Thoughts on Discussing Other Cultures

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 22 Comments |

“To ask is a moment’s embarrassment, but to not ask will bring a lifetime of shame.”

So goes the Japanese proverb: 聞くは一時の恥、聞かぬは一生の恥. (Thanks to Jake Adelstein for pointing me to it.)

It’s an issue I’ve sparred with my entire life, and it doesn’t look set to end any time soon. Just when is it okay to reveal ignorance? What should constitute general knowledge? And when is it okay to teach others..?

Inspired by Danny Choo’s life story and Hikosaemon’s appraisal, I decided to veer off on a large tangent and pen my own thoughts. Not about my own story, a meagre 25 years long, but about what I think I know, and by extension, what other people supposedly know.

It’s an issue I’ve touched upon in the past (The 7 Stages of Gaijinhood Revisited) and a problem I run into rather often, in no small part due to the fact that I try to surround myself with intelligent folk in the hope that it might rub off. I find myself constantly being tested; challenged to show I’m familiar with the latest events and technology and capable of defending my assertions on a variety of topics. It probably shouldn’t be a battle, but sometimes it sure feels like one, and very often I’m in a position of speaking to someone far older and more experienced than myself. What sort of relationship should I hold with them?

As was pointed out in the Gaijinhood post, there is rarely a definitive answer to any sort of question. It is not so much a matter finding out how true or false something is, but rather exchanging a range of contrasting and colourful opinions weighing in on a subject. But to deduce the topic to pure subjectivism not undermines the whole discussion, it borders on being dangerous. ‘You have your views and I have mine, and we’re equally entitled to hold them and be correct.’

Something seems off here. There are quite clearly degrees of factuality in differently held positions, and not all of them hold equal weight. We must also question the bias of the person giving the information. Everyone is going to be prejudiced to some extent, but some have more invested interests than others, and are often tainted by their life experiences.

And that’s fine. That’s normal. What interests me is what happens when people gain experience and ‘switch’. They switch from asking questions to giving answers; from ‘what if’ to ‘what is’ and from ‘I think x’ to ‘It is x’. They move from wondering, to knowing.

But just how do you know? I think to myself. Are you telling me this based on your own experience or based on the collective experience of others? Most of all, should I take your word unquestioningly?

The obvious answer is of course, no. Never stop questioning and never stop wondering. But it’s never just that simple, is it? Who am I to question the wisdom of someone who has decades of experience more than myself? Who am I to probe into areas that I know little about, treating the ‘expert’ as an equal? Am I supposed to revere them and accept them as a mentor, or treat them as a friend and express my honest (ignorant) ideas with them? Do I even have a right to engage with such people if I myself have no background in the field?

This probably sounds all very abstract and difficult to follow, so let me illuminate it with a couple of examples.

During the Great East Japan Earthquake, I regularly tweeted and re-tweeted information about radiation and the situation about the nuclear plant. In the early days, I was surrounded by a group of other citizen journalists who proved themselves to be reliable sources and level-headed in their analysis. As the situation worsened, more and more people took notice, including those who actually had experience working in nuclear plants and understood the subject a lot better than I did.

Now, here was I, a layman researching from my bedroom and trying to disseminate balanced information. Inevitably I came into contact with those more knowledgeable than myself. Naturally I had questions, and plenty of them, which the other parties gladly answered. I would learn more and help to spread information that was factually better than I had been tweeting before. Now the relationship was one of sempai-kouhai, or mentor and student. But when is the student allowed to question the mentor’s words? When do I stop lapping up what they tell me and start questioning what they say?

Arguably in this situation, due to the speciallist knowledge required, I would be more inclined to listen and only question on points that I think are a matter of debate. The difficulty though is deciding what is up for debate. Facts on radiation, if spoken by an expert, seem to be less debatable (at least by me, a layman) than say, the economic impact of the nuclear disaster. I would tend to keep more of a mentor-student relationship in cases which require highly specialised knowledge.

But what then of matters of experience in fields that are open to interpretation? The most obvious example of this to me is the one of living in another country and experiencing the culture. Unlike nuclear power and radiation, specialist fields, the understanding of a culture and its people seems to be much more open to debate. When a person blogs about a country or its culture, or an academic who has spent their life researching and analysing the country writes about it, they cannot claim to have the ‘truth’. They can perhaps make claim to an idea that neatly explains aspects of the culture. At best they have a theory that is peer-reviewed and as close to objective as possible, but still not a fact in itself. (Although one may argue that even the ‘facts’ we hold about radiation are not known for sure).

