism.

Ayn Rand, the famed author of Atlas Shrugged and the Fountain Head, among other authors, famously denounced the degenerative and stifling collective nature of Collectivism, Socialism, and Collectivism.  They laid out the celebrations of Western Individualism as the triumph of Western Democracy.  I marveled at the revival of Randian novels and Objectivism among many Western youths of the last decade, but equally marveled at the irony of Rand’s proverbial 15 minutes of fame.

The problem with Rand and her Objectivist Rationalism and Individualism is simply that she worshipped her own ideals too much.  Hence, Worshipping of the Individuals became a new Religion of the West that even Rand would abhor.

What the Individualists (like Rand) hated above all else, is the bureaucratic process of collective decision making known as the Government, especially when such a process is imposed upon things that the individual “private” citizens could take care of on their own.  The Individualists felt that the Government is often run by foolish irresponsible men who couldn’t hack it in the private world.  Rand’s writings, specially Atlas Shrugged, celebrates the individual “great men” and mocks those who merely meekly follows the “government”.  But there laid Rand’s own self-conflict and self-prophecy of doom of the Objectivist Rationalism and Individualism in the 21st century.

Rand’s Heroes are all Captains of Industries who dared to think for themselves.  While superficially, that celebrates all individuals, Rand embraces a different sort of Darwinian Philosophy of “survival of the fittest.”  Rand still plays politics in her stories.  Her heroes do not survive by their own deeds alone, but form their own collectives of “loyal” followers.  Hence, Rand would prefer a society ran by the new “collectives” of Captains of Industries, the new elites of “private enterprises”.  But that’s precisely where the new Western Collectivism has evolved into.

“Privatization” in the West, is not about the Individuals, but about Business Collectives.  Rand and others simply forgot that all collectives are susceptible to bureaucracies and incompetence, “private” corporations are no different.  Banks can easily ruin “start-ups” with bad loans and insurances, all in the name of profit for the collective “shareholders”.  Where once, Democracy is thought as the bastion of “individuals” who influence the government, now Democracy is simply carved up by the “private” corporations more and more.  Submission of the individuals under the worship of the Government collective is, no worse nor better than, under the worship of the Collectives of CEO’s and Banks.  Even the majority of the public in Rand’s novels simply either deferred to the Government or to the Captains of Industries.

What the West is becoming, is a new form of Socialism under the brand of “private corporations”, unless of course, the Governments stop this evolution.  Today, corporations increasingly influence the governments and even run the Governments.  While we still speak of privatizing Education, a notion that has increasingly gained popularity in recent years, we have not noticed that majority of top level and secret decisions are being made by private corporations employed by the Governments.  While Lobby groups give money, some groups (often political and formed by influential businesses) are not-for-profit “analyst groups” that issue reports to the Governments on all forms of government policies, including national security, government spending, and technological development.

In the area of US national security, there are over 20+ “think tanks” that (access top secret intelligence data) and issue their opinions about National security policies.  Some of these reports include the dubious intelligence recommendations that got US into invading Iraq for the WMD’s.  What’s the significance?  US has effectively privatized its “National Security” branch in the last 40 years or so, where once US relied upon bureaucratic secretive government branches like the CIA, NSA, DIA, etc., today US relies upon bureaucratic secretive “private” think tanks like the RAND corporation.

If this “privatization” has taught us any thing, it is simply that “privatization” does not make the Governments more individualistic, but makes corporations more collective.  Letting the Corporations run things only makes corporations into the new governments.  Rand and her Heroes will only leave behind worshippers who will meekly follow other heroes and other collectives.

And that repetition in the West will make the West more and more Eastern in Collectivism.  Afterall, that is merely the prelude to the 1000’s of years of Chinese dynastic changes, where one group of heroes is replaced by another, and another, and another.

  1. July 21st, 2010 at 00:39 | #1

    On the micro extreme, it’s kind of like the clothing industry in places like the U.S. – where consumers are basically encouraged to replace their wardrobe every season. And sure enough, after a few years, what once was considered “out of style” suddenly becomes vogue again.

    So it’s a neat perspective to see this giant pendulum swinging across hundreds or even thousands of years.

  2. July 21st, 2010 at 16:13 | #2

    Neat article. So privitization, individualism, capitalism can actually be anti-democratic. However the government in the U.S. may be, at least one can say it’s “of the people, by the people, for the people.” But once we defer to the private sector for all sorts of things (including charity), are we not “of the powerful, by the powerful, for the powerful…”? (OK – that’s a cheap shot that goes on a tangent. I do get the point of the article.)

    By the way, the U.S. gov’t is held hostage by special interests, including the big, huge, very profitable defense establishment … as we all know. But we also know the same is true of the Democratic and Republican parties … so Western individualism, in some sense, is just opiate for the masses, in my ranting opinion.

  3. r v
    July 21st, 2010 at 16:42 | #3

    These terminologies remain very much self-delusional in the West.

