Caveat #1: When I refer to Asians, what I mean technically, is East Asians–Chinese, Korean, Japanese.
Caveat #2: There’s a continuum of asianness on which one can rise or fall.
Source: I’m a real Asian but think like a white person, which makes me a good translator.
Upwards Mobility, Low Expectations, and The Eternal Foreigner
It’s generally awesome to be a foreigner in Asia. Speaking English is more or less mandatory as an Asian if you live in the city, but if you speak Chinese and you’re a foreigner, you are the man, like this black guy who sings in Korean (although he’s actually the fucking blade) or this white guy who speaks Mandarin and just eats street food (less so, but this guy is also awesome to watch). Needless to say, the Chinese dude that buys burgers in English in America just won’t work, even to Asian YouTubers. There are all sorts of complex reasons for this asymmetry, but the level 1 explanation is that learning English is necessary for upward mobility; learning a language with less utility (although it’s possible that Chinese may at some point overtake English as the de facto Esperanto) is esoteric, and signals genuine interest and/or respect for the language or culture because you are moving down the social hierarchy.
If you’re a white dude with a proclivity for wanting to be offended, you could say that the expectation for white people is low. Like, really fucking low. If you go to Mexico and all you can muster is “hola” and “buenas tardes” you’re fucking cultured and open-minded as fuck (unless you have a Hispanic look). If you can use a chopstick at the mandatory Chinese diner that’s seemingly in every small Canadian town they assume you must be a fucking virtuoso pianist (does not apply in a city, sorry. The invisible “chopstick border” is usually placed somewhere around the 30 to 60 minute mark with a car from the city centre. In Vancouver, it’s somewhere around the Mary Hill bypass). That is, the white dude is considered culturally savage. That’s why Asians are amazed when they show any cultural competence. What does savage mean? Let’s get to it.
It’s pretty nice to be a white foreigner (if you’re a colored foreigner YMMV but usually not so bad), but the flipside of it is that you will NEVER be accepted as Asian no matter how hard you might try; there is no assimilation; you are eternally othered. My uncle is white, straight from Lethbridge (The East Texas of Canada), was in Japan–is there again now to live–for almost a decade, a judo master, speaks Japanese near perfect, writes better than I do, and is probably aware of weird historico-cultural stuff that most local Japanese people have forgotten or deemed un-modern and irrelevant. He is not your average Weeaboo. Yet, he’s still a gaijin in the minds of the majority. Foreigner–gaijin, gwailo, waegukin. You could be in Canada or Australia as a white person, but you will still be a foreigner to Asians. You can live in Korea, Japan, or China for decades, be married to an Asian, and you will still be in this outgroup of foreigner. So you wonder as a white person, if it’s not just the color of my skin, what is still lacking that makes me perpetually an outsider? The shit Asians say can seem confusing and arbitrary if not outright racist. Allow me to translate.
High and Low Context Culture
You might have heard of the term high and low context before–yes, a white sociologist coined the term obv– and you can roughly equate them with city/hillbilly, liberal/conservative as well. It’s not a color of your skin thing; the Nordic countries are likely high context cultures too. The stereotype is that Finns are introverted, or that they are unfriendly and slow to warm, and speak few words. Low cultural (and often racial) diversity, and long history and tradition, are almost invariably required ingredients for high context cultures. It’s also not necessarily a national or racial thing; Wikipedia tells you that New York is low context; Texas is high context.
Put simply, it’s shared understanding and values. Word for word, high context cultures are efficient. Little needs to be said verbally to convey deep meaning. Expression, pauses, idiomatic choice, tone, and nonverbal cues fill out the gaps in syntax and semantics. The speaker needs to be choosy in the few words that they utter, but the onus is on the listener to “get it.” The requirement and expectation for the listener is incredibly high; not only do you have to have the cultural understanding; you have to essentially agree culturally with the speaker. The best explanation of the concept of context to a low context person is, “if you have to break down the components of a joke, it’s no longer funny.” The humor-deaf person doesn’t have the required shared assumptions to get the joke immediately via emotional and instantaneous agreeance. It requires the listener to be “in on it.” For the low context foreigner (and the dude who just doesn’t get the joke), being othered in this way feels unreasonable and arbitrary.
“Westerners are loud. Westerners are motor mouths that don’t stop talking.”
Any language you don’t understand seems loud. This is a fact. However, it’s also true that “Westerners” which automatically get batched in with low context cultures, do in fact, talk way more. In low context mixed cultures, logical connection and explicit and clear communication is essential to convey meaning accurately. Zero agreement or cultural understanding is assumed, and the onus is entirely on the speaker to express themselves clearly enough. If you live in Vancouver, for example, you cannot communicate anything with anyone if you assumed that they share your cultural assumptions and just “get it” so they can “fill in the blanks.” For the FOBs, this is why the white dude seemingly can’t stop talking about himself and says the same fucking thing in 5 different ways, just in case you didn’t get it the other 4 times. In a high context culture, elucidating everything verbally in detail so there is no misunderstanding is savage and uncultured. To the low context person, high context is illogical, passive aggressive and just all around fucked up.