So how do I, a university graduate with a mere 4 years experience living in Japan, engage with them? When they write blogs or make videos on what Japanese culture ‘is’ and how it operates, am I within my rights to question it? Furthermore, should they, despite their decades of experience, really be allowed to suggest they ‘know’ the culture? Is it responsible of them to mentor those less experienced and pass off their views as insight into the workings of a society? What about less experienced people like myself? Is it prudent of me to attempt to do so and teach others?

Let’s consider deference, for example. How should I phrase this next statement?

‘In my (x years) experience, I have generally found that Japanese people withhold their honest opinions’. Or perhaps: ‘Japanese people have a tendency to be reserved’. Maybe we should avoid the blame entirely and cite a source: ‘X newspaper says that 67% of Japanese people don’t share their true feelings at work’. Etc. (NB: the percentage is not based on any fact).

One might argue that the author writing any of these is expressing his or her opinion, but I would disagree. The nuances involved in each are very different, particularly between the first two. One expresses a clear opinion with ‘I think’ and the other attempts to express a ‘fact’, although it is not known on what basis. In addition, saying ‘I think’ immediately reduces the impact of the statement. Now the author is only giving their personal opinion and it carries less weight, so many people will want to avoid using the term, if only to sound more confident in their writing and speaking.

This is where the problem lies. Without explicitly stating the source of one’s ideas (knowledge), the reader is left unsure how to interpret it. Is that your personal opinion? How many years experience? Have you ever had any bad experiences that may affect your thinking on the matter? If it is a ‘fact’, what is the source? Has it been verified by others? How was it obtained? In short, one is in danger of being misled.

Of course we all have the right to put pen to paper, no matter our age or experience. You might also suggest that critical thinking – the ability to analyse media and interpret it intelligently, including bias – is a skill everyone needs to learn. But my eternal question is about knowledge and how to pass it on to other people in as honest a way as possible. How can we ensure we are responsible and transparent in our writing, especially when dealing with delicate subjects like another culture and its mannerisms?

So I ask you, dear reader, when it comes to questioning information and teaching it to others, how best do you think we should go about it? Should age matter when questioning? How much experience is necessary to hold a reasoned discussion over a topic like Japanese culture? When we talk about ideas, should we preface them with ‘I think’ to make absolutely clear that they are our own, personal opinions, or is it okay to let them slide into the ambiguous area of general ‘factual’ knowledge?

22 comments on “Thoughts on Discussing Other Cultures
  1. Oldenyouth says:

    Dear Michael,

    I too have this sort of issue as I have had similar cases in the past myself. The Expert and The Experienced are both two opposites – forming a sheer dichotomy. Now I could unleash a torrent of words, examples and the like but that would be tedious for me and boring for you. So let me get straight to the point. And the point is – and personally of course – it is OK to question. In fact, questioning isn’t bad at all but too much questioning can at times be annoying. As a non-typical Japanese myself, I would question my so-called “elders” and “experts” and being an “expert” and educator in certain fields myself, I can get on par with certain individuals holding various academic titles. And if I don’t know something…wahey! I ask! And if I know something but my counter-party has it wrong then I correct him/her and explain why I did so. Of course, there would be the occssional clash and the like but I always strive to get them to the point…or I either have to accept them and call it a (insert F + ING word here) day. Nonetheless, I find this sempai-kohai trend rather unsuitable for my taste and my policy is that if my counter-party is willing to be thoughtful (whether young or old) then I should be thoughtful for them too. You see, whether young or old, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is how much arrogance or so-called high pride they have. High pride is apparently ear visible to many Japanese and because of this, the point – the main issue – is neglected. However, if people transmute their prides into that of a passion for learning then good news ~ we can get cultural exchanges, knowledge sharing and maybe even a new marvel of a discovery! And being an “intellectual” myself, my pride even infects me and gets in the way. So I better clean myself off this pride-business in order for me to be a better listener…so that I can learn from you and the others. But if I find something that I don’t understand or incorrect, then I question. Because if I want issues solved, its better to question and get the real answers rather than acting or pretending to know the real solutions when some crazy $h!t can arise out of this! Nay?! Now I can talk more about this topic but I shall save the juicy bits for another moment while my typing fingers need some rest too y’know? Plus, I like to give you room to share your opinions :) What say you?

    regards and so says,
    The Old n’ Youth (http://www.twitter.com/Oldenyouth)

    “How can I agree with them when they always disagree and how can they agree with me when I always diasagree? Well that’s the time. Tis the time where either I or they will say, ‘We agree to disagree.'”

