March 24, 2008

Japanese sensitivity

From the NYT:

East and West Part Ways in Test of Facial Expressions

By ERIC NAGOURNEY

How do you know how someone is feeling? For people in Western societies, it is usually easy: look at the person’s face.

But for people from Japan and other Eastern societies, a new study finds, it may be more complex — having to do not only with evaluating the other person’s face but also with gauging the mood of others who might be around.

The differences may speak to deeply ingrained cultural traits, the authors write, suggesting that Westerners may “see emotions as individual feelings, while Japanese see them as inseparable from the feelings of the group.”

This greater sensitivity of the Japanese to other people's feelings, this greater discomfort when other people are not comfortable, may help explain the relative lack of recognized geniuses in Japanese culture. In the West, for every nice guy genius like Darwin, there at least one total jerk genius like Rousseau. (And, yes, Rousseau was a genius, pioneering several different ways European culture would head.) Self-absorption is a big part of Western culture, but not Japanese culture, but it helps move the West out of mutual comfort zones that the Japanese tend to prefer dwelling in.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how this relates to Barack Obama.

Anonymous said...

I´m sure that somehow this relates to Steve´s upcoming unveiling of Murray´s second list of American geniuses.

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe this can be related both to the Japanese and Obama. For one thing, the rumor is that Pastor Wright drives a Porsche and not an expensive (or inexpensive) Japanese car. I’m not sure how driving a Porsche (a car made by evil white Germans) fits in with Wright’s “black theology”, but that may be a question for another day.

http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_spine/archive/2008/03/24/thoughts-on-wright.aspx


OBAMA'S PASTOR RAISED IN PRIVILEGE, NOT POVERTY

How do I know?

It happens that, as a Philadelphian, I attended Central High School – the same public school Jeremiah Wright attended from 1955 to 1959. He could have gone to an integrated neighborhood school, but he chose to go to Central, a virtually all-white school. Central is the second oldest public high school in the country, which attracts the most serious academic students in the city. The school then was about 80% Jewish and 95% white. The African-American students, like all the others, were there on merit. Generally speaking, we came from lower/middle class backgrounds. Many of our parents had not received a formal education and we tended to live in row houses. In short, economically, we were roughly on par.

I attended Central a few years after Rev. Wright, so I did not know him personally. But I knew of him and I know where he use d to live – in a tree-lined neighborhood of large stone houses in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. This is a lovely neighborhood to this day. Moreover, Rev. Wright's father was a prominent pastor and his mother was a teacher and later vice-principal and disciplinarian of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, also a distinguished academic high school. Two of my acquaintances remember her as an intimidating and strict disciplinarian and excellent math teacher. In short, Rev. Wright had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing. It was hardly the scene of poverty and indignity suggested by Senator Obama to explain what he calls Wright's anger and what I describe as his hatred.

Anonymous said...

This greater sensitivity of the Japanese to other people's feelings,...may help explain the relative lack of recognized geniuses in Japanese culture. In the West, for every nice guy genius like Darwin, there at least one total jerk genius like Rousseau...Self-absorption is a big part of Western culture, but not Japanese culture,...

Non-sequitor. East Asian cultures, including Japan, are shame-based cultures. Its people are afraid of standing out and becoming an object of mockery or ridicule. This may help explain conformity in thinking styles, and the relative back of innovation.

The last sentence about how Westerners are self-absorbed, while East Asian are not, however, widely misses the mark. East Asians are extremely self-absorbed, just not in the same ways Westerners are.

An East Asian who has achieved a moderate level of success in some field or endeavor, fancies himself a giant among giants, and feels an enormous sense of prestige and entitlement. This is the "frog in a well" complex that East Asians are entirely familiar with, because they see it so often in others, if not in themselves.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I buy that Steve. Rather, the alternative explanation is that usually social controls in Japan stifle the native creativity.

After everything was turned upside down post 1945, you had guys like Kurosawa, Mifune, Akio Morita, Soichiro Honda, etc. doing lots of innovative stuff. You might argue that Japan's financial peak in the 1980's was the legacy of all the stuff these guys build from 1945-1975 (around thirty years).

And that Japan's creative and financial decline mirrored the re-assertion of social control and stratification. The formation of stability preventing guys from "nowhere" coming out and shaking up the auto, motorcycle, film and other worlds.

