Friday, December 13, 2013

Asiana Crash and Culturalism, Again

The NTSB recently held a hearing regarding the crash-landing of Asiana Flight 214 at the San Francisco Airport earlier this year, in which a testifying expert said that Korean culture may have contributed to the crash. This, again, is giving rise to the discussion about the correlation between Korean culture and airline crashes. For example, as they did previously, CNN put out a vignette that wondered whether Korean culture caused the plane to crash.

Because of my previous post about the culturalism surrounding the discussion regarding Flight 214, many people think that I was arguing Korean culture had no role whatsoever in the crash of Flight 214. That idea is a misread of the post. The main point of the post was not that culture does not exist, or culture plays no role in airplane crashes. Although part of the reason why the post turned out to be well-read was because it argued against Malcolm Gladwell's claim that culture was the primary determinant of airplane crashes, the gravamen of the post was not even about Mr. Gladwell's argument. The main point of the post was to raise a question about how we talk about culture.

Did Korean culture actually play a factor in the Asiana crash? Perhaps. I am in no position to question the expert, seeing that I am not an expert in flight safety. (Most of us are not.) Nor do I begrudge the fact that the expert probed whether a national culture impacted airline safety. It is important to ensure that flights are safe, and it would be irresponsible for the person in charge of the investigation to not examine all potential factors for the crash. If a well-supported research, backed by solid evidence, states that culture plays a role in airline safety, wonderful. That knowledge will make our flights safer.

But again, the point was not about whether or not culture plays a role in airline safety. The point was about culturalism. That is to say: why does this curiosity about the correlation between culture and plane crashes arise selectively? Why is it that, in the 2009 Air France crash, there was no discussion at all about the role of French culture in plane crashes? Why was there no discussion about American culture when a Southwest flight crash-landed in New York, mere weeks after the Asiana crash? (Is there anyone who sincerely believes that, in the upcoming NTSB hearing about the Southwest flight crash, there will be an expert discussing the American culture's contribution to the crash?) If national culture is such an important concept that must be examined to promote airline safety, why does the discussion about cultural factors never happen when a European or an American plane crashes?

The honest answer to these questions must inevitably involve the concept of bias, for culturalism is a form of bias. I am not willing to equate culturalism and racism, because the two terms do not overlap completely. For example, culturalism is evident in the manner in which the rest of America discusses the Deep South, in a way that racism is not. But as I wrote previously, culturalism and racism are related, as they are two streams from the same source--the desire to reduce an identifiable group of people to some kind of indelible essence.

This is why Europeans and Americans get a pass from the culturalist desire. It is not that Europeans and Americans do not have a culture that impacts their behavior; they clearly do. It is that Europeans and Americans are always afforded the luxury of being treated as individuals who are not slaves to their cultures. The same luxury is rarely afforded to South Americans, Middle Easterners, Africans and Asians. This is why Robert Mugabe's dictatorship is discussed as if it is a result of Africa's cultural pathology, while Vladimir Putin's dictatorship does not invite the same discussion about European culture. This is why, in the minds of the public, the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster had to be related to the Japanese culture, while the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster provoked zero discussion about the British culture.

People who are beholden to culturalism often fancy themselves to be an intrepid seeker of truth, undeterred by political correctness in search of greater knowledge. But for those people, the opposite is true: the culturalist impulse, rather than illuminating the truth, distorts and obscures it. For a speaker with culturalist tendencies, the desire to find some connection between culture and events becomes so strong that he elides the true facts for the sake of good story. The listener with culturalist mindset accepts that faulty narrative without raising questions, even though the story has obvious, glaring holes.

In the previous post, I critiqued Malcolm Gladwell's "Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes" to illustrate this culturalistic distortion. To draw the line connecting Korean culture and Korean Air Line's spotty safety record in the late 1990s, Gladwell engaged in a series of legerdemain. Gladwell ascribes several of KAL crashes to pilot errors, when those flights were actually victimized by terrorist attacks. Gladwell discusses at length the crash of KAL Flight 801 in 1997, and the inefficiency of Korean language to convey urgent messages in an emergency situation--except the pilots of Flight 801 were speaking in English. Gladwell quotes the black box transcript to claim that the co-pilot did not speak up clearly enough about the bad weather condition, but the part of the transcript that Gladwell failed to quote shows that the co-pilot in fact spoke up clearly, and the pilot acknowledged the poor weather.

The overall story that Gladwell thusly constructed is something that strains credulity: that Korean pilots are willing to die and kill hundreds of their passengers for the sake of keeping manners. Exposing the shoddy groundwork upon which Gladwell built this story was not difficult--after all, a nobody like myself, an anonymous blogger with a full time job, could do it. But the ease of this task only serves to highlight the gullibility that culturalism fosters. It is shocking that so many people--millions of people who bought Outliers and made Gladwell the most influential non-fiction writer of the last decade--simply accepted Gladwell's extremely unlikely story without asking themselves, "Seriously? I'm supposed to believe this?"

Let me make this clear one more time, because too many people, perhaps following their culturalist impulse, chase this idea as if it is a shiny object. This discussion is not about whether or not culture impacts plane crashes. For all we know, Korean culture really may have contributed to the Asiana crash. But that changes nothing about the way in which we discuss culture and plane crashes. CNN will continue running stories about Korean culture whenever a Korean plane crashes, while never raising questions about American culture when an American plane crashes. That is the discrepancy that I want you to think about.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Can't fully agree that "Europeans and Americans" (a.k.a. whitey) gets a pass on this sort of thing. Yes, Mugabe might be held up as an example of Africa's cultural pathology (when he's not being blamed on the legacy of white Rhodesian rule, of course), all sorts of cultural explanations are offered to explain Putin and pretty much anything else that happens in Russia, too. While Americans didn't notice it, a lot of Brits sensed a disturbing anti-British undercurrent to the US handling of the BP disaster. The European debt crisis---which you didn't mention---is widely explained in cultural terms, too---lazy, free-spending Mediterranean types versus hardworking, penny-pinching North Europeans. The 2008 financial crisis, too, was widely blamed---especially in Continental Europe---on "Anglo-Saxon" culture, particularly as it applies to banking.

    For what it's worth, I happened to agree that Korea comes under unfair cultural scrutiny every time an aircraft goes down. Frankly, I think this is because something of a meme has started, partly because of Malcolm Gladwell and partly because of Korean Air's own historical experience. That Korean public discourse often couches things in cultural terms, too, probably doesn't help.

    Just out of curiosity, is culture raised as a factor when Japanese, Chinese or Singaporean planes go down?

    1. Putin point was deliberate, to highlight the fact that "Africa" is seen as a single undifferentiated mass, while "Europe" is not. The backlash toward the British was definitely there, but I know of no critique of British culture in relation to the BP disaster that on par with the Japanese culture and Fukushima disaster. As to Euro debt crisis, I put up the Deep South example, didn't I? My intention is not to equate "Europeans and Americans" with "whitey" as you do--I am highlighting the way cultural explanation is imposed on the weak but never on the strong, which is consistent with the way the culturalist explanation on the Euro debt crisis played out. I don't know enough about Continental Europe to comment on the way they approached the 2008 crisis.

