The Geography of Thought

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

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.

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Generation Debt a few words update

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