The Korean had thought the post about the Asiana crash and culturalism would get some readership, but hoo-wee. At over 24,000 pageviews today as of this writing, it is the most visitors that this blog has hosted on a single day. (The previous record was around 16,000, when the New York Times introduced this blog.) Although the Korean had said over and over again that this blog is strictly a hobby and he could care less about the number of readers, he is not so obtuse to make nothing of the time that so many people spent reading what he wrote. So everyone who read the post: thank you. Everyone who shared and commented on the post: thank you one more time.
The Korean attempted to make the previous post about culturalism and plane crash for focused and general reader-friendly, which meant that the post was lacking in many of the stylistic points and the inside jokes (including the Korean's constant reference to himself as a third person) which usually appear in this blog, as well as a lot of stray thoughts and asides. But no more of those shackles in this follow-up post! Here, the Korean will discuss his thoughts to the readers' reaction to the post, and also share some leftover thoughts.
(1) The Main Point of the Post. The Korean found that a lot of people misunderstood the main point of the post. The main point is not to argue that culture plays absolutely no role in plane crashes. Some commenters went so far as to claim that my point was culture does not affect behaviors at all--which is completely nuts. The Korean writes a blog that talks about Korean culture! Of course culture affects behaviors!
The main point is that we may encounter problems when we start thinking about culture as an explanation. To quote Abraham Maslow fully: "To a man who only has a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail." In this context, the Korean is not advocating that we stop using the hammer; he is merely advocating that we stop swinging that hammer at everything we see. If we are going to use culture as an explanation for anything, at a minimum, we have to know a great deal about the culture itself and be hyper-aware in which the culture interacts with a given situation. Otherwise, all the harms that the Korean described about culturalism result: obfuscation of truth, other-ization of people, and elimination of individual agency.
It is true that the Korean is rather skeptical about the "cultural" explanation of plane crashes. He is particularly so because the fountainhead of this cultural explanation of plane crashes, Malcolm Gladwell, did such a poor job in proving up his thesis. Also, because he knows that the desire to explain everything with culture flows from the same source as racism, the Korean is skeptical of people who insist that culture must absolutely be a factor, and are always in a hunt for some type of cultural answer. This is even more so because--let's be honest--there have been plenty of racist comments about the Asiana crash.
But being skeptical is not the same as being dismissive. The Korean's sense is that even if culture played a role in airplane crashes, it would be so miniscule that it should only interest the professionals of the airline industry searching for one more bit toward perfection, instead of serving as a significant contributing cause to any plane crash. But he remains open to reviewing all available evidence before making a final conclusion.
(2) Golf. Frankly, the Korean did not anticipate this. Many of the comments complained about how golf was not like flying a plane. Because golf is an individual sport, the argument went, it is not like a multi-person action like flying a plane. So the golf comparison was off-base.
This comment misses the point. The point was not to say that golf has the same level of cultural causation as flying a plane does. The point of using golf as an example was to illustrate how people never connect two far-flung data points (= poor shots) in golf just because of the golfer's nationality, but somehow people do the same with plane crashes that are also far-flung data points.
Any way you shake it, the comment does not make sense. Is the comment complaining that golf has no cultural causation, but flying a plane does? But culturalist explanations for golf are plenty. For example, many people ascribed Korean culture as a factor as to why there are so many dominant LPGA players who are either Korean or Korean-American. According to those folks, something about Korean culture might be in play when it comes to excellent female golfers. But does it mean that when Se-ri Pak missed a putt in the 13th hole of the Women's British Open in 1997, she missed it for the same reason that caused Inbee Park shanks a drive in the second hole of the 2013 Women's U.S. Open? Most people would say no. (By the way, that was a hypothetical. Don't go searching for what happened at Women's British Open in 1997.)
Or, is the comment complaining that, if a team sport was used as a comparison, a culturalist explanation would be more accurate? But there are so many examples of a culturalist explanation being embarrassingly wrong. Just one of them: in the 1950s, Jewish people excelled in basketball. Soon, a culturalist explanation developed--the Jews are good at basketball because Jewish culture encourages swiftness and cunning. Of course, we now know that such explanation is ridiculous. (Or alternatively, we moved onto a different culturalist explanation involving African Americans.) So, if so many of the culturalist theories about team sports are wrong, what makes the culturalist theories about plane crashes so correct?
