The Ethical Dimensions of

Mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples

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Mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples around the world have been historically threatened and even today in the new millennium, after their recognition by the international community as distinct peoples with respected differences, they are the most disadvantaged people on earth struggling to survive.

The Nation State

Negative responses to minorities within the nation state have ranged from state-enforced cultural assimilation, to expulsion, persecution, violence, and extermination.

The whole concept of the indigenous population arises because of the creation of the “nation-state”. The separation of land into segregated territories and the creation of man-made borders is the significant cause of all the issues and concerns related to the indigenous peoples.

Nations are culturally homogeneous groups of people, larger than a single tribe or community, sharing a common language, institutions, religion, and historical experience.102 Indigenous peoples have had to assimilate with this notion of the nation, or were forced to assimilate.

Colonialism and European Expansion

With the term colonialism we refer to the policy of a nation to expand its authority over other territories beyond its borders and to establish administrative dependencies known as colonies. The powerful nations established large colonial empires around the globe in the early 18th Century. Colonialism was led by Portuguese and Spanish exploration of the Americas, and the coasts of Africa, the Middle East, India, and East Asia.

Despite some earlier attempts, it was not until the 17th Century that Britain, France and the Netherlands successfully established overseas empires outside Europe, in direct competition with Spain, Portugal, and each other.103

In these colonies, in almost all cases, indigenous peoples were totally subjugated by the colonizers who imposed social, cultural, religious or even linguistic structures on them. The colonial territories were well dominated by the intruders, in terms of labor and markets and natural resources. This rapid and extensive spread of the various European powers from the early 18th Century onwards had a profound impact upon many of the indigenous cultures with whom they had came into contact.

Cultural Assimilation

Historically, forced cultural assimilation has happened everywhere due to colonialism. It is a matter of fact that even nowadays, indigenous peoples are, in a way, forced to behave differently from what is their nature to behave. Wherever they are settled, they have to accept the laws and instructions of their occupying nation and in most of the cases they have been even urged to forget their own language.

Indigenous peoples should be able to express themselves freely and the county they live in should respect them in all ways. The education system of each country should be flexible and accept the specialties of these peoples by providing general education to them and by respecting their native language, religion, customs and folklores. According to Article 8(1) of the Declaration on the Human Rights of Indigenous Populations, indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

Racial Discrimination

Mistreatment of indigenous peoples can cover: racism of color, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, oppression, marginalization and exploitation, slavery and other injustices. Unfortunately, indigenous peoples continue to be victims, as they are treated in many parts of the world as second-class citizens.

No matter what the underlying reasons, racism is an unforgivable and unacceptable crime. The differentiation of a person in terms of color and skin type features, or ethnic bodily features, does not give the right to anyone to treat his fellow man as inferior.

Native children and women have been burglarized, raped, killed or even sold not only during colonization but also during the past decades. In most of the cases this happened not only because of the fact that children and women were physically weak, but mainly because they were the wives and off-spring of subordinate peoples, or were second class.

The Environmental Factor

The careless destruction of our environment is not only relevant to the preservation of indigenous peoples, but something that everyone on our earth should be conscious about. Deforestation, global warming, pollution and the uncontrolled use of natural resources threatens the lives of all, and not just the lives of the native tribes. It is well known that the majority of indigenous peoples are located in forest and tropical environments and their everyday life depends on the hunting, fishing and other sources that nature provides.

For instance, many native subsistence lifestyles are threatened by the deforestation of tropical rainforests in the Amazon River Basin. It holds countless natural resources and is home to over 300 indigenous peoples. Many different groups have interests in the Amazon. The governments of Ecuador, Brazil and Peru use the land and resources to increase the income of their countries. Transnational corporations interested in extracting raw materials such as gold, tin, iron, and oil are also claiming land in the region.