    “Many times I see great wisdom in childrens’ fables but when adults scoff or laugh at them for being childish, that’s the time where I look and laugh at those adults for being childish.”

    ~ excerpts from my treatise.

    • Gakuranman says:

      Thanks for the reply! Excellent points on pride getting in the way of decent discussion and cultural exchange. I’m in agreement that sempai-kouhai relationships get in the way of free exchange of ideas and open criticism. Quite often I’ve come across situations where Japanese friends feel they can’t bring up certain issues or speak their true feelings out of fear of upsetting the other person. It seems very counterproductive to me, as I’ve been raised to think that frank discussion and respectful exchange of ideas brings the best results. In my experience, it does.

  2. Jillun says:

    Hmm.  On March 12th I had to deal with… well…
    A Japanese woman (hereafter to be referred to as jg) I knew had been in an omiai.  That’s what we knew, when I and a foreign woman (next referred to as fg) met the man at a barbecue her family was having.  For many months afterwards, we would call jg and invite her to join us for various activities, but she was always busy.  Then one day in February, fg says that the guy we’d met at the barbecue had asked her to help him practice his conversational English.  I wondered if maybe he was interested in dating fg.  So, comes the earthquake, and we go to visit jg, who mentions that she hasn’t seen um… oh let’s go with jb.  Jb since December.  I blurt out that he’s been to lunch with fg.  The drama to follow actually took half a day to build up.  jg’s neighbor/long term friend/practically aunt got involved, and spent an hour and a half yelling at us on jg’s behalf, accusing fg of having deliberately moved to an area where jb could see her in order to lure him from jg.  Accusing fg of spending Christmas with him and things like that.  Fortunately, at least, a slightly astounded looking jg was pulled out of her misery to point out that fg had moved to her apartment months before meeting jb, and that she herself knew that fg was in America over Christmas.  And it was all my fault for having the indelicacy to have informed jg that jb was spending time with fg (one friggin’ lunch f’goshsakes).  And oh, the woman threatened to call fg’s work and tell them that fg was a slutty foreigner hanging out with all the boys.  Fg was bravely pretending she did not understand Japanese through all of this.  I countered with warning the woman that if she tried that, we would have to explain what actually had happened.  I realized later we were supposed to break down into tears and sob and wail our apologies, probably.  At any rate, what stopped the harangue was when the woman’s daughter rushed into the room, trembling and holding onto herself to say “Mom!  The Fukushima Nuclear Reactor blew up and there’s radiation coming!  I’m scared!”  This did not actually stop the harangue until the frightened girl kicked her mother in the leg to get her attention.

    As a minor aside, jb had actually told jg that he was breaking the omia, so rather than a case of hanging out with fg’s fiance she was hanging out with fg’s EX-fiance.  However, the fact that a) we hadn’t quite grasped that he was officially her fiance and b) had not deciphered that this meant he should not under any circumstances do anything even moderately alone with an attractive woman and c) the attractive woman in question should just say no to dru – um, requests for alone-time… was not considered mitigating.

  3. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks for the reply Jamie. The Map is not the Territory metaphor is very similar to what I learnt in Philosophy when studying Kant. He too made similar points about how we categorise and organise reality to fit around ourselves, but that the real situation is forever beyond us.

    I never really thought of this when discussing with other people though. I suppose it’s one of the traps we’re prone to fall into, as we are conditioned to believe in experts and take what they say at (almost) face-value.

    As you mentioned, in contrast to the sciences, Sociology is rather trickier. I would agree that it’s petty to argue over whose map is ‘best’, but I think that we can differentiate between whose map might be more accurate. I.e. maps drawn by people who have lived in the country for decades, understand the language and culture, are healthy adults (etc.)

    By all means, I think it’s important to continue to question (and that includes our own maps), but it remains true, both in a practical sense and theoretical sense, that there must be maps out there that are closer to the territory than others. What criteria do we use to pick them out..?

  4. 博史 勝川 says:

    Hi Michael, I’ll try my best to comment in English.

    I think it’s important that people with less knowledge about a foreign culture ask about any question about the culture. The other day, you asked me about Japanese traditional employment shushin-koyo. I was glad to hear that you had a question about it and feeling it strange. Most  Japanese people don’t have any question about Japanese strange customs, because they have been continuing as they been. You, not a Japanese person bring good questions and notice us some Japanese customs are strange. Thus sometimes we think we should change our society. That’s why I think people should ask when they have a question, though about a foreign culture.

