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A Tale of Two Societies

We live in a society. 


Surviving amongst expectations, societal obligations, and adhering to the norms of imitating a particular behaviour contingent to the concoction of identities we possess. Albeit, the societies we are a part of are starkly differing, and these varying societal, cultural, and political components are labelled by two philosophies: Collectivism and Individualism. Societies are ever malleable; they transform rapidly, but some societies are quintessentially collectivist and others immaculately individualist.


The diverging compound of Indian societies is one such guide to a collectivist society: A plethora of cultures grouped with overlapping societal values of collectivism. Across India, societies emphasize on prioritizing the well-being and flourishment of the group over individual desires. They practice every traditional component found in the collectivist handbook: holding strong familial ties, promoting unquestioned and unparalleled respecting of the elderly and authority, celebrating platitudes of festivals with all of townsfolks, participating in matrimony (spouse chosen by the family than the individual, of course); it is a deeply religious society whose livelihood is interdependent of each other. Religion play an integral role in placating India into maintaining a collectivist society, as does the desperation stemming from brutal colonial rule. The close-knitted relationships found amongst social networks in Indian societies offer infallible social support, facilitating and intervening in personal issues emotionally, physically, and at times financially. Such societies also reduce possibilities of isolation, and the stress which complements it is replaced by a sense of belonging and security, particularly when social spaces are shared with those of similar backgrounds. India is one whole cohesive society hell-bent on preserving culture, however so cruelly they may do so. 


In reality, Indian traditional societies are harsh. They are prejudiced, as are all other collectivist societies. Social sub-groups with power and authority systematically discriminate against other groups and its individuals who behave remotely dissimilar to their ideal prototype of a ‘member of a society’, based on religious, gender, and sexual differences. Personal opinions are inexpressible if they transgress societal beliefs, unless they are fallacious rumours disseminated by ‘well-known figures’, which to be believed blindly. 


Indian society’s inability to recognize the substance lying in personal aspirations, in freedoms, and in accepting differences is ironically individualist, because the value of intolerance is perpetuated by personal beliefs itself. The audacity for one to conveniently convince themselves to be relevant enough to be deciding for others is inherently egotistical, and consequently fails at respecting the very essence of collectivism. People in such societies have the power to diminish another’s humanity if they ever fail to conform; And they do by weaponizing pressure and coercion, and in rare cases, even snatch away the gift of life from those who resort to deviance.


The notoriety of American society for its individualist components lies in its ability to interact bizarrely uninformed and heedless. Unlike collectivist societies, individualism prioritizes economic prosperity, intertwining with behaviours of relentless hyper-independence in pursuing goals and fulfilling ambitions. Individual aspirations and successes are attributed to none other than themselves. In essence, American individualism is an extension of the ‘American Dream’. Individual autonomy and self-expressions are at the core of American values, shaped further by the emergence of nuclear families. Personal freedoms were enshrined in the constitution in 1776 and has since been embedded into the minds of Americans. When you think of America, you think freedom. These beliefs are preserved and passed down through generations – it is their culture. Americans are relatively more tolerant towards the lifestyles of others, and that precipice of ‘respect’ towards each other should ideally establish a fairer and harmonious society. 


However, the bubble of wishful thinking is burst by the reality. American individualism’s fame is largely attributed to their uncharitable character. Their alarmingly rising apathy and isolating tendencies kill empathy – it destroys what makes us human. Without empathy, one would not feel the need to comfort friends and family, without empathy respect is unreciprocated, without empathy one would be incapacitated in supporting social justice issues, climate change, and even against war and genocides. Collective issues are largely overlooked by Americans, and its devastating impacts are undermined merely because they are not the ones inflicted with the agony. Individualism buttresses this emergence of a self-serving society which is incapable of acknowledging the ‘others’. Such societies hollow the human aspect of individuals, and the human fabric knitted to form a society is unravelled. To them, the world merely manifests as a town or a city hosting people. 


Alas, we live in a society.


Surviving within a broken superficial system – a suffocating myth of unity, tolerance, and faith. The societies we speak of are starkly differing, but they meet, and when they do intersect, they clash violently and selfishly. 


Today and the tomorrows to come are a globalized miracle. The boundaries between cultures and norms which societies fought to establish are blurring. Collectivist or Individualist, the shared morsel of belief in fatalistic doom is innately destructive and self-absored  – none holier than thou. They enable anything between good and bad, inferred as neither moral nor immoral but necessitating. It is pathetic. But such is the tale of two societies.