Labels are now the “in” thing among so-called “intellectuals” of the Philippine blogosphere. Some Filipinos who are actively participating in debates are suddenly identifying themselves as either libertarian, conservative, progressive, socialist, communist, etcetera, etcetera.
Apparently, there are people who think that you need to identify yourself with a particular ideology. Otherwise, they insist on putting a label on you based on the way you think. I was once labeled a “statist” just for advocating responsible speech. I tell ya, the way some people label others is very intrusive, short of literally putting a tag on you the way the Nazis placed tags on Jews to separate them from the non-Jews.
Of all the labels that I hear being slapped around, there are two that stand out: “collectivist” and “individualist“.
I don’t consider myself belonging to a particular political or social ideology. I just tend to believe in whatever works. I noticed lately that those who tend to be over-enthusiastic about labeling other people this and that tend to be those who describe themselves as “individualists.” But individualism is supposed to promote self-creation and experimentation, so I find it ironic that such people appear to adhere to a particular ideology.
Since I do not subscribe to any labels, I could be the one being true to the definition of “individualism.” But I refuse to put myself in a box because I want be free to change my mind any time later on.
So what is the difference between individualism and collectivism?
Collectivism defined “is a political or economic theory advocating collective control especially over production and distribution or; (the) emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity.”
People who subscribe to collectivism believe that the rights of each individual (the right to life, the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, etcetera, etcetera) belong to the government or the state and that those rights can also be taken away from the individual.
A scenario where government can take an individual’s rights is when the institution decides that an individual is more harmful to the rest of the members of society if he remains “free” so therefore; the best solution is to lock him up thereby denying him some of his civil liberties.
Collectivists supposedly put more emphasis on “the greater good for the greater number.” But since these movements have been associated with suppression of individual rights, most individualists tend to be wary of any legislation governments introduce fearing a veering of the state towards socialism, communism or totalitarianism.
Social movements such as socialism, communism and totalitarianism have been known to follow the collectivism approach under the banner of prioritizing group goals over individual goals. China is an example of a country with a communist-totalitarian form of government while Singapore has a democratic-authoritarian government. Both countries adhere to collectivism. It should be noted that both countries are doing well economically partly due to their sound economic policies, which include opening up their market to foreign investors. Obviously, both countries use a simple equation: “economics trumps politics, prosperity precedes polls, and social stability prevails over individual expression.”
Former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew is proud to admit that he used a few incentives, bordering on “coercion” to motivate people to work hard. It is interesting to note that Singapore is proud to claim that they “never went on the same type of dole-out distribution spree that characterized many prosperous Western countries who believed in socialistic welfarism.” Lee seems to indicate that there are people from different ethnic groups who are not prone to independent thought and need outside stimulus to be able to “get going.” In other words, in some societies, some people really do need to be whipped into shape.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad echoed the same sentiments in the past. This is what he had to say about the Malay ethnic group:
They are laid-back and prone to take the easy way out. And the easy way out is to sell off whatever they get and ask for more. This is their culture. Working hard, taking risks and being patient is not a part of their culture. It should be remembered that in the past the Malays were not prepared to take up the jobs created by the colonial powers in their effort to exploit the country.
Since the Malaysian government recognizes that not everyone in Malaysia is created equal, they had to introduce an economic policy called New Economic Policy (NEP) in an effort to level the playing field across the entire population and help those who are poor and marginalized particularly members of the Malay community to catch up economically with the more entrepreneurial minority, the Chinese and Indian migrants.
Individualism is the opposite of collectivism. It is defined “as the pursuit of individual rather than common or collective interests.” Individualists believe that governments should not give rights to the individual but rather, protect them. To an individualist, “human right” is an abstract concept that is inherent to every human being. Individualists usually advocate less government interference and more independent thought or action. Individualists seem to live in a world where they assume that everyone is created equal and that people can rise above dire circumstances on their own with little or no help from the government.
Individualism is also associated with egoism, which is the pursuit of one’s own welfare. It also seems to incline one to an excessive or exaggerated sense of self-importance. Now you know why I do not want to be called an individualist. My personal encounter with a few so-called individualists confirm that they tend to be paranoid about the government or any individual they perceive to be advocating for more laws that they fear will take their civil liberties away.
Americans are proud individualists. They say that what makes America great is the freedom of individuals to be who they want to be. Their constitution clearly states they want no further laws introduced that can potentially take away some of the freedom they enjoy. They are very particular about legislation they deem to be infringing on their human rights.
Americans are also very wary about socialist movements that they think are creeping up onto their society. US President Barack Obama’s health care system has been widely regarded with suspicion that it operates under too much of a socialist model. It is hard to determine whether it is the individualists or the corporations who benefit from the current health care model that is behind the loudest complaining though. I wonder if some of these Americans ever stop to consider if their fears are unfounded? After all, the Cold War is over.
Unfortunately, the singular pursuit of one’s own welfare could have been a key culprit behind the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC) that originated in the US. A lot of egoistic and narcissistic men running US financial institutions neglected to think through the consequences of their actions when they offered too much credit to people who could not afford to pay them back.
