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VII. Our Earthuman Ascent: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality

4. A Complementarity of Civilizations: East and West is Best

Nisbett, Richard and Yuri Miyamoto. The Influence of Culture: Holistic Versus Analytic Perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 9/10, 2005. An update on the significant work of University of Michigan psychologist and many colleagues over a decade which has now quantified a true bicameral complementarity between Eastern and Western hemispheres.

There is recent evidence that perceptual processes are influenced by culture. Westerners tend to engage in context-independent and analytic perceptual processes by focusing on a salient object independently of its context, whereas Asians tend to engage in context-dependent and holistic perceptual processes by attending to the relationship between the object and the context in which the object is located. (467)

Nisbett, Richard, et al. Culture and Systems of Thought: Holistic Versus Analytic Cognition. Psychological Review. 108/2, 2001. A summary article that attributes this duality to historic Chinese or Greek roots, whose societies emphasized relational, continuous fields or individual, discrete objects. Rather than a universal Western psychology, long the expected goal, it is vital to appreciate this innate worldwide complementarity.

Norenzayan, Ari and Steven Heine. Psychological Universals. Psychological Bulletin. 131/5, 2005. A wide-ranging article in search of a conceptual and methodological basis to identify common human traits and behavior. But such universal qualities need be situated within East/West, collective/individual complements.

Nwoye, Augustine. Remapping the Fabric of the African Self: A Synoptic Theory. Dialectical Anthropology. 30/1-2, 2007. A psychologist at Kenyatta University, Nairobi contends that the Western norm of a person as a “demarcated entity set off against the world” is inappropriate for African peoples. In its stead a multi-faceted, protean view of an individual expanded to embodied, generative, communal, narratological, melioristic, structural, and spiritual, realms is proposed. One might add that these qualities do not prefer a holism as much as a complementarity of self and society, agent and empathy, yang and yin. And in such a whole brain respect the African milieu reflects an integral balance of the feminine mind.

Furthermore, as the quote states, an ancient, perennial ‘doubleness’ of a vital extant realm can be appreciated which springs from an incarnate source. Here again, from the richness of the African soul, is a creative organic cosmos of genotype and phenotype ever vital to illume our worldwide 21st century. As so true, either we all go together to the Promised Land, an earth transformed by sustainable wisdom, or we do not go at all.

This (spiritual) aspect of the African self is the one that is meant to prove that in the African imagination, physical nature is not dead but, rather, that it is understood to be imbued with immanent vitality and spirit force. In the African view, there is a super-nature underlying all aspects of nature, the spirit of which animates and infuses nature with mystical potency. (140)

Owe, Elinor, et al. Contextualism as an Important Facet of Individualism-Collectivism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 44/1, 2014. Almost 100 co-author scholars from around the world study Personhood Beliefs across 37 National Groups with regard to this well accepted polarity. A main contrast is elucidated whence western, American societies tend to a “dispositional” emphasis of individual traits and interests, while eastern, Indian, Chinese cultures prefer a “situational” mode. In Asia, much weight is given to a person’s contextual setting and circumstance, rather than an isolate entity alone.

Oyserman, Daphna. Culture as Situated Cognition: Cultural Mindsets, Cultural Fluency, and Meaning Making. European Review of Social Psychology. 22/1, 2011. After years of team research, the University of Michigan Collegiate Professor of Social Work and Psychology posts a succinct report on the veracity and acceptance of Eastern and Western hemispheric behavioral preferences, namely as Collective or Individual. See also “One without the Other: Seeing Relationships in Everyday Objects,” by James Mourey, et al, in this section. In this regard, as Spiral of Science, Bicameral World Religions, and elsewhere (search Panikkar, McGilchrist, Orrell, e.g.) document these complements can further influence the scientific and belief systems of a relative civilization. And as our two dual brain sections convey, these attributes accord with, and follow in turn from, our neural asymmetric hemispheres, which are ultimately gender archetypes in kind.

Culture is a human universal, a ‘‘good enough’’ solution to universal needs. It is also a specific meaning-making framework, a ‘‘mindset’’ that influences what feels fluent, what is attended to, which goals or mental procedures are salient. Crossnational comparisons demonstrate both universality and between-group difference (specificity) but cannot address underlying process or distinguish fixed from context-dependent effects. I use a situated cognition framework and experimental methods to address these gaps, demonstrating that salient cultural mindsets have causal downstream consequences for meaning making, self-processes, willingness to invest in relationships, and complex mental procedures. Moreover, individualistic and collectivistic mindsets are accessible cross-culturally so both can be primed. Between-group differences arise in part from momentary cues that make either individualistic or collectivistic mindset accessible. (Abstract)

Individualism: Recall that culture universally involves three core problems (sustaining the group over time, organising relationships, and facilitating individual welfare), a solution that requires that people learn to join in and cooperate with an in-group, regulate themselves to fit in, and initiate and invest in problem solving. Individualism can be considered a cultural solution to the basic problems of survival, which centralises individual initiative, resulting in social practices that highlight the individual as the basic unit of analyses and in social structures that draw legitimacy from their claim to support individual goals. Cognitive procedures suited to individualism, including decontextualising, finding difference, and implementing (rather than deliberating) should be well practised and thus chronically accessible. (171)

