Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Generalizations, etc

Generalizations and Twisted Logic.

It is impossible to explain anything or even describe anything without resorting to some sort of generalizations. Say, you come up with a phrase like this: “Antarctica is cold”. This statement is a generalization. People can tell you- not all of Antarctica is cold and not always. Someone who lives there will say something in like-“well; it is not too cold for me”.

It is not too cold for a penguin, either. They live OK there and do not complain. However, if you say that average temperatures in Antarctica are lower than average temperatures in 90% of the world, which makes it quite cold for most people, then you will hit the nail on the head. Few people could argue with your statement.

When talking about this or that country, if we overly generalize, we will get these responses: 1) Not all, only some people. 2) You, too.

And if you generalize about people who are not white, you will get this response: 3) You are a racist. You can also get this response- 4) I talked to my uncle and he said he had been there and he says it is not like that at all.

Here are some examples:

Your statement:

A country X is dirty and corrupt, and you can’t trust anybody there.

Responses will be something like this:

Not all of the country is corrupt, only some people. Most are good. Your country is dirty and corrupt, too. Ah, you are a racist; you don’t like “X”-ians. My aunt has lived in country X and then she has also lived in the Bronx/London, and she says streets are dirty there, too.

Usually such responses will leave you speechless and without recourse to argue back. The entire argument is difficult to win because the first statement is too blank and the answers are just as fallacious. The one who begins such an argument is bound to lose because it is hard to use correct logic to conduct a dignified debate.

Here is a better statement:

Country X has an uncomfortably high general level of corruption making conduct of business there quite risky. One runs a very high possibility of losing one’s money as the commercial climate is too unstable for an international investor in comparison with investing in more modern countries. Also, the general level of cleanliness is about one fourth of what it would be in a developed country such as the US, UK, and one can get a dangerous disease there quite easily.

It is very hard to argue with above statements.

Let’s try again:

Blank Statement: I don’t want to marry a woman in country Y. They are all a bunch of whores and floozies who are only after your money.

Here are responses coming your way:

1) Not all. Only some girls; same as in your country. There are bad women and prostitutes all over the world, so what’s the difference?

2) Your country is the same. They are all whores there, too.

3) You are a racist and you hate my people, right? Screw you, you bigoted jerk! Don’t come here ‘cause we will kick you’re a##!

4) No, they are not. My brother has married one and she is not a floozy.

Let’s try a better way of putting it:

Marrying a woman from country Y is a bit too risky for me. As compared to a lot of other countries I have been to, there seems to be too high a level of promiscuity. Experts have conducted surveys, and these say that some 80% of women there engage in premarital sex. In comparison, only 10% of women in country A do that. So, as you can see, it is better for me to look for a wife in country A than in country Y. My chances in A are better.

People would usually have nothing to say to something like that.

Let’s try this one:

Blank Statement:

Country B is dangerous and the people there are a bunch of criminals. I ain’t goin’ there. They are all hoodlums and thugs, and they’re gonna beat me up.

OK, get ready for the pat and idiotic answer:

Not all. Same as in other countries, some people are good and some are bad. You have criminals where you are, too. And I have known a guy from country B and he was a nice guy. And I think you are saying that because you are just prejudiced and you don’t like people from country B.

Now, let’s do a more civilized generalization:

Country B has an unusually high crime rate. Actually, it ranks the 3d highest in the world in the number of murders, kidnappings, rapes and armed robberies committed at any given time both in the metropolitan areas and the countryside. In comparison, my native country ranks only the 156th- near the bottom, that is, meaning, it is one of the safest places in the world with the lowest per capita number of crimes. There has not been a kidnapping case for 25 years; whereas, in country B, some 20 kidnappings occur every year. This is why I think Country B is just too dangerous for me to go to at this time.

Your opponent is left speechless and can’t argue back.

However, in some countries, particularly those with a big inferiority complex, a high level of mythological patriotism or ethnic fundamentalism, one should avoid making any kinds of generalizations except positive ones. Unless one is whispering it to another PT in some expat bar without the natives being present, any kind of statement (logical or illogical) about another’s country should be positive even if you feel like cussing your heart out.

Well, on the second thought: for the latter; there are always Internet bulletin boards where you can pour out your frustrations under a fictitious nick name and vent with almost total impunity.

PS: One of the most unpleasant topics that does not seem to yield to civilized rules of arguments is that of racial or other discrimination. Few people are going to admit it about their own country. They come up with statements such as “ not all, same as in other countrie-, some people are prejudiced and some are not. I, for example, am not and I love all people”.