Many of these claims conflict with the ancestral homelands of indigenous peoples. Decades of industrial development within the Amazon has had a devastating effect on these peoples and the rainforest. Millions of acres of forest have been cleared or destroyed. Some indigenous peoples, such as the Ashaninka, have been forced to work for plantation owners without pay. As a result of these common threats, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region formed the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) in 1984. They are actively meeting and mobilizing to assert their rights to their ancestral lands and to ensure their participation in the future development decisions that affect their lives. 104

Copyright Issues

It is widely known that the close association of the indigenous peoples with nature, the natural resources, and the environment throughout the centuries or even the millenniums, has enlightened them with sophistication in discovering many natural biological extracts that they have traditionally used as medicines. Through these techniques, natives in the Amazon forest or India and Malaysia have become victims of the big pharmaceutical companies that they have “stolen” their native knowledge, producing a variety of goods that are now sold in the market as originating from the pharmaceutical companies themselves. This could be conceived as bio-piracy, since the knowledge of the indigenous peoples has been used without due authorization or compensation.

What should be done?

Although the international community has become more conscious about the issues that affect indigenous peoples, the remedial efforts, if any, are just cosmetic.

Reparations and Compensation

No one has ever been officially accused nor has any government ever taken responsibility for all the devastation of the native peoples of the earth over past centuries.

An exception could be the statement made recently by the Prime Minister of Australia, “For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry”.105

But apologies are not enough; reparations are necessary. Of course, lost human lives and lands, destroyed natural resources, violated people and raped cultures cannot be replaced with monetary compensations, but it is the only way for the international court and the regional legislation to address a means of repayment for the damage done to the indigenous populations.

Funding Education

Indigenous languages and cultures were subjugated, demeaned and diminished through the forced assimilation into the dominant or common language and culture. In addition to that, indigenous populations throughout the world have been deprived of opportunities for advanced education, thus limiting their ability to participate fully in their societies.106

This inequality of opportunity has led millions of indigenous people to live below the poverty line, or without basic education. Education can be seen as the opportunity to widen the horizons of indigenous peoples in an effort to let them be aware of their rights and needs, and put them in a position to be able to fight for these rights. Education is the key arena to reclaim and revalue their languages and cultures and realize the importance of protecting their heritage.107


Despite the importance of protecting the human rights of the indigenous peoples and of preserving their cultures, their linguistic variety and traditions, their useful knowledge about flora and fauna, indigenous peoples are still facing a lot of problems, fighting for their preservation, the protection of their women, children, land and natural resources, and against the devastating consequences of technology to the nature and their lands. Indigenous peoples have seen their lands invaded by governments that often do not respect their cultural systems, or law and justice. They have watched as rivers once providing food have become polluted with industrial waste. They have struggled to preserve their homelands, their health and often their lives in the face of alien development. For these reasons and more, indigenous peoples are advocating for their rights locally as well as globally and they are joining together to claim their rights to autonomy, self-determination and cultural identity. The General Assembly of the United Nations has rightly decided to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on August 9th every year with the goal of strengthening international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous peoples in such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.108

Much still remains to be accomplished if we are to respect the great contributions of indigenous peoples to our own history, as our ancestors, as part of the diversity in the world, and as a source of native knowledge and learning.


The six episodes below can be used to explain the two constructs of individualism and collectivism.

  1. In Botswana, a waiter brings one menu for four people and gives it to the senior member of the group, who orders the same food for all.

  2. In Berlin, each member of the group orders a different entrée at a restaurant.

  3. In India, a senior engineer is asked to move to New York, at a salary that is thirty-five times his salary in New Delhi, but he declines the opportunity.

  4. In Florida, a senior engineer is asked to move to New York, at a salary that is fifty percent higher than his salary in Washington, D.C., and he accepts.

  5. On a street in Lesotho, an older woman scolds a mother she does not know because she thinks the mother has not wrapped her child warmly enough.