(3) KAL Flights into Russia. This one, the Korean did expect some resistance. Many comments said KAL flights venturing into Russia during the late 1970s and 80s were also a pilot error, and it was fair for Malcolm Gladwell to count them as he was tallying up Korean Air's accidents.
The Korean disagrees. He will take the point is a navigation error is a serious pilot error. But the usual consequence of poor navigation into the wrong airspace is not that a military jet will appear and shoot your plane down. There is an obvious difference between wandering into the wrong air space and ramming into a mountain: the former, in most cases, does not lead to a plane crash and deaths.
But if you must insist otherwise, that's fine. This is a small point in the overall assessment of Gladwell's argument, so it is strange to see so many commenters get so hung up on it. In the Korean's mind, the greater problem was that Gladwell never disclosed the fact that two of the crashes that he counted were results of military or paramilitary attacks. At the very least, Gladwell could have let the readers decide if it was fair for him to count the three crashes as a part of KAL's safety record.
(4) More about Gladwell. One strand of thought that the Korean did not discuss about Malcolm Gladwell: the Korean cannot help but struck by the violent imperialism that is implied by Gladwell's argument. Technically, Gladwell's point is not that Koreans are forever chained to the destiny of crashing planes. His point is that Koreans can escape that destiny, as long as they stop speaking Korean.
This may not be a fair criticism, because Gladwell does not say that this should be applied to Korean people generally. After all, the chapter about the Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes discusses only Korean pilots, not Koreans as a whole. But it seems like a fair observation that Gladwell is presenting his theory with an implication that it has a broader application than airline pilots.
At this point, we are fairly deep into the realm of speculation, so the Korean will spare his words. He will only note that the idea of changing or replacing the native language to absorb a superior culture is nothing new. It has been around since the 19th century, when the Europeans and Americans began conquering the world with a sincere belief that they are better suited to run the various parts of the world than those who were already occupying those parts--which is why the Korean finds this implication unnerving.
(5) A Telling Incident. Today, Oakland's KTVU station reported that Asiana Flight 214's pilot names were: "Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, Bang Ding Ow." These are obviously fake names that smack of racism. And it is striking that KTVU, based in one of the most Asian-heavy regions in the United States, let that one be aired on television. Several people at KTVU must have looked at these names, and okay'ed their release via broadcast. How could this happen?
KTVU's excuse: the National Transportation Safety Board verified those pilot names. And the NTSB did! Apparently, a summer intern at the NTSB confirmed these names to the KTVU.
Now, my culturalist friends: what is it about American culture that contributed a local station with heavily Asian population to blindly buy the obviously false representation from the NTSB? Is there an inherent deference to authority in American culture that contributed to this gaffe? Let's hear it.
(6) Correction. Commenter Chris Kahn left very helpful comment, which is worth reproducing in full:
I'm a Korean too - I actually commissioned as an OCS (like the pilot of Korean Air 801) officer, and served as a naval officer on a ship and later as a UDT/SEAL in the Korean navy. I agree with your basic thesis that Gladwell is inexcusably sloppy and that culturalism is over-emphasized in covering the recent crash.
However, I do think that language was a contributing factor to the KA 801 crash - though such problems are not necessarily limited to Korean culture as the Challenger and Discovery tragedies, and the development of Crew Resource Management by NASA show.
First of all, I disagree with your description of the hierarchy of Korean military officers. In every day interactions, "seniority of commissioning date" is the overwhelming factor in deciding how to interact other officers, with actual age coming in as a modifying factor. Commissioning source (Academy or non-academy) heavily affects an officer's career trajectory and chances for promotion, but does not factor into the language hierarchy. Rank also does not affect the language hierarchy, which causes much cognitive dissonance and discomfort should a higher ranking junior officer work in close quarters with a lower ranking senior officer.