In other words Japan's social mores may reflect it's rigid social stratification not the other way around. [You might also argue that lots of change in America as a social expectation has driven creativity by shaking things up so that unconnected newcomers have a shot -- and that the total lack of originality and dynamism in American music, TV, film, and literature reflects a Japanese like rigid social stratification. American Idol instead of Stax or Sun Records.]

Truth said...

" He could have gone to an integrated neighborhood school, but he chose to go to Central, a virtually all-white school."

Yes, he could have if he were 18 and emancipated, but then that wouldn't have jibed well with the wholel 'high school' thing would it?

Michael said...

Fun info and speculations from everyone. You've all got me thinking ....

Well, that whole "Japan is great at imitation but not so great at innovating" thing? Does it really hold for culture? Happy to accept of course that Japanese culture is shame-based and group-oriented. But somehow an amazing number of my favorite artists come from that tiny country. Writers, poets, filmmakers, visual artists ... If Lady Murasaki, Basho, and Junichiro Tanazaki aren't geniuses of a high order, then I don't know who is. If Takashi Miike isn't one of the most talented young filmmakers currently working, then I'll eat my filmbuff credentials. If American and France didn't completely flip out when they encountered Japanese art, then I was badly misled by art historians. And when I stroll through a Borders or a Barnes and Noble these days, one of the commonest sights is kids sprawled on the floor in the manga section, reading Japanese comic books.

I mean, culturally, the whole world has been turning Japanese for several decades now, no? Is that because Japan lacks originality and genius?

Anonymous said...

"he [Wright] chose to go to Central, a virtually all-white school"

That makes sense as he is virtually all-white himself.

Anonymous said...

I would not argue with you at all Michael.

While Kurosawa was definitely influenced by Ford and Hawks, he did a lot of original and stunning stuff that Westerners copy. His opening of Yojimbo, the dog carrying a severed arm, is a classic.

Sony's Walkman was revolutionary, and a true original.

Eric said...

Hmmm. I'm not seeing much in the way of cultural genius coming out of the US these days. It's been pretty dry since rock played itself out in the '70s. Do we really have a Rousseau? I'm not seeing it.

From what I can see the really creative people of our time are going into advertising. I suppose they're producing some really good stuff, but it's all immediatly disposable. Nobody will remember it in a generation, let alone the four hundred yeards people have been reading Shakespeare.

Anonymous said...

One aspect of facial expression is that East Asians have fewer facial muscles. As an example, most Westerners can wink their left eye and then right eye in quick succession over and over again. My Japanese girlfriend, and just about every other East Asian I've ever asked, fails at this every time. Some Asians can do it but almost all can't.

Also, the Japanese are extremely creative, much more so than anywhere else in Asia (although still less than the US for a number of reasons). The reason Americans don't hear about it much is mostly due to language and cultural barriers. Japanese street fashion is great but won't fit American fatties, and when was the last time you saw a subtitled drama on American television?

MensaRefugee said...

let alone the four hundred years people have been reading Shakespeare.
----------------------------------

Ive always thought of it as 400 years of people being forced to read Shakespeare

benn franklyn said...

Darwin does seem on hindsight like a nice guy. He lived out the last decades of his life in seclusion, afraid of the religious repercussions of the Origin of Species. Or maybe he just caught something nasty while tromping around in Brazil.

Speaking of Asia, what do folks think about the Tibet situation?

neil craig said...

Now that strikes me as one possible explanation of why Chinese culture didn't beat European despite higher IQs. If it appears subconsciosly in facial expression it must be a very deep cultural (or conceivably even genetic) more.

Perhaps being conquered by mongols, manchus etc etc makes a culture where expressing anything that could be seen as resentment much safer.

green mamba said...

In short, Rev. Wright had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing. It was hardly the scene of poverty and indignity suggested by Senator Obama to explain what he calls Wright's anger and what I describe as his hatred.

Why is it always the well-heeled, comfortable and intelligent who decide to become radical champions of the poor, "oppressed" masses - fighting an oppression they themselves have never experienced and which may not even exist in the form they imagine it? (See also the rich Saudi Osama bin Laden and his middle class henchmen.)

ben tillman said...

One aspect of facial expression is that East Asians have fewer facial muscles.

Fewer? Steve, that seems most unlikely. What do you say?

As an example, most Westerners can wink their left eye and then right eye in quick succession over and over again. My Japanese girlfriend, and just about every other East Asian I've ever asked, fails at this every time.

My wife, and her son by a previous marriage, can't wink. At all. Very interesting.