      Was there a plane crash from those countries in recent memory?

    2. So you're suggesting that, say, non-Americans don't "impose" cultural explanations on a wide range of American phenomenon, be it gun violence, street crime, the 2008 banking crisis, resistance to Obamacare or even the messianic streak in US foreign policy?

    3. Are non-Americans in a position to impose anything on Americans? Do Americans ever go into critical self-examination of their own culture because non-Americans call them out on American culture (if that happens at all?)

    4. I think some Americans do go intro critical self-examination when they get called out culturally, especially if said calling-out is coming from Europe. But whether or not culturalist explanations lead to self-reflection on the part of the target wasn't really the point of the post, was it?

    5. I'd say the contemporary discourse surrounding education definitely has outside nations causing America to self-examine. We regularly hear about how American culture doesn't value education or respect teachers or have enough of a sense of civic duty compared to east Asian and northern European cultures.

    6. I'd say we Americans are quite allergic to examining our culture and its results. Dan brought up education and we're looking at everything besides "American" culture. And this is mostly good -- we're starting to get to the bottom of what's actually going on, I think. Studies are showing that we educate affluent kids very, very well. And we do a poor job with non-affluent kids. A big problem, statistically speaking, is that fewer and fewer of our kids are in the affluent category. Of course, conservatives are always fighting their culture wars which makes non-conservatives mostly roll their eyes. But this discourse is about morality and shame, not effectiveness. And it's almost always a "them" argument and not a "we" argument.

      I personally sometimes use cultural explanations. I had a friend complain that Obamacare is too complicated. I pointed out that we Americans seem to love complexity. Explain the soccer or rugby equivalent of the infield fly rule, pass interference, charging vs. blocking, etc. We cannot write a rule without several exception clauses.

    7. The Korean: "Was there a plane crash from those countries in recent memory?"

      Yes, the latest one in Scotland to start with. It wasn't a big plane holding travellers but it did result in killing civillians.

      And about five years ago, if you consider that recent memory, a few French planes crushed too.
      And there was another plane crash that killed a whole lot of Polish politicians as well about that time.

  2. 1) The line between mechanical failure and pilot error is a clear one. Applying "culturalism" to the former situations would be absurd.

    2) I've never seen the word "culturalism" used this way before. Instead do you mean racism? Cultural stereotyping? Racial profiling?

    3) Plenty of criticisms of Putin involve the discussion of Russia as post-Soviet, neo-Stalinist regime. That's more about history and culture than race I guess, but it still seems like a "culturalist" criticism to me. (And a perfectly valid one.)

    4) One of the theories about the Air France flight that went down in the Atlantic is that the head pilot was having sex with his girlfriend when he should have come to the aid of the junior pilots in the cockpit. If that isn't "culturalist" I don't know what is, i.e., "randy French male kills hundred due intrinsic horniness."

    5) I'm not sure why we need to discuss "Britishness" when it comes to the BP oil spill. First off, BP is a multinational company that's "British" in name only. Second, greed and stupidity are universal things. The accident began as a mechanical failure, but the delayed action and coverup were the real scandal. The criticism was basically "Why do multinational companies so callously screw over people then pretend it didn't happen?" What was strange to me about the Asiana crash was that so many South Koreans took it personally. I doubt many actual British people felt personally responsible for the actions of a huge conglomerate, nor should they. Companies aren't people.

    6) I can't stand Gladwell. He's a stupid person's idea of an intelligent writer. That said, stopped clocks etc. Maybe he arrived at his conclusion via racist/stereotypical thinking about Asians and/or Koreans, but the NTSB seems to agree with him re: a junior pilot felt he couldn't go against a superior one, even at the risk of crashing, and not being able to wear sunglasses despite glare out of a sense of decorum.

    7) As mentioned, "gun culture" is a perfect example of how foreigners judge Americans through stereotypes. (IMO, they're absolutely right to do so.)

    You've obviously deeply invested in this, and I agree with the larger point that racism or racial profiling is stupid, but to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a preventable accident due to cultural mores is just a preventable accident due to cultural mores.

    1. 1) Agree.
      2) Didn't I explicitly say that culturalism is not racism? I do use the term in a slightly idiosyncratic manner, but similar concepts appear often in anthropology.
      3) Please see above re: Putin, and the juxtaposition between "Africa" and "Europe".
      4) If you actually have a headline that says French culture contributed to the Air France crash, please feel free to share.
      5) If you want to complain about how Koreans receive things, this is not the post for it.
      6) I spent the entire post talking about how that is not the point, yet you raise it anyway. Why?
      7) "Gun culture" is the ONLY example in which Americans engage in cultural self-reflection, even as they are quick to talk about other countries' culture.

    2. 2) There are existing terms for what you're talking about. Not sure why it's difficult for you to use them.

      3) Plenty of criticisms of Putin are, in your own coinage, "culturalist."

      4) Google is your friend.

      5) I'm responding to your lame attempt to argue that when a Western company screws up, there are no "culturalist" criticisms. There often are. (E.g., "Bloody Yanks at it again," etc.)

      6) It's my fault you aren't a very clear writer?

      7) LOL. For five years in South Korea I have routinely been asked a) if I own a gun, b) why I eat pizza every day, c) if I hate black people (I'm white). (I don't do any of these things, afaik.) I'm not going to argue Americans are the most philosophical people by any means, but here you're just plain desperate to make a false point. Do you even read any, say, female American bloggers writing about things like rape culture and male privilege in America in the wake of Steubbenville? Black writers on racial privilege and racial profiling after the murder of Trayvon Martin? Younger writers on how their generation is screwed in terms of economic/job opportunities?

      Thanks for reminding me why I gave up on this place long ago.

    3. Man, something must have happened to you in the last few years. I sense some strong bitterness that didn't exist before.

  3. "Africa" is seen as a single undifferentiated mass, while 'Europe' is not."

    Watch FOX News. It's be about three minutes before someone rails against "European-style" socialism.

    1. Join the club. So is the rest of the world.

  4. "CNN will continue running stories about Korean culture whenever a Korean plane crashes, while never raising questions about American culture when an American plane crashes. That is the discrepancy that I want you to think about."

    CNN (and most other news sources) usually discuss American gun culture whenever a mass shooting happens. Yet I don't recall any discussion of Korean culture playing a role in the Virginia Tech shooting. Is this unfair to American culture? No, because we have no reason to believe that any aspect of Korean culture was relevant to the Virginia Tech shooting.

    With American plane crashes, we've never had reason to believe that culture played a role. With some Korean plane crashes, we DO have reason to believe that culture was involved. That is why it gets discussed.