The senior pilot was commissioned in '75 and left the Air Force as a major in '87 while the first officer was Air Force Academy class of 26 which would mean he was commissioned in '78 and left the military as a Lt. Col. Hence, the pilot is unambiguously superior to the first officer. This is supported by the language in the transcript where the senior pilot uses the lowest form of speech (반말) to the first officer. From my personal experience, I have never seen any junior Academy officer fail to defer to a senior (in commissioning date) OCS or ROTC officer.
Second, the flight engineer is clearly much older and senior to both the pilot and the first officer. But there is another factor in play here - engineering is a secondary rating to flying and in the Korean military at least, there is a strong sense that you don't interfere with another officer's turf. Each specialty is highly silo-ed. For example, on the first ship I was on, the Chief engineering officer (Cheng) was senior to the Executive Officer (XO). Hence, at no point did our XO fail to acknowledge the Cheng's seniority, but in return the Cheng was conscientious about not overstepping the bounds of his specialty and interfering with the management of the ship.
So there were clear linguistic barriers to open communication within the cockpit of the KA 801. The first officer was junior to the pilot, and the flight engineer was used to keeping his hands off the realm of pilots.
Second, my own experience running exercises as a SEAL has shown that conventional Korean language hinders cooperation in time sensitive situations. For Close Quarters Combat exercises, where team members must work with each other within a room to clear it of "bad guys" safely, and where the situation and command structures are fluid, my unit has mandated that everyone speaks to each other in the lowest form of speech (반말) regardless of rank or age. Not only does this reduce the time necessary to communicate (since sentence endings are shorter), but it makes the junior members of a team much more likely to speak up when they see a corner that hasn't been "held" yet or a potentially dangerous situation.
Deference to authority is not a unique problem to Koreans (again, see NASA and Crew Resource Management), but I would argue that the Korean language structurally exacerbates the problem.
In the original post, the Korean pointed out that KAL Flight 801's captain would not be disrespectful to the first officer and the flight engineer because of their age and military pedigree. This comment provides more color, and raises the possibility that the first officer and the flight engineer would be deferential to the captain regardless.
The Korean is hesitant to take just one person's word for it, but he is willing to acknowledge a superior source of information. So here is the official correction: the Korean's point about the relative social ranks of the captain, the first officer and the flight engineer of the KAL Flight 801 may not be accurate.
(6) Further reading. The Korean hopes that he intrigued you about culturalism. He has previously written several posts about culturalism, and you can search for the word in the blog if you are interested in reading further. If he were to pick just one for recommended further reading, he would pick this one: Another Person's Room. Remember, there are always socks in a room. (You will get it after you read that post.)
Thank you, again, for reading and commenting.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Switching back to third-person-auto-pilot mode was a sound decision. You don't want commenters to hijack this post as well!ReplyDelete
I actually thought you were playing when you mentioned Golf, a sport where 'culturalism' can be seen just about every week now that the LPGA has become the Varsity version of the KLPGA.ReplyDelete
Excellent comment by the former Korean naval officer. It's interesting how his SEAL team mandated the use of 반말 not only because it encouraged juniors to speak up, but also because it takes less time. I am not suggesting that culture necessarily had anything to do with the accidents, but I really support the idea of 반말 being used in all time-sensitive, high-risk settings such as cockpits.ReplyDelete
There is a huge difference between cultural bias, i.e. "culturalism" and racism or ethnic discrimination. There are cultural differences in sports. Again, there is a very very little chance that an Israeli team is going to win a hockey championship. Not because they are incapable, it is just.... it hardly snows in Israel. National sports become national sports for a reason - and climate is one of them. The reason why Kenyans ARE good runners, but bad ice skaters is kind of obvious, right?ReplyDelete
Now for the KTVU: this is racism. When Paula Dean said something, it was made into a big deal. Why is THIS not a big deal? Why is nobody suing them? A couple million dollars would make KTVU remember and would insure no other sources of information would ever make that joke.
It would be semi-okay if a Korean person made that joke, although it is really unfair, considering that innocent lives were lost. For the same reason black people can say the "n" word, but white people can't.
So... why is nobody doing anything? Cultural bias is a fact of life. Racism needs to be nipped in the bud in any shape or form.
