Thursday, May 26, 2011

Confucianism and Korea - Part V: What Can Confucianism Do For America?

[Series Index]

We got this far in the series, so let's take a little detour. The next part of this series will be about how Korea can improve upon its Confucian heritage. But before that, the Korean wants to sketch out a bit about how adopting certain aspects of Confucianism would help America greatly. After all, it is the great tradition of immigrants and America that the immigrants bring the best part of their heritage to be mixed into America, resulting in a stronger, wealthier and more perfect union. There is no doubt that America is great. (Why else would the Korean live here?) But the Korean believes that the American mode of thought lends itself to creating pressure on its society in certain areas, and he believes that Confucianism can relieve some of that pressure.

(Aside:  While we Americans like to consider ourselves to be "multicultural," multiculturalism for many Americans begins and ends at the choice of restaurant for dinner -- and even that does not extend too far when the meat sounds a little too strange. Multiculturalism in America often stops dead upon encountering a radically different mode of thought. When Americans are introduced to such mode of thought, too many of us reject it by calling it "illogical," "backward," "irrational," "not objective," etc. But in order to consider ourselves to be truly multicultural, we must go way past the little morsels that are packaged to our taste -- we must be able to completely step into the shoes of people of other culture and see the world from their philosophical perspective. Confucianism is a great starting point for an aspiring multiculturalist, because it is a sophisticated, functional and highly rational philosophy while at the same time being very different from Western philosophy.)

Here are some of the areas where adopting the Confucian mode of thought might improve upon American society:

Greater Awareness on the Relational Standings

Americans are individualist people. Taking "individual responsibility" is a noble act in America. American notion of human rights is nearly always formulated as "individual human rights." Americans always urge to "see people as individuals." And there is absolutely no doubt that such world view has advanced Americans to a level of freedom enjoyed by few others in all of human history.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.



But the excess of individualist thinking sometimes leads to the utter inability to comprehend one's own relational standing in various areas. This leads to injustice, because treating different situations the same is as unjust as treating same situations different. Being blind to differences often serves to elevate the people whose disadvantages are not of their own making. But just as often, being blind to differences serves to entrench the people whose advantages are not of their own making.

This is particularly important because as a collective, Americans are the world's most advantaged people. At the same time, Americans might be the blindest in the world as to just what kind of individually-unearned advantages they have. Go up the ladder of advantages within America, and the blindness becomes worse and worse. For example, white Americans now feel there is a greater anti-white bias than anti-black bias, although the objection conditions of whites and blacks clearly contradict that sentiment.


Gen. David Petraeus

On this point, this episode is worth revisiting. In the aftermath of violence in Afghanistan following a Koran burning in Florida, General Petraeus condemned the Koran burners and offered condolences to those who were killed or injured in the mob violence. And many (not all, not even the majority, but more than a negligible number of) Americans took the general to task for daring to do this. Such reaction is not a dumb gut reaction -- it is an expression of America's individualism. Thus, columnist W.W. at the Economist (a magazine that hires no dummies) wrote:
The mob can't pass the buck to Terry Jones any more than Terry Jones can pass the buck to Khalid Sheik Mohammed. The buck stops in each zealous breast. It's imprudent to issue official statements that suggest otherwise—that suggest responsibility rests with those who try to incite and not with those who choose to be incited.
This is a stunningly ignorant thing to write, because it equates Terry Jones and an average Afghan who joined the mob violence. Terry Jones, the Koran burner, is at an infinitely greater advantage than an average Afghan for no other reason than being an American. He has an opportunity to broadcast his hate worldwide, because the world cares about what an American does. On the other hand, a single Afghan burning an American flag would hardly get the drawn-out international attention that Jones received. As vast majority of Americans are encouraged to do, Terry Jones attended college. On the other hand, 72% of Afghans cannot read. Despite committing a supremely offensive act, Terry Jones need not have any fear of bodily harm because his country's laws and the police will protect him. On the other hand, random American soldiers -- if they are depraved enough -- can go around killing any Afghan they feel like with little risk of getting apprehended. (By the way, please read the linked story. It's completely unbelievable.)

Addressing W.W., a different Economist columnist M.S. makes this precise point:
Plenty of Americans are still today incapable of distinguishing between the September 11th terrorists and the other billion-odd Muslim inhabitants of planet Earth, despite the advantages of literacy and internet access, and I don't think we should expect the average Afghan to do any better.
The world frequently views Americans as arrogant. The Korean does not think Americans are arrogant -- just very self-unaware, because of their individualist bent. Because Americans often cannot see their own unique circumstances, we go around the world thinking that the same rule must apply to the whole world. So Terry Jones' incitement is completely isolated to Jones and Jones alone, regardless of the fact that Jones was able to commit his incitement precisely because of the environment that America provided for him. Gen. Petraeus's condemnation is no more than making that obvious recognition, and American media screeches at him for daring to do the decent thing. Seeing from the outside, that does not appear to be all that different from being arrogant.