    If you suspect that an aspect of American culture played a role in an American plane crash, please discuss it on your blog. I would probably find it interesting. And I certainly wouldn't get offended or upset if someone were to investigate whether my culture played a role in an airline accident.

    1. You have absolutely hit the nail on the head with this comment. Perfect.

    2. Yet I don't recall any discussion of Korean culture playing a role in the Virginia Tech shooting.

      There was plenty--but you lost me here. Never saw an instance where VT shooting was cited in a good faith argument about Korean culture. It's like Godwin's law.

      With American plane crashes, we've never had reason to believe that culture played a role.

      This is exactly the type of mindset that I am calling out. You attempt to refute by simply stating it again a priori. You just don't get it.

    3. About the VT shooting, was there really any serious discussion? Give examples if you are going to shoot down his other statement by saying he simply stated it.

      Give me a couple of days and I will tell you why we are right to suspect Korean culture may play a role in potentially fatal lapses of communications in airplanes on my blog.

      As another commenter mentioned, and looking at the current evidence of interviews with the pilots showing that it looks as if Korean culture may well have played a role in the crash, I think you are so invested in this now that it is difficult for you to back down.

      Michael gets it perfectly, if you suspected an aspect of American culture or in my case British culture played a role, not just in a plane crash but any other important incident, the sensible response from an American or a Brit would be to hear what you had to say without being offended and take things very seriously, investigate things fully and try to change things if necessary. I would be very interested to hear criticism of an aspect of my own culture and indeed it is important to hear such criticisms.

      You will perhaps point to power dynamics in race or culture meaning that Michael and I's culture can take a hit or two, no problem, but poor little Korea can't. All you are doing is denying is the freedom and equality of your own culture to receive honest criticism from others (and making Korean culture appear weak). This posits your culture (your Korean side at least) as one in need of special privileges and one that cannot cope with freedom. Islamists do this stuff all the time and do we respect them? Fear them maybe, but respect them, no.

    4. "There was plenty--but you lost me here. Never saw an instance where VT shooting was cited in a good faith argument about Korean culture. It's like Godwin's law."

      I can't find any examples of Western news sources discussing how Korean culture affected the Virginia Tech shooting. If there are some, please post links. I am only able to find articles about Korean / Korean-American's collective sense of shame / guilt / sorrow after the incident. None of the articles I've found discuss how Korean culture led to the shooting.

      I don't see why it's wrong to cite coverage of the VT shooting in this discussion. It was a fatal gun crime committed by a Korean immigrant. My point was that mass shootings in the US usually spark a discussion about American gun culture. With the VT shooting, the media discussed American culture's role, not Korean culture's. The media only discusses relevant cultural roles. The media does not try to discuss every culture just for the sake of supposed fairness.

      "This is exactly the type of mindset that I am calling out. You attempt to refute by simply stating it again a priori. You just don't get it."

      If you would like American news sources to investigate American culture's role in American plane crashes, exactly what do you expect to be discussed? HOW could American culture affect American plane crashes? We need details. I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but we can't just discuss American culture for the sake of fairness. There needs to be a real reason.

      With Korean culture, we have a real reason: In Korean culture/society, subordinates often do not question superiors, even when the superior is clearly in the wrong. In airplane cockpits, this can cause serious safety concerns.

      Instead of arguing that its unfair to only discuss Korean culture, give us a valid reason why we should also be discussing American or Western cultures.

    5. Michael gets it perfectly, if you suspected an aspect of American culture or in my case British culture played a role, not just in a plane crash but any other important incident, the sensible response from an American or a Brit would be to hear what you had to say without being offended and take things very seriously, investigate things fully and try to change things if necessary.

      No, he did not get it. WHETHER OR NOT CULTURE ACTUALLY AFFECTS EVENTS IS NOT THE POINT. The original post made this quite clear, and this follow-up post again made it clear several times. How many more times do I have to say this before you get it?

      If you would like American news sources to investigate American culture's role in American plane crashes, exactly what do you expect to be discussed?

      Asking a question about it would be a start. Are you absolutely sure that American culture has completely, 100% no impact on American airplane crashes? Did anyone even think about this issue? Did anyone even raise the question, examine the different aspects of American culture, and eliminated every single possibility before confidently stating that there is no good reason to think American culture contributes to plane crash in any shape or form?

    6. You are irritated that Korean culture gets carted-out as an explanation for plane crashes, though, obviously. I don't think it is necessary to be so, it is totally understandable why people do it, as Michael just explained to you. Like you said, you acknowledge that culture plays a role in behaviour, so why are you so upset? Plenty of examples of how American cultural explanations come out in other negative circumstances have been given by other commenters on this comments section, but as well as ignoring them you seem to think if we suspect a Korean cultural influence on plane crashes it is somehow an example of culturalism allied to racism. You are hanging on to this argument horribly and Michael gets it spot on.

      I also notice you didn't provide any possible American cultural issues that could affect plane crashes or links to how Western media said anything about Korean culture's influence on the VT shooting.

      Constantly saying we don't get it isn't going to work, if you want to convince us you have to formulate a good argument and/or provide some evidence, which you are consistently failing to do.

    7. Constantly saying we don't get it isn't going to work, if you want to convince us

      I'm not trying to convince you. I have been doing this for a while, and I have learned who is amenable to persuasion and who is not. You guys are way past the stage where good argument and some evidence will change your minds--that's why I'm not really trying.

    8. The way you are replying is starting to sound disingenuous, sorry. Michael raised some good points and you dodged them, plain and simple. When I called you out on not answering them, you still refuse to answer and you now smear us both with a "there is no point arguing with people like you" argument. I don't think either of us have been rude, we just disagree with you or at least need clarifying exactly what your position is.

      I'm a bit disappointed by your response here.

    9. Here is the way I see it. In the original post, it was clear that I was not primarily interested in whether culture affects airplane crashes. Because some people were confused about it, in this follow-up post, I made it as clear as I can that the point was not about the correlation between culture and airplane crashes, but the way in which we talk about culture.

      What do you do in your first comment? You talk about the correlation between culture and airline crashes, after I said multiple times that that was not the point! I note again that that was not the point, yet you keep focusing on the correlation between culture and airline crashes. My position has been crystal clear from the very beginning, yet you are asking to clarify my position in your third comment, i.e. after I told you twice on top of the post about what my point was.

      What am I supposed to think in this instance, other than that you are simply not ready or willing to get the point that I am talking about?

    10. I also remember several pundits on TV and in the papers bringing up Korean culture during the Virginia Tech shooting - for example, the extreme pressures to succeed academically, like what was mentioned in the NYTimes article "Before Deadly Rage"

      "The Korean community of Centreville is a high-aspiring one, and nothing matters more than bright futures for its children. The area is speckled with tutoring academies — “Believe & Achieve,” “Ivy Academy” — high SAT scores and road maps to elite colleges. The local Korean papers publish lists of students admitted to Ivy League institutions. Mr. Cho’s older sister, Sun-Kyung Cho, went to Princeton and made the lists, but not him."