Me: What do you think of Trump?
Dad: …seems fitting for an American president. …I almost feel bad for your generation.
Translated for low context people: Americans are brash individualistic tacky uncivilized fucking morons that revel in their mud of anti-intellectualism. Why wouldn’t they champion Trump? It’s a perfect embodiment of all that they are: Stupid, loud, unthinking, and proud of it. ROFL, but yeah… I feel bad for your generation since you have to live in a world where such button clickers can get to such a position of power.
Note the word count efficiency? An American who could speak Japanese could have been right there in that same room, and still not interpret any of the unsaid things, either through expression or any other tics that they could notice. A foreigner is isolated by more than space. The really complicated thing that I can’t even translate well is that my dad isn’t even anti-American at all, not in the least. He just assumes that the American stereotype is true in every way so he wouldn’t even think that the American would be offended. You know the phrase, “Humor translates poorly online?” This is somewhat true for obvious reasons, but it’s actually more of a “humor translates poorly, if you’re from a low context culture.” Asians, with a few more advanced emoticons, actually get the intended meaning quite well, even online, thank you. Culture bends language and conventions. In these invariably “tribal” or close-knit cultures, it’s assumed that you share almost entirely the same values, the same morals, the same norms, and the same stereotypes of the other groups. They are collectivist.
Individualist and Collectivist Values
This is similar to my previous post, which could have been titled, conservatism explained like you’re a liberal. Alternatively, you can call them collectivist morals and individualist morals. The key phrase that explains Asian morality or value is, “the social order is the moral order.” Similar to the west, the more you go to the countryside, the more this rings true. Collectivist morality doesn’t make a big distinction between reasoned morals and the gut feels.
The individual says:
- Don’t harm me.
- Be fair to me.
- Don’t tread on me.
Society is more imposing:
- Respect authority (Obey your parents/the older person/brother/men)
- Be loyal (To your family, clan, company, country)
- Be pure/clean (Don’t eat with the unclean hand; premarital sex taboos, food taboos, homophobia, xenophobia)
You might understand this in terms of liberalism and conservatism. Conservative values are essentially that of social cohesion while liberalism is that of individual liberty, freedom and equality. Liberals have difficulty (I mean serious difficulty) understanding the conservative worldview, because they are not universal nor are they logical. They seem like completely arbitrary nonsense that serve no purpose other than to justify discrimination, silly tribalism and general hate-mongering.
Western liberalism has a cerebral, rationalist foundation. This is why oddly, individualist ethics became Universal Principles. Whether you take a Kantian line (do unto others…) or a utilitarian line (maximize happiness by…) liberalism is globalist in that the ethics are non-tribal. You, your tribe, your nation doesn’t deserve special status since that’s an arbitrary distinction.
- Don’t harm me → Do no harm
- Be fair to me → Be fair
- Don’t tread on me → Respect individual freedom
Asian conservatism is centered around the larger social realities and cohesion over individual freedom.
- Obey the eldest brother
- Be loyal to family/clan/country; kill the traitor
- Women shouldn’t eat in the living room with men
Arbitrary sexism, tribalism, barbarism, plain and simple right? It’s certainly true that conservatism (white, Asian, or otherwise) is arbitrary, but it’s not random or nonsensical.
I and Somalia against the world; I and my clan against Somalia; I and my family against the clan; I and my brother against the family; I against my brother.
It’s beehive ethics. The individual bee may die, but the hive lives on. Core identity is via membership and association. I, Shu of X family, of Y clan of the Japanese nation. I’m Takako, wife of X who works at Y. Identity is fundamentally relational. The relations themselves have an order and hierarchy. You are loyal to your family before the clan; loyal to the clan before the nation. Loyal to the nation before humankind. This is why conservatives get triggered when their country spends resources to help another country like the Iraq thing and Trudeau. When funds are spent globally, conservatives, white or Asian, will suddenly become passionate about “critical” domestic problems that they didn’t give a donkey’s shit about until just now, like homeless people. As stupid as this seems to a white liberal, Asians understand this intuitively. This is because the moral circle of nation is an inner circle compared to humanity in general, just like the family circle is closer than the circles of clan and nation. When you put outer circle groups above inner circle groups, it’s a disruption in the hierarchical order, and is a sin of disloyalty for a conservative.
The family is at the centre of Asians. It’s respect to the family; loyalty to the family, and even purity to the family that is at the core. Then it’s respect, loyalty, and purity to the high school/university/company, and at a higher level, the country. For the confused white liberal, once you see that authority, loyalty, and purity are ways of preserving relational identity, and keeping peace within a monoculture, you can see the xenophobia and sexism as arbitrary, but no longer random.
Why does the first male get everything? If it’s preordained from birth you aren’t jealous, and you’re not going to kill each other over the property. Is it arbitrary and stupid? Damn right it is. Is it nonsensical? No.