How would Confucianism help this situation? Recall that the greatest value in Confucianism is in, and in is ultimately about properly handling human relationships. This outlook necessarily requires being cognizant of your relationship to another, and your relative standing versus other people. Let's look back to one of the most important Confucian doctrines, the Five Morals [오륜]:

父子有親
Between parent and child, there must be closeness.
君臣有義
Between ruler and subject, there must be justice.
夫婦有別
Between husband and wife, there must be distinction.
長幼有序
Between old and young, there must be order.
朋友有信
Between friends, there must be trust.


Don't focus too much on the precise words of the Five Morals, but focus instead on the structure of these morals. They are all about different types of human relationship that naturally occurs in any human society. There is no human society that lacks parent/child, ruler/subject, husband/wife, old/young or friendship. The Five Morals are all about what people are supposed to do as an entity occupying a particular spot. This requires a keen sense of relational self-awareness.

It is not as if Americans are incapable of this type of thinking. In fact, Americans yearn for this type of thinking. David Brooks is one of the most popular columnists on the New York Times, and he makes his living by talking about how humans form relationships and how that is important for the society. (Brooks's book, The Social Animal, is all about how central having a relationship is to human nature.) Confucius covered everything Brooks covered more than two thousand years ago. If Americans are inclined to make The Social Animal is a best-seller, they would love reading The Analects.

Education as Character-Builder

Professor Amy Chua's "tiger mom" book brought forth many furious reactions. One strain of the objections, seizing upon Chua's emphasis on teaching her daughters classical music, went like this:
who the fuck cares about the piano and violin? If all tiger mothers push the piano, say, the winner-take-all race for piano becomes utterly brutal, and the tiger-mothered pianist will likely get less far in the piano race than a bunny-mothered basoonist. That just seems dumb! Gamble on the flugelhorn! ... It’s just way better to be the world’s best acrobatic kite-surfer than the third best pianist in Cleveland.
Amy Chua [Will Wilkinson]

This objection completely misses the point, and not just because the blogger apparently knows nothing about classical music. (Cleveland Orchestra is one of the world's best orchestras. You will have an amazing life if you are the third-best pianist in Cleveland.) This objection misses the point because it sees education as a skill-builder, and not a character-builder.

Americans often see education like Tony Stark looks at his Iron Man suit -- adding one more gadget upon another. When a student learns piano, all Americans can see is that the student is now equipped with the skill to play the piano, like the way there is one more machine gun added onto the Iron Man suit. Under this view, unless the student can put that skill into use in the future somehow, the time spent on acquiring that skill is wasted. So often, Americans resist a system of education that requires everyone to learn high-level math (or high-level anything, actually,) because rare are the people who use integrative calculus in their daily lives.

This is a deeply mistaken attitude, and the ever-smart tiger cub Sophia Rubenfeld-Chua has the perfect answer showing the flaw of that attitude:
I’m never going to be a professional pianist, but the piano has given me confidence that totally shapes my life. I feel that if I work hard enough, I can do anything. I know I can focus on a given task for hours at a time. And on horrible days when I’m lost and a mess, I can say to myself, "I’m good at something that I really, really love." I want my kids to have that confidence – confidence rooted in something concrete, not just "aww everyone’s a winner!!!" confidence, because in your heart you never believe that.
Read the emphasized sentence carefully, and think about it long and hard. The point of learning the piano is NOT about acquiring the skill of playing the piano so that the student can earn a living as a pianist. It is about building the character of the person. Here is the thing about character -- you can't build it by explicitly setting out to build it. Character is not a skill like tying your shoelaces. If it must be put in terms of "skill", character is a "meta-skill" -- a foundational human skill that is necessary to perfect any number of mechanical skills. And the only way to develop this meta-skill is to develop at least one highly sophisticated mechanical skill, such that the student may acquire the meta-skill in the course of building the mechanical skill.

So, once again: the point of learning the piano is NOT about acquiring the skill of playing the piano. As Rubenfeld-Chua put it, it is about acquiring genuine confidence and iron discipline. With such confidence and discipline, she can move on and do anything she wants in her life because there is no task in life in which confidence and discipline hinder success. THIS is the whole point of Tiger Parenting, and the reason why Tiger Parenting is so successful.

This educational philosophy is a direct outgrowth of Confucianism. Recall that in is the highest value in Confucianism, and one of the essential elements of achieving in is self-study. Under Confucianism, studying is an act of humanly self-creation. Studying manners, ritual, music and ancient texts -- all the things that Confucian education emphasizes -- all aids in making a human out of a beast. The act of studying itself is what develops character, not the content of the studying.