      The talk also widened to include Asian Americans as a whole and the model minority myth from what I recall. Korean culture wasn't the main focal point, but it was mentioned enough for me to take note.

      Here's another article, this time from the Washington Post, discussing how Korean culture could have been partly responsible for the Virginia Tech shooting: "Isolated Boy"

      "[Korean] cultural stigmas make it difficult to deal with the mental illness or emotional stress of a child."

      I'm not here to argue whether or not these cultural characteristics are relevant in the Virginia Tech shooting. Just that there were quite a few mentions of Korean culture and its possible influence on Cho Seung Hui.

    11. TheKorean - I understand what you now say you were trying to say, let me explain why we might be talking about the plane crash in response to you.

      You spent most of the original post trying to explain why people were unjustified in thinking that the crash might be because of Korean culture, then in the middle of it all you wrote this about whether Korean culture had anything to do with the crash:

      "If entertaining that question seriously wastes time and distracts from asking the more realistic and pertinent questions, the question is not worth thinking about."

      Now the tune has been subtly changed (maybe in light of the published interviews of the Asiana pilots), now it seems as if you don't mind the cultural explanation as long as it is not the first explanation put out there and as long as it is well justified. Well, what was the point of that first long post then about the correlation between Korean culture and airplane crashes, when that was not what you were talking about?

      I take it then that you agree with positing a Korean cultural explanation for the plane crashes now then, just that we be a bit nicer about it, possibly mention it after a little while longer, and are more consistent about doing it with other nations? Is that what you think?

      Even if this is what you think you still haven't addressed the myriad of examples of occasions when cultural explanations are used against other Western (predominantly White) countries by other Western countries. You have just ignored them. You just focus on airplane crashes and then accuse us of focusing too much on airplane crashes.

      There is no confusion here, I understand what you think about culture and I think you are wrong. People come to cultural conclusions most often when there is a reason to do so, as Michael mentioned, simple. Perhaps there are times when people are being lazy or even prejudiced, but not always and you have lumped these all cultural explanations together as bad (when they are against poor little non-Western nations) in a very ill-disciplined manner. They should be made on a case by case basis. In the case you made the example of, not me (over a number of posts), there was justification and it has also since been proved at least somewhat correct.

      YOU made made us talk about the issue in the context of the Asiana crash, so the correlation between Korean culture and the crash becomes incredibly relevant to your point about cultural explanations in general, I just can't understand how you can't see this. Now you write as if you were never really talking about it at all.

      I think you are being incredibly slippery with it all to be honest.

    12. Here is what I wrote in the original post in a fuller context: "Sure, I suppose culture plays a role in every part of our lives, so it may be valid to ask whether Korean culture played some role in the Asiana crash. It may also be valid to watch two Canadian golfers hit a bad shot in two different occasions in a golf tournament, and wonder aloud whether Canadian culture played a role in those occasions. However, we do have to think about the quality of that question. If entertaining that question seriously wastes time and distracts from asking the more realistic and pertinent questions, the question is not worth thinking about." --> Already, the context makes clear that I am not writing off culture wholesale; rather, I am exhorting people to ask questions about culture that have solid grounds.

      I reaffirm this point many times over. Here is another reminder in the original post: "This post is not to say that a culture is immune from criticism. Rather, this is to critique the way in which we deploy the cultural criticism.

      Here are numerous bits that I wrote in the comment section and the follow-up posts previous to this one, consistently showing that I am interested in discussion about culture rather than culture itself:

      "I can agree that the cultural theory is still "on the table," so to speak. I just wonder how valid it is, and I am merely pointing out the manner in which we pursue that theory."

      "Note that I never said cultural factors never come into play."

      "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."

      Remember, I wrote all these BEFORE the NTSB hearing. And you think I'm being slippery?

      Just look at the level of effort that I have to spend to get you to understand what I already wrote numerous times previously. This is why I concluded that you just don't get it.

    13. Yes, I get it. Alright, let's simplify this down to one or two questions:

      1.) Do you not think the reasons why we talk about culture being involved in a situation/problem/incident are important? For the golfer, what good reasons do we have to bring culture into the mix? You know full well we had good reasons to bring culture up in the plane crash example. The difference here is everything.

      2.) You say we bring out the culture card every time Korean planes crash but not when others do. But other people have given you plenty of examples of other incidents/problems when culture has been used as an explanation against Western countries by other Western countries. Why don't you acknowledge them? Are you just as upset about cultural explanations for obesity, gun crime, healthcare, and sub-par education in America? You only seem to want to talk about the specific example of plane crashes whenever someone brings this up and then you wonder why we focus in on the validity of the cultural explanation for the crash.

      3.) I understand of course you think culture affects behaviours, if so then, why shouldn't we be able to use cultural explanations, even speculate about them? Why not even speculate about the golfers? As long as you don't discriminate against people or remain stubborn in your defense of them when evidence comes to light proving them wrong, what is the problem? I used that quote about it wasting time and distracting from other explanations in my blog to show how ludicrous it was in the case of the example you gave of plane crashes, i.e. it would never have wasted time, and would never have distracted from other questions. Far from wasting time and distracting, in fact, the cultural explanation turned out to be right! Surely you are just against closed-minded speculation/opinion, rather than open-minded speculation/opinion.

      I get that you think throwing cultural explanations out there is not a good idea when they are lazy or may contain prejudice, but we will never know whether they are lazy or prejudiced until they are thrown out there. Strike them down, expose them, ridicule them if they are bad ideas, but I dislike the attempt to silence them with the comparison to racism, which you did do in your original post. You also know that the reasons for having a cultural explanation are all important. The reasons for giving a cultural explanation for the plane crashes were good, that is why they were brought up and will be brought up in the future should another Korean airliner go down again. Korea's respect culture brings the suspicion on itself.

      I thank you for putting the time and effort into explaining things. I appreciate the dialogue and as I have said before, though I often have cause to disagree with you, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate your writing. Yours is a blog I read probably more often than any others.

    14. Everybody knows Canadian golfers always slice their drives because we grew up holding hockey sticks while playing pond hockey. However, we have strong ankles from wearing hand-me-down skates, which is why Canadians are good snowboarders.

      Everybody knows that. It's our culture. Please understand.

      I've always found it interesting how members of a culture can even use "culturalism" against themselves, and sometimes even internalize comments others make about their culture.

  5. Boy, Malcolm Gladwell must feel like a real idiot about now, given the fact that ONE OF THE KOREAN PILOTS ADMITTED THAT KOREAN CULTURE PLAYED A DIRECT ROLE IN HIS INACTION.

    All this post needed to be was that sentence in caps. Nothing more is necessary. It played a significant role, and there is DIRECT EVIDENCE of that truth. We have a direct statement from a Korean pilot involved that Korean culture directly influenced his inaction, just like many people were saying for years but which TheKorean refused to believe and underplayed/minimized because he was trying to defend the indefensible with silly semantic games and misdirection.

