A collectivist society is a hierarchical society. Not necessarily in the sense of having many ranks, levels or guilds- a society can be free and highly dynamic while still having ranks and levels as a reputation system or motor of competition- but in the sense of commanding or imposing authority. A hierarchical society is a society where some people are authorities and most people are peons, and know their place.
It would be an error to say that the collectivist mindset can subsist without authorities. Collectivism is not only conducive to authoritarianism, but cannot exist without authoritarianism. Because collectivism is, by definition, based on a standard that transcends individual values, collectivists need an authority that can define what that standard is. The State dictates what the “common good” is. The doctrines or churches dictate what the “divine will” is. The parents determine what the “good of the child” is. In a collectivist system, people work together because they are automatically determined as belonging to the group and therefore must subject themselves to the corresponding authority.
The individualist mindset, on the other hand, cannot co-exist with authoritarianism. The individualist framework is one of cooperation, not coercion, based on the individual values of the agents involved. People work together because they can better fulfill their values by working with others than by remaining isolated.
A group or society based on collectivism wastes enormous amounts of actual and potential resources on structural issues, reduces the happiness and well-being of its subjects, and generate perverse incentive systems.
Let’s take one simple example: communication. As we’ve seen, framework changes how one sees communication. When an individualist receives a communication (whether it be one-to-one discussion, a hierarchical communication, etc), he looks primarily at the content of the communication: what is being said and how this affects one’s values. When a collectivist receives a communication, he is primarily concerned with the context of the communication: who said it, how he said it, and how this affects agreement or disagreement, obedience or disobedience. For instance, collectivists who get insulted are only critical when the status of the insulter is higher than theirs (Bond, Wan, Leung and Giacalone, “How are Responses to Verbal Insult Related to Cultural Collectivism and Power Distance?” 1985).
This change in attitudes affects how new ideas are treated. Obviously some collectivist societies do progress, such as Hong Kong and Japan, but mainly because their social organization is itself more individualistic. There is not a one-to-one correlation between social organization and social attitudes; the correlation is looser and also depends on historical and economic circumstances.
But we can find results. For instance, in systems with high horizontal collectivism, acceptance of new minority ideas is harder (and the reverse for individualism). In systems with high vertical individualism, proponents of minority positions experience less stress and greater ease than in systems with high vertical collectivism (Yee Ng and Van Dyne, “Individualism–Collectivism as a Boundary Condition for Effectiveness of Minority Influence in Decision Making,” 2001) . Collectivism is also correlated with religious belief (Sagy, Orr and Bar-On, “Individualism and Collectivism in Israeli Society,” 2004). Nationalistic belief is correlated with vertical collectivism (Sagy, Orr, Bar-On and Awwad, “Individualism and Collectivism in Two Conflicted Societies,” 2001). Belief in the family structure and subjection to the family structure is also widely considered a collectivist trait in sociology.
What about the State? The State is both seen as a bad compromise and as a structural necessity. In order to maintain this illusion, State propaganda manipulates the symbols of both collectivism and individualism, of both types, in order to rally different people to different causes. When trying to get elected, politicians use the language of individualism (small government, freedom, right); when trying to promote the welfare state, they use the language of horizontal collectivism (equality, fairness, community); when trying to promote militarism, they use the language of vertical collectivism (family, nation, security).
Happy people have no need of religion or government. Religious authorities try to compensate for this by making people unhappy. Politicians are more shrewd and try to maintain the necessity of collectivism instead. Its main means to do so are militarism, both of the “physical war” and the “perpetual war” varieties, and the takeover of markets.
Individualism is the incredible recognition that other people are different than we are. Once we accept this basic fact, social morality follows. Failure to recognize the fact leads to a dysfunctional society.