"But the usual consequence of poor navigation into the wrong airspace is not that a military jet will appear and shoot your plane down."ReplyDelete
How is it that you're still arguing this point? When you flew into Russian airspace during the Cold War, the odds of that consequence increased DRAMATICALLY. That increased risk was well known by the pilots, and was completely foreseeable.
If these pilots were regularly flying close to Bolivian airspace, you would have a legitimate argument. But this was a well known and foreseeable risk in a dangerous flight zone, and one for which navigational errors carried a far higher probability of disaster.
How can you be so blind to that reality and ignore it?
Why are you so upset?Delete
It seems you're under the impression that when legitimate criticism of your logic and analysis is presented, that a one-sentence snarky, off-topic reply will cover up your sloppy thinking.Delete
Good luck with that.
"Technically, Gladwell's point is not that Koreans are forever chained to the destiny of crashing planes. His point is that Koreans can escape that destiny, as long as they stop speaking Korean."ReplyDelete
To some extent, you fall prey to one (among so many) of Gladwell's errors. Whatever causes cultures to change and grow in the way they do, languages are -- universally -- far more flexible than people tend to think when they have never been immersed in historical linguistics.
The use of Korean speech levels has changed immensely as culture has changed, and there's no reason to doubt that it will keep changing. Gladwell's conceit that English and Korean grammars somehow embody countless generations of culture is linguistically clueless. The fact is, Korean people can be influenced by other cultures to whatever extent they wish, and the Korean language will have absolutely no trouble adapting, as it (and every language) has in the past.
I get your point, but I don't think I am falling into Gladwell's errors--I'm extending the implication of his error.Delete
By the way, could you please send me an email? Have something to discuss, if that's ok with you. Thanks in advance.Delete
Sent it from my main e-mail address (hush.ai).
"The Korean found that a lot of people misunderstood the main point of the post. The main point is not to argue that culture plays absolutely no role in plane crashes. Some commenters went so far as to claim that my point was culture does not affect behaviors at all--which is completely nuts."ReplyDelete
I think those commenters are merely obstinate in their views, and wish to maintain them. Perhaps a "culturalist" satire criticizing American culture for its faults (e.g., BP oil spill, gun violence, etc.) would be enlightening to such commenters.
There was plenty of self-criticizing about the BP oil spill and the culture of over-capitalism that spawned it. There is LOTS of self-criticizing about gun violence. To be honest, I don't understand how you or The Korean are attempting to make this point when it is so wrong.Delete
Was that culture called "American"? Was that characteristic applied to two data points that were 16 years apart?Delete
As evinced by some of the comments here, "culturalism" ought to be properly viewed as a form of racism, which I've called on Marmot's hole "racism in thick framed glasses."Delete
Tried that. Sadly, it doesn't work.Delete
Question 1: Yes, but mainly in the case of gun violence. For oil spills, since the companies involved are multi-national conglomerates, there is usually not much "this is because of the American/British culture" so much as it is the dangers of wanton capitalism culture (which is linked to American culture in most minds). The point I believe you are making (that it is not as explicitly stated) is an interesting one, but I don't think that it is as meaningful to the overall point as it seems you think it is.
Question 2: Absolutely. Every incident of extreme gun violence and/or oil spillage is frequently (maybe even exclusively) discussed in the context of past events of the same nature, no matter how far in the past they are.
This is a great follow up to an incredibly eye-opening original post [for me at least]. The fact that points one through three had to be made is nothing short of hilarious, and some of the comments made in the original submission were clearly not up to the usual standard of discussion on this blog. Regarding point (6), it is completely alien to me to think that adhering to a culturally enforced hierarchy could be so influential in life-death situations such as flying a plane; perhaps a solution could be that anybody in such lines of work should use the 'low form' of Korean while on the job, as our good Naval officer detailed that SEALs do.ReplyDelete
Finally, in no relevance to the content of these posts, I see that you [The Korean] used the phrase 'could care less'- surely if you could care less, then you have to care a little in the first place to actually care less, which seems contradictory to what I think is meant by the phrase is the first place i.e. your lack of caring [about the number of readers of this blog.] Perhaps 'couldn't care less' would be a better phrase to use, but this is probably just me being picky.
Nonetheless, an excellent couple of posts as always.