    As is usually the case, the disinterested analyst without the psychological crutch of defending his "culture" at all costs is ultimately proven correct, and TheKorean's faulty and biased analysis is proven glaringly wrong.

    And the answer to your question as to why French culture or American culture aren't brought up and examined in the wake of crashes involving their pilots is simple: because there's no evidence that either were involved. And if you happen to have any evidence that contradicts that conclusion, then bring it forward and argue it. If you're going to place blame on the media for selectively bringing up culture, then you better have some evidence that there is justification for bringing it up when it has been historically ignored. Thus far, you haven't shown anything, which makes your criticism completely void of any seriousness whatsoever.

    The American media spent YEARS after Columbine examining American video game culture, bullying culture, gun culture, and did all kinds of hand-wringing doing comparisons with other countries in terms of mass shootings and school shootings and placing the blame squarely on American culture. The same thing happened after Sandy Hook. They're more than willing to put American culture under the spotlight when it's justified.

    1. So I guess Catcher in the Rye really was responsible for John Lennon's death. After all, Mark Chapman ADMITTED THAT CATCHER IN THE RYE PLAYED A DIRECT ROLE IN HIS ACTION.

    2. Chapman was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, talked to imaginary little people, and believed he was the devil.

      Do I need to explain why his attributions can be easily dismissed while those of a perfectly sane pilot are not?

  6. The pilot flying the plane was an experienced flier who was being trained on the Boeing 777. But when asked whether he considered aborting the landing and circling around as they came in too low and too slow, he said such a “go-around” maneuver should be done only by the captain or an instructor pilot.

    “That is very hard to explain; that is our culture,” investigators quoted him saying.

    TK's conclusion from that statement: PERHAPS culture played a role.


    1. Yes, the only reasonable conclusion at this point is to say "perhaps" culture played a role. Read kuiwon's statistical argument below. The sample size is much too small at this point to draw any definitive conclusions. Even if the pilot had said directly, "Yes, I believe Korean culture was partly responsible for the crash" it would still not prove that Korean culture was to blame. ( Btw, based on your quote above, he doesn't say this. You and others with the same mindset are only inferring that he did. You are demonstrating the very definition of confirmation bias. )

      So, even if he had said, "Korean culture was to blame," there is such a thing as leading questions, is there not? There is such a thing as deflecting blame from yourself, is there not? There is such a thing as taking a quote out of context, is there not? So how do you know, so definitively, with such little information at this point, that it was none of these things? You don't. So, given these facts, the only reasonable conclusion at this point is to say "perhaps" culture played a role. And the fact that you and so many others like you seem to be missing this very basic point is what I find to be, well, stunning.

  7. "This is why Europeans and Americans get a pass from the culturalist desire. It is not that Europeans and Americans do not have a culture that impacts their behavior; they clearly do. It is that Europeans and Americans are always afforded the luxury of being treated as individuals who are not slaves to their cultures."

    I'm not sure this is entirely the case. During the financial crisis in Europe the media was awash with this type of thing, attributing countries' economic performance to nebulous cultural factors. Here is a gem from the Irish newspaper of record:

    "While the Irish might champion mediocrity, they do it with charm. Ireland is like the child in the psychological experiment that gobbled up the single marshmallow, despite knowing that if it had waited, it would have received two. Germany is the child that waits for the second marshmallow but wonders whether, by the same principle, it would make more sense to continue to wait rather than to enjoy the two already gained."

    :rolls eyes:

  8. I think the whole racism/culturalism debate is blurred and obfuscated by the reason that many people arguing this simply don't know math. (This could be because Americans are inept in math, as too many empirical studies point out). Statistics here relevant.

    If there are few incidents, that indicates that that sample is statistically insignificant (i.e., effect is just by pure chance and thus not meaningful) and it is impossible to make a statement about the whole set (e.g., culture). On the other hand, if there are a statistically significant number of incidents, it is possible to point to a cause. This is what differentiates American mass shooting problem from the Asiana Air crash. The former may have a cultural reason; however, it is difficult, if not impossible, to say anything general about the latter.

    1. I completely agree with you about American culture and mass shootings. But with the Asiana crash, the pilots specifically stated that their culture played a role. What more do you need?

    2. I'm not an expert in airplane safety, but my background does encompass statistics, so I will speak from that. It's difficult to say anything general with just one or two samples. Plus, anecdotal statements in many settings are unreliable. Furthermore, this type of behavior isn't observed just in Korean culture. It's been observed in Western settings as well:

      Do people seriously think if the pilot had not eaten Kimchi, had instead gone to public restrooms where walls surrounding the toilet were slightly open at the bottom, spoke English or Russian, had been accustomed to lamb meat and cilantro, was used to American elms instead of Korean pine trees, etc., that would have not caused the accident?

    3. "It's difficult to say anything general with just one or two samples."

      I'm not saying anything general. We're specifically talking about the Asiana crash this year. And I'm specifically saying that the younger pilot should have suggested aborting the landing because they were coming in too slow and low. In his NTSB testimony, the younger pilot said he did not suggest aborting the landing because it would be inappropriate to suggest that to a superior officer.

      "Plus, anecdotal statements in many settings are unreliable."

      It's not anecdotal; it's the pilots' testimony before the National Transportation Safety Board.

      "It's been observed in Western settings as well:"

      You are right that group-think happens in other (maybe all) cultures. This does not negate from the argument that culture played a role in the Asiana crash.

      "Do people seriously think if the pilot had not eaten Kimchi, had instead gone to public restrooms where walls surrounding the toilet were slightly open at the bottom, spoke English or Russian, had been accustomed to lamb meat and cilantro, was used to American elms instead of Korean pine trees, etc., that would have not caused the accident?"

      We're not talking about the pilot's diet, toilet usage, native language, or native foliage. We're specifically talking about irrational deference to authority. Why do you skirt this point?

      If the pilot had been raised in a culture with a less strict hierarchy and where questioning superiors is encouraged, then he probably would have suggested they abort the landing. Instead, he kept his mouth shut because that is what subordinates do in Korean culture.

    4. I think that TK has already acknowledged that culture played a role, but that the issue never seems to figure as a meme in American or non-Korean flights.

      I think that when you mention culture with less strict hierarchy, you are possibly referencing western culture where the story - as you say - goes that subordinates are encouraged to question superiors. My sense is that this quality is an exaggeration, and that most people actually don't question or challenge superiors, for whatever reason. Using Robert Koehler's example of the 2008 debt crisis, subordinates were aware that financial organization's superiors were imperiling the whole financial system, but there was very little questioning of the decisions and actions of superiors. That has not really made many headlines, possibly because of the widely held belief that such a thing is not possible in a culture that encourages questioning of the actions of superiors - hence no-one brings up the possibility.

      In fact, I think that even in American cockpit culture, questioning superiors presents subordinates with something of a dilemma - as this link suggests....

      Even in supposedly superiors-challenging cultures questioning the superior is not really something that comes as naturally as what might expect if it was the cultural norm.