The Japanese art of dorodango is the perfect visualization of Confucian educational philosophy. "Dorodango" literally means a "mud ball." To make a dorodango, one would grab a clump of mud, make a sphere out of it, and obsessively rub it and cure it for hours and hours until it shines like a gorgeous ball of marble. It really does not matter what kind of mud one uses -- in Mythbusters, the hosts used animal feces to disprove the saying that one cannot polish a turd. In other words, it does not matter what skill you learn; what matter is you learn to do it really, really, really well with relentless, obsessive effort, and the result will be a shining beauty.


Dorodango, made entirely of mud

The benefit of Confucian education philosophy is not limited to creating hard-working students equipped for success. Once people begin to accept that education is about character-building rather than skill-building, many of the problems that afflicts American educational system will take care of themselves. Many Americans do not take education seriously enough, but they will take it more seriously if education is about making not just a more skilled person, but a literally better person. Many Americans have a low opinion of teachers, but they will respect teachers more if teachers are considered the better people who are in charge of shaping their children's character.

Americans actually know all this already, but in a different area -- in sports. Phil Jackson is undeniably the most successful NBA coach in history, and his whole thing was about Zen and how to place his players in the correct mental state in order to maximize their potential as a team. Bobby Knight, one of the most successful college basketball coaches, famously said: "Mental toughness to physical is as four to one." In sports, no one complains about repetitive drills that build the requisite character, the ultimate meta-skill. In fact, they are celebrated. When Kobe Bryant practiced his shot hundreds of shots after losing the game to Miami Heat  earlier this season, American media universally praised it as a prime example of Bryant's mental toughness. But when students are made to go through hundreds of math drills, American media gasps in horror. It is time to end this silliness.

Moving Away from Over-Reliance on the Law

As much as he loves America, this is the thing about America that bothers the Korean the most -- the over-reliance on the law to guide every aspect of life. Of course, rule of the law is a great American virtue. There is tremendous strength behind the idea that no person is above the law. But the bastard cousin of that principle -- that no thing is above the law -- causes America to waste a huge amount of resources in an expensive legal system that often fail to hold the right people accountable. The idea that nothing is above the law is false because there are certain things that are, in fact, above the law, depending on the situation. Sometimes, morality is above the law. In certain situations, common courtesy/common sense is above the law.

For example, there is no doubt that America's financial institutions are largely responsible for the current financial crisis that has caused a tremendous amount of pain to millions of Americans. Yet there is also no doubt that much of what the Wall Street banks were doing previous to the financial crisis was all completely legal. They hired an army of lawyers to make sure that what they were doing was legal. One can make an effort to punish them through the law somehow, but the banks' technical compliance with the law makes it nearly impossible. As a result, not a single major corporation/financial institution is held liable under the law for anything that happened. Because it does not occur to Americans that there may be a right or wrong that goes beyond the law, all the finance companies can defiantly hold up their collective heads and say, "We did nothing wrong, because we did nothing illegal."

Similarly, all the frivolous litigiousness stems from the fact that in America, law has replaced common courtesy and common sense. For life's every small nicks and bruises, Americans' response is to sue instead of talking it out and work out a solution. Does every fender-bender really need a lawsuit filed by an ambulance chasing lawyer claiming whiplash injury that is nearly impossible to prove or disprove? Does an iron really need a warning label that says: "WARNING: Never Iron Clothes on the Body"?

Americans would do well to remember the admonition by Jo Gwang-Jo, one of the most significant Confucian scholars of Korea:
The royal court's discipline cannot be established by punishment. Once the court gets right first, the lower people naturally obey with their heart. Punishments and the laws cannot be abolished, but they are but the means to assist governance. They cannot be the foundation of governance.
Jo is pointing out one of truths about the law that Americans frequently ignore -- that punishment is not the primary reason why people follow the law. For the most part, people voluntarily follow the law because they sense that it is the right thing to do. In fact, empirical studies about why people obey the law -- conducted in Chicago in mid-1980s -- strongly establish this truth. What matters is that the law is legitimate and worthy of following voluntarily, not that the law comes with a harsh punishment and violating the law will put you in the slammer for life.

Americans have a hard time understanding this idea. The response by America's rulers to increased number of crimes is almost always to increase the number of police, the number of arrests and the number of prisoners. America now has the world's largest per capita prison population. California's prisons are so overcrowded that the Supreme Court recently ruled the prisons themselves constituted a cruel and unusual punishment. But America still is not any safer -- it is one of the leaders among the industrialized nations in murder rate. Why is this happening?

