People as Discrete Individuals
I just got the book The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt – and I could see right away that is is an important one.
Here is a quote from page 14.
The Western conception of a person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgement, and action organized to a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against its social and natural background, is, however incorrigible is may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures.
I have wondered about this myself, somewhat vaguely – and it was a relief to see it described so well.
He goes on to say:
Shweder (a psychological anthropologist) offered a simple idea to explain why the self differs so much across cultures: all societies mus resolve a small set of questions about how to order society, the most important being how to balance the needs of individuals and groups.
There seem to be just two primary ways of answering this question. Most societies have chosen the sociocentric answer, placing the needs of groups and institutions first, and subordinating the needs of individuals.
In contrast, the individualistic answer places individuals at the center and makes society a servant of the individual.
The sociocentric answer dominated most of the ancient world, but the individualistic answer became a powerful rival during the Enlightenment.