Tuesday, January 25, 2011

East vs West (Relationships vs Individuality)

I was listening to an interesting talk on the radio today - I think it was on NPR and the show was Philosophy Talk. Anyway, they had on a cultural psychologist who was talking about the concept of self and how we construct this sense of self. She talked about her experience in Asia vs the US or West. After many years of teaching Asian students, I think mostly Japanese, one of her Asian students said that her concept of the "self" and how it comes to exist makes no sense. After many more discussions and explorations it was concluded that the construction of self is so different in these two cultural spaces.

In Asia you, your sense of self and a construction of an identity, is built around your relationships and obligations to others in the world. In other words your self is in many senses positively enhanced by your relationships and gives it a sort of relativeness or relatedness. In this way everything can be seen as related and interconnected. While in the West we create a sense of self through being individual by finding ways to make yourself unique compared to others. Your sense of self is supposedly independent of others or your relationships or your history.

Without a doubt there is something incredibly liberating about the Western sense of self. It has allowed us on many levels to move beyond tribalism and other stuck social obligations. Yet, the power of relationships and the importance of recognizing the network of humanity is becoming increasingly critical.

We are moving into an age where we have to find a way to incorporate individuality with relationships. We have to define a new way of constructing values, of empowering relationships and giving individual freedom. This is in many ways this requires a revolution in philosophical thought. We can not merge the East and West into one grand globalized economy if our sense of self is constructed completely differently. Why you might ask? Well, if a sense of self it intimately tied to our way of identifying and informing systems of value, then the way we think of economies (systems of value creation/protection/recognition) will be in constant contradiction.

This is why I think the future is neither individual nor relationship it is "individship" or something like that. My point is that this merging of great philosophies of self - a product of our incredibly globalized world is going to require profound shifts. What is critical about this meeting of cultures, as opposed to earlier interactions is that in many ways it is done through non-hierachical relationships (the internet, universities, products). For the first time we have to come to an agreement, not a domination of one over the other.

Look out for new ideas of self to emerge!

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