Confucius has the answer:
子曰:
Master said:
道之以政 齊之以刑 民免而無恥
If led by the law and enforced by punishment,
people attempt to escape and do not feel ashamed.
道之以德 齊之以禮 有恥且格
If led by virtue and enforced by rituals,
people grow a sense of shame and become good.
So this is what Confucianism can offer to America's bloated and dysfunctional legal system: rule by virtue and morality. When people live a morally correct life, they naturally end up following the law as a result. The leader's role is not to crack down on every little violation of the law -- such crackdown only leads to (at best) technical compliance and no moral reflection. The leader's role is to get into a morally upright life first, such that people may feel legitimatized in their moral life and follow the example.

The next and final part of the series will be about how Korea can improve upon its Confucian heritage.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

28 comments:

  1. Great post and great insight.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "When Kobe Bryant practiced his shot hundreds of shots after losing the game to Miami Heat earlier this season, American media universally praised it as a prime example of Bryant's mental toughness. But when students are made to go through hundreds of math drills, American media gasps in horror. It is time to end this silliness."

    This is probably the biggest flaw with the American (and Canadian) education system. Just over the recent years, the provincial government of British Columbia (in Canada) decided to overhaul the high school math curriculum by making it more about "problem solving." It's basically making it easier so kids can apply it to real life.

    (I mean they're making us use algebra tiles in grade 11. What the hell?!?)

    If America (and Canada) wants to seriously compete with the kids from all over the world, then they should make higher level studies of all subjects mandatory. Either that or make the existing courses harder. You can't have your cake and eat it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting post...I'm especially intrigued by the first point...I believe that one of the byproducts of individualism is a lack of actual identity, leading to devaluation of others...this is helping me to expand my thoughts...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Regarding governance by virtue, I think it has merit but I'm curious how rulers (leaders) can help people's understanding of something as having moral or ethical implications.

    Let's use road safety as an example. What actions could the Korean government take to show people that their decisions to a.) drive motorcycles down the sidewalks, b.) not fasten their children into child seats and c.) routinely run red lights all have moral implications?

    Right now the relevant laws are not enforced but I've seen related public service campaigns for several years. But I've also seen no change in behavior.

    I think a legal-moral educational hybrid approach would be best. The legal part would consist of relatively heavy fines for any of the above crimes. Drivers who cannot pay will have their vehicles impounded until they can.

    The moral education part would consist of drivers ed classes where offending drivers have to watch an hour-long slide show of police photographs of children who died because of careless drivers and then write an essay on it. For the parents who didn't strap their kids in properly, make them attend 20 hours of parenting classes as well. For the others, make them go visit children permanently disabled in car-on-pedestrian accidents or the parents of children killed in these accidents.

    If none of that works, there's always mimes: http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/03.11/01-mockus.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. I see the Korean is consolidating a number of his main ideas. I like it especially after the Paper Tiger article where it seems a common theme that at once there is a push back against American values and ideas and at the same time wanting to flush the “old Asian values” down the toilet.

    One just needs to recognize that its easy move from one excess to another. At the same time without spending time to understand where real reform needs to be made, it all can go stale. The values are still good, but the context changes. Relations must change to put things in a better, proper order.

    Erik,

    I think what you propose is just another variation of the law. To really try to make a governance by virtue in a widespread system, you couldn't do it just by what you say.

    If you go back to the use of honorifics and if you take those titles seriously, you might be able to see how this can help reinforce a virtue system. With those honorifics come certain duties and responsibilities if you take them to heart. Relationally you cannot say everybody does it, because you are not everyone. You are a person of respect.

    The key to governance by virtue is that it must start with the individual. The culture and society needs to also help support it. In the end the leaders, well you get the leaders you deserve.

    If you cynical about how well it would work, well in the long run most things break down. People who achieve a lot of success tend to do it with a lot of work and keeping things in order. Things break down as they stop doing that, and start living on the fat of success.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Your counter-argument about law and morality in the context of the 2008 financial crisis is a false dilemma. Also, relying upon individuals to maintain their own virtue is no deterrent to corruption or abuse of power.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "rule by virtue and morality"

    And just "who" are supposed to be our role models?

    Sadly, those who lead countries/nations/states have a lot of skeletons in their closets (usually of both corrupt and sexual natures), just look at Arnold and the Kennedy clan, those in South Korea who have led the country since the Korean War, and the leaders of China who are above the rules of the majority when it comes to the number of children they have and playing the system for their benefit.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Erik,

    I think a legal-moral educational hybrid approach would be best.

    Agreed, and so does Confucius.

    And J Man has it exactly right -- rule by virtue is not something that can be selectively deployed, area to area. It needs to be the overarching theme for the society.

    radcontra,

    Your counter-argument about law and morality in the context of the 2008 financial crisis is a false dilemma.

    Ok. Why?

    Also, relying upon individuals to maintain their own virtue is no deterrent to corruption or abuse of power.

    Who said anything about relying on individuals? Moral system requires external enforcement just as much as legal system. The different is that the moral system uses praise and recognition on one hand, and shame and ostracism on the other.