Again, prejudice and discrimination are measurable. There are polls, you know, and surveys, and the such. They take a cross section of the population and give them a questionnaire- “How would you feel if a person of such and such a race would try and rent an apartment from you? How do you feel about your daughter marrying a person of X race/ nationality?” etc.

In some countries the results speak for themselves. Say, in country A, 87% of the population do not want any foreigners to come and live there. In country B, 94 % of the population would not mind. In country C, 79% of fathers said they would not want people of a certain nationality to become citizens of the country. See what I mean?

These polls, while not 100% accurate, do give you a general picture of the social climate in the country vis-à-vis you or people who want to move there. If you go and live there, you will be surprised at how such results will match the way people will treat a certain kind of outsiders in real life.

In addition to that, even if a small minority is against a certain group, that can still translate into enough unpleasant incidents to make your life quite unlivable there. A case in point: I have met a certain Gulf Arab gentleman who went to study in Malaysia. He related to me a very unpleasant behavioral trend in that country which affected his sojourn there which lasted several months.

Malaysia has a sizeable ethnic Indian minority and quite a few, while again, a minority, of such Malaysian Indians seem to be vocally prejudiced against Arabs. He would recall being verbally abused on almost a daily basis. He would walk down the street and, in a very predictable pattern, sooner or later, there would be an ethnic Indian uttering unpleasant epithets about Arabs and even insulting the gentleman directly. “You accursed Arab, get stuffed!” “Get out of here, you Arab!”

Now if you bring up this topic with a Malaysian, there would be a very strange remark coming your way: “Oh, no, most people in my country are not like that. Most people are good. We are not prejudiced. ”

However, who cares how most people are if every week you get insulted three/four times, and you cannot even go outside at night without the fear of being verbally, and possibly physically, assaulted. Who cares if these are in the minority? If this happens with uncomfortable for you regularity and does not stop, I would say that either you would have to disguise yourself, live with it or just move out. However, complaining to Malaysians will not help as they would just say” What? Do all Malaysians do it?”

How would they know what it’s like being an Arab there? Are they themselves Arabs?

Imagine if he had to live there for years and years. He would be cursed some 150 times a year. Kind of grates on your nerves, even if “all Malaysians do not do it”, wouldn’t you agree?

Not every mosquito in the swamp will bite you but if enough bite you to give you malaria, does it matter if these are in the minority?

Another very unpleasant topic has been that of the rise of racist groups in Russia and Germany. If you start asking questions on the Internet such as” Are Russians racist?” or “Is it true that Germans are racist?” you will be flooded with the same fallacious torrents of ” I am a German/Russian. I am not prejudiced”, etc. But how would they know what it would be like on a daily basis there for a member of an unpopular minority? Are they themselves a minority?

Skinheads in Russia now number 60,000 or so. Sure, for a country of 140,000,000 this number is not big, but would you want to ride the Moscow subway as a person of color? Even if you run into three of such young punks, your life could be in grave danger. The number of hate crimes in Russia is surging on a yearly basis and does not seem to abate. Yup, most Russians are OK, but tell that to families of people who had been murdered by these monsters and ask them if they would recommend young people from their town to go and study in Moscow.

Justice? What justice?

In many so called developing (read: underdeveloped and hopelessly corrupt) countries the police can be most unhelpful, lazy, dishonest and hostile. In tourist areas they sometimes have Tourist Police which was established with the sole purpose of protecting temporary visitors from being ripped off, swindled or assaulted.

These, while not very efficient, are much better than the regular police force as well as the whole judicial system there. To many of the local cops, a foreigner is either a nuisance or a cash cow and they are rarely, if ever, on your side. Unless, of course, you are a big shot exec or a high-ranking diplomat. Not if you are a Joe Expat living on a $1200 a month pension in a tropical “paradise”.

The rule of thumb, therefore, is- if you can avoid it at all, stay as far away from the local cops as possible and try not to get involved with arguments or conflicts with the locals no matter what. If you do, you can expect little help from the police, and the locals can twist the whole thing to make you look guilty and responsible. You are a foreigner, so in many places in the world, you are automatically at fault. The other party is a local, so, in the case of their word against yours, you lose. He is one of them; you are not. End of the story.

A case in point is: a Thai driver had a traffic accident in a certain oil-rich state where he happened to be working at the time. When he appeared in court, the judge said: “It is your fault- if you had not come to our country, this accident would not have happened”. So, the case was decided against the poor Thai laborer.