Australia, some European nations, and the United Kingdom operate under some aspects of the socialist model and recognize both collective and individualistic philosophy. Individual rights do not seem to suffer from their form of government. In fact, they promote the spirit of true egalitarian societies where everyone is given a fair chance of survival.
The Australian economic policy for instance seems to indicate that they believe in “the greater good for the greater number” with the way higher income earners are taxed more than the lower income earners. The health care system in Australia, which is funded by taxpayer’s money, seems to be working well for the people. In other words, Australian society doesn’t seem to be suffering even with a socialist form of government. In fact, The Economist earlier reported that Australia’s “textbook economics” and sound management have truly worked wonders for the country.
Are Filipinos collectivist or individualist?
People belonging to Southeast Asian countries are usually considered collectivists but I would not consider Filipinos as such in every sense of the word. Being a Filipino, I still find it difficult to describe us as either collectivists or individualists given the way some of us behave and think. I suppose Filipinos tend to follow a religious ideology, namely the Christian ideology more than a political or social ideology. And Christianity tends to default to individualism more than collectivism.
But with 7.4% unemployed today, there are so many Filipinos who expect the government to give them handouts. They also expect their elected leaders to lift the status of the economy without regard for what they need to contribute on their part as individuals. These characteristics might be mistaken for collectivism but really, their actions merely reflect those of moochers or those who are in the habit of trying to get something for free. Individualists say that these moochers rob taxpayers and what irks them the most is that taxes should go where they will yield better results than to people who will just squander the cash.
Individualists say, and I tend to agree in principle, that moochers should not be given handouts because grants tend to prolong their reliance on government. It is safe to say that in general, individualists are averse to the redistribution of income for “the greater good for the greater number.” But one can also argue that since not everyone is created equally, how can some people who have a handicap or those who are disadvantaged in society have a fair go in life if no one gives them a break?
An example of a group of people who are disadvantaged are the Filipino farmers of Hacienda Luisita. It had been alleged that the Cojuancos have not kept their promise to distribute land to the farm workers under the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme of 1988. Under the scheme, the nearly 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of the estate was placed under a stock distribution agreement between the landowners and farm workers.
Not only have the landlords (or some might say, land grabbers) not kept their promise, but they were also embroiled in the death of 14 people during a strike that erupted because of negotiations and unfair dismissals in the farm in 2004. In this instance, the farmers never had a chance to change their social status because they were not given a fair treatment.
In the above scenario, a collectivist approach or a government intervention might just be the solution to the farmer’s woes. I can’t imagine an individualist having a problem with that idea.
Another example is the issue of the proposed Reproductive Health bill, which is supposed to address maternal health care and curb population growth. A lot of people say that the proposed bill is a product of a collectivist mind. Some say that the proponents of the RH bill are trying to rob taxpayers of their hard earned money and give it to people who don’t deserve it.
The men and women who are against the proposed bill argue that the government should not be handing out free contraceptives because it is not fair to the rest of the taxpayers. What the poor people need, as they say, and I tend to agree in principle, is to get a job so they can buy their own contraceptives. But how can these poor people, the very ones who keep multiplying at a fast rate, possibly get out of the cycle of poverty if they can’t even afford an education, let alone contraceptives?
Let’s face it: not everyone is created equal. Not everyone possesses the same constitution as Henry Sy, Donald Trump or Bill Gates. Heck, even Bill Gates thinks that the bulk of his money should go to charity instead of his kids. So it is not very realistic for an invidualist to expect each member of society to have the ability to make it without some form of assistance from a private or public entity.
Top scientist Stephen Hawking himself defended socialised health care in Great Britain, his home country, after Investor’s Business Daily ran an editorial asserting that Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K.,” and that his life would have been seen to be “essentially worthless” by the health care system there.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the [British National Healthcare System (N.H.S.)]. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”
There is no denying that there are a lot of Filipinos who tend to put their own interest first before others. They also believe that the right to self-survival is intrinsic in every individual. To put it simply, a Filipino would find it easy to pretend that the squatters living along Pasig River and those people living among the dead in the North Cemetery are okay as long as he is comfortable in his home in Forbes Park.
So it would seem that most Filipinos have the mentality of an egoist or an individualist. And since a lot of the public servants in Philippine government are also considered moochers on account of the way they pocket public funds, they too can be considered individualists because they don’t seem to care about the welfare of others.
Isn’t it in every individual’s interest to help others to be more self-reliant so the number of moochers or those who are reliant on dole-outs will be less in the future?
Since not everyone is created equally, some people need assistance or incentive to be able to work their way out of poverty. What the country needs are programs or incentives to level the playing field across the entire population and help those who are poor and marginalized to catch up economically with the more entrepreneurial individual members of society. This might take some kind of government intervention, which some individualists might detest, but it is the only way for our society to move forward because there are a lot of Filipinos who seem to need coercion before moving their ass.