    John from Daejeon

    And just "who" are supposed to be our role models?

    Ah, the American reaction. :) That is a legitimate question, and asking that question leads one to a direction different from Confucianism. But the Korean's point is -- we have followed down that line, and look at the problems we have now.

    ReplyDelete
  9. So many excellent mini-points in this entry TK! One could write an long essay delving into each point.

    1) Regarding greater awareness of relationships and consequences of actions by the American people. Too true! My spouse is as Amercan as American can be - and many of the arguments/debates I have with him - he accuses me of being too much of a “devils advocate” and would rather me say blindly, “you’re right! that guy/religion/culture/etc is crazy and stupid! How can they think/believe/act like that!”
    I rather see myself as having greater empathy and seeing the broader picture - how so many beliefts, customs, experiences can culminate into a small act that an American may see as rude/stupid/backward/anti-American where I see it as only the tip of their story.
    I’ve mentioned this book before - but “The Geography of Thought” by Nisbett is great in understanding how long history of thought differences and thus the differences in education methods/language between east and west and in between plays a big part into everyone’s method of thinking.

    2) There is an fabulous essay on leadership in The American Scholar and it talks about General Petraeus half way through and the importance of one’s moral compass which touches back to TK’s point on virtue. Virtue should be above the law. The law is not the end all be all. To have a country that is led by virtue, there needs to be great leaders, and that starts with great individuals. But don’t be a “typical American” and place blame on lack of good leaders. The process starts with you and your home and your children.

    http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/

    3) Shout out to Cleveland Orchestra! One of my great friends is a director there. She went to Juilliard for undergrad for viola. Did she play viola professionally after graduation? No. Was her dream to become a famous violist? No. Was her education at Juilliard a waste? No. Being a tiger cub, she knew that the skill set learned from Juilliard would only help her future career. Getting into and getting through the ultra-competitive environment at Juilliard will only help her grow big enough cajones to rock it in whichever career she would be in.
    She did not say at 14 yrs old - “I don’t want to practice anymore! I’m not gonna be a famous violist, so what’s the point?”
    Two must reads for people that don’t have the same attitude as Sophia Rubenfeld-Chua. “Bounce” by Matthew Syed and “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. After these, you will want to become a Tiger Parent.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yet another great post but a bit mired by some culturally biased assumptions.


    FROM Your section "Education as Character-Builder"

    I have already said this in your previous Conf. (=confucian) post, but lemme explain more: while Conf. cultural education arguably builds "character" (a somewhat poor word choice, I think "mental confidence and capability" is better), it 1) fails to recognize the law of Diminishing Returns, 2) will of the child/student, and 3) alternatives or non-conventional approaches to building said "character."

    point 1) is that Amy Chua-style parenting acts as if children have bottomless sources of energy and time, and thus is driven to endless hours of study, piano/violin, clubs, and such. For education. For character. But are all these activities good for character? You could argue that. But can you suffer from having too much of a good thing? Definetaly. Amy Chua parenting is just that. It's Diminishing returns.

    point 2) is that you can argue piano or drills or rote memorization is good for not just the activity at hand, but as a value in general, as character. Great. But does the parent's Conf. culturally biased beliefs completely override the needs or wishes (oftentimes subtle and not explicitly said) of the child or student? Is the parent so superior and infinitely wiser than the child, the teacher over the student, that the latter's own desires (inc. a desire not to do drills/piano, etc) matter so little?

    point 3) is inspired by TK's mistaken, almost arrogant (and certainly Korean-biased and Sino-biased) emphasis on memorization in learning new languages for adults. There are many ways of building "character", or mental confidence and capability, just as there are different styles of learning languages as an adult. Such as: trying new things, being creative and out-of-the-box, doing non-traditional activities, adopting (if even temporarily) other cultural approaches.

    Is it any surprise that so many of these East Asian students of....great "character".... attempt suicide?




    FROM "Moving Away from Over-Reliance on the Law"

    I actually agree that viewing the law and the legal system as unmovable and superior to everything is a very Western Christian and specifically American cultural bias. But do I need to remind TK that moral decadence and high criminality rates are not just a product of America's legal system? Compare China and Japan: one has a national morality that is incredibly rotten and kind of out of control and relies on relationships with family and friends to dispense justice (or business) while the other is incredibly harmonious with a low crime rate but depends on a strong legal system or the law, relatively speaking. Guess which country is which? Morality and criminality's relationship with the legal system is not so clear cut.


    tl;dr version: when criticizing the cultural biases of others, be careful of your own as well, and soften (and contextualize) your generalizations.

