Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Australian people

Australia is one of the most attractive places to live - and Australians know it. Sadly its not everything to those people that know better. The problem is - it lacks people and thus lacks variety, and suffers from entrenched parochial values. This makes it a less interesting country for intellectuals like myself. There is a disparity in values between those that identify with the `outside` world and those that are intolerant of it. These relationships mean that some Australians have a deep interest and understanding of the outside world, and others no interest or relationship whatsoever. These parochial souls holiday on the Central Coast, maybe New Zealand and Bali.

In addition, it lacks the sophistication of larger markets like the US and Japan. In terms of intellectual discourse, the US is far richer. In Japan particularly, the large consumer base and government support for leading lead developments mean they apply technology. In contrast, the lack of population in Australia undermines prospects to apply technology, and it lacks financial support. Australian engineers and scientists are unloved and under-appreciated. Because there is no market for their services outside the construction of road, bridges and offshore oil platforms. Very little is exciting, cutting edge innovation. Australians are scratching themselves to be relevant by some standard of efficacy. We have a world-class mining industry, but thats not something Australians can relate to. We have great beaches and kangaroos, but there is no pride of achievement in that fact. We own Russel Crowe and Nicol Kidman, but they had to leave the country to achieve their success. For a fortunate few however, they have no social standards of value, and care little about such comparisons, preferring instead to live by their own standards of value, by their own judgement, rather than subjugating themselves to the standards of others. But that`s the few. But Australians have a fairly healthy self-esteem compared to their Asian neighbours. They have grown up in a relatively free country, so have a greater sense of personal identity. Again it depends on the person.

The pleasantness of the Australian landscape is measured in terms of the space, green landscape since it was tamed by early settlers, and the mild, dry climate, as well as world-class beaches. It was a continent conceived for recreation. Sadly it lacks the population to provide ready access to those treasures. Its neverthless culminated in Australians living an outdoor lifestyle.

As a consequence Australians are very relaxed. A great deal of them leaving a balanced life. Part of the country`s good fortune stems from the mineral wealth of the country. Even when global demand for minerals is slack, prices in $A terms remain high, helping to support their lifestyle. This all contributes to the sleepiness of the country. Despite this safety, Australians have the capacity to rise to any challenge in a crisis - just they are never tested. Those export revenues never fail, and being isolated from global conflicts, we are never really challenged. Terrorism remains someone elses bad dream.

Apart from that Australians vary a great deal, reflecting differing values and origins, remembering that Australia has a large population of immigrants, many of whom were born overseas. Unlike the US, these varied interests are not yet well-organised, unlike their US counterparts because of the small population. The exceptions are those ethic groups which have established politically active community support networks. The only traditional groups are Rotary, Freemasons, the various churches, etc.

There is a disparity in values and lifestyles between the rich and poor. Move around the prosperous districts and you`ll not see a better lot of people, generous and balanced. Move to another area and they are suspicious and safe.

Japanese people

There is no question about it - Japanese people are unique. I`ve spent 10years trying to understand them, and they still fascinate me. Whilst on some level everyone is an individual, everyone is also influenced by their culture. For this reason there are characteristic features that we can attribute to the Japanese, and still others that differentiate them from other groups in Japan and foreign countries. The purpose of this essay - work in progress - is to explore some of those attributes and to differentiate them from western and other Asian nations.