    • Gakuranman says:

      Hey. Cheers for the comment :).

      終身雇用 (lifetime employment) is an interesting topic for me. As some probably already know, I have my own passionate opinions about the subject and often find it difficult to keep questions neutral and open. But by doing so we learn more and are pushed to think about matters ourselves – often much more effective than simply being told what is or isn’t, what should be or shouldn’t be.

      There certainly seems to be a skill in raising questions effectively, but it’s important to avoid trying to persuade the other person when we are looking to learn more. It’s tempting to try and discuss things in a way that is beneficial for one’s own cause, and very tricky to avoid doing so! ^^;

  5. Interesting thoughts.

    On the matter of experience; it used to be that I would not buy books about Japan that were written by someone from anywhere else in the world. I assumed their work would be too biased. That was obviously stupid. An outside perspective is just as important as one that is brewed purely from within a culture. Of course, both perspectives should be sought out for a balanced view, as both sides will have their own biases.

    This is illustrated, actually, by the book I’m reading at the moment; “Japan Through Writers’ Eyes.” It’s a collection of excerpts  from diaries, fiction, poems, travel notes and guides that illustrate or describe  Japan, its people and its landscape written by native Japanese as well as foreign visitors. There are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle differences between the pieces written by Japanese authors and non-Japanese, but those differences of opinion (of placing importance on certain things and not others also) add to the subject being discussed, rather than subtract from it, if the reader keeps in mind which side the author is writing from.

    I don’t think that there should be any limitation on questioning wisdom, no matter who or where it comes from as long as it is a question and not an accusation. Knowledge and experience can always be trumped by bias, to ignore that only perpetuates the fictions formed by bias.  An outright accusation though, when you know you’re not in possession of more information than the person you’re talking to… well, that’s just going to end up with you looking rude and stupid.

    I think this is true even of more quantative areas or study as evidence and ‘facts’ can be ignored by people when they show their previously held ideas to be wrong. If a layman does not have access to all the known facts it is easy to, shall we say, mislead them, intentionally or not.

    As for phrasing our knowledge; I often use ‘I think’ or ‘I read that’ or ‘in my experience,’ at least I try to  This is more to do with the fact I’m always unsure of my own knowledge (worst memory ever), but I think it’s the best way to go about expressing what knowledge I have (or think I have) and the opinions and assumptions I’ve formed based on that knowledge especially when discussion matters such as culture, sociology and such. Better to seem unsure and willing to take on others’ ideas than to be proved wrong :P

    • Gakuranman says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Shard.

      Placing outsider’s opinions next to those of people raised in a country really does help to show some of the subtle nuances between people and their culture, doesn’t it? Perhaps using this method of contrasting pieces to highlight differences and letting people make up their own mind is a better way entirely than brewing grand theories that attempt to analyse and explain a particular people.

      Good point about asking questions and not making accusations. A fine line to tread sometimes! As you said, it is much clearer when facts are being misrepresented when dealing with quantitative topics, but for more abstract areas like culture and personality, it’s harder to call somebody out on being ‘wrong’ or for holding bias, especially when bias is present in all of us to an extent.

  6. “The map is not the territory.”

    Perfect! Thank you for the link to that.

  7. Kaley Portier says:

    Hello! I found your blog via the Japan Blog List and I have a question for you.

    As I am moving to Japan in the coming months I am making a list of places to go and things to do while in Japan. I would like to make a similar list for my blog featuring other Japan bloggers.

    All I ask of you is to send a paragraph (or more if you’d like) explaining your favorite part of Japan and why, maybe include a picture of it if you’d like. Just send me an email at kaleyjapan@gmail.com with your reply (or questions) and I’d love to feature you!

    Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you!

  8. Daniel B says:

    I believe that there is no unifom “Japanese culture” (or English culture or German, etc), and I think that this should reflect when one is speaking of one’s experiences with people from a certain geographical area. The issues you are raising here has been a big debate in Anthropology for years and years. How can we represent other people in our writing when our experiences are always limited and deeply subjective? The answer, I believe, is that we can’t talk about a whole “culture”, because we can never know everything. What we can do is talk about what we have experienced and our opinions and take responsibility for that. This involves weakening our own authority on the subject, something that many people are not used to doing or are not comfortable with. What I am aiming at is making the process through which knowledge comes about more transparent. If you can do that, then I think you will avoid some of the usual trappings of sweeping generalizations.