    That said, nice write up.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Did the financial institutions really do nothing illegal? Regardless, part of the problem may be an obsessive attachment to the letter of the law - rather than the spirit - but the greater problem seems to me that wrongdoers from the upper circles of finances are generally let off lightly, plus we have had at least thirty years of governments in the pockets of big finance rewriting and reinterpreting law to benefit their sponsors. All this talk of 'less government' and 'deregulation' comes down to letting the big players do whatever they want. What The Korean seems to be suggesting is that government would be more responsive to the will of the people if it was willing to ignore the letter of the law at times in order to appease public sentiment - and indeed sometimes it does, as when it appointed Elizabeth Warren to call Big Finance to account. But to me the issue is less about the excessive respect for the law in American culture than about how accountable the government is to the public. Ignoring the law when it's expedient is a fudge; the real solution lies in forging functioning democratic institutions.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Look, I think people would be more open to learning from Confucian values if Confucian-oriented societies were more attractive to live in.

    It seems to me that Confucian societies have a big problem which Americans are now well aware of, and that is their low fertility rate. Japan's aging population crisis is well known, but what is unknown is that Japan actually has the HIGHEST fertility rate among the industrialized Confucian societies. There are over 200 entities ranked by major international organizations, and guess which six entities populate the bottom of the list? Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau. Each of these entities has a lower fertility rate than EVERY OTHER entity in the world from 200+! This is statistically amazing. Further the UN released a report last week, republished in the British magazine the Economist, which forecast that by 2100, China's population would shrink by 450 million to 941 million at current fertility rates. By 2100 China would have a similar population as Nigeria! A recent survey in Taiwan shows 87% of women do not want children, and most who do are unhappy with them.

    These societies are literally dying and having to import women from places like Cambodia, where the authorities had to literally ban Korean men from buying Cambodian women. Nobody wants to copy a society like that, no matter how good your arguments are.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oranges:

    It seems to me that Confucian societies have a big problem which Americans are now well aware of, and that is their low fertility rate.

    Unless you explain this farther, you are very close to what TK has labelled 'culturalism'.


    Each of these entities has a lower fertility rate than EVERY OTHER entity in the world from 200+!

    The number you are using isn't actual fertility figures, but fertility figures averaged by woman's age. (This removes the effect of age demographics on the numbers.) Switching to actual fertility (2010) removes Taiwan, China, and Japan from your list.

    Furthermore, merely blaming "Confucianism" misses all the modern trends that have contributed to low fertility in these countries, like high population density and high costs of raising a family. Were the US to broadly adopt Confucian ideals, it is likely we would be less subject to the former issues.


    Still, it is interesting to note where groups of countries fall in terms of fertility figures. Eastern European countries, in particular, were surprising to me.

    By 2100 China would have a similar population as Nigeria!

    The current population of Nigeria is around 150M, and that is known to be inflated for internal political reasons. So ... are you predicting that Nigeria will have a one-ninth of the world's population by 2100, or are you just spewing numbers?

    These societies are literally dying and having to import women from places like Cambodia....

    That's not evidence of a fertility problem. A fertility problem would be evidenced by importation of male laborers. Instead, what you have there is evidence of skewed gender ratios, modernization, and urbanization wreaking havoc on the marriageability of lower-class men.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @oranges, last time I looked, it would do America some good if we actually mimicked Japan/Korea/China's "fertility problem" ha ha.

    Seriously - you can't say that a Confucian society results in a "dying country." ludicrous.

    ReplyDelete
  15. The number you are using isn't actual fertility figures, but fertility figures averaged by woman's age.

    I'm confused what your point is. Are you confusing the fertility rate with the birth rate? Age demographics will change, so the number of births per woman by a certain age are what is more important in determine the long-term trend.

    high population density and high costs of raising a family. Were the US to broadly adopt Confucian ideals, it is likely we would be less subject to the former issues.

    Lots of countries have high population density and high costs of raising a family. Yet only the Confucian-influenced advanced economies are faced with such dramatic demographic declines of fertility rates in the 1-1.3 range.

    Nobody knows the precise cause but statistically it's very unlikely for Confucian-influenced countries to be so disproportionately affected if it's for a reason unrelated to Confucianism. For example, if you look at only births to married women living with their partners, the US and Japan have the same fertility rate. The US makes up the gap from Japan's fertility rate to the replacement level we currently have on the back of out of wedlock births. While I'm not so liberal as to say that children who are born out of wedlock have it just as good as children born to a married couple, I'd venture to say that it's preferable to have a society with stable demographics so that there are enough workers to support the old people, even if some of those workers are born out of wedlock (e.g., born in violation of traditional Confucian familial bonds and relationships).

    ReplyDelete
  16. I don't think family values are specifically Confician. They are very important in every traditional society and less and less important in modern society and it has nothing to do with Confucianism.
    I agree with the Korean about the value of education. I would add - education not only builds a character, it also broadens your view and knowledge is valuable just because it knowledge.