The difference between "couldn't care less" (correct) and "could care less" gets on my nerves too... but considering that about half the bloggers/journalist/commenters on the Internet get it wrong even when American English is their first language, I'm prepared to cut The Korean a bit of slack.Delete
Could you give more insight on the language issue being discussed? I know it will probably be fairly difficult to explain the differences in language between Korean and English, but if you could attempt to explain the how Korean hinders concise and timely communication in situations like this it would be appreciated.ReplyDelete
Excellent posts BTW and thanks for the effort to do a quality blog.
imagine having to end every sentence with sir and mean it instead of making it sound like pig latin. plus the proper pauses to show respect at times.Delete
it is a known issue thats actively fought in the military (among officers) and in sports (imagine having to yell "mark your man sir!" instead of "d up!")
I think it is still overrated. For example, no one seems to mention that most words used in military are in Sino-Korean without honorifics.Delete
you r not supposed to but in real life everyone except freshly commissioned officers do.Delete
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Can you type that exchange out in Korean please?Delete
Ok,in Korean that becomesDelete
"Petty Officer Lim, could you please cover that door as I move... OW, OW, OW"
임선임하사님, 문 잡아주시겠습니까? 가겠습니다...
"Lim, cover that door! Moving!"
임중사, 문잡아! 간다!
In the lowest form of speech (해체), not only do you use straight up imperative statements, but also the verb forms are usually only 1 or 2 syllables.Delete
The highest honorific form usually used (not the 해요체, but 합쇼체), tacks on three more syllables to the verb, and also encourages usage of a more roundabout way of "asking" for a certain action which also lengthens the sentence.
For example, in English the equivalent would be
"do it" (해)
as opposed to
"would you please do it, sir" (해주시겠습니까)
The more convoluted nature of the highest form of speech makes CQC exercises with simmunitions (paint bullets) and a fresh batch of SEALs very entertaining.
"Petty Officer Lim, could you please cover that door as I move... OW, OW, OW"
임선임하사님, 문 잡아주시겠습니까? 가겠습니다...
After a few weeks, that becomes "Lim, cover that door! Moving!"
임중사, 문잡아! 간다!
The military has also had to mandate usage of the lowest form of speech in radio communications - albeit in a stylized form that must be formally taught.
(I wish there was an edit function for the comments)
I thought the exchange went like: "장애물 해제, 전진!" --> entirely Sino-Korean, no honorifics involved. Good to know how it actually goes down.Delete
I'm sure it will go down like you thought in case of emergency, but in most units dire situations rarely come up and people are fairly lax during drills (unless they're being audited). The number one complicating factor is age, as petty officers (부사관) are always lower in rank than OCS/ROTC/Academy types, and the experience that comes along with it. Also, commissioned officers (사관) are almost always on rotational assignments whereas the petty officers tend to stay at their stations (at least in the navy) giving them a big edge in familiarity around the base/ship. So Lieutenants will, even if they outrank the petty officers, 'respect' petty officers with more age and experience, causing some awkward communications or the use of straight forward honorifics.Delete
Also, things can get complicated even among officers as some will get accepted to the academy on their second, third or fourth tries, seeing highschool 후배s among upper classmen, ranks may (although very rarely) get reversed along the way, etc. Short-term officers that get commissioned through OCS/ROTC have an even tougher time as some will join right after graduation(ROTC) while there are tons of OCS types that join after having finished their masters and even their Ph.D's (not often but it happens) creating all sorts of complicated relationships that can't be ignored during their service (2-3 years) as they'll run into each other outside of the military again.
Wait, conquering another people group and trying to get them to accept your "superior" language and culture started in the 19th century? I'm pretty sure it started at the beginning of the world.ReplyDelete
Just look at the Romans and the Mongols and the Babylonians and the Egyptians and...basically everyone.
I don't mean to snipe, but the Mongols were really into forcing their language and culture on anyone. If anything, they tended to get culturally absorbed into the societies they conquered.Delete
Sorry, as you were.
Did Korean culture play a role in the crash of Asiana Flight 214?ReplyDelete
Does Korean culture cause Korean flight crews to be more likely to crash their planes?
