30 April 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Can we understand the Oriental mind?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Can we understand the Oriental mind?

With the rise of China as a world super power we have more reasons than
ever to be sceptical about super powers these days. There is nothing
mystical or romantic about the Orient as I try to argue in my essay.
Indeed, with the three biggest countries in Asia making up a substantial
part of the wealth and population in the world super powers ought to be
held to account and not romanticised about.

In the mean Ignacio and Ruel have also shared their ideas with us before
the meeting, but first:

As you know this Sunday we are also expecting a group of friends and
philosophy students from Amsterdam to join us for the meeting. Given
that we are going to be a large group maybe those who intend to come to
the meeting would arrive as soon as possible. Apart from needing time to
organise the welcome and to get the drinks we will also need every
minute to enable as many people as possible to participate.

------notes from Ignacio
Can we understand the oriental mind?
Even dealing with this topic you will see I can't help but using the
analytical way:
Higher community sense. Everything done on "behalf" of the community is
the one that counts and matters. The individual at the service of the
community. The needs and desires of the community are the important ones
and not the individual ones. Avoid individual desires. Individual
fatalism. No community fatalism. No avoiding community goals.

Holistic approach. Holistic as based in some analytical approaches. OK
Other holistic approach is possible as in poetry. Poems are made to be
felt and not to be understand. Maybe it is the same with holistic texts.

-----link for Ruel's essay
Hi Lawrence,
I wrote a short essay on Sunday's topic. Here is the link:


----from Lawrence
Can we understand the Oriental mind?

Not so long ago, this subject would have been the equivalent of a day's
excursion into Buddhism, Taoism, Confucian thinking, Hinduism and for
the more daring a quick look at Shintoism.

This romantic view of the East has long disappeared today, if it ever
existed anyway. Simply associating today's thinking with antique
Oriental philosophy is not valid any more, mainly for two reasons. The
first reason is that when we talk about Asia we are talking about some
4.4 billion people which is approximately 60% of the world population,
distributed within 49 countries which approximately represent 30% of the
Earth's land area (Wikipedia:Asia).

That's a lot of Oriental minds and a lot of the Orient to consider. And
although, strictly speaking the Orient emphasises East Asia, we tend to
overlook that Asia stretches from the Middle East to Japan, and
including South East Asia such as the Philippines and Indonesia. With
the help of Wikipedia and millions of other websites on the internet we
now have immediate access to information about these peoples and these
countries than ever before. Basically, with all due respects to the old
masters the average person today with a connection to the internet would
know more about an Asian country in five minutes than the masters could
imagine in their life time.

The other reason why the romantic view of Asia, especially from the
perspective of our topic, does not exist anymore is because we now know
that our mind is nothing more than just the public manifestation of our
brain. And all human beings have a biological brain which is the same
for all. In other words, any differences in thinking and beliefs must be
cultural and circumstantial to one's environment. Of course, there is no
need to say that although we all have the same biological brain it does
not mean we all use it for the same thing.

The fact that we all have the same biological brain means that we are
biologically equal and therefore, can even tentatively arrive at some
universalisable postulates about the Asian mind (brain) as anyone else.

For example, a classical difference commentators usually point at,
between the Asian and Western thinking, is that the Asian mind tends to
favour the group mentality ((1); Japan) or collectivism ((2); China)
compared to individualism of western attitudes (2). We are more likely
to see ourselves as causal agents responsible for our lives whereas an
Asian person would more like see themselves as a participant in a "team"
with a priority towards team success. Let's assume for the sake of the
argument that this concept of "Asian" makes sense, the evidence is that
the cult of the individual in the East is not that much different from
the West. Kings and emperors in Asia still rule in their name, but
disguised as divine rule, and dictators like Mao Tse Tung was always the
first amongst equals. Contrast this with the concept of the separation
of powers in modern democracies of the West where the individual (at
least in theory) holds just one type of power in a collective of powers.
The West is no stranger to collectivism anymore than the East to

We must also distinguish between a collective mentality as a product of
the characteristics of the brain and a collective mentality as a
survival strategy, maybe in the form of acquiescence and servitude. No
doubt being competitive and individualistic is no less a survival
strategy than collectivism.