  6. In Australia, a man marries a woman his parents disapprove of.

As we analyze episodes of this kind, we find that the even-numbered episodes reflect an aspect of individualism; the odd-numbered ones an aspect of collectivism. The fact that six so diverse behaviors can be explained by just two constructs indicates that the constructs are useful and powerful. However, the wide applicability also represents a danger. Like the man with a hammer who uses it at every opportunity, if we do not sharpen their meaning, we can overuse the constructs.

The terms individualism and collectivism are conflicting views of the nature of humans, society and the relationship between them. They are used by many people in different parts of the world and are given various meanings; and because they are fuzzy, they are difficult to measure. Galileo Galilei said, ‘science is measurement," meaning that if we are going to understand, classify, and predict events, we need to measure them. In recent years social psychologists have made numerous attempts to measure tendencies toward individualism and collectivism, and in doing so they discovered considerable complexity in what should be included in these constructs. They have also theorized about the causes and consequences of people’s behaving in individualistic and collectivist ways and discovered that people are typically both individualists and collectivists. The optimal states of individual and societal health are linked to too much individualism, whereas a lack of human rights can be attributed to too much collectivism.

The reader will want some explanation of why the six behaviors mentioned earlier reflect these constructs. Botswana, India and Lesotho are collectivist countries, though to different degrees. The United States, Germany and England are individualistic countries, also to different degrees. Nevertheless, one can find both collectivist and individualistic elements in all these countries, in different combinations.

In Botswana, the waiter assumes that the senior member of the group will decide what to eat and that ultimately consuming the same food will intensify bonds among the members of the group, whereas in Germany, the waiter infers that each person has personal preferences that must be respected.

In India, the senior engineer feels that he must stay close to his family and Florida is simply too far. If his father was dying, it would be the engineer’s duty to be at his bedside and facilitate his passage to the other state. Under similar conditions in the United States, it is more likely that the parent would be placed in a nursing home. The parent and his son have their own lives and are independent entities.

In Lesotho, it is assumed that the whole community is responsible for child rearing. If the parent is not doing an adequate job, an older person is responsible for upholding community standards. “Putting one’s nose in another person’s business” is perfectly natural and expected.

In most cultures, people try to marry a spouse that their parents find acceptable. However, in very individualistic cultures like the United States, it is assumed that people are independent entities and that marriage is a link between two individuals regardless of parental disapproval. In collectivist cultures marriage is an institution that links two families, in which case it is mandatory that the families find the mate acceptable.

Countries and Cultures

In the foregoing example, the country is used as the equivalent of the culture. The equivalence is very approximate. Some estimates of the number of cultures begin with ten thousands. The UN has 192 member states; thus it is obvious that each country includes many cultures. Most countries consist of hundreds of cultures and corresponding sub-cultures. For example, occupational groups, corporations, or ethnic groups have fairly distinct cultures. A culture is usually linked to a language, a particular time period, and a place. English is widely used in different parts of the world, for example, India and Singapore, but that does not mean that all people who speak English posses the same culture. They may have more in common, of course, with other English speakers than with people who speak French, but language on its own is insufficient to create a common culture.

Cultural differences

Culture is to society what memory is to individuals. It includes the things that have “worked” in the past. For example, one who invents a tool might tell his or her children about the tool. Others may pick up the idea and use it too. Soon, people come and go and the tool remains. The society uses the tool like a memory of what has worked in the past. Tools are parts of culture, just as words, shared beliefs, attitudes, norms, roles, and values, which are called elements of “subjective culture”.109

Individual Differences

We know that there are people in each of the countries that were mentioned in the examples who would have acted very differently. In every culture there are people who are “allocentric”, who believe, feel, and act very much like collectivists do around the world. There are also people who are “idiocentric”, who believe, feel, and act the way individualists do around the world. For example, we know Americans who would not hesitate to marry someone their parents dislike, but we also know Americans who would never do such a thing. In china those who press for human rights are likely to be idiocentric in a collectivist culture. In the United States, those who join communes are likely to be allocentric in an individualistic culture. Thus, in every culture we get the full distribution of both types.