      So, I think this idea that there is something uniquely Korean about subordinates toeing the line in a way that doesn't, wouldn't, or couldn't happen with, let's say, an American cockpit, is a highly selective way at looking at the subject. That may be what TK is getting at.


    5. All you have to acknowledge is a greater chance of subordinates not questioning their superiors. Surely this is more likely than in Western cultures like the US. Of course it happens elsewhere also, but let's not be too relativistic here, it happens more in Korean culture and that is all that is needed to create suspicion in cases of poor communication in a cockpit, for example, especially when there is some evidence for it also.

    6. @Michael,

      I was speaking in terms of statistics. I do apologize for not being clear. What I meant by "anecdotal evidence" is the small sample size (i.e., 1 in this case). What I meant by "general" is related and was that you can't conclude anything overall about a given data set by just looking at one or two samples. For instance, you can't say a dice is a fair dice (i.e., each side has a 1/6 probability) if you've only observe one or two rolls.

      Typically, the default position (i.e., "null hypothesis") is that there's no relationship between X and Y. The alternative hypothesis is that there's a relationship between X and Y. One can only conclude the alternative hypothesis, when given sufficient data to conclude so. It seems that the problem of "culturalists" (and racists) is that their default position often is that there's a relationship between one incident and culture, and their alternative hypothesis is that there is no relationship. This is bad science and bad thinking.

      Admittedly, I did digress when bringing up diet, toilet usage, etc. But this does not detract from the fact that you can't conclude anything based on few samples. This is especially true given the fact that the vast majority of flights (including Korean ones) end up without an accident. In contrast, the reason why we may be able to conclude that gun violence in America is "cultural" is that there is a large sample indicating that.

    7. Christopher

      Is it established that westerners are more likely to question superiors/authority than non-westerners? Because the silence of subordinates in the 2008 financial crisis is a pretty significant rebuttal of that notion.

      Plus, as someone who does not live in Korea and looks in from the outside, it certainly seems to me as though Koreans take to the streets quite regularly to voice dissent, and make their voice heard by their rulers. More so than Americans, in fact, who seem quite complacent by comparison - except when a black president is elected and it brings out the crazies.

    8. There aren't any stats, at least I don't know how to search for them. But living in Korea is pretty important to understanding why someone might say Koreans are less likely to question superiors. I am married to a Korean and I just cannot voice disagreement and speak out against my in-laws, impossible. This happens across a range of other situations also with elders and those of superior rank at my school.

      I leave it up to people with experience of Korea and Koreans themselves because it seems as close to a brute fact as you are ever going to get. With a whole respect system based on respecting elders it seems pretty obvious.

    9. oh, such an interesting discussion! I just can't stay aside.

      While reading all your arguments, I was wondering if the pilot has any background in sociology, social psychology or at least cultural studies?! I doubt he has. So, why do we take his statement as the final truth? Why if HE says so, that's how it should be? Why a personal opinion is a valid argument? Moreover, we speak here about the opinion of a non-expert.

      Then I went even further by asking myself if - from this pilot's point of view - wouldn't it be better to blame the culture he was brought up in than to admit it was his personal lack of responsibility/courage/initiative (name it however) - there's a psychological unconscious mechanism called projection. Or maybe it's that his locus of control is external and that's what made him blame the environment for what he did(n't do).

      I've noticed around in my culture (Eastern European) people with the same tendency to (in)action in similar situations. And here there's no mannerism to blame for sure :) . I have also experienced Swiss culture long enough, and met this kind of people there too.

      So, my second point is that before pointing out a culture based on the STATEMENT of an irrelevant sample (statistically speaking) which doesn't allow us to scientifically extrapolate what we observe at it to the entire population, we should be more reserved/cautions in our evaluation and we should start by looking at the psychological individual factors that may have determined this type of (in)action.

      I'd also add that the statistical argument inserted in this discussion by someone is very valid and the only one which is scientific. At this point, there is no statistical proof that this one pilot's way of acting is not simply accidental.

      Also, why so much concern in mass media for this subject? I see no practical outcome from the noise stirred up around this topic. I mean, it's not like (good) mannerism as a cultural trait it's the source of social degradation or that it endangers the development of a society, so that people would be determined to change it, to cut it from the roots in order to avoid future plane crushes. :)

      As a child, I grew up in a traditional strict community (Csango ethnic group) very much similar to Korea's. We used to share almost the same values... to the point that even in the language it was expressed the respect towards the elders and superiors (there are certain types of addressing to these people too) but when my future (not my life, as it was the case of the pilot) was in danger, I gathered the courage I never thought I have in order to speak up. In the life-limit (extreme) situations something called the surviving instinct comes at the surface. One may bend the head in all other kind of circumstances, but when a serious matter is involved - as it is life for example - "moral" limits like mannerism most often stand no chance, for most of the people.

      Just above, someone who is not Korean says he can't voice disagreement against his Korean in laws... is it a matter of culture? I guess not, a matter of culture is that the elders can't agree with this fact and could banish him for daring to speak up (considering it a sign of disrespect). But the fact that he can't voice up regardless of results, it's a matter of personal way of being (individual traits). I am not saying this is wrong or right (who am I to judge this?!)... I am just pointing out that an (in)action like that of the pilot we were talking about could happen in any culture. And from this point of view... why speaking about Korean CULTURE in regard to plane crushes?

      I am now really curious about one thing: when noticeable nice things happen that may be linked to South Korea, is Korea praised for its contribution? I don't live in the US and I am not a fan of mass-media either so, this I really don't know.

    10. On the other side, from the entire post, it was clear enough for me that it's not about whether Korean culture can really be associated with that plane crush or not. But it was a question of why smaller countries with visible distinct cultures (as South Korea is) are more questioned than the "powerful" ones, in US' mass-media .

    11. kuiwon, I have to question your knowledge of statistics as those faulty American math skills in turn helped land American men on the moon (has either Korea done that) and helped develop and unleash the first atomic bombs on our planet--but those, and countless other world/life-changing examples, provide the relevance that the mixture of people of different blood help bring to the American table that has helped the United States accomplish all it has in the world to date (warts and all).

      I especially find it interesting, and horrific, how statistically speaking, two of the most efficient mast killers in recent time where, in actuality, two Koreans, Woo Bum-kon and Seung-Hui Cho. Rather odd that I've never seen that statistic brought up in those cultural discussions relating to the evil caused by these spree killers and those other vile scum that are/were Anders Behring Breivik, William Unek, Martin Bryant, Campo Elías Delgado, and way too many more to list. It's also quite interesting that so many of these killers that aren't Americans, but U.S. gun culture seems to paint the picture that it's uniquely a U.S. problem when, in reality, its a world-wide problem that affects too many innocent people. But what do I know about math and statistics as an ignorant American?

