It's All Up To Us

A Daily Haiku discussing individualism and state reliance in different cultures.

It's All Up To Us

The Daily Haiku of April 08. It's all up to us.

Destiny's design
hinges on our own resolve.

It's all up to us.

As a perpetual traveler, I've had the chance of meeting very different cultures. When learning about them, one of the most interesting aspects for me is the power balance between the individuals and their societies.

There is a huge difference between Asian countries and Western nations in terms of individualism. Asian societies are much more communal and less self-centered. That is, the individual is less important than the group. This has a positive side, but also a negative one, as individuals in these societies tend to be much more confirmist. At the same time, most people in Asian countries are less state reliant. In many countries in Asia (with notable exceptions such as Japan) people don't enjoy basic social benefits such as public healthcare, pension schemes, or even good education, infrastructures, or other services we take for granted in (most) Western countries.

That is in stark contrast with some European countries. I am leaving the US out of this group of Western nations because the culture there is totally different. But in Europe, especially in certain parts, we have the contrary situation. People are more individualist and self-centered, but reliant on the state at the same time.

This is more of a cultural thing. Europeans expect their countries or government to act as a paternal figure, protecting and patronizing them. In countries such as Sweden, almost one out of three employees work for the government.

That hugely affect the view of the world of the whole population, in matters related to their personal lives. When something bad happens, it is the government's fault or there's always someone you can blame (the government, this party, this group, the evil businessmen, etc).

In my experience, that makes individuals from these countries more likely to complain than to take action when something goes wrong. We need someone to save us.

I left the US out of this because the culture is totally different. Americans don't enjoy the same social benefits (they don't even have universal public healthcare). While this is not good, it makes Americans much more self-sufficient and resourceful. They know it's all up to them, so they don't expect someone else to intervene and "save them". That explains why their society is much more entrepreneurial than the European ones.

So, is that bad? Well, not necessarily. But a society in which most of the population work, or want to work for the government, a society where most people think of their governments as a paternal figure, is less free. The individual needs to balance proper social benefits from their societies with freedom, independence, and the right power balance.

It's not that working for the government will make you less free. It's that a society where individuals depend on this protection, because they are not encouraged to take risks, do things by themselves, and get out of the established norm, is much more weak and subject to abuse. We've seen this in the past in Europe and you can see it now in most Asian and even some Latin American societies.

I haven't known enough people from non-EU, non-US Western societies such as Canada, South Africa or Australia to form an opinion yet, so curious to know your points of view on this.