Historical Background

Most people think the terms individualism and collectivism were first used by English political philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the eighteenth Century the individualistic ideas of the American Revolution (all men are created equal, pursuit of happiness) and the French Revolution (liberty, equality) provoked reactions that were termed collectivism. In actual fact, other civilizations discovered them much earlier. A major attempt to understand English individualism was made by Macfarlane.110 He provided evidence that there was individualism in Britain as early as 1200 A.D. Interesting parallel thinking is found in the work of Galtung.111 He provided a macro-history of the West, examining the past two thousand and five hundred years and anticipating the next five hundred. He explicitly broke the past two thousand and five hundred years into three parts: up to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D., which he called antiquity; up to the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in 1453 A.D., which he called the Middle Ages; and up to present day, which he called the modern period. He saw antiquity as characterized by “vertical individualism”, the Middle Ages by “vertical collectivism”, and the modern period by “vertical individualism” again.

Galtung argued that the transition from one to the other cultural pattern was possible only because in each there were countercultural types ready to change the society. For example, in the Middle Ages there were landed aristocrats and city burghers with individualistic tendencies, so when the old system failed, they were ready to provide a new system. He anticipated a shift toward collectivism in the next five hundred years because the modern period is characterized by impersonal, cold, bureaucratic social structures and people are going to discover collectives that provide them with close-knit, more satisfying relationships. He saw the one thousand nine hundred and sixty eight student revolutions, the revival of occultist traditions, the explorations of Eastern religious experiences, and the general trend toward the withdrawal to private life as examples of the search for meaning in the West and as the first signs of the crisis, which will eventually result in new social systems with a greater role for homogenous, close-knit collectives.

The terms individualism and collectivism have a history of about three hundred years. Durkheim112 drew a distinction between “mechanical solidarity,” which occurs when members of a society are so similar that they relate to each other automatically without considering that any other option exists, and “organic solidarity,” where there is functional specialization and people are interdependent because it is advantageous. The first pattern is similar to basic collectivism; the second to individualism.

Attributes of Individualists and Collectivists

Individualism and individualists

Individualism is a social pattern that places the highest value on the individual. 1Individualists view themselves as independent and only loosely connected to the groups of which they are a part. When establishing the level of their commitment to others, they balance the advantages and disadvantages of cultivating and maintaining a relationship; the level of commitment generally corresponds to the level of perceived benefit. Personal preferences, needs, rights and goals are their primary concerns, and they tend to place a high value on personal freedom and achievement. Self-reliance and competitiveness are common individualist features. When personal goals conflict with group goals, individualists tend to give priority to their personal goals.113 Individualist cultures are those of the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. For Americans, individualism is part of what it means to be an American. Though there are negative critiques of the degree to which individualism can be taken in America, it still assumed to be a positive value at its base.

Collectivism and collectivists

Collectivism is a social pattern that places the highest value on the interests of the group. Collectivists view themselves as inter-dependent and closely linked to one or more groups. They often are willing to maintain a commitment to a group even when their obligations to the groups are personally disadvantageous. Norms, obligations and duties to groups are their primary concerns, and they tend to place a high value on group harmony and solidarity. Respectfulness and cooperation are common collectivist traits. When personal goals conflict with group norms, collectivists tend to conform to group norms.114

Human Rights

Under individualist cultures, individual rights are regarded as the most important thing, while in collectivist cultures, group, family or rights for the common good seen as more important than the rights of individuals.

Collectivists and individualists both agree that human rights are important, but they differ over how important and especially over what is presumed to be the origin of those rights. There are only two possibilities in this debate. Either man’s right is intrinsic to his being, or they are extrinsic, meaning that either he possesses them at birth or they are given to him afterwards.

In other words, they are either hardware or software. Individualists believe they are hardware. Collectivists believe they are software.