Japanese Attributes
I have explained the attributes that I regard as Japanese and why I believe it emerged:
  1. Polite: The Japanese are recognised for their politeness. They seldom show an angry face or act with aggression, which contrasts with its militaristic past (WWII). This attribute stems from several sources: (a) Buddhist values affirming the importance of harmony, (b) Collectivist ethic upholding `social` harmony above selfish interests or expectations, (c) Cultural superiority arising out of the Meiji Period that saw the Japanese trying to catch up with the west in all facets of life. They wanted to be more civilised, and embodied those values they thought that represented.
  2. Subjective: The Japanese have a very subjective view of reality. At a concrete level, the Japanese are very honest, as everyone is. Because they don`t hold themselves to achieve personal expectations as other cultures (because values are social), they don`t display self-righteousness. But their lack of individual thinking undermines their mental efficacy, so they have low self-esteem, so if they feel threatened by a conversation, they will evade. So capable of dishonesty, but women are not proactively so. Men can be proactively evasive, but not to the extent of westerners because they are less egoistic or goal-directed.
  3. Values: The Japanese have social values rather than personal ones. This is their pride. They no longer have much respect for their authorities, but they still see themselves as filling a function in society and few question their role. It will normally take overburdened Japanese a trip overseas to change this loyalty. So harmony and commitment to social goals overides selfish personal goals and achievements. Its considered uncivilised to be aggressive, selfish or individualistic.
  4. Thinking: The Japanese are very collectivist and the emphasis placed on harmony and the entrenched roles that everyone places in society mean that Japanese do not question these values or their social management system. Partly this reflects the fact that few Japanese travel overseas, and if they do it tends to be for short trips, and they form a negative view based on their values. Its only after longer stays that they start to appreciate the differences. Because the Japanese don`t like to distinguish themselves as individuals, they are not prone to reflect critically on others or ideas. They just want to get along. Rationality is not a Japanese virtue. For that reason they don`t analyse and thus understand the nature of the world. They seemingly know very little, even about their own country, because they are more interested in talk that unites them with others than differentiates themselves from others. They identify very superficially with others, never really understanding. Trying & appearing to be attentive is more polite.... but you need not achieve any understanding, or expect to understand. Relationships in Japan are long-standing, but they are safe rather than meaningful. eg. Marriage is called `domestic divorce` in Japan because partners often have no communication. Just they function as a couple, but there is no respect, affection, shared values. But the pseudo-relationship fills a security (financial) purpose offering comfort.
  5. Compliant: The Japanese are for the most part very compliant. There is very little theft so people don`t mind leaving things around to be stolen. Teenagers are more defiant because of western influences, though its not strength of character, but rather a 2nd hand appeal for attention from their peers. Peer values override social values, as authority figures increasingly loose respect. The Japanese system had more respect when it appeared to work. It appeared to work more when there was less foreign influence. Every Japanese seems themselves as filling some function. `To be, is to be something`, and that implies they fill a social function, and thus identify with a certain group. They have a primary productive identity (eg. housewife, salaryman, office-lady, bureaucrat, executive) as well as incidental ones (eg. soccer player).
  6. Safe: The Japanese are not ones to challenge themselves personally. They prefer to act through groups, and to rely on the group rather than challenge themselves. This is less threatening, since their lack of mental efficacy makes it validating. The illusion of efficacy is preserved if the group remains Japanese because they all accept it. Some Japanese will honestly state they believe their system can`t function with western influence, because its too ambitious & aggressive. They are right. Hence all the obstacles play to prevent western intervention. It strikes many western people that Japanese are like children, and its true. Women are raised to be `cute` as this is what they identify as `feminine`. Men are raised by women, so tend not to have strong masculine characters, as raising children was perceived as the wife`s role. There is a strong affirmation of respect for elders & authority, so childen don`t question it. There is no weakness in this formalised system - everyone feels compelled to comply. Children might not like doing to cram school, but they accept it because all their friends do as well. They are strongly reliant on authority for direction. Children are taken care of parents until they get married or are independent, thereafter many seek the security of corporate salarymen, offered security by the company. Slowly these dependence relationships are breaking, particularly for those unskilled workers unable to get lifetime employment or the conditions offered during the 1980s.
  7. Pride: The Japanese are proud of their nation and its achievements. Few question this superiority complex until they go overseas. Superficial observation fills them with pride seeing all the Japanese name brands, but its based on ignorance of other nation`s dominance (eg. US) because they have little knowledge of their own country - let alone the foreign world. Because Japan is a big market, the focus is inward, so Japanese have a very superficial understanding of the outside world, apart from wealthy, English-speaking and business people with a Meiji-style curiosity about the outside world. Prolong stays overseas tend to leave Japanese feeling a little apathetic. They become lazy, loose focus because they are `free` from outside direction, as well as its safety since the west is a little hostile. In the west they get exposed to a critical, independent media, and also experience the easier lifestyle in the west. eg. Nice houses & gardens, bigger houses, uncrowded trains, uncongested roads, clean & beautiful beaches, but most of all - no social or peer pressures. They can feel free - to be themselves, but its not the safe existence they are accustomed to. Its a choice they have to make - freedom or safety. Visa restrictions tend to force them to accept safety, and if they have wealth, living in Japan isnt so bad.
Japanese Group Identities
Whilst living in Japan I have come to recognise avariety of cultural `identity` groups. Some of these groups are differentiated purely on superficial grounds like fashion. eg. Punk, gothic, militia, surf cultures, etc. For the most part these fashion statements reflect no diversity of values. The Japanese truly are superficial, particularly the young, and we see this in other countries as well.

