Monday, February 28, 2011

Please Stop This Type of Ethnocentric Reporting

What would we think of a person who said, "Well, I could have delivered all seven billion of us into the Good Life, but I had other priorities.” Would it be possible to have other priorities? Would any real priority be best served amid the freedom and opportunity afforded by the Good Life?

- Sam Harris (The Moral Landscape), p. 16.


Superstition Still Widespread Across High-tech Asia AFP reported today in article appearing in the Taipei Times. This tiresome feature reporting has been around ever since westerners first reported on Asia:

The services of witch doctors remain popular in multicultural Malaysia, while in hi-tech Japan, Shinto priests hold purification rites for new bullet trains and many entrepreneurs are said to seek the advice of palm readers and star gazers.

Why is this a load of ethnocentric crap? Because you will never ever see a piece from AFP that writes about the west in a vein similar to the paragraph above:
The services of Christian faith healers remain popular in multicultural America, while in hi-tech Britain, Anglican priests bless new stadiums and many movie stars and politicians in both countries are said to seek the advice of astrologers.
...in an article entitled Superstitions Still Widespread In Educated Western Countries or Educated Westerners Still Worship Semi-Mythical Palestinian Executed 2,000 Years Ago.

Because "we" have Religion while "they" have Superstition.

Hopefully this type of feature will be banished to the dust heap, and AFP and other media will write in future pieces that humans of all religious styles still believe incredibly stupid stuff despite knowing better.

CORRECTION: Originally I said AP. My apologies.

(h/t to Thoth for the nifty quote!)
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22 comments:

Thoth Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason said...

Get yourself right with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Mr. Turton, lest his noodly appendage overlook you come the End Of Days!

Anonymous said...

Chairman Mao and John Lennon would agree with your views Mike!

No Re

Gavin Sullivan said...

In a further effort to mitigate the scourge of ethnocentrism, I call upon Chinese to begin calling their country "Yi Guo"--"a country" as a replacement for the woefully ethnocentric "Zhong Guo".

les said...

At least your local Anglican is only sucking the cash from the pious and isn't poisoning the otherwise-innocent with the burning of carcinogenic paper...

Otherwise... all these dolts need to be properly schooled in logic and critical thinking ;)

Nick said...

Well said!

FOARP said...

In my own home town a ceremony is held every year to bless the fishing boats. The men of the town then compete against the neighbouring village to pull boats along the village green. If we don't do this, the boats will all sink and the town will be punished with flooding.

But then that's a religion, not a superstition . . .

FOARP said...

But then I guess this piece was acceptable to the editors at TT because it was written by someone of apparently Asian descent and therefore could not possibly be construed as racist.The fact that it might have been stupid does not seem to have crossed their minds.

FOARP said...

oh, one extra quibble - the report is an AFP one, not AP.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, FOARP. I'll have to turn on the light when I read the newspaper....

Michael Turton said...

Dammit, that's like the third time I did that too.

Anonymous said...

Judaism and Christianity do a lot of charity work. They have founded numerous hospitals and universities (including the first ones in Taiwan). Despite scandals, they have a strong ethical component, as manifest for example in the anti-slavery movement. As far as I can tell, neither Daoism nor the Chinese folk religion has any positive aspect (other than cultural interest) to compensate for all the superstition: do such-and-such in order to get such-and-such. Sure, Christianity has stuff like this in it too, but the ratio is much better. (Buddhism seems somewhere in the middle.)

Think of it this way: if none of these religions were true, then many aspects of Judaism and Christianity would still be worthwhile. It is hard to see how that could be true of Daoism or the Chinese folk religion. But perhaps posters here can suggest benefits that I've overlooked.

Michael Turton said...

Anon, a small segment of Christianity opposed slavery rather recently in history. The mainstream denominations all supported it.

Chinese temples perform all sorts of community functions, including funding scholarships, providing relief in emergencies, providing educational programs, acting as community and political centers, commenting on public policy, etc. You don't see that because you are not part of that.