Though not wholly unrelated, these are two different questions and the answer to one in no way definitively determines the answer to the other. However, the answer to the second question very much determines the appropriateness of asking the first a mere days after the crash -- not in the accident investigation sense but in the general news/punditry sense.
Since you posted that Culturalism is a term you created for your blog back in 2007, could you elaborate on how exactly it is different from the Culturalism so prevalent in the social sciences? Your use of the term seems to focus solely on people using a cultural explanation for everything, but even that isn't a new idea and ignores how the term is generally used. It's been in heavy use since the 90s, influencing a number of highly popular books, such as Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Erich Fromm is sometimes considered one of the earlier researchers in the field FYI.ReplyDelete
TK - I didn't realise until I read your other post on finding the underlying similarities on Civil and Common Law that you were a lawyer. Interesting to learn that (personally) as I am also one and after finishing a long case conducted in English and governed by Korean law I tend to agree on a theoretical level. Though I would mention that its application by the Korean courts can be especially tainted by things such as patriotism or 전관예우 etc.ReplyDelete
I agree on your points about Gladwell's sloppiness and the over reliance on 'culture' as an easy answer and thought it might be worth suggesting a term we use in litigation as preferable: the factual matrix.
As to say one part of Korean culture (i.e. hierarchy) caused the plane crash but omitting another part (i.e. that modern Korean culture is highly risk adverse) is selective. However, to suggest that a factual matrix whereby pilots were, based on the current information, (1) inexperienced at flying that type of plane; (2) had a low level of actual manual flight hours rather than automatic; and (3) passed their training requirements in society that has evolved test passing to an art, may be somewhat more balanced and helpful.
Finally, in relation to the KTVU incident, I'm not sure that has to do with your humorous suggestion of inherent deference to authority but a factual matrix whereby racist humour is permitted. That said, Korea is currently a far far far far far more racist place than America and the good thing is the horrified reaction to it in the US.
Hi Tom! Yes, I am very much looking forward to the next trip to ZA. I'm in love with that place.Delete
I am a litigator as well, and I can accept the "factual matrix" idea. But I think we both agree that Gladwell goes far past that.
Whoops ^ above is 'TomEats'. Hope you are looking forward to next trip to South Africa.ReplyDelete
Hi, I'm an American that speaks rudimentary Korean and was a communications consultant for the Republic of Korea Air Force stationed at 공군 교육사령부 in Jinju. I taught pilots and air traffic controllers. The Korean! mentioned that he was loathe to take one one person's opinion, so I'm here to lend my weight to what Chris Kahn has said regarding use of language. Languages have certain strengths and weaknesses that make them very good at certain functions, and comparatively less good at others. Most bilingual English/Korean speakers will tell you that Korean is better at communicating affection and familiarity than English, for example, with English-only speakers having no idea what they mean. I've heard many bilingual speakers say that English is a more concrete, precise language. Mike Breen in his book The Koreans mentioned a bilingual couple that used to speak in Korean and fight in English, because it was easier to communicate their points quickly/clearly in English.ReplyDelete
I'm not surprised that 90% of the language spoken in the cockpit was English, as English is the international language of aviation, and many (if not most) aviators will speak to each other in English quite a bit (even when not communicating over the radio) to practice and keep up their skills.
As a white guy who can read Japanese (slowly and painfully still), and 17 years ago almost made it to the point where I could hold a conversation in Korean, I have the impression that the notion of the language confining your intellectual capacity is equally popular on both sides of the pacific. Your paraphrase of Gladwell "Koreans are doomed to crash planes so long as they keep speaking Korean." is fair, and I am not trying to defend that point of view. But I also know that Japanese intellectuals have published books at a very approximate rate of one every 10 years since 1868 arguing that they will never be able to have all the material benefits of western culture so long as they continue speaking Japanese. I wish I could cite names, but I'm a computer nerd by trade and it has been a few years since my last Japanese Lit class where this fact was mentioned. In other words, your paraphrase is of Gladwell is fair, but Japanese intellectuals have been writing books and articles for over a hundred years saying something much closer to exactly that than anything written by a westerner. Are they unique among Asians in this? Do Koreans and Chinese not advocate and/or suffer from similar views of how their language is limiting them intellectually?ReplyDelete