Differentiating Japanese from foreign values
The Japanese don`t have a monopoly on these values, but in their entirety there is no country like it. South Korea has a similar political framework, as does Germany, but they have a more aggressive, egoistic ethic which makes it more confrontational. A great many collectivist countries exhibit the safety and concrete-bound values of Japan. Japan is Japan-centric, just as other large western cultures like the USA and EU are.
Because Japanese are so compliant to the social system and sacrifice their interests to collectivist goals, they have very little protection, but still the government maintains the illusion of well-being. People live in boxes, they work long hours, they think they are getting a pension. Its an illusion. Eventually Japan will collapse into a national emergency which will result in sweeping changes. At the moment there is no significant change, as the LDP splinters into a multiplicity of similiar parties. Eventually there will be a crisis and the Japanese people will vote for a very different entity - the opposition. But we have yet to see compelling leadership. Rest assured in a country as collectivist as Japan - it will be nationalist. They will attack foreign investment and influence in Japan.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The fundamental choice

Its apparent to me that everyone wants to believe they are right in some sense, whether they want to justify themselves to others (social perspective) or themselves (egoist perspective). We either have a social standard of value or a selfish one. Acceptance of social values or understanding of them. When we understand they become personal, integrated into our value system, and thus personal or selfish. People often hold the misconception that self-righteous people are selfish, but in fact this need not be the case. They can be motivated by delusion - a desire to convince themself that they are right, or a sense of personal integrity that should be congratulated. Reality will be the final arbiter.

The 2nd point is that we don`t confront moral issues as adults but as children. Morality confronts us as a practical set of values rather than an consistent and integrated set of explicit values. Most of us doubt even develop the latter as adults because there is no recognition of the role or importance of philosophy in society. Even a great many philosophers would conclude that philosophy offers people no practical insight.

Knowledge is a hierarchy - so the values we hold today are influenced by the values we held yesterday. On this point there are several premises to state:
  1. Clearly its easier to betray, correct or adjust peripheral knowledge than core knowledge,
  2. Its still easier to alter or accept changes in our understanding of facts as opposed to values which might contradict our understanding of the world, as opposed to our understanding of ourselves or human nature.
  3. Its still easier to alter or accept changes in our understanding if we make the changes
  4. Its still easier to alter or accept changes if you are younger because you are accustomed to learning and being taught
  5. Its still easier to alter or accept changes in thinking if you are accustomed to being right, and have the confidence and preparedness that there is the possibility of you being right. ie. You have good self-esteem
  6. Its still easier to alter or accept changes if you have an objective sense of reality, that is, you believe that reality exists independent of your consciousness, that the world is intelligible and you have the ability to know it.

Next we have to ask ourselves, of all these factors, which ones could possibly cause us to get off track. Some of us develop expectations (ie. standards of value) of greatness when we are young, some have them thrust upon them. Of those accepting them from a third party, they can accept them blindly, and rise to the challenge, they can resent them and reject them, or they can disagree with them. It takes some time for children to grasp the nature of the conflict - as its an intellectual issue - but some children will learn very young to reject certain values because they are blatantly contradictory to them. Nevertheless rejecting values (ie. Perhaps a belief in God) is not a positive set of values, merely a negation of what isn`t. Developing a positive set of values is a task few of us are equipped to deal with because we didn`t read philosophy. Some might conclude that they have read `bad philosophy`, but really there is no such thing if any set of ideas prompts you to question yourself. I`ve got alot of insights from reading bad philosophy. The great benefit of reading a great philosophy like Ayn Rand`s Objectivism (and its not perfect) is that it gave me an explicit set of values to analyse other philosophies. It gave me confidence to change, the efficacy to create, the courage to question, and pride. If I had read other philosophies first, I would have concluded like most other philosophers, that philosophy has nothing practical to contribute to society.