    ReplyDelete
  17. As for Eastern Europe - the answer is simple. People there are educated enough not to breed like rabbits and at the same time there are many people who barely make the ends meet. So they cannot afford many children.
    Out-of-wedlock births are many but this doesn't change the fact that it's extremely difficult to raise a child so it doesn't really affect the fertility rate.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Askakorean. I appreciate your blog. I've been reading for a while, but felt compelled to finally contribute to the discussion.

    I think you confuse American individualism with individual responsibility. I would argue that we are largely an hedonistic society (if it feel's good, do it) which absolves most of any real individual responsibility (I need a bailout or "my dog made me kill those people"). I think you confuse several related, but ultimately distinct ideas. Perhaps I have to refer to your more seminal texts, can you define your understanding of individualism and what aspect of American individualism are you against? That is to say, are you opposed to individualism as it relates religious intolerance; your reference to burning the Qur'an? I'm not sure what your argument is or where this examples fits.

    Secondly, how do you reconcile failure in the model of education as a builder of good character? High academic performance is not necessarily indicative of moral behavior.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Linda,

    Really enjoyed the essay. Thank you.

    cornflakes,

    1. Your comments on education section mistakes the example (Tiger Parenting) with the general proposition (education as a character builder.)

    2. As to "But do I need to remind TK that moral decadence and high criminality rates are not just a product of America's legal system?" -- you need not. But feel free to point out the obvious and consider yourself to be smarter than the Korean is.

    Matt,

    What The Korean seems to be suggesting is that government would be more responsive to the will of the people if it was willing to ignore the letter of the law at times in order to appease public sentiment...

    Actually, what the Korean is suggesting is that the bankers act with moral conscientiousness instead of obsessing over technically following the law.

    oranges,

    I think people would be more open to learning from Confucian values if Confucian-oriented societies were more attractive to live in.

    The Korean thinks you would appreciate the next series, which will show that the so-called "Confucian-oriented societies" are actually not as Confucian-oriented as you think.

    johnnysandiego,

    Glad you like the blog.

    I think you confuse American individualism with individual responsibility.

    One can make a finer point about American individualism as a philosophy and how the current state of America does not have to be this way if a more "orthodox" version of American individualism was followed. (The Korean is planning to take the similar path in the next part of the series.) But it seems pretty safe to say that American individualism has its share of negative outgrowths (for example, when it is distorted by American hedonism, as you suggested.)

    how do you reconcile failure in the model of education as a builder of good character? High academic performance is not necessarily indicative of moral behavior.

    You are exactly right, and that's because education can be either skill-driven or character-driven. People can achieve high academic performance in a skill-driven system of education. But there will be little gains of character made in such a system. (For example, high test scores can be achieved by cheating.)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thanks for addressing my points. We can agree we have social problems; but this is where the rubber hits the road. In your example, Confucianism is to remedy individualism and solve the several social problems (you use racism). I'm having trouble reconciling this; as Confucianism is founded in patrilineal superiority of yellow people. It's somewhat contra to remedying this problem or several problems. But maybe this isn't your point.

    ReplyDelete
  21. johnnysandiego,

    The Korean can tell you absolutely and unequivocally that Confucianism is NOT founded upon the patrilineal superiority of yellow people. The better example would have been sexism, as Confucianism is undoubtedly sexist. But it is not the Korean's point that America adopt Confucianism wholesale and abide by every last words of The Analects. The point is that there are aspects to be learned from Confucianism.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Korean,

    As always you provide a veritable intellectual smorgasbord for one to contemplate.

    1) One should likely feel slight discomfort that you paint "Americans" with a monotone brush. I winced several times throughout your post when you stated "Americans believe" or "American education". While such generalizations may open existential room to insert your dues ex machina argument, I don't believe many of those generalizations are ultimately true- except where you once again praise the "tiger education" as Confucian without making an explicit link to why these two should be the same. Individualism, or its more presence, should suggest that American beliefs and educational methods are not uniform- perhaps your prose should reflect that fact.

    2) Another interesting thought experiment you fail to conduct is what has Confucianism (or at least Confucian "education") done for countries such as Korea and China - traditionally Confucian countries. Having lived and worked in both countries my response would be: not a lot. Many of the maladies you describe, including the "gadget acquisition of education" is arguably worse in those countries. Education in South Korea could be reduced to a form of class warfare where poorer parents who are unable to send their kids to after-school lessons become codified in the frozen lake of Korean social mobility ; the same could be said of China, although the situation is more fluid than Korea. If these countries have not been able to successfully implement many of the policies you argue for, why is that? Why should this give us pause to what benefits Confucianism could bring to America.

