Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Bystander Effect, Crowd Culture, and Rugged Individualism

Joel at The Marmot's Hole reports on a story of a "man... arrested for sexually assaulting a female middle school student on a bus in the middle of the afternoon" and that "[d]espite the fact that many male and female passengers were riding the bus at the same time, no one made a move to intervene or offer any assistance" — Bystander Effect in Korea.

With examples, he rightly suggests that "Koreans in general, while prone to heroics in situations when the life of an individual is in danger, tend to only intervene in critical situations that don’t involve coming between two strangers." He then argues that "that the bystander effect is actually more extreme in collectivist societies where the tendency is to already view oneself as part of the crowd rather than as an individual."

Citing the local report, Joel says, "I found it surprising that the article spent almost as much time condemning the people on the bus as it did the actual perpetrator of the crime." I agree. I wasn't on the bus, so I'll give the passengers the benefit of the doubt.

The article informs us that the villain "groped" the poor girl in the "the back row." Back rows can be pretty private on a noisy public bus. If passengers did hear some commotion, they might well have chalked it up to a lovers' spat, and adverted the attention. Also, school girls can be quite noisy in public, and most people have learned to tune them out. I live across from a middle school, and when school lets out, I often hear screams that sound like some girl is being attacked, but they're just playing around.

My experience is that this whole distinction between collectivist and individualist cultures is not very helpful. Not only are we all individuals, cultures tend to be collectivist and individualist in certain areas. Koreans can be just as individualistic as the ruggedest American in some areas, whereas as far back as Alexis de Tocqueville the collectivist nature of American thought has been pointed out.

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Blogger hoihoi51 said...

Korean Individualism?
I think the chinese one is more than them
However, even Chinese thinks that korean individualism is abnormal..
because They can not distinguish between weak and gentle.
so do strong, bad and justice.
They have no concept of equality because of bad Confucianism。
Their concern is whether the dominant or even between individuals in korean is acking compassion and kindness for others.The South Korean looks Japanese equality and the geniality like loser's attitude

beautiful is victer, ugly is loser.
so is rich and poor.

12:18 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Actually, there is what some have called a "peasant egalitarianism" that exists among Koreans of all social strata due to the devastation of the Korean War.

I've found a lot of compassion and kindness among Koreans in the 14 years I've lived here. Beneath what might be seen a cold and rough exterior, there's a lot of warmth and softness.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Carl M. said...

When I was living in Japan, a Western friend reported that he saw a car accident and tried to get the Japanese who also saw it to call the police/hospital, but they reportedly didn't want to get involved, so it took a lot of insisting on his part. My initial take was that this was an effect of the ignorance of the Japanese of the parable of the Good Samaritan, but I think a broader point can be made that in a collectivist society because the ties that exist are thick ties, one is very reluctant to enter into a new relationship.

"Wait, if I call the ambulance, does that mean I need to hold the person's hand until the ambulance comes? And what if the person needs blood? Will I have to donate it? And if the person goes into a coma, will I have to visit every single day until the person wakes up?…"

That's how I imagine the thought process goes. Recall that the Good Samaritan had to pay a lot of the upkeep of the stranger at the inn.

12:56 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

The "thickness" of relationships explains a lot. Americans are almost expected to start up conversations with complete strangers, whereas I find it difficult to get two students at the same university to talk to each other if they have not been formally introduced.

2:54 PM  
Blogger hoihoi51 said...

>there's a lot of warmth and softness.
it is because you are not a socially vulnerable.?

anyway, i think Individualism not bad thing.however "don't make a truble to others". that is the Japnese motto

12:12 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

A fine motto to live by. Even the socially vulnerable are able to find warmth and softness here in Korea, amidst the coldness and hardness.

Even before I became Catholic, I noticed that the Korean Catholics always treated me as a human being rather than a foreigner.

But they are not alone. I guess now that I have half-Korean kids I'm halfway in, or more accurately they're halfway in and I'm quarter of the way in. It's far enough in for me; I've always been an outsider, even more so in America.

12:32 AM  

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