Unfortunately we don`t just develop or read philosophy when we turn 18yo, but rather we develop one implicitly as we age. We develop a philosophy through our childhood experiences, sometimes adjusting our ideas as we are exposed to new experiences. We are exposed to a variety of ideas through interaction with our parents, teachers, peers, the media, popular culture and various public authorities. These ideas can either reconcile or contradict what we know, and we have a choice about whether we accept or reject them as part of our `worldly` understanding. This process of course presupposes some trust in `the system` - the process of logic by which we develop own knowledge.

Unfortunately all of us are sabotaged to some extent by `poor thinking` and `poor experience`. Is a value judgement applicable here??? There is no such thing as a poor idea or experience. There are experiences and ideas which we are not prepared for - some which are life threatening, others which are favourable or benigh. As children, we learn from various teachers by exposure to ideas that we consider, and through positive example (meaning?).

Until we develop an explicit self-awareness, and become an engine of our own thinking, our standards of value are essentially social. A great many people retain this social view of existence into adulthood. A child is capable of retaining a unfetted preparedness to learn, to be honest and to have integrity, but they are not inclined to recognise its importance or value until they experience that in society.

Unfortunate our society is segregated by values, and as a derivative by wealth. That`s not to say that those that values accumulate wealth, but that income SHOULD reflect achievement in a broad sense??? Achievers inspire achievers, whilst people with poor values are surrounded by poor values. eg. Poor children are taught by uninspiring teachers. Thats not to suggest that good teachers should be forced to teach poor students, but rather that society should be structured such that reason is the standard of value, so that good values permeate down into every section of society. In feudal societies, wisdom was restricted to the monasteries. Today, values are more freely distributed, but that includes bad ideas. The good news is that we are more positively influenced by values consonant with our lives than we are hurt by negative values. The tragedy however is that:
  1. Children are being raised in poor families with no standards of comparison of what constitutes good values. Without exposure to the value of books, they might never realise the value of them to their `practical existence`.
  2. Bad parents are the product of poor parents - and by default a great many children are destined to become poor parents, if not criminal or otherwise unproductive dependents on society.

Delinquent children do not develop because of bad parenting - rather they arise because in the realm of values, one of the following happened:

  1. They did not confront a fundamental choice that reshaped their values. They were not confronted because the event/experience was not stark enough. Contrasting experiences, the way we are treated, the way we treat others are confronting experiences.
  2. They never developed a sense of efficacy in their judgement, so consideration of values is frightening to them. ie. Low self esteem and no respect for abstract thinking, rather a fear of the unknown
  3. They never developed a personal sense of being valued, appreciated or virtuous. Is this important? Social.

I remember very little about my childhood, and its not surprising when I consider my process of thinking. Having become an analyst and studied subjects such as philosophy, its apparent to me that I extract the essence of information and discard the immaterial. Ideas either reinforce my thinking, or prompt me to change it. Inconclusive evidence is retained miraculously until it can be integrated. Childhood experiences are concrete-bound and not too different from adult experiences. I`m sure school was a special experience when I went the first time, but as an adult its very familiar. No value in reconsidering it, nor on reflecting on it. At least in the context of my current values. If I was to become a school teacher that could change. The experiences are not forgotten, but they are in deep storage. I hope.

More interesting to me is that I can reflect on the more abstract things that people said to me. I can remember the exact tree I passed on the freeway when my friend said to me `Andrew - I value your friendship. I really appreciate what you say because it makes sense to me`. Laughing, he saids to me, `I`ll probably do what the guys say, but what you say means more to me`. I think I recognised implicitly the importance of his words, perhaps understanding his affirmation of the idea that I was `impractical` but `morally virtuous`. Later I made a conscious effort to try to get along with people, but soon gave up when I determined that it didn`t fit with my values. That people valued the lies more than the facts.