Collectivism: Collectivism can also be considered a cultural solution to the basic problems of survival, a solution that centralises group relations and bonds, resulting in social practices that highlight the group as the basic unit of analyses, and in social structures that draw legitimacy from their claim to support group resources. Fitting in and making one’s way within social ties should be salient personal goals, and relationships should feel ascribed and fixed ‘‘facts of life’’ to which people must accommodate. Cognitive procedures suited to collectivism including contextualising, finding similarity, relating, considering, and deliberating should be well practised and thus chronically accessible. (172)

Oyserman, Daphna, et al. Connecting and Separating Mind-Sets: Culture as Situated Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 97/2, 2009. Authors from the Universities of Michigan, Bergen (Norway), and Hong Kong “operationalize” (in academic speak) Individualist and Collectivist cultures so as to report that person’s locale across this spectrum will condition one’s initial penchant to emphasize either discrete objects, or an encompassing milieu. After some two decades of studies it ought to be noted that such “Independent – Interdependent” complements are no longer in question but can be employed to finesse, as does this article, to witness their real and various effects. And read as an example of our Me and/or We brain as manifest unto a bicameral world.

In this current article, we examine this difference in initial focus and attention. Building on the spirit of earlier work, we propose that societies differ in the likelihood that the mind is cued to focus first on separate, decontextualized main points (individual mind-sets) or first on connected, contextualized meaning that emerges from relationships (collective mind-sets). (217)

Oyserman, Daphna, et al. Rethinking Individualism and Collectivism. Psychological Bulletin. 128/1, 2002. Twenty years after the Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede set in place the research program of Individualism-Collectivism for national societies such as the United States and China, this paper reviews its findings and widespread usage, along with peer commentary and the author’s response. Although there are issues, the dichotomy is a valid social parameter.

Oyserman, Diane and Spike W. S. Lee. Does Culture Influence What and How We Think? Psychological Bulletin. 134/2, 2008. In a continuing project, University of Michigan psychologists confirm that if persons are ‘primed’ toward individualism or collectivism, as if to simulate a national proclivity, these polar categories do take on an archetypal role. Our interest in this whole subject is how it might illustrate that such essential gender complements can be found to hold even for hemispheric civilizations. If fully appreciated, real East and West, South and North complements could bode well for their salutary reciprocity. (See also the 2008 Takahiko Masuda, et al, article for a similar conclusion.)

From a cultural psychological perspective, individualism and collectivism are constructs that summarize fundamental differences in how the relationship between individuals and societies is construed and whether individuals or groups are seen as the basic unit of analyses. (311) Our current review supports the perspective that one of the ways in which meaning is organized in context is through the meaning provided by salient and accessible culture (operationalized as individualism and collectivism) and that once a particular cultural focus is cued, it is likely to carry with it relevant goals, motives, actions, ways of interpreting information, and processing strategies. (331)

Pattberg, Thorsten. The East-West Dichotomy. Peking: Pattberg, 2009. A scholar educated in and conversant with both hemispheres, see vita below, writes an insightful essay about these reciprocal noosphere realities. A Synopsis reads: “The East-West dichotomy is a philosophical concept of ancient origin which claims that the two cultural hemispheres, East and West, developed diametrically opposed, one from the particular to the universal and the other from the universal to the particular; the East is more inductive while the West is more deductive.” In regard, induction and deduction are seen to reflect the basic yin-yang, right-left brain archetypes. To wit, later Western culture prefers particulate analysis, isolated dots, and people alone, while the original East tends to holistic, integrative connections, i.e., either little or big picture.

Chapters run from “History, Induction and Deduction, and Two Successful Models” to “The Psychology of Communion, The Problem with Nature, and Dialectics of the Dichotomy.” Some 345 references are offered in support. The work is available online at www.east-west-dichotomy.com/introduction and for purchase from Amazon.com. The book and website is now a popular resource, a 2013 edition is due from Foreign Language Press in Beijing. A 2012 talk by Iain McGilchrist “The Divided Brain & the Making of the Western World” is also on this site. If to wonder, could such a scenario suggest that whole emergent EarthKinder might be coming to her/his own knowledge, a palliative discovery and dispensation we so desperately need and might avail?

Dr. Pattberg attended Edinburgh University, Fudan University, Tokyo University, and Harvard University, and earned his doctorate from The Institute of World Literature at Peking University. He studied under the guiding stars of Ji Xianlin, Gu Zhengkun, and Tu Weiming, whom he considers his spiritual masters. Due to his prolific writings and his media presence, East-West is considered one of the world’s leading experts on the East-West dichotomy, Shengren philosophy, Language Imperialism, Vocabulary wars, and European Confucianism. He is currently a researcher at The Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Peking University.

Peng, Kaiping and Richard Nisbett. Culture, Dialectics, and Reasoning About Contradiction. American Psychologist. 54/9, 1999. A Chinese and an American social scientist explore dialectical thinking with regard to Eastern holistic and Western analytical epistemologies.

Pirttila-Backman, Anna-Maija, et al. Cameroonian Forms of Collectivism and Individualism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 35/4, 2004. A study from the University of Helsinki, Finland uses evaluation scales from the work of Hofstede and Triandis to consider how this African nation can “…fit into the global matrix of individualism and collectivism.” If to get beyond white northern Europe attempting to categorize black southern Africa, these findings do support a south/north complementarity that if properly appreciated might promote better understanding and tolerance of hemispheric cultures and races.

Cameroonians were shown to be more collectivist that Individualist. The women were more individualist than the men. This unexpected finding could be interpreted in the everyday struggles of women. (481)

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