    In a sense, Communism in China is not really Communism, but more akin to very traditional Chinese Confucian philosophy of collectivism, where the good of the society outweighs the good of the individual.

    While Rand and the Western Individualism appear to say that the good of the individual leads to the good of the society, this version of “social Darwinism” implies that the good of the “collective” still outweighs the good of the individual, AND the good of the “collective” is decided by a FEW individuals (the Fittest).

    The West is rife with the disease of celebrity worshipping, of self-centered need for fame or to be close to fame. In that sense, there are no “individuals” any more. The culture of “individuals” has simply become a collective of “consumers”.

    The true question, is not Individuals vs. Collective, but “producers” vs. “consumers”. Rand missed the point.

    Those who “produce” things and ideas, are the true drivers of societies and collectives.

    Those who merely “consume” things and ideas, are followers and cattle.

  4. Rhan
    July 21st, 2010 at 19:00 | #4

    rv,
    “In a sense, Communism in China is not really Communism, but more akin to very traditional Chinese Confucian philosophy of collectivism, where the good of the society outweighs the good of the individual.”

    Earlier 20 century, many scholar/Chinese advocate individualism but the revolution bring China back to collectivism. In your view, collectivism is not the cause why China falling behind the West? How/where you place individual rights in a collectivism society?

    I suspect the so-called “akin to very traditional Chinese Confucian philosophy of collectivism” is more like a cover up of the billion empty minds that now uphold materialism and greed….the lost soul.

  5. July 22nd, 2010 at 01:08 | #5

    I don’t mean to be too nutty with the pendulum analogy. When it swings to the twelve-o-clock position and is unable to return, and instead falls over to the “other” side – I’d call that a revolution.

    r v says:

    Those who “produce” things and ideas, are the true drivers of societies and collectives.
    Those who merely “consume” things and ideas, are followers and cattle.

    So, before the pendulum swings too hard to get society out of balance, wouldn’t the “producers” simply find a way to make things more “equitable” with the “consumers” otherwise a revolution occurs and all wealth gets redistributed. The “producers” might even get put in jail.

    This “producer” and “consumer” dichotomy is really about human greed isn’t it? It’s capitalism. It’s more efficient and more productive when you are in some kind of race.

    Maybe I am just rambling now. It makes me wonder about Confucius. He taught about “中庸.” Is that the answer?

    I also wonder how did 中国 become the name. Does 中 have more to do with “中庸” or does it have more to with this conceited view that the country is the center of everything?

  6. r v
    July 22nd, 2010 at 06:40 | #6

    Rhan,

    As I said, I do not believe the important issue is Individualism vs. Collectivism, because that debate is fundamentally flawed. Individuals and collectives are co-dependent upon one another, and thus, it is pointless to say which is more important.

    “Balance” is the key, in the Eastern philosophies.

    Even in the Chinese Confucian philosophy, there has been a long history of recognizing that individuals or “heroes” must fight for what they believe in, and if necessary, depose dynasties to set things right for all people.

    I do not believe 1.3 billion Chinese are “empty minds that now uphold materialism and greed”. Last I looked, the Chinese people are not in a frenzy of consumption for self-gratification. In fact, the Chinese society continue to be one that produces and saves.

    Confucian doctrines emphasize the virtues of hard work, frugality, and family/social order/security based upon INDIVIDUAL achievements of virtues. The Chinese people do not believe in having the “collective” save them from a hard day’s work, nor a government “social welfare” system to save money for them.

    Perhaps, the Western notion of “collectivism” merely deluded many into thinking that Chinese “collectivism” is the same version.

    However, China is not “falling behind the West”. China merely had a tumble. China had many tumbles in its 5000 years of history, and survived and built and prospered. Compared to the Xiongnu and the Mongol and the Manchu invasions, the weak China of early 1900’s is but a small blip.

    The question you should ask is, what makes China pick herself back up again, over and over? The answer: EVERY Chinese is a descendant of the dragon, working hard, but ready to make his/her mark in history.

  7. r v
    July 22nd, 2010 at 07:01 | #7

    YinYang,

    Each individual judges his/her own value in society. Some holds virtues of work above possessions, some holds possessions over work. Each has his/her own choices, but thus each is judged according to the consequences.

    Confucius exalted the virtue of the hard working people, for they are the “producers” whose reputation rest in their work.

    Rulers and elites who over consume are the very symbol of decadence of all past tyrants. Overconsumption, is the core of evil in this world.

    But it is not for the “producers” to stop or reduce the “consumptions” or make it more “equitable”. It is simply a natural cycle that the balance of power will shift to the “producers”.

    As countless imperial rulers become overconsumed, their generals and legions and the people turn their loyalty to more virtuous wise men. and dynasties fall.

    Was that not the end also for the Roman Emperors, Nero, and the Roman Empire itself?!

    If the West overconsumes, and does not correct herself, then in time, she will simply fade in power. and other more virtuous nations will take her place.

  8. July 22nd, 2010 at 10:59 | #8

    @r v,
    Neat perspectives.

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