If rights are given to the individual after birth, then who has the power to do that? Collectivists believe this is a function of government. Individualists are nervous about that assumption because, if the state has the power to grant rights, it also has the power to take them away, and that concept is incompatible with personal liberty.

According to Thomas Jefferson, “Under the law of nature, all men are born free; every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of nature, because necessary for his own sustenance”.115

State Power

Collectivists and individualists are also divided on the origin of state power. Individualists believe that a just government derives its power, not from conquest and subjugation of its citizens, but from the free consent of the governed. That means the state cannot have any legitimate powers unless they are given them by its citizens.

Another way of putting it is that governments may do only those things that their citizens also have a right to do. If individuals do not have the right to perform a certain act, then they can not grant that power to their elected representatives. They can not delegate what they do not have.

Group Supremacy

Collectivists and individualists are again divided on the concept of group supremacy. Collectivism is based on the belief that the group is more important than the individual. According to this view, the group is an entity of its own and it has rights of its own. Furthermore, those rights are more important than individual rights. Therefore, it is acceptable to sacrifice individuals if necessary for "the greater good of the greater number". How many times have we heard that? Who can object to the loss of liberty if it is justified as necessary for the greater good of society? This concept is at the heart of all modern totalitarian systems built on the model of collectivism.

Individualists on the other hand say, "Wait a minute, group? What is group? That is just a word. You can not touch a group. You can not see a group. All you can touch and see are individuals”. The word group is an abstraction and does not exist as a tangible reality. It is like the abstraction called forest. Forests do not exist. Only trees exist. A forest is the concept of many trees. Likewise, the word group merely describes the abstract concept of many individuals. Only individuals are real and, therefore, there is no such thing as group rights. Only individuals have rights.

Just because there are many individuals in one group and only a few in another does not give a higher priority to the individuals in the larger group - even if you call it the state. A majority of voters do not have more rights than the minority. Rights are not derived from the power of numbers. They do not come from the group, they are intrinsic to each human being.

Coercion versus Freedom

Coercion versus freedom is the other concept that divides collectivism and individualism; it has to do with responsibilities and freedom of choice. We have spoken about the origin of rights, but there is a similar issue involving the origin of responsibilities. Rights and responsibilities go together. If you value the right to live your own life without others telling you what to do, then you must assume the responsibility to be independent and to provide for yourself without expecting others to take care of you. Rights and responsibilities are merely different sides of the same coin.

If only individuals have rights, then it follows that only individuals have responsibilities. If groups have rights, then groups also have responsibilities; and therein, lies one of the greatest ideological challenges of our modern age.

Individualists are champions of individual rights. Therefore, they accept the principle of individual responsibility rather than group responsibility. They believe that everyone has a personal and direct obligation to provide, first for himself and his family, and then for others who may be in need. That does not mean they do not believe in helping each other. Just because I am an individualist does not mean I have to move my piano alone. It just means that I believe that moving it is my responsibility, not someone else’s, and it is up to me to organize the voluntary assistance of others.

The collectivists, on the other hand, declares that individuals are not personally responsible for charity, for raising their own children, providing for aging parents, or even providing for themselves. These are group obligations of the state. The individualist expects to do it himself; the collectivist wants the government to do it for him: to provide employment and health care, a minimum wage, food, education, and a decent place to live. Collectivists are enamored by government. They worship government. They have a fixation on government as the ultimate group mechanism to solve all problems.

Individualists do not share that faith. They see government as the creator of more problems than it solves. They believe that freedom of choice will lead to the best solution of social and economic problems. Millions of ideas and efforts, each subject to trial and error and competition - in which the best solution becomes obvious by comparing its results to all others - will produce results that are far superior to what can be achieved by a group of politicians or a committee of so-called wise men.

By contrast, collectivists do not trust freedom. They are afraid of freedom. They are convinced that freedom may be all right in small matters such as what color socks you want to wear, but when it come to the important issues such as money supply, banking practices, investments, insurance programs, health care, education, and so on, freedom will not work. These things, they say, simply must be controlled by the government. Otherwise there would be chaos.