    • Gakuranman says:

      Great observations! I’m not so sure I agree with the idea that we cannot identify at least aspects of certain cultures than make them distinctive, but I wholeheartedly agree with your point about not being able to know everything. I think you may be right that many people are not comfortable losing some of their authority to this idea, but it seems to me to be an essential first step in broadening the mind.

  9. Greg Flynn says:

    Hello,

    I had a similar personal dilemma a few years ago. Throughout most of my education, I generally had better grades than most of my peers and had grown accustomed to being right, to agree. And I found that more and more, I was presenting my opinions and guesses as if they were facts–and worse, people were accepting them as such. Using “I think,” often feels to me like more like a habitual softener rather than an actual disclaimer of opinion. I personally try to catch myself when I’m simply making educated guesses or sharing my opinion and try to do my best to make it very clear that I’m not particularly sure of my statement.

    As far as questioning more experienced people, that’s a touchier situation. First, in following my own advice from the paragraph above, let me fully disclose this as an uneducated opinion. :-)

    It seems to me that you can divide people, regardless of their experience, into a set which accepts questioning and one that doesn’t. In my own personal ideal, true academics are people who welcome challenges to their theories as chances to either present painstakingly-gathered facts and evidence or to explore possibilities that hadn’t previously considered. (Now there’s an awkward and clause-heavy sentence…) That’s assuming, of course, that the challenges are presented in a respectful and polite manner. So, even making the choice to say, “Have you researched [x]?” rather than just, “Well, what about [x]?” can chance a person’s reaction. Also, when speaking to experts, it helps to make it clear when your questioning may rise from your own inexperience rather than a failure on that person’s part.

    I hope there’s a useful thought somewhere in all of that…

    Oh, and on the topic of subjectivity, I had a philosophy teacher mention a great way of thinking in class once. I’m usually a big proponent of the gray zone, but I liked the way of thinking about things when you’re a little unclear that he shared with us. For example, “I believe forcing people to wear a certain kind of clothing is wrong. I may not have a good logical argument for it yet–that is, I can’t prove it yet–but I still believe it’s wrong.”

    • Gakuranman says:

      Hi Greg. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :). I liked your ideas about presenting opinions and questions in a polite manner. Certainly, the wording and tone of a question goes a long way when trying to soften the impact it will have. I perhaps and guilty of forgetting this at times.

      Love the philosophy note at the bottom. Fits really well with the frank manner of speaking you’ve adopted and conveys the message without offending the other side too much. I just hope the listener has enough sense not to brush it off with ‘well, I believe in tooth fairies, but you don’t see me using it as an argument’ …or something similar ^^;.

  10. Lee says:

    I like your questions and I’m not sure there are definitive answers to them.  But I do think the fact that you ask them illustrates that you’re a careful and critical thinker, which to me is always worthwhile, no matter your specific level of knowledge. People do look to authority and expertise for advice and knowledge on complex issues and systems.  But look at the US financial system, after leaving it in the hands of experts and authorities.  They can build a walled-off system that no one but themselves can understand, and they can build it on sand.

    On the cultural issues you talk about, I think everything must be taken with a grain of salt. Individual experiences are just that — individual.  Of course others’ experiences can be valuable learning/teaching tools, but culture shifts, people age, times change. Individuals and societies adapt, accept what was once unacceptable, discard what was once essential.  That’s why an individual’s cultural expertise is of somewhat limited value, and respectful questioning by someone of any age should be acceptable.  I don’t mind a few “I think”s and “IMO”s to show a little humility, although there are other ways to set a tone of integrity.

    Personally, I appreciate learning from someone who is humble about their own knowledge and obviously interested in learning more themselves.  Nothing is worse that a dismissive “expert” know-it-all.  And specific information is of course valuable, and a trustworty person to relay it.

    • Gakuranman says:

      Hey Lee. Thanks for dropping by. I appreciate your points about humility and asking questions. I generally feel that way, but perhaps humility is a value not cherished in the same way across all cultures. (For example, in the same way that apologising in America is akin to admitting guilt, perhaps expressing humility is a sign of weakness somewhere in the world..?)

  11. Marc Tunguz says:

    Hello Michael, This is a very interesting question! Here is what I thought about that (sorry for my bad english though, it’s not my mother language) :

    Should age matter when questioning? 
    I don’t think so… now of course, it depends on the subject, but everyone knows some people that are 40+ and are completely immature. Experience is a matter of how passionate you live your life. You can ask an old teacher specialized in the subject. Some people will then think “ok, that guy is a master, he is 60 years old and has been teaching that matter for 35 years”. Right. But what if he only used the same old book to teach? Then he would be unaware of any changes, of any new evidence, … Now let’s ask a young and passionate guy or lady who had read a lot of recents books on that subject, who had attended a lot of conferences, who had been discussing his point of view on the Internet. Couldn’t we consider that his/her point of view is more accurate than the old teacher’s one?