    12. Christopher

      Well I have lived with westerners all of my life - Britain and the US - and my observation is that the idea that we question superiors is a huge exaggeration. I think that we in the west tend to over endow ourselves with qualities that highlight our "individual-ness" because we have a culture that tells us that is who we are. But after four decades of going to school and working within this culture, those who rock the boat are really not appreciated, and most often are seen as trouble-makers, malcontents, or even just whiners who are given short shrift. No-one appreciates such folks, and in real-life, this kind of behaviour is effectively frowned upon and discouraged.

      So, although I don't live in Korea I do know that this idea of the Asian compliance is popular, yet in my day-to-day life of having lived and worked amongst western "individuals", I've noticed that the vast majority toe the line, don't speak up, and generally won't jeopardize their positions by doing so. Those who speak up, usually don't last long - unless what they say is absolutely amazing. I think the idea of questioning superiors as a cultural trait of westerners is an almost complete fabrication, or maybe just an ideal quality that very, very, few exhibit.

    13. If you had lived in Korea you would know that Koreans are more likely not to speak up. Never said that Westerners always question their superiors, just they are generally more comfortable doing so than Koreans or at least you can find more examples of it than in Korea. The pilots testimony hints at this fact rather directly.

    14. Christopher

      That is what I'm questioning - repeating your statement does not make it true. Like I said, I have lived in the western world for four decades, and I just have only very rarely witnessed people questioning their superiors, and often this arose out of personality conflicts more than anything else. Most of the time, like I said people knuckle under, do what they are told, and most often don't ask questions.

      Just look at the historical record and you can see what a ridiculous claim you are making. Western involved conflicts - French in Algeria, 1960's, the US in Vietnam, the British in post WWII Kenya, allied troops in Iraq, all of these places where the boundaries of ethics have been stretched (to say the least), and we find almost none of the people involved coming even remotely close to questioning their superiors. Add the previously mentioned 2008 financial crisis in which no subordinates spoke up about the improprieties of their superiors, plus my four decades of observing western culture effectively discouraging questioning of superiors, and it all points to your assertions being suspect.

      Given all of that, if I did indeed live in Korea, I suspect that the Koreans would seem much like westerners in that respect. The honest position to hold is that you don't actually know the comparative cultural likelihood of questioning superiors because, one, you don't have the stats, and two, your perception of westerners questioning their superiors is probably skewed.

    15. @John from Daejeon

      I'll repeat. You can't say anything general based on a small sample size. While American math and sciences aptitude as a population might have been excellent during the Cold War, they've surely fallen in recent times. (As someone from an engineering background, I can tell you that this isn't really a contested statistic). As for gun violence, gun violence in European countries is far lower than the US.

    16. @ben... Obviously people from all over the world don't always question their superiors. In the examples you give, they are all matters of conflicts, different matters entirely, are you even sure that troops even disagreed with what they were doing? Or the ones that disagreed didn't voice their disapproval? I do recall some major protests against the Irag war and Vietnam too, but not everyone disagreed.

      However, I do accept what you are saying about many people not questioning superiors, but I can only appeal to anyone who has lived in Korea to back up what I said and also the logic of a set hierarchical respect culture on reverence of people of superior rank and age. This seems to logically affect behaviour, Western cultures don't have it, so who do you think is more likely to have a problem questioning superiors? This common sense logic and my experiences living in Korea and having close ties through family draw me towards my conclusion. That and the evidence from crash investigators in saying these were unique problems in Korean pilots, going back to the KAL 801 flight and the Asiana crash.

    17. Christopher

      I used those examples precisely because these were highly stressful situations in which there were moral ramifications to not speaking up - just like the Asiana crash. If you are claiming special circumstances as possible reasons for westerners not challenging the decisions and orders of their superiors then that can only mean that you are making a very trite point - if questioning superiors is not to be expected in morally charged and stressful situations, then the boast that westerners are more likely to do it, is somewhat idle. That is, so what? Besides, the lack of people questioning their superiors in the 2008 crisis was not a war situation, but had moral ramifications.

      I have left a comment on your blog in which another of your commenters says clearly - and you agreed with him - that the Asiana pilot did in fact speak up, both indirectly and directly.

      The hole in your logic is that because the west - supposedly - has no culture of reverence of people of superior rank, then that precludes other possible factors that might explain the very observable fact that westerners don't actually challenge authority as much as we would like people to believe. Reverence for celebrity, reverence for expertise, reverence for those who hold power and power itself, tendency to follow the example of peers, reverence for authority itself, being influenced by the group, reverence for real or perceived extraordinary qualities. The list goes on. Just because there may not be a culture of reverence for rank - and I hold this to not be entirely true, because people in the west commonly appeal to authority without questioning it to give themselves authority - does not mean that there do not exist other means by which questioning of "higher ups" is stifled.

    18. No, my point is not that Western culture has no reverence to people of superior age and rank of course they do, just less reverence. This is undeniable. Korea has a whole respect culture in language and etiquette emphasising the importance of showing reverence to people of higher age and rank!!

      Your comment on my blog was also a misunderstanding on your part and I replied to it myself giving the reasons why why that particular commenter wrote was not a contradiction. Please read it, it will clear things up.

    19. Christopher

      My comment was that I don't believe that the west has no culture of respect for rank, in answer to your statement that the west has no respect culture or reverence for people of superior rank or age. You said that clearly, two posts up.

      I'm not denying that Korea may well have a set culture of respect for rank and age, I'm merely suggesting that the west does indeed have other cultural factors which may well be as powerful in discouraging questioning of superiors. That has been my observation over four decades. You, for some strange reason, want to believe that cultural mores that might discourage Koreans from questioning superiors are more powerful than western cultural mores which do the same thing. Based on four decades of observation, I would say that western cultural factors - some of which I listed in my previous post - that discourage questioning of superiors are actually extremely successful.

      I have already pointed out that your logic is severely flawed because you seem to imagine that there is only one way that cultures and societies discourage questioning authority. That is ridiculous, and demeans your whole argument. There is just no way that you are able to make comparisons because your perceptions of western cultural mores are obviously skewed. That is, if you are not able to recognize that there are indeed strong factors that discourage questioning superiors in your own culture, then why would I believe that you have the wherewithal to accurately assess a foreign culture which you may not even possess appropriate language skills, or even openness towards.

      Furthermore, if this quality does not manifest in situations of heavy stress that may have moral repercussions, then there is nothing to boast about.

  9. I truly appreciate your articles - they often shed a refreshing light on issues related to Korea. I have lived and worked among Koreans for many years, write blog and run a podcast about my experience here. I must admit that on intuitive level (as I am not an expert) I also tend to find cultural explanations to elements of Korean reality I observe. I do it, however, without trying to "to reduce an identifiable group of people to some kind of indelible essence". You claim that the heart of article is to show how we talk about culture (which is perfectly fine) and that it might be possible (to be investigated) that there is something in Korean culture that makes our flights less safe. At the same time, however, you ridicule those who raise those questions. I understand that you try to focus more on why nobody questions other cultures (like French or Americans) in those kind of cases, but questions the Korean one. It is a very good point as those questions are sometimes asked irresponsibly or suggestively but maybe in essence there is a reason why people do so? Have you ever talked to pilots who work with Korean pilots? Or those who try to train them? I have had a chance to do so and I have heard repeatedly the same conclusions that apply only to Koreans (no serious issues with other nationalities)... I cannot help but raise my eyebrow why that is the case.