Equality versus Inequality

Equality versus inequality divides collectivism from individualism. Individualists believe that no two people are exactly alike, and each one is superior or inferior to others in many ways but, under law, they should all be treated equally. Collectivists believe that the law should treat people unequally in order to bring about desirable changes in society. They view the world as tragically imperfect. They see poverty and suffering and injustice and they conclude that something must be done to alter the forces that have produced these effects. They think of themselves as social engineers who have the wisdom to restructure society to a more humane and logical order. To do this, they must intervene in the affairs of men at all levels and redirect their activities according to a master plan. That means they must redistribute wealth and use the police power of the state to enforce prescribed behavior.


In collectivistic cultures, self-esteem is not derived from idiosyncratic behavior or from calling attention to one’s own unique abilities. There is greater emphasis on meeting a shared standard so as to maintain harmony in one’s relationship to the group.116 People in collectivistic cultures are therefore not motivated to stand out from their group by competitive acts of achievement or even making positive statements about themselves.117 Instead, there is a tendency toward self-improvement motivated by concern for the well being of the larger social group. Whereas members of individualistic cultures strive for special recognition by achieving beyond the norms of the group, collectivists are more motivated to understand the norms for achievement in the particular context so as to meet that standard.118 Therefore, one might expect groups defined by collectivistic norms to be high in collaboration and achievement of collective goals, whereas groups with individualistic norms may have greater variability in performance among its individual members.


A major study by Bellah et al.119 expressed concern that individualism is becoming cancerous in American life. Individualism was seen as emphasizing hedonism, competition, self-reliance, utilitarian pursuits, and open communication with the community only if it serves the person. Most importantly, it emphasizes freedom, equality and equity, participation, trust of others, competence, exchanges, fairness, independence and separation from family, loneliness and sometimes alienation. The standard is no longer “what is good?” but “does it feel good?” The scholar saw a crisis in the relating of personal and community goals and noted that therapy is thought of as an answer to any problem.

Bellah et al. also identified several kinds of individualism: religious, utilitarian and expressive. For example, according to the biblical individualist, the individual relates directly to God; the utilitarian emphasizes exchanges that maximize returns for the individual. Expressive individualists emphasize having fun. The self is what really matters. However, individualism is compatible with conformity, since people who do not know what is right have to depend on social comparisons to guide their life. Keeping up with Joneses is the central motto of life among these individualists. Since members of the upper class pay attention to traditions and social norms that secure their comfortable positions in society, and members of the lower class have to do their duty in order to keep their jobs, individualism is maximal in the middle class. This view is inconsistent with other findings, and further research is needed.

Number of Choices

In complex environments, such as modern information societies, people have a large number of choices. In most preliterate cultures there are few choices. Also, among the poor, underprivileged segments of even the most modern societies, the number of choices is small. As affluence and complexity increase, the number of choices also increases. In information societies the data banks include information of enormous complexity. The significance of the number of choices is that it implies that individuals may arrive at different decisions depending on how the information is processed. The individual is conscious of the personal nature of a decision. People make their own decisions and may be labeled individualists.


If only one in-group is present, it dominates social life. It provides the only sources of norms, identity, and social support. Collectivists may have relatively few in-groups, but they identify very strongly with them. The in-groups of collectivists provide social insurance, protection, and a relaxing atmosphere.

The presence of many in-groups encourages individualism. For example, the separation of church and state in the United States automatically creates more than one in-group and is a premise upon which multiculturalism and democracy are based. It is also the foundation for social movements because each in-group can potentially become a social movement.

Multiple in-groups are especially important in large urban centers, where the social controls of small in-groups are often weak. The social structures of these communities are loose, and several of the factors we have discussed converge to put more emphasis on personal responsibility and less on norms. With more in-groups these is an increase in social diversity, tolerance for deviance, and multiculturalism. Thus the factors that make cultures loose and allow many choices favor individualism. Conversely, collectivism is maximal in tight cultures, where there are few choices.

