America is individualism to the extreme. We let the “self” define everything. To us, societal and family ties mean very little compared to other parts of the world where you are defined by your group. In the West, we have this idea that we are the author of our own future, our identity and fate. Some of this is good, but when we take it too far.
There are some cultural trends in Western culture, which in my opinion, have swung in a negative direction:
- Pursuit of the individual over community (family, group of origin)
- Breaking from tradition, just for the sake of it
Family – We white people are particularly guilty of this. In general, in many white communities, we seek autonomy with our parents. Parents become friends rather than someone designed to be in authority over us. Respect for parents is considered to be antiquated, only for the small-minded and religious zealots.
Tradition – We have decided that it is fashionable to break from tradition just for the sake of breaking from tradition. Many people would do anything else rather than to follow the religion of their parents.
How did our culture become such that each person becomes an individual molder of their own identity?
How do other cultures handle individualism?
Lets consider a place like India- where billions are born into a caste and die in that caste. Nothing can change that. In Indian culture, the young are free to pursue careers to a certain extent, but in many cases, the individual does not have power to make individual choices. Parents and elders dictate the values of the community and values of the individual. The community is more important than the individual. When these young people become the elders of the community, they instill the same values. The idea that you could change your family or racial identity is absurd.
Take a country like South Africa- where race was painfully defined and has carried out a societal structure. From this point of view, where racial identity is so well defined, it seems absurd that someone would “choose” a race for themselves. As if it was that simple.
It is true that race is a “social construct.” But, social constructs are called social constructs because they are defined by society, not the individual. Just because one person have a different idea, doesn’t mean that we can topple a social construct with an individual idea.
This type of extreme individualism that we embody in the West, leads to an internalized belief that “I can be whatever I want.” Taken too far, we get Rachel Dolezal and the idea that one can pick their own race. If we look at the patterns of other societies, this idea of being “transracial” is totally corrupt.
Its like white privilege and Western individualism had a lovechild and Rachel Dolezal is what we get as a result.
The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of “individualism” in the West. I predict in future generations, we may come back to a closer balance between the individual and the community.