Dichotomic Thinking

If there’s one thing I get tired of, its how westerners (especially Americans) can’t get out of the childish “two sides to every coin” mentality. In real life, things are so complicated that if you ever can narrow it down to a dichotomy, then you either don’t have the facts or you’re too stupid to understand them.

Take, for example, “Science vs. Religion.” Atheists all come out and say that there are all sorts of contradictions in the Bible, that Christians have suppressed knowledge and science has proven most of what the Bible says could never have happened. Okay, that’s a good reason for not believing in Christianity. Therein highlights the mistake: “Science vs. Religion” assumes that Religion = Christianity and conveniently forgets that there are other religions, religions that are nothing like Christianity.

So what, is Science also at war with Buddhism, Tao, Paganism, Cthulhu-worship and Super Bowl Sunday? If not, then its not really “Science vs. Religion” is it? Its just “Science vs. Christianity.” GET IT RIGHT!

But on a serious note, its kind of a symptom of how uninformed our culture is. As they say, the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know. If people were better-educated then we wouldn’t be stuck as twelve-year-olds, thinking that everything is about the Autobots fighting the Decepticons and that any new faction introduced is on one side or the other.

We need to grow up.

Time to eat your Wheaties, kids!


The Blue Bears Paradox

While watching an episode of Ronin Warriors, I got to thinking about “the Blue Bears Paradox.” Just so you won’t have to scroll through the back-entries, the “paradox” is when you hate a work of fiction, but then like another work of fiction that is similar in ways to the one you hate.

I think the real problem here though, is the trend towards simplification, especially among nerd cliques. Most nerds never stop being fifteen years old, and when I was that age I tried to make everything fit into algorithms I could understand. It really wasn’t until about five years ago that I finally realized the world doesn’t work that way–some things are so complicated that you inherently can not explain them without simplifying them.

One experience I’ve had along these lines is explaining to people why Freeza (of Dragon Ball Z) was a good villain, while his brother Cooler (a character only introduced in the movies) was lame. To most people, Freeza and Cooler are the same character–they can’t see the difference. But its there.

The difference is that Freeza had a level of credibility about him. While he was insanely powerful, he could still be shaken and surprised. He took a buffed-up kamehame-ha and came away scratched, a fact that Goku missed… but it upset the Emperor of the Universe. He took a Genki Dama, and though he came out of it alive, he was panting and sweating and had brusies and a swollen eye, and Freeza himself said “I don’t know how I survived that…!” This is what makes him impressive: You know he’s taking damage, but he’s still in there, toughing it out.

Cooler has none of this. Unlike Freeza, Cooler basically comes to the party with God Mode turned on, and wipes the floor with the Z-Warriors. Keep in mind that Vegeta and Piccolo both actually put up a reasonable fight against Freeza, but against Cooler they both go down in a matter of seconds. Not only that, but you could kinda-understand Freeza as a character, but Cooler’s whole personality is that he wanted to start a fight, basically just because. Cooler then, comes off as a contrived Mary Sue rather than a believable character.

Now here’s the wham-banger: Even by explaining the differences between the two characters, I still simplified them. Truly, it is as the good book said: “The way that can be explained is not the true way, and the name that can be named is not the eternal name.” For many, the acquisition of knowledge is analogous to what happens when you copy an 8gig DVD to a 4gig DVD-R. It’s not that your opinions are self-serving or inconsistent, its that the other guy has a lower bitrate ;).

Hmmm… now that I’ve written this, I’m kind of not satisfied. This is one of those cases where I know what I’m trying to explain, but it was just… every possible word and method I thought I could use to do so just feels wrong some how. The above was my best effort, but its still nowhere near good enough. Guess I’ll just have to live with it.

Course, I can always edit later if I think of something.

The best argument against Japanophilia

I’m a Japanophile, and as a Japanophile I’ve heard all the tired arguments about what’s wrong with Japan and why I should think that America is so awesome. A lot of those arguments are based in either assumption/ignorance (“dude, anime is just as bad as western cartoons, we just only get the good stuff”) or one-sided xenophobia (“their history books lie about war crimes, we must hate them!”) to just believing whatever you read on Sankaku Complex (“isn’t Japan the country where everyone plays rape simulators?”) Most of these can be dismissed because anyone who isn’t stupid can immediately see why they’re wrong.

Last night I read this passage:

It is vulgar and foolish to look down upon the ways of one’s own district as being boorish, or to even be open to the persuasion of the other place’s ways and to think about giving up one’s own. That one’s own district is unsophisticated and unpolished is a great treasure. Imitating another style is simply a sham.

A certain man said to the priest Shungaku, “The Lotus Sutra Sect’s character is not good because it’s so fearsome.”

Shungaku replied, “It is by reason of its fearsome character that it is the Lotus Sutra Sect. If its character were not so, it would be a different sect altogether.” This is reasonable.

These sage words come from no other source than Hagakure, written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo and translated by William Scott Wilson.

This actually makes me more of a Japanophile.

Think about it: Japan is such an awesome country that the only country that can convincingly criticize it is Japan itself. There’s something to be said for that.