Archive for January 12, 2006

The Geography of Thought

Richard Nesbitt, of the quite affordable and well respected University of Michigan, sees a revoltuon coming in the social sciences. As Asian begin to contribute their side to anthropolohy, physchology, and other fields our knowledge of the ways humans and culture interact will grow. That’s a good and probably quite true, but his book does seem to suffer from a minor problem: it only queries college students. Many of Mr. Nesbitt’s problems seem almost contradictory in the face of the average Asians’ logic. As any Korean will tell you, class most certianly exists in Asia (although the Japanese take a more American approach and prefer to promote the idea of equality and everyone being about the same in their society), but Mr. Nesbitt’s book is also full of cross funneling of different Asian cultures. For instance he notes that Japanese mothers have a tendency to emphaisis socialization over categorization in bringing up their children: I can assure you that good manors is a concern of Japan only, when I gave this book to Chinese people and asked them if their mothers emphaised being polite they usually found the paragraph quite strange and didn’t believe it. Japan emphaises other people’s feelings, but the Chinese are not as atuned to this idea of politeness, but they are sticklers for social unity (you can be fired from a job quite easily for having even polite arguements with others once in Hong Kong a teacher corrected me telling me that elephants can’t swim, when I googled it and found a website with movies of elephants swimming she refused to look). The case in Hong Kong isn’t necessarily endeminic of Chinese culture, but the Chinese do have a much more pronounced sense of what is idealism (following all the rules always being polite) and reality (running red lights, jay walking, etc.). His idea though that Asian logic is forieng to Americans also seems strange after all contextual reasoning is all the rage in the U.S. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel emphaises the role of environment on the shaping of cultures. Also Mr. Nesbitt’s study of Asian vs. Western reports of behavoir fails to note that the culture on the defensive has a tendency to defer responibility from itself be acknowleding context while the offensive culture has a tendency to see the behavoir and part of the person/ culture. Example: Korean or Japanese papers and conversations are chocked full of supposively endeminic aspects of Western behavoir ranging from the offensive to the complementary. If I drop a jar of cookies the person who sees me drop the jar will probably say oh he dropped it, on the other hand I’ll have some contextual reason for my innocence, it was slippery, etc. I’m sure that context is a more important part of the Asian mindset than the American, but it does seem like a good deal of American culture, especially liberal, centers around the importance of context wether it’s welfare reform or gun control we’re becoming more atuned to environment. Also some of the gripes Mr. Nesbitt notes that Asians in the U.S. have made about Americans seem less to be exusable as simple off-shoots of their way of thinking (one student complained about all the violence and sex on TV) as much that their opinions that old-school members of the intelligentsia in Korea and Japan used to shoot off on TV as a way of further re-inforcing nationalism and cultural (if not racial) superoirty. For instance Korea’s hotels are usually equipped with a condoms, masturbatory jells, and porn even if they’re not love hotels, the Japanese have created some of the most brutally violent films on earth, and the Taiwanese and the Japanese are “open” sexual cultures (vibrators and other aids are sold fairly openly). In Korea the now deposed stem-cell Doctor Hwang Woo-suk rose to prominence on a series of articles promoting the IQ levels of chop-stick users and fork and knife eaters.

But all of these problems aside the cultural and pyschological differences between Asia and the West are still vast. As Mr. Nesbitt notes personalities are for the most part inter-changable my agents here in Taiwan remind me a lot of people I knew in the U.S. but occasionally you do run into someone obessed with perserving their traditional life for instance a teacher I worked with in Korea refered to China as her homeland and another person I meet in Hong Kong was quite proud to be part of China again despite going against the grain of HK’s relative hatred of all things Chinese. Dialetics are stressed and categories can seem quite alien even those well versed in English will explain puzzlement at the remarkably categorical way Westeners have of classifying things. Companies differ, American companies have a tendency to focus on core products Apple has perfected the music player and over run the competition while Asia companies have a tendency to unify manufacturing between seperate industries (samsung produces flash ram, cars, electronics, runs a software division, and even makes food products sometimes along with clothing). The final point of the book that we can learn something from Asia seems good, we need to include spatial and contextual reasoning in our kindergartens right along side western methods of knowledge accumulation and Easterns can use a little more openess in their daily lives, after all they could learn a lot faster that elephants can swim if they’d just listen to everybody instead of a few select sources.

January 12, 2006 at 6:06 am Leave a comment

Generation Debt a few words

EDIT: Just to make sure this is apparent, the problem analyzed in generation debt does seem to be a pressing problem which needs attention (i.e. lowering tution costs and increasing the education level of the u.s.). When I wrote this awhile back I hadn't really looked at the issue, and I'll probably never read the book to be honest (I got other things on my mind). My point being, I am somewhat distanced now from the article you're reading, I'm not sure it accruately reflects my views and it probably contains inaccuraces and false presumptions.