Another difference some might point at is the entrenched system of
hierarchy (9) in Asia. Ridged hierarchal systems exist is all walks of
life including the class and caste systems of India, or the company
hierarchy in Japan and South Korea. Indeed, Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509
that crushed in the UK in 1999 (see Wikipedia (9)) was partly attributed
to the "hierarchical" culture of the East when the first officer did not
challenge the captain who was following faulty instruments. Since then,
the airline has trained its crews to have a more "free atmosphere" in
the cockpit, thus making it one of the safest airlines. The hierarchy
system might still be present in society but clearly this case
demonstrates that reason and rationality are just as part of the Asian
mentality as any other place where human beings live.

However, the biggest challenge for the Asian mind it seems are the
concepts of personal identity and free will; both Western concepts that
imply personal responsibility and personal merit. We just cannot accept
that we are only free and responsible to the extent that we follow
orders and do what we are told. Such one sided approach will go against
the long held beliefs of harmony and order in nature (eg Spinoza) or the
yin yang complementary opposites in Chinese philosophy; and in modern
parlance, stable chaos. There is nothing puzzling about the idea of
having only duties that leads to severe inequalities; if one is free
only to obey orders than one is neither free nor acting from freewill.
Compare this with the one sided Zen conundrum of the sound of one hand
clapping, which basically only leads to confusion.

Clapping does mean and implies a sound made with the hands; but it is
not necessary to clap with two hands, one can make a sound with one hand
by striking it against one's thighs for example. People who have a hand
missing are no less able to clap at the end of a concert than a two
handed person. Today we can solve many paradoxes that once seem mystical
by using analytical philosophy and language analysis to solve them. Thus
understanding the Oriental mind should be no different than
understanding any mind given that minds and brains, as I have argued,
are the same and our range of philosophical tools apply equally well to
all minds. The challenge is not the mind but the content of the mind.

I have argued that if there is any difference between the Asian and the
Western mind it must be cultural rather than biological. Sure the
environment for an Asian mind might be different from a Western mind to
the extent that we each develop and reinforce certain traits to deal
with specific issues: for example language, risks, threats, climate and
geographical topology. But despite all else, the Asian mind can excel as
much as any other culture in such matters as: mathematics (India),
technology (Japan), culture (China), complex organization (Japan)
commerce (Taiwan), art (India, Japan and China to mention the obvious)
hospitality (SE Asia) and so on.

Having established that there is nothing to prevent us from trying to
understand the Oriental mind I also want to argue that any cultural
differences are no different from other cultures in the West. On the
other hand, culture, and religion, ought never to be used as an excuse
to disadvantage people or to justify inequity.

One of the very most important functions of the brain is to initiate
action. Indeed actions are clear opportunities to understand what the
mind is thinking. This does not mean behaviourism since behaviour can be
induced by all sorts of things that do not involve the free will of a
person (alcohol, drugs, lack of water and so on) whereas actions are
accounted for by rational arguments (culture, religion, tradition,
superiority complex, money and so on). Hence, what sort of activities
can we look at to help us understand the thinking of the Asian mind?

Today Asian people are key players in global affairs and more than ever
directly compete with the West for dominance. Compare this with the
perennial subjugation of people in Africa; where is the "Japan" of
Africa? A quick look at the GDP figures in Wikipedia (List of countries
by GDP (PPP)) the International Monetary Fund gives the following top
five countries by position (2014): 0 – The EU; 1 – China; 2 – USA; 3 –
India; 4 – Japan; 5 – Germany. With China, India and Japan collectively
representing the leading economies of the world our exercise is not so
much to understand the Oriental mind but to hold the oriental mind to
account for their actions. Admittedly a similar exercise has not been
terribly successful when the West was the dominant force in the world.

Let me take three indices to test the accountability of the Oriental
mind or rather the top economic powers: China, India and Japan. And
these indices are democracy/transparency, income and health.

The democracy index by The Economist Intelligence Unit (Wikipedia: (4))
gives for 2014: China as Authoritarian regime; Japan as Full democracy
(lower band) the same as most EU countries and USA; and India as Flawed
democracy (upper band) the same as Italy, and Portugal. Transparency
International (5) gives China for 2014 a Score of 36 and India 38 (the
higher the score the more transparent), Japan 76 and to compare the USA
74, the top country is Denmark with a score of 92. Basically, excluding
Japan, S Korea and some SE Asian countries the bulk of Asia is corrupt
and not too keen on democracy; but the same can be said of other