However, expats residing in Thailand were reading the article with wry smirks. Because you know why? They do the same in Thailand if a foreigner hits a Thai, you see. If you call the police, it is automatically your fault. He is a Thai, you are a “farang”- you pay. In some cases, these realities of local “justice” make one want to be very cautious and even avoid driving altogether. Taxis are cheap, so one can just take those. The problem with taxis is that every new driver is a stranger and many of such try and over charge you, and rip you off. In some cases, it is advisable that if you want to avoid such unpleasantness altogether, that you have a permanent taxi- or a private driver who can take you around. I, personally, prefer having a motorcycle which, while not very safe as a means of transportation is easier to control, and, in case of accidents, causes less damage.

In cases of disputes with private individuals, I would advise making a retreat, swallowing your pride and humbly bowing out of any argument. Let them feel like they are winning. And try not to use the local court system except if you know a powerful lawyer there who can help you navigate it. It can be a nightmare if you try to do it alone.

Is there any good thing in the local “justice” structure? Well, yes, I guess,there is the bribery system and if you do not mind throwing your money around on bribes which can run into a tidy sum of money depending on the nature of your transgression you can often weasel your way out of some very critical tightspots. There have been cases of hapless expatriates who have been able to grease the palm of the right official and skip the country as a result without ever serving their term. But it’s another risky proposition if you ask me. At times, they do not live up to their end of the bargain and disappear with your bribe money without rendering the promised services. There is often little honor between the briber and the “bribee”.

Just keep your nose clean, be humble and discreet, smile a lot, apologize profusely and be extremely careful when in the countries where their justice system is still “developing”.

Scruffy TV Personalities.

One thing I saw on Australian TV that surprised me was that they were quite relaxed about their TV anchors not wearing a tie, appearing without makeup or looking scruffy in general. Some guys were bald and looking quite happy nonetheless.

I have noticed the same thing when in watching singers on Arab MTV. There were quite a few very overweight singers and some were extremely obese and yet, they were singing romantic songs while representing their country on TV. I guess people in some countries are less hung up on physical appearance. It is kind of good because fat or scruffy people in the audience do not feel inferior to plastic aphrodites and well-groomed adonises, but at the same time, shouldn’t there be a role model for fitness or better dress habits?

The Anal or Faceless Other.

One thing I have noticed about war movies is that often the enemy in those is not shown as cruel but as kind of, well, anal and humorless, tense and sullen. While “one of our boys” is shown as relaxed, friendly; strutting around with his cap pushed to the back of his head. Hogan’s Heroes can be a prime example. Think about the way a German is shown- anal and “strict”. It seems that the audience can relate more to such portrayal than if the studios were showing them as outright “bad” people. I guess a serious, jokeless other is even more disliked than someone who is just cruel.

When visiting other countries, one sees that in their versions of war movies, they did the same, although sometimes not showing one of theirs as a “buddy”- type but as someone sentimental and dreamy, almost maudlin, while the enemy would be shown as totally faceless, or ,sometimes, not shown at all. Instead, the other side would be just their war craft- planes, tanks, etc. with no people at all. When in Japan, watching Japanese documentaries about the war in the Pacific from their perspective showed the tendency of dehumanizing the enemy by often now showing enemy at all.

I guess different cultures have different ways of pleasing their audience.

Locals in Big Cities vs. Smaller Towns.

Big cities are more cosmopolitan, and one can get lost in them and ‘kind of’ fit in. However, they are also bad places to get to know the locals. There are so many foreigners there that the natives tend to keep to themselves while grouping alien residents into a grey and unwelcome “them”. Tokyo would be a prime example as getting to know Tokyoites is not very easy.

When one goes to smaller towns, one sticks out more and also encounters all kind of weird reactions from the locals, overly bold stares, gossip and total lack of privacy. In some areas one becomes not a celebrity but a notoriety by simply being there. People will be shocked by having you around and not be used to dealing with someone like yourself. The barriers will look bigger on surface, but at the same time, paradoxically, it will be easier to get to know people if one stays there longer, as one will eventually become either recognized as part of, or at least, comfortably encysted into, the local community. In big cities, however, while one may not evoke any bizarre response from the natives except an occasional yawn, one runs the risk of forever remaining marginalized since one can be stereotyped much longer and never really treated as an individual or a member of the community. So in some ways, while the entry into smaller towns is tougher, it is in the end, a better way of joining the local society than staying in a big city where you are just another “one of those”.


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