Thursday Born

The everyday life of a psychiatry resident (who was born on a Thursday).

Trying not to step on too many toes

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My sophomore year in undergrad, I took a class called Culture and Diversity in Psychology. A good deal of the cultural comparison psychology studies out there are East vs West, and there’s the general idea they like to use that Eastern Cultures tend to be more collectivist, whereas Western Cultures tend to be more individualist.

I think all cultures have a bit of both traits mixed in, but there does tend to be a more dominant flavor.

I have a hard time saying which I lean more toward. I come from an interestingly blended background where personal excellence was emphasized, but so was family togetherness and taking care of each other. I remember one example given in class of a group of people going out to eat. In an Individualist Culture, people try to order different things, so as not to copy someone else. In the Collectivist Culture, they all try to order the same thing as show of similarity, which is good.

My family tries to order different things, so we can share with each other. Oh, you’re getting the pancakes? Ok, well I’ll get the eggs and then we’ll share.

I usually think of myself as more individualist (I’m a stubbornly independent person, sometimes irrationally so), but recently a lot of Health Care Reform debate has me realizing I have more collectivist traits than I would have assumed. I’ve been finding American culture more and more foreign lately, and I’m not just saying that “Huh, conservatives are so weird!” Though I will admit that I find these Tea Party people frightening, genuinely frightening, because hate that deep is a terrible, dangerous motivator.

No, it’s not just conservatives. There’s many random things that are just foreign to me, personally, not me as a liberal, not me as an American-Ghanaian, but me as just me.

While there are some very matter of fact objections to the Health Care Bill (“How can we afford this?”) a great majority of what I’m seeing have to do with personal values. A lot of Americans value freedom in an almost rabid way that I don’t really understand. I think freedom is overrated, in the way someone who’s lived her life in peaceful countries can think freedom is overrated. I’m still trying to work through articulating this coherently and gracefully, but it seems like I value “the greater good” over “personal freedom.” Fine. Tax me more. Force me to buy health insurance. I honestly don’t care if it means a better life for more people.

(Aside: This is likely related to how I don’t think that Dictators are inherently awful, and how I feel that a Benevolent Dictator can possibly do more good for a country than a well meaning democratically elected President. Unfortunately, a malevolent Dictator can do more harm, so we take the general stance of preventing the worst case.)

Another point of debate has been “I don’t want to pay for the guy who ate/smoked himself sick.” I know I’m going to be jaded on this in a matter of 2-3 years, but right now my feeling is, “Well you know, it sucks that he did this to himself, but suffering is wrong, self-inflicted or not, and I’m not going to let my fellow human suffer if I can help it.” And people aren’t making these choices in a vacuum. Society has contributed heavily to the existence of the smokers and the over-eaters. Maybe we should be paying for their care. Collectively, we helped do this to them.

The solution to many problems could be more government regulation. It could be less government regulation. It is possible that those are both viable solutions. But the solution is certainly not to be found in doing nothing. I would rather see this bill pass and fail, so we can learn from its mistakes, than see nothing change and life go on as it has been.

I wish people would talk more about the practical objections, and less about the value-based objections, because I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on those.

There’s a lot more on my mind but I think I need to split this into separate posts. So I guess this will be my Health Care Reform post.

Written by Aba

March 31, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. East/West difference on collective thinking? Spoken like true Anglos/Americans who forget that the West does not mean “English world”.

    Historically, England (and its colonies) have always been pretty much the most extremely individualist fringe of the world – even Continental Europe, France as a case in point (and by extension Quebec) have been far more collectivist.


    March 31, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    • Well, we already talked about this over IM, but I don’t want it to seem like I’m ignoring your comment altogether. =P


      April 1, 2010 at 1:01 am

      • XD.

        Just to clarify for other readers, it’s the psychology class themes that irritates me; I actually agree with you that most countries, east and west, are probably a blend of individualism and collectivism, with dominant flavors depending on the country. (Plus, East v West is kinda the politically correct way of saying “European/White Civilization vs Asian/Yellow Civilization”, as if these were the only two worth being concerned with)

        (Also, America, properly, is the individualist fringe of the Anglo-Saxon world which is the individualist fringe of the so-called Western World)


        April 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm

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