80. East and West. Collective and Individual. Group geometry.

Western persons are interruptions in the undifferentiated continuity: we bob up and down like buoys in rough water seeking attention, vying to be received as individuals. There is no pattern apart from this continual seesaw, and the rough conditions are generated not by nature, but by us. Our movement is self-chosen. ‘What about me?’ is our battlecry.

Eastern persons (e.g., Taiwanese) are rather different. They do not bob or wobble individually, but tend to flow into each other like water in water. There is no leader, no collective ‘flock mind’, or ‘information center’. Distinguish behavioral qualities in university students in the USA and university students in Taiwan. A different paradigm is at play.

Compare the behavior of persons with the flock behavior of starlings when it returns to roost at dusk. Thinkers since Pliny the Elder have contemplated the synchronous movements of flocking birds. Let’s identify Taiwanese people as forming a class of persons akin to the starling flock, in terms of group behavior, and let’s contrast this arrangement with the behavior of western persons, caricatured above.

A prejudice in the West concerning Asia is that Eastern persons flock together because they are weak as individuals. This assumes that collectivism affords protection from hostiles or, to continue the analogy with starlings, ‘predators’. It is true that many flocking birds are weak fliers, and that they are not strong enough individually to escape from a hawk (compare mountain bluebirds who don’t forage in flocks, and are able as solitary fliers to outmaneuver hawks or falcons). Further, starling flocks also tend to ‘ball-up’ when attacked in flight. By contrast, when starling flocks return home to roost, they will spend an hour or more wheeling or turning before they land. If flocking is to avoid predation, then the longer they stay in the air, the more vulnerable they are to predators. Moreover, if Taiwanese flock for protection, who is the feared hostile? The PRC? This may have been the case during foreign occupation in Taiwan, but now?

But this question is wrong. There is no predator, for this flocking behavior is not directed at anything or anyone. It is undirected (like depression). I think it is largely expressive of unreflective continuity with the past, or rather, unchanging attitudes toward the past in Taiwan, which remain traditional and reproductive, and which simply have not been subjected to strong enough a challenge to change. No single stimulus is currently available which makes a direct appeal to reflect on the need to preserve the past in behavior and ways of living and acting. Can one say: the stimulus to reflect on the whole has yet to take root in Taiwan?

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