There is less distinction between in-group and out-group in individualist cultures, while in collectivist cultures deeper distinctions are made between in-group and out-group. Because the person’s identity is closely linked to his or her social group in collectivistic cultures, the primary goal of the person is not to maintain independence from others, but to promote the interests of the group.120 In contrast, most people in individualistic cultures assume that their identity is a direct consequence of their unique traits. Because the norms of individualistic cultures state being "true" to one’s self and one’s unique set of needs and desires,121 the person may be encouraged to resist social pressure if it contradicts his or her own values and preferences. Thus, people in individualistic cultures can be expected to be consistent in their views and maintain them in the face of opposition, while people in collectivistic cultures might consider the failure to yield to others as rude and inconsiderate.

The individualistic cultures emphasized goals like self-sufficiency and self-glorification; the collectivist cultures emphasized the good of the in-group. Among individualists, power was desired and often achieved, whereas the collectivists were less status conscious. The individualistic cultures had a view of the universe that included a struggle between individuals and gods, whereas the collectivists expected that if they did their duty, everything would be all right.

Identity and Emotions

Identity among collectivists is defined by relationships and group memberships.

Individualists base identity on what they own and on their own experiences. Not surprisingly, the emotions of collectivists tend to be empathetic and other-focused and of short duration (they last as long as the collectivists are in a situation). The emotions of individualists on the other hand are ego-focused and of long duration (do not necessarily change with the situation). Markus and Kitayama 122 described the rich vocabulary of the Chinese language for other-focused emotions, such as amae (hope or expectation of someone’s indulgence and favor). Matsumoto 123 found that collectivists identify sadness more easily than individualists, and individualists are more likely to perceive happiness than collectivists. Americans are more likely than Chinese to seek "fun" situations, and Chinese are more likely than Americans to seek situations that produce harmonious interpersonal atmospheres.

In Chinese society, collectivism has a long tradition based on Confucianism, where being a "community man" or someone with a “social personality" is valued. Additionally, there is the personality type which is worldly and committed to family. Individualist thinking in China was formed by Lao Zi and Taoism. He taught that individual happiness is the basis of a good society. He was an opponent of taxation and war, and his students and the tradition that followed him were consistently individualistic.

Helping Behavior

Interpersonal relations sometimes involve different assumptions in collectivist and individualistic cultures. Specifically, in individualistic cultures it is assumed that whether a person helps or not is a matter of personal choice. But in many collectivist cultures helping is a moral obligation, thus, obligatory, not voluntary.

In many collectivist cultures doing one’s duty is realizing one’s nature, and individual happiness is not important. Miller124 showed that the conditions under which one may or may not help are often different in India and the United States.

In general, people must help in India under conditions where help might not be required or be optional in the United States. Greater priority is given to interpersonal responsibilities than to justice obligations in collectivist cultures.

Social Loafing

Earley125 showed that social loafing, or doing less than one is capable of doing when one’s performance is not observable, is less likely among collectivists working with in-group members than among individualists. Similarly, Wagner126 showed that individualists were more likely to “free ride" or avoid responsibilities, or let others do a greater share of the work, or allow others to pay for them, than is common among collectivists.

However, Yamagishi127 argued that Japanese subjects do not free ride because they are monitored very closely, and if they fail to do their share, they are likely to face severe sanctions. He showed in an experiment that when monitoring is not possible, the Japanese subjects who contribute much to the group exit the group. This is an individualistic solution to the free rider problem.

Culture and politics

The stereotype of a "good person" in collectivist cultures is trustworthy, honest, generous, and sensitive, all characteristics that are helpful to people working in groups.

In contrast, a "good person" in individualist culture is more assertive and strong, characteristics helpful for competing. The idea of the "artistic type" or "bohemian" is not usually found in collectivist cultures. However, collectivist cultures usually have a "community man" concept not present in individualist cultures.

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