    How much experience is necessary to hold a reasoned discussion over a topic like Japanese culture?
    This is a HUGE topic… I would say it depends on what side of Japanese culture you’d like to discuss… let’s take the “otaku” culture. You’ll probably get great answers from real Otaku, which means young people. But then, you might need anthropologist and historian to help you understand the “why” behind the otaku’s answers. In the same way, if you wanna discuss about a precise period of time like the 50’s, older people might have a better point of view on the subject than young… Be careful though that they might be idealizing their memories of this time… So again, I don’t think experience and reasoned discussion are linked.

    When we talk about ideas, should we ….
    My opinion is that when it’s your own, personal opinions, you have to make it clear (with ‘I think” for example). I absolutely hate reading something that says “it’s a fact that….” and seeing no sources… That means : “Okay I think I’ve heard that somewhere, sometimes but I’m just to lazy to open a book, or check the Internet to see if that’s true”. When it’s your own opinion, makes it clear, when it’s not, use sources.

    Responsible and transparent writing means comparing sources. The best way is trying to get the most sources you can get (people interviews, books, websites, universities works, …). Then once you think you master the subject (which will never be the case), trying to be as accurate as you can, using your sources, showing that you know what you are talking about, that your ideas are based on true knowledge and that, that true knowledge can be found on the bibliography part of your book for those who some day, like you, will want to discuss over that subject.

    Hope that helps !

    • Gakuranman says:

      Cheers for the repsonse!

      I liked your thoughts on the old teacher using an outdated textbook to teach. I suppose that’s certainly one area we must be careful of as we age! Staying up to date and at the very least aware of change is important.

      Another point you made about age and experience being useful only in specific areas made me think. I suppose that touches on the definition of an expert – someone who knows their subject inside out, and that is rarely possible on a broad topic like a culture or society.

      Completely agree with you about comparing plenty of sources and being transparent. Great points!

  12. Fign37 says:

    Hello Michael,
    you make a very good distinction about what should be an expert’s opinion on a topic and what not. For topics which are obviously quantitative in nature (radioactivity, history, mathematics, etc.) years of experience and knowledge can give the speaker this authoritative stance. However on topics that are clearly subjective, such as culture, including music, and art, everybody has the right to feel as an “expert”. The reason is that on such subjective topics, your knowledge and everybody else’s is a personal experience with the topic, and no one’s experience is truer than yours. Hence both opinoins on a debate about such subjective topics shall have the same weight. I tell you this by being an expert on Japanese culture (I lived and experienced in Japan for 11 years) and I still live it outside of Japan with my family (the wife is Japanese) and also from the quantitative stance as having a PhD in Engineering.
    I take the stance of “I think” even if I as an expert in engineering topics give an opinion (although based on years of knowledge and experience) because it simply express something very important about you, “humility”. And I think people appreciate humility more coming from such an expert.

    excellent blog BTW.

    • Gakuranman says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      I wonder… Are topics like culture, music and the arts really subjective though..? Of course, the way we experience them is, so disagreeing on the basis of how we have interacted with those subjects is a non-starter. I would like to suggest though, that underlying elements of all those subjects are not as subjective as them may seem.

      Perhaps beauty is not in the eye of the beholder and something hard-wired into how we think. An obvious example would be preference when selecting a mate with which to reproduce – someone overweight for example may suggest bad genes, or a lack of discipline in their daily life and so not ideal for producing offspring with.

      Similarly, perhaps societies function in a certain way which is determined by the way they must exist. For example, a society could not function without a mutual trust between the individuals (for without trust there would be no cooperation and order, even if that trust is just trust in a justice system). In this sense then, it would not a subjective matter, but an objective one.

      It’s interesting you think that everyone’s experiences are as true and worthy as everybody else’s experiences. Would we say that the experiences (and resulting theories about a society) from a mentally-challenged person be as true as those from a healthy adult? I think most of us would agree that they have different value. Similarly then, is it not possible to suggest that certain people have been tarnished through their experiences in a way that prevents them from thinking clearly? In this way, is it okay to say that all opinions on subjective topics carry the same weight?

      Great point at the end about using I think to show humility. I completely agree :).

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