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Thursday, January 22, 2009


There is a disease abroad in the land, and people afflicted with it exhibit the following symptoms:

They laugh at the lamest of jokes, and seem capable of making only that type themselves.

They are not particularly socially skilled, and are almost never exciting to be around.

They are incapable of giving offense.

They study very hard.

They have no spontaneity.

The disease is a bit like sickle cell anemia in that it affects primarily one race. In fact, my brother and I -- who are half-Japanese and half-Scottish -- refer to this disease as "Asian-itis." Whites sometimes contract this disease as well, but when they get it, they're just called nerds. (Am I allowed to be critical of Asians in the same spirit in which black people are allowed to use the n-word? Either way, having written honestly about other races, I feel obliged to write honestly about my own.)

In my experience blacks sometimes disparage whites for being boring, wimpy, nervous little twits who are easily intimidated and not very street smart. Whites, if they are of such a mind, sometimes disdain blacks for being criminally inclined, less intelligent, and less hard-working.

It has often occurred to me that Asians and whites have the same basic relationship, but with the roles reversed.

Of course, much of my experience with Asians has been with Japanese-Americans, who tend to be the most law-abiding people around. I'm sure there are plenty of Hmong or Vietnamese gang members who might quarrel with what I've said. (I, on the other hand, would not quarrel with them.)

I've heard it said (I don't have proof of this) that the bell curve describing the northeast Asian (Japanese, Korean, Chinese) IQ, while it has a higher mean, is also taller and steeper, with narrower tails. In other words, even though northeast Asians have a higher mean IQ, at roughly 110, they also have fewer geniuses in the 180+ range. It has been postulated that this is the reason that they lagged behind the West during the industrial revolution. For it is the people in the 180+ range who provide the inventions which really move a society forward. A high bell curve with shorter tails is a good foundation for a society which will keep their airplanes in the air and on time, but it tends not to produce the people who will invent air travel in the first place.

I've heard all the arguments about Confucianism and how Asian culture promotes conformity and doesn't encourage invention, and they're all true. Nonetheless, the IQ argument rings true as well. I've also heard the arguments about how the most creative minds are not necessarily those with the highest IQs (and that once you get past 140 it makes little difference), and those are true as well. Nevertheless, scientific invention does not originate in cultures with low average intelligence, so IQ is a fairly good proxy for inventiveness.

If there is less genetic variety among Asians, it is also expressed by another stereotype, that Asians look more alike. It's not considered polite to say so, but it's true. Caucasians come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, hair color, and facial shapes. Asians all have black hair and brown eyes. They all have relatively flat features (with nary a prominent nose). And you can roam the streets of Tokyo for hours and never see a fat Japanese unless you wander into a sumo arena.

I remember an incident when my daughter Rebecca was five years old and we were visiting my Japanese cousins. While we were sitting in the living room she pointed at the sisters sitting on the couch, and said, "You two are the twinsy sisters." (They weren't twins, and by Asian standards didn't look that much alike, despite being sisters.)

I thought oh no, please Rebecca, don't say it. Rebecca then explained, "You have the same haircut." This was true, so I breathed a big sigh of relief. But just as I was exhaling, Rebecca added the fatal words: "And the same face."

The two sisters remained motionless, their smiles frozen.

I felt like crawling into the nearest hole, but Rebecca did have a point. Asians do tend to look more alike. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

In fact, there's nothing wrong with acting alike, either.

Unless you want people to remember you.

(In case you're wondering, the answer is yes, I am determined to offend absolutely everyone with this blog, even my own relatives.)


Poison Pickles said...


PeƱaflor said...

I think that what you call "Asian-itis" is more characteristic of Asian Americans, who are eager to assimilate into the American middle class, that it is of Asians. In Japan, Korea, and China, there are Japanese, Korean, and Chinese rock musicians, artists, and others engaged in creative and bohemian pursuits.

Take Japanese cinema, for example. Japanese cinema in the twentieth century is easily the match of any Western cinema, and produced perhaps even more great directors than any other film industry: Ozu, Naruse, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Inagaki, Ichikawa, and Teshigahara.

Also, I think that Western scientific inquiry had its source in Plato's philosophy, which encouraged people to think beyond what was merely given, whereas Asian thought tends to identify order with what already exists in nature. Also, the West was engaged in a more ferocious competition, both with each other and with the Ottoman Empire, than the three East Asian countries were. China, Korea, and Japan had nightmarish periods of breakdown and strife, as well as war and invasion, but also enjoyed long stretches of peace, which the Europeans did not. The three East Asian countries were in one of those peaceful phases when a modernized Europe came knocking at the door.

I think the advantages of the West are now being outweighed by the disadvantages of Western liberalism (a symptom of which is the intemperate attacks on your blog). East Asians have not succumbed fully to this virus, and may perhaps escape its worst effects.

John Craig said...

Penaflor --
You're right, though what you're talking about is not what this post was about. This post was about social manners here in this country, and, as you point out, apt Asian-Americans.

I"m not as familiar with Japanese cinema as you are, so can't give an informed opinion.

I'd actually go a step further than your last paragraph: you say East Asians have not "succumbed fully" to the virus of liberalism; I'd say they haven't succumbed at all. In fact, the three countries you mention would scoff at the kinds of political correctness which many feel obliged to kowtow to in the West.

As far as the advancement of the sciences in the West vs. in Asia, what you say is true, and others have speculated that the Confucian ethic does no encourage independent thought. But I've also heard another theory: that while northeast Asians average higher in on IQ tests than whites do (roughly 107 v. 100), the bell curves describing the northeast Asian IQ is taller and narrower than that outlining the white curve, so that while there are far fear Asians with scores falling below, say, 85, there are also fewer at the extreme righthand side of the bell curves, where the geniuses reside, and since those are the people who push scientific knowledge forward, that's why the West is where most of the biggest scientific breakthroughs happened. (I haven't seen this theory corroborated with hard evidence, but it does ring true.)