    On a different note, I sometimes feel like a victim of culturalism myself here in Korea. Because I am a foreigner..., because I am white..., because I am a woman..., because I look like eastern European... I get all the labels and all that comes with it automatically, on the spot. Nobody even puts it up for discussion.

    1. I empathise with you on your last paragraph, sister. So true.
      Basically I'm the kind of person who doesn't want to be bothered with this and tries to understand them, but sometimes I really feel annoyed.... Sometimes I go to a library cafe' to read a book or study and by the behaviour of people around me, especially kids, I feel quite like an exotic and dangerous animal in the zoo. Well, I kind of forgive them, they are kids, but I hope their parents teach them to be more sensitive to one another even when they look different.

      One more thing is when religious fanatics come to teach ME, a European girl educated the Catholic way, about The Bible, that I have been learning about my whole life, for the sake of recruiting new followers of their own religious groups and never give up even when I explicitly say I don't want to join them. Not to mention how they aren't even open to arguments.

      Finally, I understand Koreans don't expect international faces to speak their language, I come from a much smaller country than Korea btw, but I do kinda feel inferior when my classmates approach me in English because they believe I hate forcing my poor western brain to intimidation by speaking an oh so weird language, while the truth is the very opposite - neither Korean is that difficult, nor I am embarrassed (actually I'm nothing but proud of speaking Korean). I know they don't do it on purpose, besides that, there are those who speak in English with me because they are eager to practise their linguistic skills on field, so I don't accuse them, but I think it's about time Koreans learn a bit more on the position of their country worldwide (not just USA) and accept the fact that we westerners aren't all tourists, soldiers and English teachers. duh.

  10. A niece piece, TK!

    I do agree for the most part. Where I disagree (as some other commenters seem to as well) is that Europeans and Americans get a pass on cultural explanations for certain behaviors / events. It's in general our tendency to apply such explanations to pretty much any group outside of our own. There are, e.g., plenty of intra-European cultural stereotypes (the "lazy Greek" or the "efficient German") used to explain the Euro debt crisis. It's essentially an intellectual shortcut so we don't have to painstakingly analyze the real causes.

    kuiwon nailed it -- in the end it's about statistics: Did "Korean culture" play a role in the Asiana 214 crash? Probably. Does that mean that Korean culture makes Korean flights inherently less safe? The recent data quite strongly says no.

    As for Mr. Gladwell, he should stick to "popularizing" other people's finding (which he does well), rather than trying to come up with conclusions of his own. He lacks the proper scientific training and tends to intellectual laziness. Thus he is often simply wrong.

  11. TK, I think every culture tries to assign culturalism to other cultures while ignoring their own. It just so happens that you live in the US so you mostly hear what the US media has to say.

    With respect to the airline industry, since the Western nations were the first to establish airlines and even to this day, they manufacture most of the airplanes, operation manuals, SOP, and English is the lingua franca of the airline industry, I think it is understandable why they may scrutinize cultural factors that may cause pilots to deviate from SOP while being oblivious to their own (because that is the standard).

    In other respects, however, I do think American culture is scrutinized. Mass killings attributable to American gun culture. Jihadists rant about America's hedonistic culture. I am sure there are all sorts of stereotypes about Americans in Korea. The only difference is that Americans don't really give a shit. I guess that is the luxury of being the richest, most powerful country in the world.

    1. To piggy-back on that, Helen Melon... when American gun culture is discussed, there is a robust and mobilized voice on either side of that debate. When foreign cultures are "culturalized" (just to play around with TK's usage of the word), they are not always given a voice to respond to the cultural arguments -- or not a voice as amplified and loud as the voices assigning attributes to them.

      What percentage of nationally syndicated columnists in the USA are Asian-American? What percentage of talking head commentators? What percentage of TV and Radio talk show hosts? -- that imbalance means that the response to culturalist assumptions doesn't get as much amplification as the voices saying "It's because culture!" so the discussion isn't as robust and healthy as, for example, discussion of gun culture or obesity or public healthcare in the US.

    2. This may surprise you to hear, but I think that is a really good point.

      Opposition to explanations from culture on different issues in discussion of them is needed, I can certainly agree with you on that. That's where Western media can certainly be improved upon (I think they do it with other Western cultures that are not theirs just the same though), however, in the case of plane crashes a big debate only started really when TheKorean wrote a piece about it. This was a piece I largely disagreed with, but was a valuable perspective to have, which I applaud him for and perhaps should have been more complimentary about. However, why did it not come sooner? Is it because the media weren't interested in reporting that side of the debate or was it that no one was really making the point? In a globalised world why wasn't it there, was there much debate in Korea? Were there major articles criticising the findings in Korea? I'd be really interested to know.

      If all Western media silence other viewpoints, then TheKorean has a point, but it is not clear they do this (I've seen Fox news silence other viewpoints before, but they are harangued for it, and they do it regardless of what country they are from). If they aren't giving enough opportunities to Asian reporters/writers they are bias somewhat by accident. If there simply aren't enough people from other cultures coming out against some cultural explanations, perhaps they just agree with them or don't want to become journalists, radio or TV presenters. I know that a few Koreans I discussed this with agreed with the cultural explanation of some Korean plane crashes before the findings.

      Complicated as hell when you think of it like that, but I think this shows the benefit of being able to use cultural explanations. It expands the argument and perhaps causes changes in the way we think and go about things, the cultural explanation of Korean plane crashes made Korean Air change its ways and improve safety, perhaps arguments against the Korean cultural explanation of plane crashes (and arguments like it) might improve journalism in the West. TheKorean's original article was also very well received in the Western media and by Western people, I would like to add.

      It is all about the freedom to express opinions and the more debate the better. People need to be less sensitive when the subject of culture comes up and go out there and speak out about the things they disagree with, that's how we move forward.

    3. "In a globalised world why wasn't it there, was there much debate in Korea?"

      This is an interesting question that deserves further investigation -- in my comment in another part of this discussion, I joke about canadians muffing golf shots because of holding hockey sticks when they're young, but the fact is, as I said there, we DO hear people essentialize themselves. "You wouldn't understand Jung. It's a Korean idea" is a type of self-othering - reflexive culturalism, in the sense The Korean is using it - just as much as "we canadians are just too polite to say anything about it, I guess" -- and why a particular self-image of a culture exists, and where it came from, and how one set of ideas catches on and gets internalized, while another set of ideas is rejected and answered with defensiveness, is an interesting and very complex thing to investigate, but requires a lot of care, and careful reading between the lines. And being a trained anthropologist probably helps.


Comments are not available on posts older than 60 days.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...