[Letters] Snap judgments about Japan

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[Letters] Snap judgments about Japan

It is a daunting task to describe all that is wrong with the column “Order is Japan’s flaw, Korea’s edge” [JoongAng Daily, Oct. 26].

First, the author has lived in Japan for “more than half a year” and proceeds to find Japanese flaws from this very brief period of firsthand experience, during which his biases and assumptions probably destroyed the opportunities for a valuable cross-cultural encounter. The examples he uses are laughable - he describes what he saw - and why should these very visible things not be neat and tidy?

In particular, the example of schoolchildren crossing the street - “how unhappy they must be” - is an absurd presumption and a very faulty observation. Does Korea not take measures to enhance traffic safety for children?

Second, he is pretentious, making the broad statement, “Japan was an uninteresting society,” before making a wildly broad statement about “all living things on earth.” Here, the author seeks to make a highly tenuous connection between Japanese culture and Darwinian evolution. What?

If the pretext is to argue that Japan was somehow culturally faulty, use a cultural, perhaps historical argument. It is a grave sin of logic to use the tools of one discipline to make an argument in a completely different discipline.

To illustrate how important this is, here is an example: “This crayon drawing by my two-year-old has sound molecular arrangements, and therefore it is perfectly beautiful.” In the West there is the saying, “You cannot compare apples and oranges.” This article attempts to compare an apple to a bulldozer, in space.

The final four paragraphs are completely unintelligible. “If mutation is the outcome of coincidence, natural selection is the result of inevitability.” Why? Say that I concede this point. Then the next paragraph goes on to state “the role of luck and conscience in Korea is more important than in Japan.”

The author tries to pull another sleight of hand by inserting another jab at Japan by saying that Korea can “harness coincidence,” which is probably the opposite of what he wanted to argue: that Koreans allow luck to play a greater role in their society. Harnessing coincidence sounds like minimizing luck.

Fourth, the writer is a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Seoul National University. By all means, he should use his expertise and high social standing within the limits of his superior academic knowledge - but not simply to denigrate another culture in order to feel good about one’s own. Certainly not when it in fact makes the writer look bad because the article simply cannot be taken seriously.

Sometimes, because the memories and wounds of World War II are still so fresh, we want to criticize others in the present; after all, it is easy to do. But it is imperative that we understand that this is a pain with historical roots. To lightly and callously dash off articles like this is not the way to arrive at cultural understanding and healing. It would be much better to look critically at differences rather than make uninformed value judgments.

Simply saying, “Korea is better,” is a valid statement of opinion and experience; to pretend to support it with “science” amounts to nothing but propaganda. Writing like this encourages a simplistic and haughty cultural outlook that reduces all others to their corresponding stereotypes ? the precise kind of attitude that breeds complacency and stifles innovation.

Sue Doh Nam, Ph.D. candidate at UCLA
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