    3) Finally, and most importantly, you leave the most interesting question somewhat untouched: what does confucianism give that other ideologies don't? We live in a marketplace of ideas where
    Confucianism competes with other and presumably better systems of thought. What if America took Christian education seriously and educated every child like they did Boethius in the Middle ages? Christian education not only provided exposure to rigorous disciplines such as rhetoric and Latin, but also molded character in an impeccable way- some might argue better than Confucianism ever could. Is Christian education better than Confucian education- I have no idea, but it seems to be at least that good. You picked out the main thought system tenets from Confucianism that you think would benefit Americans; this is quasi-tautological. Almost every ideology (except utterly contemptible and virulent ones) would provide something to society that it doesn’t have. The real question is how would the adaptation take place and would the benefits outweigh the costs?

    ReplyDelete
  23. Troelstch,

    Thank you for the comment.

    As to your point (1), the Korean is counting on the general intelligence of his reader to recognize the broad brush strokes when the Korean is using them.

    As to your point (2), that will be the next series. :)

    As to your point (3), you are really flattering the Korean if you think he is capable of engaging such a huge topic! He is only writing about what he knows.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Good opinion piece is good

    ReplyDelete
  25. You very eloquently put into words some of the things I've been trying to explain about American "arrogance" that is not really arrogance, but a lack of ability to recognize the fact that people are not actually equal at birth, thus individualism is in itself a kind of privileged thinking.

    I'm still absorbing your law point, but I'm wondering if America's over-reliance on law is rooted in the multicultural makeup of the country. In other words, does having no universal moral center in America make us rely more on the law for right and wrong than Confucian countries might need? I'm thinking here about how the law itself has shaped morality over the years, like equal rights. Such laws were created to govern the fact that at times, many peoples' inherent morals went against those things, but now after generations of enforcement, the majority believes discrimination based on race, gender, etc. is wrong (even if they still sometimes engage in it without being aware that they are).

    I don't think this idea is incompatible with what you are suggesting, but that even mainstream America cannot agree on some basics of morality leaves us needing to rely on law to protect the minority opinions. Certainly laws are manipulated by those in power and this is a problem, but the foundation of American law is rooted in protecting the individual from the state and preserving his or her right to follow what moral dictates he or she believed in, including Confucian principles. Like all systems (including Confucianism) it can be perverted and manipulated to suit the ends of people who may have forgotten its original intents, but I'm not sure that "morality" would work as a universal system for Americans. We kind of need it written down in black and white or we can't really handle it.

    (And I don't think you'll find many people outside a Fox newsroom including the culprits themselves that ever mistook what the manipulators of Wall Street were doing in the 90s and 2000s as morally right, even if it was (mostly) legal.)

    ReplyDelete
  26. There is a lot to be mined here, both on the individual and social scale. Personally, I find it frustrating that I'm not a better game writer; I have a tendency to drop projects when they don't live up to my expectations. The project that I've stuck with, despite its mudball-like qualities, is slowly shaping into something pretty cool.

    I think the Drug Wars are the best example of the US government having trouble convincing its citizens that the crimes are truly worth avoiding. Despite some very severe punishments, people still buy, sell, and use drugs. Clearly, something is not working there.

    ReplyDelete
  27. > . But America still is not any safer -- it is one of the leaders among the industrialized nations in murder rate. Why is this happening?

    The crime rate has dropped *substantially* over the last 20 years, even in the teeth of ridiculously bad economic conditions for the poor which ought to predict substantial increases. (See http://thepublicintellectual.org/2011/05/02/a-crime-puzzle/ or http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304066504576345553135009870.html )

    > So, once again: the point of learning the piano is NOT about acquiring the skill of playing the piano. As Rubenfeld-Chua put it, it is about acquiring genuine confidence and iron discipline. With such confidence and discipline, she can move on and do anything she wants in her life because there is no task in life in which confidence and discipline hinder success. THIS is the whole point of Tiger Parenting, and the reason why Tiger Parenting is so successful.

    The last time I heard this argument, it was that learning Latin was a good idea because it made learning other languages easier... Programmers will understand what I mean when I say that 'premature optimization is the root of all evil'.

    If you want to build a kid's grit, why not have them build it using a useful skill?

    Why, as Wilkinson asks, have them learn something as practically useless as piano instead of the flugelhorn where their unusual skill might one day be useful? What is uniquely grit-building about piano?

    ReplyDelete
  28. This is interesting but at the end of the day it's an intellectual game. There'll be no transplantation of the Confucian fabric into America any more than the Western liberal fabric will be transplanted into the Sinosphere. We can theorise different ways in which an essentialised ideal of a particular culture could "help", but the theorisations will have no bearing on any actual implementation. It is rather like people who attempted to derive Western liberal democracy from what they imagine the ideological systems of other cultures to consist of, and expect that this proves the universality of Western cosmopolitanism: an academic exercise with little prospect of implementation.

    ReplyDelete

To prevent spam comments, comments left on posts older than 60 days is subject to moderation and will not appear immediately.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...