31 Oct 2009

Stupid comments reflect dubious perception

In the comments to this post, J [blogger profile] wrote the following:
BTW, something is wrong when a students always says that the teacher is right. Why are Oriental people so comformist? Destroy your critics!
Let's break down this comment into its component parts:*
  • "something is wrong when a students always says that the teacher is right."

    True. That student is not necessarily thinking of alternative explanations and may be over-respectful to power in an arena where power can be questioned and could be abused if not subjected to scrutiny.
  • "Why are Oriental people so comformist?"

    This is an oversimplified and racist comment. Of course, J is from Israel, and Isralis are famous for arguing with everyone and anyone ("Ask two Israelis for their opinions and you will get three"). But, J, being an oriental himself [a person from the east, even if it is the middle east or near east], will surely see how ignorant this comment is, in grouping 3+ billion people into a single category. Last week, I told my students about the scientific method, and how falsification works. This "theory" of J's is falsifiable -- and falsified -- on its face: I have met many "orientals" (a word that's meaningless in its generality), and many are NOT conformist. For example:

    Tank Man is not only one of my my heroes, but Chinese, and not a very good conformist. It is of course possible to find many heroic Israelis, but also many conformists. Of these, the worst abuse their power over Palestinians -- much like American racists abused Mexicans, Chinese, African-Americans [this is the right time to use that word], Italians, and many other "orientals." That behavior is despicable, and I will not tolerate it.

    Nevertheless, I am going to let J's comment stand, as a totem to how some people can be so ignorant and rude and illogical and -- really -- just a waste of my time and the time of others.**
  • "Destroy your critics!"

    This little tidbit is also interesting, as it reveals a childish desire to "win" instead of learn from a critic. No doubt, J would prefer all his critics to be destroyed, so he could live in a little world of "me right, always." But that's not the world that I want, and it's not the world we live in. It is necessary to respect and engage your critics if you want to learn ANYTHING -- including how to be wrong.

    Even better, a critic may become a good friend in addition to being a useful competitor.

Bottom Line: J's foolish remark reveals a profound ignorance of the world we live in, a childish desire to oversimplify and be right, and a worrying lack of interest in learning. Unfortunately, J is not the only one who has behaved this way, and this kind of behavior underlies 90+ percent of the problems that humans have with working together and getting along. Let's have less of this ignorance and more engaged, rational, respectful discussion. Thanks.

* The most bizarre thing about this comment is that Emmeline didn't even agree with me on anything in that post or the comments. (J made an earlier comment that was borderline rude, but it had some content; Emmeline responded to it politely.)

** Note that I am being very careful about denouncing what J says, not who he is. I am not interested in ad-hominem attacks, because they are not helpful and are usually wrong. I really don't know J.