Individualism Is Far

Four studies show that an independent self-view is associated with abstract representations of future events and with perceiving these events as happening in the more distant future, whereas an interdependent self-view is associated with concrete representations of future events and with perceiving these events as happening in the more proximal future. …

Individuals with an accessible independent self-view (a characteristic of members of most Western cultures) place high values on self-reliance and autonomy. They strive toward being unique, different, and separate from others. Of key importance to the independents is the “inner core” of the self—internal attributes and traits that are enduring and invariant over time and context. In contrast, individuals with a more accessible interdependent self-view (a characteristic of members of many Eastern cultures) value relationships with others and interpersonal harmony. They view the self as part of a social group and strive toward blending and fitting in. …

There are reasons to believe that the two distinct self- views are associated with different levels of construal and psychological distances. First, interdependents are concerned about relationship harmony and are sensitive to the interconnectedness between people and events. From this perspective, it is both desirable and necessary that they pay close attention to the immediate environment to ensure that relationship harmony is attained and preserved. This attention to the “here” and “now” likely prompts a low-level construal and its corresponding proximal temporal perspective. Second, feelings of agency and control may also lead to higher construal levels among those with an independent self-view. (more)

This suggests that westerners tend to think more in a far view, which suggests that they are more idealistic, plan further into the future, are more socially inclusive, and think more via analogy.

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  • Doug

    The US’s political parties have their colors backwards. Republicans who generally promote individual responsibility should be using far-mode blue. Democrats who favor solidarity and social justice should be using near-mode red.

    • Thursday1

      We have two hyper-individualist, “far” political parties. I’d note that “social justice” is very much an atomizing, individualistic concept: you’re comparing mine and thine. As Will Wilkinson has noted, solidarity is long gone from the D’s.

  • jhertzli

    On the other hand.

    • RobinHanson

      Yeah, that is problematic.

  • John_Maxwell_IV

    Well, here I argued that far view was associated with *less* social inclusiveness. The whole near/far thing seems a bit handwavey and speculative to me, to be honest.

    • Stephen Diamond

      The whole near/far thing seems a bit handwavey and speculative to me, to be honest.

      Inclusiveness is prima facie far–you get an inclusive view from a distance.

      You got it wrong: race, etc. are near. The relevant dimension isn’t general versus specific but abstract versus concrete. There’s nothing more concrete than the color of a person’s skin. That’s why even most current rightists despise race-haters more than class-haters: race is near, class is far, at least if conceived as Marxists do as “relationship to the means of production.” A Marxist doesn’t usually hate someone just because he’s a member of the enemy class. That’s because far-mode is detached, near-mode emotionally volatile. (Sex is near; love is far.) That applies also to positive emotions, like compassion, accounting for your other data.

      Not only cultural progress but intellectual progress in a culture too involve the progressive increase in the use of far-mode. Consider, for example, the Flynn Effect in IQ testing. One reason for the increase is that the population produces increasingly abstract (far) answers, which are (rightly, in my opinion) scored higher.

      Those who want the political parties to be even more near-mode are asking for even more narrowness and conservatism (perhaps at the same time combined with ultrafar goals, which distinguishes your approach from traditionalism).

      My application of construal-level theory to political ideology is at “A taxonomy of political ideologies based on construal-level theory” et. seq.

    • Stephen Diamond

      I deal with the distinction between the general and the abstract and the relevance for construal-level theory in (newly posted) “Self-inducing far-mode: Approaches to preliminary outlining” — .

      Hope it’s not too late for Robin’s book.

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