Economists make up a good deal of my rss feeds these days (and I might add my rss reader searchfox is going under January 20th), but quite often they don't have the kindest things to say about "my generation" to borrow a phrase by The Who. Becker and Posner have bemoaned baby boomer parents that feed their children's bohemian lifestyles (I'm sure they'd love my Dad who wrote to me the other day to learn mandarin and NOT TO WASTE THIS OPPORUNITY BECUASE OF INDOLENCE etc.). Anyway, but a recent row has broken out 1. in the comments section of Danriel Drezner's blog concerning my horrible grammar and 2. concerning Anya Kamenetz's Generation Debt.

The arguement consists of the following: the u.s. sucks right now. The usual high interest rates, incredibly high housing prices in hip-young cities, and the fact that you have to live in hip-young cities to find work there days (observe the difference in unemployment between the bay area and birmingham, al and it might explain why my mom couldn't even make money selling her house in the most desirable area of Birmingham despite a "housing bubble"). But Daniel Gross takes issue with these books becuase he, like many others, also graduated in a post-bubble economy where living was hard. For his benefit Mr. Gross's reason for disliking the generation debt books isn't that their misguided or even portraying the issues inaccurately it's quite simpley becuase:

"So, why are these books—Generation Debt in particular—annoying?

It's not that the authors misdiagnose ills that affect our society. It's just that they lack the perspective to add any great insight. "

Gross is an economist, and he's tired of hearing the same arguements over and over again. The entire row breaking out from the book then seems a little misguided. The American economy is still growing, and we the younger apparently "Y" named generation will probably face the daunting fact of good employment in some ten years time. This seems fairly accurate to me, you have to build. Of all my friends who graduated college around the same time as me, many have found work. A small list running north from new york to south to miami includes an art director and publicist in New York (Elana), a layout and manual designer for a homeland security company (Scott), Scott's girlfriend who managed a photo collection D.C., Kim Howie who is a book designer, Amanda who is a music publicist, Greg who seels Mr. T. merchandise on ebay, going further south after we leave Virginia we hit lesser forms of employment my friend Isaac in Chapel Hill worked in a morgue, hit Atlanta we begin to find 20 somethings in the broadcast business writing code for cable networks, making programs like Adult Swim, and then there's Richard who does sound design for websites and commercials and recently bought a pretty big house, Orlando contains one 3d artist who made models and animations for about 5 years before n-space a nintendo 2nd party developer hired him, Keith who does networking for the school districts, Travis who does music for commercials, Luna who works for an arms contractor, further south one lighting designer for a miami theater, one college administrator, several graphic designers, and one girl who writes scenarios for MMORPGs. I could also include an investment banker, a guy who updates flash websites after the original designer has left, 2 quark xpress dudes and others. Heading towards the west coast in Austin Josh Knowles got a philosophy and managed to become an interface designer, quit his job, and now goes to NYU for it's digital media lab or something, Rich who does sound design for websites, getting towards Cali Julian who does editing in final cut, John Roche who does something involving software, and then people who are all over the place like Fred Noel who works for sprint's DSL biz. All of these people are under 30 many make less than 30 – 40 k a year, but they have interesting work that qualifies them for later movement up the ladder. These people aren't entirely typical for instance for everyone of these dudes I can name 2 – 3 people who still wait tables, work in warehouses, etc. But my point being despite the bubble shattering in the economy awhile back, despite the housing bubble, despite this or that the economy and job creation continues to grow. Yes the u.s. economy is probably going to tank in the near future if the economist is any indicator, but to lament our generation as having especially hard problems seems like a misdemeanor. We don't have it as bad as some. Entrepenruail types have access to more capital than probably any other generation of human beings that walked the earth. The national deficiet, social security, etc are all big issues that need to be fixed, but at least we have the pre-wanring to know we need to save right now. School costs are rising (a possible reason I haven't seen discussed is that school costs all over the world are rising and that foriegn students are also increasingly studying in the U.S. and are more than happy to pay the price tag). Have I even so much as lifted a finger to help out with any of these problems? Hell, no. I'm young and only psuedo-employed in Asia right now. I also might add that if many of Anya's friends are having problems finding even shitty jobs they should consider moving out of New York. In Birmingham I had no problems finding B.S. work on the other hand in Florida it was almost impossible for me to hold down a job waiting tables. Similar movements of the young and creative in the past have turned some areas around. When the 80s boom forced the 70s downtown NYC scene out of their 200 a month manhattan apartments they moved to Seattle. And for the record I don't think the U.S. young-ins have anything to worry about compared to the Japanese younger generation who faces their life as a minority with liberal values in a society that's population is shrinking as benefits dry up for their parents age not to mention their not as likely to be able to fill up cool creative jobs Americans are offered or enjoy the open work environments that U.S. high-tech firms are legendary for. In juxtaposition, Americans problems seem slight and quite possibly more easily solved than the Japanese predicament. You'd think with so much time on our hands we'd figure out a way to deal with retirement, job security, and the problems of rising college rates. Building more schools with solid credentials and lower rates might help off set the price wars that Harvard, Yale, and others waging.

January 12, 2006 at 5:28 am 1 comment


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