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East vs. West: What Gives?

  1. Mar 31, 2003 #1
    A lot of individuals go on contrasting "Eastern" and "Western" philosophy. I do not get it. What is so incompatible about these? I think both ways more than half the time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 31, 2003 #2
    Designing an Asian computer keyboard and a version of MS windows required over 15 years and a billion dollars. Fifteen years even for Asians themselves to design a stupid keyboard. There's an old story about some Chinese general who attended West Point and graduated first in his class. One of the underclassman asked him one day how he managed to be first in his class when english wasn't even his native language. He responded that compared to learning a language with a 300,000 letter alphabet english was a toy.

    I've known people who found Chinese easy to learn and others that have seriously struggled with the language. Among business people as well I'm told they'd rather go anywhere than Asia. The culture is just so alien, Asians love to play mind games for example. I've also spoken to people who taught english in China for years, but never understood why none of their students ever raised their hand to answer a question. They always had to call on a specific student.

    On the other hand, I've spoken to a number of Asians who don't understand their own philosophies and theologies that well. How many english speaking people understand their own philosophies that well? Asian thought is even more complex because of its holistic nature. You may be able to integrate the two to a significant extent, but if you think you've got it down pat....... you are dead wrong as any Zen master will quickly point out. :0)
  4. Apr 1, 2003 #3
    this is a bit off the topic, well maybe not, japanese philosophy of free will let's call it. i couldn't help but be reminded of a teacher i had who went to japan for a while and once asked a student what happened if they didn't wear their school uniform, like detention or something, to which the girl answered 'but we DO wear our uniforms', 'no, but what if you didn't, what would happen to you?', 'but we DO wear our uniform', 'no you don't understand! what if, oh i give up!' this poor girl was so confused as to why she was being questioned, she thought she was getting in trouble.
  5. Apr 1, 2003 #4
    I think this situation doesn't happen in primary schools. In primary schools, students like raising their hands to answer questions. When they grow older, the knowledge that they learn becomes harder and harder, which ends up that more capable students raise their hands every time while the less capable students don't. As time goes by, the more capable students are thought to be puffed up with pride, which is a taboo in China. In Confucian tradition, a person of noble character should be humble and not to show off, while apparently those students who raised their hands often like to show off. They might be persona non grata just because others think they like to show off. In high schools, students are so used to keep their mouth shut in class and won't anwer any questions unless teachers call a specific student to answer questions.
  6. Apr 1, 2003 #5
    It isn't just Confucian culture, it is a feature of virtually all Asian philosophy and theology that is often derrogatorially referred to in the west as "collectivism", the diametric opposite of "individualism". Studies have shown Asian parents are very quick to teach their children how to behave in public as soon as possible. Any hint of individual ego is frowned upon, whereas in the west it often glorified.

    Asians tend to be much more fatalistic than westerners. As a Philosophical Taoist myself I can give some perspective on this phenomenon. For me, free will vs determinism is a non-argument. It is like asking if their is an up without a down or vice versa. The two represent one and the same thing, a dimension, it just matters what the context is as to how you wish to view the subject. Westerners, however, like to insist there is only an up direction or preferentially insist up is better than down. For Asians, it tends to be the opposite.

    Thus, for these Japanese school students it is bizarre and meaningless that you would ask such a question. Not only does it imply they might significantly demonstrate personal ego, but that viewing the situation in the context of free will has significant meaning when they are obviously forced to wear uniforms every day. It is a bit like asking them if they can get to the ground floor of a building by going upstairs when they are on the fourth floor, i.e. nonsensical. :0)
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2003
  7. Apr 1, 2003 #6


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    In the poltics forum, the concept of rights came up - eastern philosophy holds rights to be group rights, western philosophy holds them as individual rights. Thats why the Chinese government really saw nothing wrong with running students over with tanks - indeed they thought they were PROTECTING the rights of the rest of the country.
  8. Apr 1, 2003 #7
    Yeah, in the west we tend to call such actions as Kent State and tianaman square things like "democracy in action", "divine mandate", the "white man's burden", etc. It's interesting to note that the bastion of democracy in the west, the US, has consistently refused to sign any of the UN charters for human rights other than the one concerning the rights of adults to vote. The Chinese and American governments represent extremes in a political philosophical spectrum.
    Like so many other political terms, the word "rights" is used and abused in the pursuit of private and social agendas.

    I remember when tianaman square took place reporters interviewed people who were there and asked them what democracy meant to them, after all, that was what the protest was all about. Many responded that they weren't sure what democracy is, but they knew they wanted it. I've heard similar responses from westerners who live in democracies but, of course, expressed in a more assertive western manner. It never ceases to amaze me how many westerners believe democracy is simply a matter of majority rule. When I then ask them if that means a lynch mob is a democracy they deny it, but they fail to come up with a better definition that distinguishes between the two.

    These two extremes of expressing ourselves both individually and collectively are truly profound. The most taboo word in the Chinese language means "Divine Love". They say the worst crimes in history have been committed in the name of God and some things should remain sacred. Thus, for them to hear George Bush carrying on about the "Evil Axis" and "God on our side" is scary and revolting to say the least. Likewise, for us to hear the Chinese talk about repressing individual rights in the name of Atheism and group rights is scary and revolting.

    Its ironic, humorous, sad, hopeful, desparing, etc. depending upon how you want to look at the situation. I've lived in other countries and in many ways they are still fundamentally the same as the one I grew up in. There are foreign equivalents of rednecks, skinheads, Jesus Freaks, etc. Mass media like this internet bulletin board is one of the ways we manage to find our commonalities and create new ones. :0)
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