The White Beehive
Beehives feel good; that’s why we do it, white, black, or purple. The white beehive revolves around religion. Possibly because beehive morality was so prevalent, or for other culturally unique reasons, monotheistic religions never really got far in East Asia. The “Asian” religions traditionally don’t have a very strong concept of a singular God. They’re more “feel” Gods that you can believe flexibly, or not at all, interpreted however the hell you want more or less. Kind of like Christians in the city. If you tell the priest you see it this way, he’ll tell you, “cool beans” and be focused on charging you for the ceremony, and there are many of them in Asia. The mainstream idea of religion in Asia is secular ceremony. So when the Christian preacher talks about the one true God and the miracle of Christ, and that other religions are false, most Asians will think, “man, you white folks are superstitious/cultish/weird and cray.”
While Asians formed families and clans for their beehive fix, white people went all in on religion to preserve the hive. Monotheism features strongly in “white” religions, and they are by definition, exclusionary. My religion is the one true religion. Us against them. It’s directly in the holy texts, and the messages, if you can interpret it in a naturalistic way is, “this is how we make our tribe powerful and take over the world.” The overarching message of Abrahamic religions is that of tribal expansion.
White people often fumble in these spots because the rest of their culture and logic is individualistic. They use words like politically correct when they can’t justify what they want to say in a way that they don’t find acceptable by their own standards. That, and it’s hard to see your own filters; you just see the world that way.
Religious freedom (for my religion) (to persecute homosexuals, Muslims, and atheists). Fumble.
The Asian kills dolphins and whales! They eat dogs! What savages! White people, you’re welcome to do as much mental gymnastics as you need to logically justify why eating pigs and cows at that the rate you do is cool but eating whales is not. The more you try, the more you will Fumble.
Even in liberal white cities, we preserve the hive in museums, in rituals. We love to say, “my hive is great; yours is barbaric” but we liberals know that it’s illogical. Beehives predate the individual. Our reptilian brains are more powerful (although still illogical) and they are driven by emotions associated with the beehive.
- Sports teams
- Army/Police Culture
- Corporate Cultures
The more liberal you lean, the more suspicious you are of hive mentality and hive behavior. If you hear the sound of bees, you automatically recoil because you associate it with authority, loyalty, and sanctity, which is associated with arbitrariness, discrimination, and authoritarianism. This is why you take the same event (like the North Dakota Pipeline Protest), and both sides will, with zero thought or research, assume, and interpret the events completely differently. [Those violent protesters; those nazi police] Conservatives love the army and police and hate protesters of all ilks. The army embodies the core virtues of the hive: Selflessness, discipline, and loyalty for the corp. It’s the same reason that city liberals are at an instinctual level, recoiled by them. They sense authoritarianism, abuse of victims and the powerless, the hallmarks of tribalism in this culture.
If you’re soundly a city liberal, you probably think nationalism is stupid. You’d be right technically; it is in fact, stupid and irrational. The person who thinks that their family or clan is the best at least knows their side of the fence well. The nationalist is truly an idiot because they know like 0.01% of the team on their own side, never mind everyone else. It makes no fucking sense. We like to call the Olympics “healthy nationalism.” We contain (in my view) stupidity inside rituals to minimize the damage. The liberal has small pockets where the collective values still live. Loyalty to sports teams are a real thing among liberals (again, this individualist Asian thinks sport team loyalists are one of the most illogical and stupid people on earth, and shouldn’t be allowed to vote). Anyway you can see why this particular Asian hates meeting relatives; I want people to make sense, but they don’t for the most part.
Liberals love to say that they’re open-minded. Stop saying that; you’re not. Eating ethnic food doesn’t make you fucking open-minded. Humility makes you open-minded.
There’s a poster.
Dog → Friend
Pig → Food
Hillbilly: Snake → Food
City dude: Snake → OMG, GTFO
Hillbilly: My dog: Friend. Other Dogs → Food, my dog’s food
City dude: Dogs → Friend
Whatever. Narcissism of small differences. The morally consistent answer is clearly veganism, but if you eat meat, don’t fumble. Say it like I do, “I eat meat because I fucking like it.” Try, “I don’t eat snakes because it’s fucking gross.”
I’ll end with a personal anecdote. Friends know I mostly eat white food, but really almost any kind of food and generally avoid Japanese food. Some people think it’s because I don’t like Japanese food. It’s because I have higher demands for Japanese food.
White guy cooks Indian food: Cool let’s fucking do it.
Indian guy cooks Chinese food: Cool let’s fucking do it.
Chinese guy cooks Ethiopian food: Cool let’s fucking do it.
Non-Japanese person makes Japanese food: Won’t eat there.
Isn’t it poss that they could learn to cook well: Poss, but I won’t risk it.
Isn’t that racist? Don’t know; don’t care, but I still won’t eat there.
Why not? They just don’t get it; they’re foreigners.