Readers' Submissions

Uncomfortably Blunt

  • Written by Anonymous
  • February 27th, 2008
  • 6 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


It's always controversial to discuss cultural differences, or differences between any groups.

I've noticed some common self-tardation techniques used to avoid the cognitive dissonance of noticing cultural difference, and to claim that groups are basically the same:

1) Relax, you think too much.
2) If it bothers you, go back to where you came from!
3) Change the subject ASAP to point to underlying similarities.
4) Immediately say that there are no groups, there are only individuals.
5) Reflexively counter with Pavlovian regularity that it's the same in your own culture, or that the differences are a small matter of degree.

I’m always surprised how deeply people reject comparisons between groups. It’s like we are all fearing a repeat of World War 2, if we admit to ANY group differences. Or do we feel bad about saying things that might make others feel bad? Or do we dislike our own group being in any way maligned?

If one group of 100 has 80 people who have a strong dislike for insults and direct confrontation, and another group has 80 who love to take the piss, it’s a P.C. self-tardation to be hush hush about that.

There are advantages and disadvantages everywhere. I know it pisses people off to go ahead and actually name what these are – to actually point. Differences piss people off. I'm very aware of that. But it's my nature to get some sick thrill from short circuiting people's cognitive dissonance filters. I piss people off for a reason, and I do it consciously. The intent is good, as I see cognitive dissonance filters as a crutch, at best. Only temporarily useful.

I think the reason people get so wormy-squirmy about facing the discomforts of cultural clashes is that we see a difference between judging others and understanding others, and we would prefer to embrace others within understanding than reject them with judgment.

A multiculturalist might think "It just seems to work better for me to focus on understanding and not judging” but I think this kind of compassion doesn't go far enough. We have to judge, and then love them anyway.

I don't see that there needs to be a difference between judging and understanding; we can judge and understand and be inclusive. In fact I think it's fair to put this in starker terms. I think we have no choice but to judge, and we can do so either consciously, or unconsciously. Sure, we can try our best to be agnostic whenever a judgment call creeps into awareness, but that's just hitting ourself over the head with the self-tardation hammer.

We have an innate sense of in-group, and out-group, and are very wary of putting people into the out-group. And that this type of thinking is flawed. Judgments and categories and values don't need to place people in or outside our care and concern – we can love and value the imperfect. Rose tinted glasses don't love as much as clear ones can.

It's when the cultural differences are not value neutral that it gets emotionally difficult to make comparisons. For instance, the Germans are renowned for holding craftsmanship, design, and engineering excellence as values to be celebrated. The Japanese are famous for their strong sense of aesthetic; they get nearly orgasmic when the cherries blossom. And then, relatively speaking, there must be cultures that don't value how their house or yard looks, or that don't value workmanship.

If it is a negative trait that is being discussed, such as lying, or being rude, or being immature, or thoughtless, or not valuing education, people get squirmy about pointing to a group and accurately labeling the differences.

I don't see the problem with having strong views and using one's own culture to make a value judgment upon another.

Certainly, nuance is always called for. But nuance that can see grey does not obliterate all contrast and definition. Nuance, reason, and a willingness to learn are needed. So we use honest and open dialog for that – the more fearless the more penetrating. And body-language-dialogs break cultural barriers most pleasantly.

It doesn't have to be about Manchester United vs. Brazil; it doesn't have to be about us versus them, right versus wrong, black versus white. But no matter how inclusive and understanding we are, no matter how pragmatic, values are simply inescapable. And cultures get higher and lower marks in various areas we value.

All of this is just a preamble to this little culture and sex-wars rant:

My social needs can be met in Asia as easily as Cinderella’s romantic urges can be met by her husband 5 years and 3 babies after her social climax.

Just go ahead and try, within the local expectations, with heat shields and clouds and puffy cushions and air bags to decelerate the impact, just try to begin to explain cultural differences, and the locals will reach for their flags to fend off the devil.

Asians are indirect, obtuse, obfuscating. They can not tolerate a question about their personal being. They don’t have a personal being, and would rather not feed such a perverse growth. They have concerns about propriety, culture, fitting in, debts to family, obligations, face, and status.

It is impossible to have a western style conversation with an Asian enculturated person – never the twain shall meet. You have to be oh so tippy toe about feelings, and not directly point to anything that could be controversial. If you do, don't expect controversy to ensue.

And while I feel that there is no substitute for western educated friends, many people have been complaining about western educated women lacking the Asian feminine mystique. Asian women have their own very specific super power, and western women act as if they have no idea what that is or how that works. Western women are too heady to want to even approach the issue. They believe that the word “shallow” holds more weight than the word “sexy”.

There are some things western women would prefer to defend against, to deflect, to reflect outwards into someone else’s sin. What is the word for that? To project. Western women raise their solidarity flags to fend off the devil of how the mating game works. To fend off responsibility for being sexy, and admitting what it is they want. Of owning up to how Cinderella could attract a prince in the first place, and the fact that she didn't do it with the blacksmith's son who was hitting on her all those years.

“Asians are so petite and short, and men who go to Asia are so big and fat and bald. Asians are so poor, and men who go to Asia are so deluded about how important money is to those girls.”

The western woman's complaint against men dating in Asia is a litany against their own unconscious values. Yes, petite is sexy. Whose problem is that? Who invented that? Oops, my bad! I like petite. Yes, women like power and money and status. Who invented that? Asian women?

Western women pretend that the give and take involved in seduction is somehow supposed to be focused on something that has no physical basis. As if that is somehow more real.

At this point you are probably thinking:

– Relax, you think too much.
– If it bothers you, go back to where you came from!
– There are no groups, there are only individuals.
– It's the same in my own culture, the differences are a small matter of degree.

And if not, well, you've got to love them anyway.

Stickman's thoughts:

I get really irritated when I try to have an intelligent conversation with someone, or perhaps with a group, and everything is taken personally. Can we not discuss things with some certain degree of detachment, which will then allow us to understand issues and learn about them and from them? Unfortunately, I am thinking to much like a Westerner…