What Is Jung And How Can We Kill It?, Part 2

Part 1

On Monday morning we talked about the concept of out-sourcing certain aspects of human self control to society.  Today I’m going to talk about why cultural relativism is wrong, something is always the best, and hopefully tie it in with the out-sourcing concept to answer the question we asked yesterday, which is essentially ‘What’s up with jung?’

Now it is said by those in the know that a stitch, made at the proper time, can save one the trouble of making nine stitches.  In other words, get ’em while they’re young.  As Rodgers and Hammerstein put it so well, You’ve got to be carefully taught.  Naturally they were talking about racism, but I think it’s fair to say that you have to be carefully taught everything.  We, my dear readers, are more than just wet robots.  Sorry, I miswrote and I am for whatever reason unable to find the backspace and left arrow key on my computer.  What I meant to say is, we are little more than wet robots.  By virtue of that fact, we consist of hardware (guts, brains, grease, hair) and software (ideas, memes, facial expressions, salsa recipes).  For the most part we have little control over the hardware, but the software is all up to circumstance, nurture and other externalities, as well as our own choice.

It would be very unpleasant to believe, as the dictionary definition of ‘racism’ states, that substantial human differences stem from our race.  I would hate a world in which this were true, no matter how much it resembled the Lord of the Rings.  What is true is that most of the differences between people can be traced back to the ideas that they carry around in their heads, most of which they get from their ‘culture’ proper, but many of which come from things we might consider to be super-cultural, lest we water down the meaning of the word culture until it’s equivalent with the word ‘environment’.  Culture can tend to map onto race, as people show a pernicious tendency to marry into their own culture and thus reinforce a connection between physical characteristics and cultural traits.

Thus I have made it perfectly clear that I am not talking about race, correct?  So we can move on?  OK. 

As I’ve said before, people are running different ‘software’ on their brains, which they’ve picked up from those around them.  Besides that, the culture or state in which people lives also determines what needs to be on-board and what can be out-sourced.  Follow?

Fantastic.  So now let’s try to talk out just one example of a function that a human being might find it useful to do.  How about negotiating one’s way through unknown humans.  There are several possible ways that an individual might go about this action that we can imagine:

  1. Be as courteous to everyone as you would be to your family and friends
  2. Maintain a base level of courtesy that allows everyone to move through the world without being touched by strangers
  3. Be all up in everyone’s business without acknowledging their humanity
  4. Be all up in everyone’s business while acknowledging their humanity
  5. Actively push and direct the people around you
  6. Be openly adversarial to strangers
  7. Just do whatever

Immediately we see that some of these are no good at all.  Number 1 appears nice, but it would mean holding doors for endless lines of strangers, giving up every seat you ever came by, etc. Not pleasant.  Likewise number 4 seems plausible but in fact is ridiculous.  If you’re acknowledging their humanity, you really couldn’t justify being up in their business, eh?  Like ‘Hey lady, I’m sorry I’m all up on you, but what choice do I have?  I don’t want to wait 2 minutes for the next train.’

There are, likewise, problems with each of the above listed ways of dealing with strangers in public places especially when you consider what it would be like if everyone were doing them at the same time.  The one undeniable fact, though, is that, among the many approaches to this common human experience, there absolutely must be a best practice.  Perhaps we can’t measure it yet, but it seems undeniable to me that the reigning Korean strategy (social contract to ignore other people’s humanity, conscious decision not to connect to strangers in any way) is bad for society and thus likely not optimal.  Again, I can’t prove it, but I would happily concede if you can prove me wrong, i.e. that there is no best way to deal with this situation.  Furthermore, I am not claiming that my or any other person’s way of dealing with this situation is the best.  I am, however, unequivocally stating that my way of interacting with strangers is better than the Korean way.

And the Korean way of inducing group bonding and teaching respect for one’s elders are, to me, unequivocally superior to those which I came pre-loaded with.  They’re the OpenOffice to my American Microsoft Word, so to speak.  But it’s not about which country is better, but certainly if we acknowledge the fact that the chances of two different cultures being exactly equally ‘good’ in any one regard is vanishingly small, then perhaps we could make a list of best practices, so to speak, by just looking at Korea and North America.

Sample (i.e. joke) list:

  • Best way to dispose of toilet paper: flush
  • Best relationship to alcohol: get it out of your system while you’re young
  • Best way to cut paper/food: scissors
  • Best thing to eat at the movie theater: buttered something
  • Best time to drink coffee: in the morning (sorry ajummas with nothing better to do than sit around Starbucks all day)

Anyway, you see what I’m getting at.  When there are two ways of doing things, one is likely to be better than the other.  Think about that stupid Dr. Seuss The Butter Battle Book, about the war between the people who ate bread buttered on the bottom versus the people who ate butter-side-up, which was essentially about what Freud called the narcissism of small differences.  I know that Dr. Seuss is enshrined as one of the patron saints of the lower-middle brow, with people giving his books to high school graduates and such and pretending its a huge departure for them to be reading something so simple, but I’m afraid I must point out what a completely idiotic story this is.  The basic idea, an arms race born out of a disagreement over which side to butter bread, was, according to Wikipedia, based on Seuss’s own belief in the moral equivalence of the Soviet Union and the United States.  But he used as his metaphor for this equivalence two divergent methods of eating buttered bread, one of which is clearly superior to the other.