But all of that has absolutely nothing to do with the point of my post, which is that it is purely ethnocentric to engage in "Othering" of Asians for believing in superstitions when westerners believe and do the same stupid shit. It is hard for me to see how a Shinto priest blessing a bullet train is any different from the Hawaiian priests who bless the missiles before a THAAD test or an Anglican priest blessing a stadium. It's hard for me to see how believing in Feng Shui is any different than believing that prayer works, especially since I come from a culture where 40% of the population holds the lunatic belief that the earth was created by a Canaanite sky god less than 10,000 years ago. No educated Asian culture believes anything as completely stupid as that!

All supernatural beliefs are equally nonsense. Wouldn't it be better to stop writing from the point of view that "we have religion, they have superstition?" Especially when you're the media.

Anonymous said...

Well said Michael!!!

Gavin Sullivan said...

I think you take your point a bit far, Michael. Even if we accept that religions are based in murk and falsehood, that doesn't take us to 'All supernatural beliefs are equally nonsense.' Athiests hold faith-based views too--and while an unapologetic heathen meself, I am concerned enough for my neighbors' feelings so as not to immediately launch into the 'stupid shit' variety of rhetoric. (I seek to convert you, bro.)

Okami said...

I think you are overblowing this. Knowing AP/AFP writers(I abhor the title journalists for them), none of them actually know religious(Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish) people. Reporters tend to be an atheistic bunch.

To put it in an analogy, It's like a person after a US presidential election not knowing anyone who voted for the other candidate and expressing surprise that the other candidate won over theirs.

Michael Turton said...

I don't know of any faith based view that I hold.

I don't know any way to determine how one supernatural view is less nonsensical than another. Do you?

Marc said...

My favorite illustration of myth vs. reality is taken from the tsunami that surged across the Indian Ocean a while back.

Western tourists stood on the shores of Thailand's resorts marveling at the curious phenomenon of the receding sea. Their "scientific" curiosity (or the need to "experience" things) was repaid with death, since most didn't know what a receding sea meant.

Meanwhile, down the coast in Southern Thailand, the elders of an indigenous tribe observed the same phenomenon, which caused them to recall their traditional myth of the "angry sea" that swallows people. Those folks hightailed it to the hills--with only one death among their population--a young person who didn't believe that "old story.".

Michael Turton said...

To put it in an analogy, It's like a person after a US presidential election not knowing anyone who voted for the other candidate and expressing surprise that the other candidate won over theirs.

I dont think so. This is an old trope in westerners writing on the Orient.

Okami said...

[b]I dont think so. This is an old trope in westerners writing on the Orient.[/b]

Reporters don't really know there subjects. Michael Crichton had an interesting name and idea for this. You read an article about something you know a lot about and see how badly the reporter got it wrong, but then you read the rest of the newspaper and believe what they write as fact. There's a reason that an industry that used to enjoy 20+% profit margins and huge influence is going through a massive downsizing and degradation of it's influence and product.

Think how badly they dropped the ball on Scott Walker. 168 stories in the New York Times on Christine Odonnell(sp?) but only 8 on Scott Walker who pretty much said in advance what he was planning to do. While conservatives and tea partiers didn't like the mess that came out after Odonnell's campaign, they also realize that without her a lot of republicans would of lost due to an effective use of media influence on their campaigns.

Anonymous said...

"Hawaiian priests who bless the missiles before a THAAD test"

We do that? Insane.

I think the reporter could have researched to make sure the West didn't do such stuff...its one thing to have some weird people in Oklahoma blessing cars, but missiles?????

Red A

Roy Berman said...

"Think how badly they dropped the ball on Scott Walker. 168 stories in the New York Times on Christine Odonnell(sp?) but only 8 on Scott Walker who pretty much said in advance what he was planning to do."

Have you missed the analysis showing that he, in fact, NEVER once said he was going to try and bust the unions by revoking collective bargaining rights. He is now claiming that he had been saying he would all along, but this is itself a lie being repeated uncritically by many sources.