Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stealth Collectivism

Are we embracing more collectivism? 

Back in 2006 the US Census Bureau reported that a “new minority” was present in America--the married household.  It was the first time in the history of reporting such figures that married households had fallen below 50 percent, to 49.7 percent.  All other households were individuals living by themselves, single parent households, or cohabitating non-married couples.  I argued then (here, pg. 162) that the data should be viewed as a peaking of individualism and that the momentum was going to turn the other way, towards strengthening community values.  Today I checked the numbers again (BLS web site, Table H1).  The 2010 married household data is still at 49.7 percent (married households/total).

Based on this data point, America is still strongly individualistic even after the mortgage crisis, the increase in bankruptcies, and the reshuffling of households that has happened since 2007.  I haven't looked at other possible dynamics in the numbers. 

How do I interpret this based on the Cultural Seasons model that I have been following?  The model suggests that during the secular crisis--which I believe we are in--there should be a shift away from individualism towards a stronger collectivism.  Based on the above statistic, this has not yet happened, and that a trend change in that variable is not even under way.

This statistic has long bothered me because the cultural model suggests (to me at least) that the peak of individualism should be near the beginning of the secular crisis.  I have long believed that the crisis began with 9/11 2001.  However, the four-year data point above better supports a 2007 beginning of the crisis (began with the credit crisis of Aug. 2007).

Having said all that, this blog is about qualitative analysis. I only use numbers now and then as a cross check. Let's look at some qualitative data.

The secular crisis is about heightened dark moods and a wider and louder sense of survivalist perspectives, much of which is present in American culture.  Maybe stronger collectivism comes midway or in the latter half of the crisis era.

There have been some loud and clear signals lately that overt collectivism is appearing in our culture [1].  The best examples are the new commercials for military recruiting based on a new campaign by the Department of Defense.  Here is the campaign:

Here is a commercial:

This new DoD campaign seems to elaborate on the Army Strong campaign that started about 2007 that targeted the Millennial generation..  (Recent Navy, Air Force and Marine commercials continue pushing Gen X themes such a adventure, excitement, and honor). 

An important aspect of individualism is making ones own choices in life.  For the last several decades, a life choice, such as going into the military, has been a Me decision.  Most Boomers and Gen Xers were raised to make their own decisions in life--decisions are Mine to Make.

Today, this appears to be changing.  We now are seeing the public acceptance of life decisions as being overtly a family matter.  When a Millennial kid joins the military it is no longer a 'Me' decision; it is a 'We' decision.

Overt collectivism is creeping into our culture.

1.  I say overt because we all know that covertly, family and friends influence people's decisions. The point here is that these influences are displayed either in public or private. 

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