And that, as you can probably guess by now, was the actual case at the time.  The Cold War was, in fact, about something, a good way of life versus a bad one.  Not that all qualitative differences between two things should lead to an arms race, but neither should we pretend that things don’t need to be changed that most certainly do need to be changed.

And who, pray tell, is going to change things?  We’ll discuss that in part 5.  The answer will blow your mind.

The important thing is that we have so far established two important concepts.  The first is that each culture makes a decision between internalizing and out-sourcing certain social functions.  The second is that there is always a best way to do any thing.  What does it all have to do with jung?

Find out in part 3!

Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


~ by Joe on July 1, 2008.

4 Responses to “What Is Jung And How Can We Kill It?, Part 2”

  1. Beautiful.

  2. Joe,

    A couple of tiny monkeywrenches for you:

    1. I’m not so sure I’m convinced that every problem has a “best solution” because it really depends on the criteria you have for measuring “best.”

    For example, both the Soviet and the American system, independently and given enough time, could have (or may yet) lead to the extinction of the human species much more rapidly than if we’d all remained hunter-gatherers. From an alien’s eye view, there is a degree of equivalency since they were both CO2-choked industrial economies of a certain kind. But remaining hunter-gatherers would mean losing a lot of what makes me life worthwhile to me, subjectively. So unless we can establish universal criteria, then it’s hard to establish a “best” way of doing things.

    And since cultures change at the speed of death, societies in relatively accelerated transition will have an even bigger range of discrepancies in their criteria for what constitutes those criteria.

    Hence so many younger Koreans I know would, indeed, agree with you that your way of interacting with strangers is better than the “Korean way.”

    2. I’m curious why you said earlier that the Korean way of bonding with peers is better than the one you came with, since from what I’ve seen and heard, it contradicts what you say is the best relationship with alcohol (getting it out of your system). My own research suggests soju plays a significant role in bonding among working adult males, as well as students.

    3. You’re a master of suspense. I know I’ll be back tomorrow for part three, as I’m biting my nails even now to see who will change things in part 5. If it’s the pickled soy sauce crab who’s going to save the day, I’m going to cry.

  3. Here’s my thought on this question, Gord. All things being equal, if you change each variable one at a time, you will find that no two will be equal, and therefore there will always be best and worst among available options.

    Now let’s take an example like government, ignoring the fact that governments are an order of magnitude above what I’m talking about as they each consist of hundreds of characteristics. Let’s say we have the British government and the French government. Given the omnipotence to perform perfect double blinded experiments we would find out which of all available options is the best. We do not, and will never, have the ability to do this for every variable, but over time we’ll get better. So let’s say we discover that, on whatever scale we decide to use to measure the amount of welfare or happiness or whatever general measure we measure, the British system is 5 points better than the French system. Well maybe it would cost 6 points of happiness/welfare/whatever for the French to adopt the British system.

    I know I’m not making much of an argument here, but what I’m getting at is that if you accept the idea that no two options have equal outcomes then you are bound to tacitly accept the premise that there is a best way to do everything, however difficult it may be for us to actually determine what that may be and put it into practice.

    And in your example of the US and Soviet Union in isolation, the best one would be the one that destroyed the world slowest.

    2. If you’d been as loyal a reader of the blog a few months ago as you are now you’d know that I have seen the bonding isolated from the drinking and it is indeed a good thing.

    3. I’m speechless.

  4. Hmm.


    … in your example of the US and Soviet Union in isolation, the best one would be the one that destroyed the world slowest.

    Well, what I meantersay is that at some point, prioritizing values will enter into this. For example, if we discover that mass extinction events capable of wiping out all life in a large portion of a galaxy are common enough to definitively resolve the (ostensible) Fermi paradox — and to suggest that the more concentrated the population of humans is in the universe, the likelier we are to go extinct within any given timeframe — then we have to ask ourselves: Does the long term survival of humans matter more than the quality of life for humans alive now and for the foreseeable future? To what degree is one prioritized over the other?

    Because if we accept extinction as inevitable and focus on quality of life, we’ll find one best answer, and if we decide extinction is unacceptable and make whatever sacrifices it takes to get humans (in some form or other, recognizable or otherwise) offworld, we’ll find another best answer.

    This highlights what looks to me like a missing bit in your explanation: that there is always a “best” approach for any desired outcome. But what our society thinks is a desirable outcome (on subways, for example, less stressful and more cordial interactions, greater public safety & health, relative enjoyment of public life and movement within the public sphere) might not be what Korean society prioritizes as the “desired outcome.”

    More than that, though, and I might as well post my Gin & Soju thing here instead of on my own site.

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