For my "income" index I am taking an unusual index the
"inequality-adjusted human development index" which is described in
Wikipedia as "the HDI can be viewed as an index of "potential" human
development... (6)." The most telling of this index is that no data is
available for China for 2013, Japan is ranked 19th with an index of
0.799 (the higher the number the higher the potential); India 0.0418;
USA 0.755 together with Spain whilst Norway has the highest IHDI with
0.891. I chose this index for the simple reason that earnings and wealth
indexes give an account of existing "wealth" whereas a potential
development index addresses that aspect of human beings of future
development and improvement. Thinking and planning complex actions for
the future is what makes us human beings, especially morally responsible
free agents. In other words the more "potential" and opportunities we
see ourselves as having the stronger is our sense of survival and the
keener our sense of self worth will be.

I left the health index for last because I started by arguing that given
we are biological human beings in principle there are no conceptual
barriers to understand the Oriental mind or any other mind. Biology is
the most universal characteristic we have and from this we can
universalise that all human beings will need health care sooner or
later, directly and indirectly by virtue of being a biological systems.

Although the Universal health care index (see Wikipedia (7)) is a good
indictor it in not a perfect one on the grounds that under some systems
individuals will still have to make compulsory payments to their health
care. The tax based systems which is probably the most equitable model
mainly include the following countries: United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland,
Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and the Nordic
countries. In India the reality is that quality health care is available
to those who can pay and in China patients have to pay a large
percentage for their treatment.

Another interesting indicator is the "Health expenditure - General
government expenditure on health as % of total expenditure on health
(2011)" as shown in the WHO: The World Health Statistics 2014 report
(8). This particular index is interesting for our purpose because it
reflects the political commitment to health care and hence a direct
measure of the value placed on one of the basics of human rights.
Unfortunately, the index is given by the World Health Organization in
regions, which might hide the efforts small countries who do take health
care seriously. The expenditure percentage for the South-East Asia
Region is 36.7% an increase of 4.7 points from 2011, but still the worst
of all regions, whereas for the European region it was 73.9% for 2011
and 74.2% for 2000, the best region of all. No doubt the figures for
Europe reflect the present unnatural recession plus the failed
privatization programmes in countries that were once the stalwart of
free health care.

As I have argued, health care is the best measure we can use to evaluate
empirically the rhetoric, as moral agents, from facts, we are equally
biological beings; so what's the moral principle behind not hurting a
grass hopper when the population has no access to a health care system?
Moreover, empirical measurements of our actions can give us a good
indicator of our rationality and morality. If we are indeed moral agents
then this should reflect in how we interact with each other. After all,
our sense of morality and our faculty to act stem from the same
biological source, the human brain, hence our mind.

To sum up I would argue that it is possible to understand the Oriental
mind, and we are also justified to feel puzzled and disappointed when so
many people with rich cultures and wealth are subjected to extreme
inequalities as most indexes demonstrate. The facts show that the Asian
mind is no more superior or inferior than any other mind. But it is
evident that the two major countries in Asia, India and China and the
largest countries in the world, leave a lot to be desired in the
morality index despite their rich culture and tradition in philosophy.
As a side issue, looking at the global figures for all indicators we
might conclude that being a super power, and I include the US and Russia
here, is not always compatible with being a bastion of morality.

I would, therefore, argue that we are more likely to succeed in
understanding the actions and beliefs of the Oriental mind if we dropped
the adjective "Oriental" and just tried to understand groups of people
as just people. In the meantime, what is the sound of two hands shackled
behind a person's back?

Best Lawrence

0) An interesting video on linguistic perceptions between East and West
West and East, Cultural Differences pt1
Produced by the Korean Educational Channel (EBS).

1) http://ism.intervarsity.org/resource/east-vs-west-cultural-comparison
East vs. West Cultural Comparison
April 10, 2014 - Paul Tokonaga
Humble mind and looks at the big picture (1),

What defines the Japanese character?
By Casey Baseel
Lifestyle Nov. 01, 2013
Group mentality

3) Collectivism
The History Corner
Mike Zickar
Bowling Green State University

4) Wikipedia: Democracy Index
The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy index

5) Corruption Perceptions Index 2014: Results
Transparency International

6) List of countries by inequality-adjusted HDI

7) Universal health care index

8) WHO The World Health Statistics 2014 report
"Health expenditure - General government expenditure on health as % of
total expenditure on health (2011)"

9) Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509
(also check YouTube for other information)

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Can we understand
the Oriental mind?

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