Still earlier in my childhood, I learned an important lesson. Going from a public junior school where I was popular to a private high school where I was unpopular and chastised, I learned from the stark contrast that social values (or public opinion) was fickle. But I was not thinking deeply about values at this stage of my life. Rather I buried myself in the library and studied the sciences. It was by accident that I was introduced to philosophy. My work colleague selected his recommended book wisely `Capitalism - The Unknown Ideal` by Ayn Rand. I loved non-fiction, and the clarity of the ideas expressed in this book were like none I`d none I`d ever read - and thats true until this day. Perhaps others would interpret it cynically as an over-simplification, but I recognised her ideas as the essence, which could be applied to any specific context. My notes from this book were thicker than the original book as I dissected the ideas and attempted to consider their ramifications. Before reading that book I regarded philosophy as floating nonsense - divorced from the real world, and sadly that is exactly what a great deal of philosophy is like, including the philosophy taught at universities. the experience lead to her fictional classics.

The reason I ponder my childhood experiences is because we are taught about good and evil. But we are prepared for good or evil. That`s not to suggest that advocate determinism, but rather that the cause of evil or the development of bad values (ie. values not consonant with the nature of human beings) is not abstract philosophy, but child development. Its the environment in which we are raised that shapes our self-esteem. When people are clutching at straws, very human hierarchy of values prevent them from dealing with matters of self-expression and personal identity. When people are insecure, they are not prone to see the value of others opinion, but rather to evade it (out of fear) or to be defensively self-righteous (to undermine opposition). In this sense people confront important psychological choices before they confront moral questions. Despite the notion that we are a product of our environment, it is hopefully reality or the consequences of our actions that bring us back to honesty. Sadly, it is parents that often spare children (even other adults) exposure to the facts of reality. For instance:

  1. Rather than telling insecure people that they shouldn`t be concerned with what other people think, that they should live by their own standards and values; a great many people would reinforce their values, ie. `Thats nonsense, you`re a lovely person`. Their intent is to spare them responsibility, but they make reality that more scarely, by following up their reassuring words with no telephone number or further content. Worst still are those that would create friendships and have no meaning associated with them.
  2. Parents might stipulate the importance of being honest, but their sense of reality is highlighted when they evade a child`s knowledge of their contradictions. Rather than admit or concede an error, which might otherwise reinforce the importance of honesty and the keeping it real, they reinforce the idea that reality can be faked if only they don`t acknowledge it.
  3. ...........I`ll think of other examples??

In conclusion, we need to invest in our children....but keep it real.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Happiness - how & where to find it?

It seems to be a lifelong goal for people to achieve a sense of happiness. The problem I have with the concept is that it depends on your expectations. ie. If you expect little, then happiness is easy, albeit no great achievement. As the saying goes, the struggle seems to make it worth it. If happiness lies in the achievement, presumably their is pride in knowing that we have grown from one point to another. There are several areas of our lives where people seek happiness, and how they might attempt to measure it:
  1. Career - level of job satisfaction - not simply about how much money we make
  2. Finances - how well we manage our finances
  3. Relationships - how fulfilling our relationships are
  4. Values - our level of mental efficacy and integrity

Clearly efficacy in area of these areas cannot be regarded as components of happiness, but rather opportunities to display an efficacy. We don`t need to be a great money-manager, since we can employ one, but in that case we need to be a great auditor of performance for those people we depend on, as well as having the skills and knowledge to choose a great accountant. Regardless of how we live, we need to apply a set of skills to our life. For this reason, happiness depends upon:

  1. Purpose: Everyone needs a goal to motivate them if they are to display any sense of efficacy. No skill is developed spontaneously, but takes years of work, otherwise we don`t differentiate ourselves, and it doesn`t register as an achievement.
  2. Achieving results: We have the choice of area for which we want to develop an expertise. Its important that we can demonstrate results in terms which contribute to a tangible improvement in our lives, eg. financial, relationships, lifestyle
  3. Focus: We need to focus on one area, and it takes self-discipline and passion to focus on that area.
  4. Preparation: Any achievement requires a strategy, research and planning to achieve our goals.
  5. Relationships: Increasingly its important to develop relationships to help you achieve goals.

Thats all at this stage.