Sunday, November 30, 2008

Meet Up Summary: Su Tzen-ping on the Taiwan Media

Jerome Keating (left) with Su Tzen-ping.

Saturday's breakfast club meet up saw Su Tzen-ping, who served as Chariman of the Board of Taiwan's Central News Agency from July 2002 to June 2008. From 1988 on he was a reporter, researcher, department head and then editorin chief at the Independence Evening Post Group. From 1996 to 2000 he worked for the Taiwan Daily as chief editorial writer. In 2000 he was appointed the first non-mainlander DirectorGeneral (minister level) of the Government Information Office (GIO) and stayed there until the cabinet resuffle in Feb. 2002. After that he went to the Central News Agency for the regular six year term as Chairman.

The talk opened with a nod to the international audience, consisting of individuals from 'seven or eight countries".

Having worked in media for many years, Su Tzen-ping wanted to talk about three questions. First, how has Taiwanese media today? We can describe Taiwanese media as "free but discredited," he said. This year was the 20th anniversary of the newspaper ban was lifted. Before that, newspapers were restricted. New licenses for papers were not issued. Pages were limited to 3 sheets of newsprint, or 12 pages. Further, you could not print where you were not published -- if you published in Taipei, you couldn't print your paper in Kaohsiung. This limited the size and influence of the media. Referring to the lifting of the ban, he said with a smile: "On that special day, I became a journalist."

After that, there was a rapid process of development. Now we have eight 24 hour news channels in Taiwan. 24 hours, only news, he pointed out. Reporters without Borders has ranked Taiwan's press as the freest in Asia, in 2006 and 2007, is did Freedom House in 2007. He then made the point that polls show that the public here does not trust the media.

With this he answered his first question.

Second question: Taiwan has never had a tradition of good journalism. There was a brief period just after the KMT arrived in 1945, but after that the government, the party, and the military controlled the media. Su Tzen-ping discussed the media during the martial law period, including the famous Independence Evening Post, but even at that time, as an independent publisher, you had to compromise with the government. For example, "we had a KMT Chairman of the Board and a KMT director. Fortunately the publisher was able to designate his editor." There were only three TV channels, all government controlled. The radio was controlled by the government and the military, and there were private radio stations, owned by retired military people. That was the picture of the media before 1988. "In this situation it was really difficult to have independent or really good journalists." Su Tzen-ping referenced Antonio Chiang, the current Editor in Chief of Apple Daily. In those days he worked as the foreign correspondent for the China Times, but was forced out because he was too close to the pro-democracy tangwai politicians.

"It seems to me that we've never had a tradition of good journalism in Taiwan," Su observed.

After the ban, the papers still enjoyed a little political privilege, and it was a difficult market. But today, the real power of change is coming from the market and technology. First, the technology brings in cable channels, with 24 hour news, so the influence of television is greater. This changed the landscape of television news. New owners flowed into radio, and of course there are the illegal radio stations.

The newest victim of this market is the China Times. They were losing NT$100 million monthly, so they had no chance to survive. On the other side, the Liberty Times. After the lifting of the ban, a real estate tycoon bought the paper, originally a small Taichung paper, and made it big. Also, the Apple Daily, owned by Jimmy Lai from Hong Kong. Both claim that they have the biggest circulation in Taiwan. No one really knows what the circulation is, however. Now a successful Taiwanese businessman in China, Mr. Tsai, the head of the Wan Wan group, has purchased the China Times, and it isn't clear yet what he wants with the newspaper.

The political confrontation in Taiwan, said Su Tzen-ping, is severe. And because the media is in Taiwan is trapped between these two camps, so it is difficult to get the rid of the label of pan-Blue or pan-Green. "How about Apple Daily?" someone asked. "Apple Daily is a very strange combination," he said, to general laughter. It's primarily commercially oriented. "In my opinion, they have the best op-ed pages of any of the papers," he said. It's a combination of sensation news, impartial opinion pages, and very useful, convenient information for daily life. For example, he noted, you can easily find where there are special sales for today -- exact items and prices.

He used Apple Daily as an example. When Apple Daily invaded the market, he said, everyone said that there was no room for another newspaper. With this specific strategy, they succeeded. Today everyone criticizes the quality of the newspapers. "Maybe I think good quality news is a good strategy for a newspaper, perhaps a weekly," he said, hinting that perhaps he was considering opening a newspaper.

"But it is not a healthy working environment for journalists," he said, becoming serious after a round of jokes. "People ask me what I am doing after the CNA, and I tell them, I mostly work as a psychological consultant for frustrated journalists," he joked, to general laughter.

In the old days there were no independent journalist organizations, he went on to say. Associations were controlled by the government and they were simply the transmission belt for government authority. But for the last ten years we have had a "very active" organization in united journalists to fight for the rights and to protect journalists. Su Tzen-ping is a co-founder of the organization.

The purpose of this organization is not to fight for the pan-Blue or pan-Green camp, but to fight for the rights of journalist. They have done things, he said. For example, during the protests over the Chen Yunlin visit, the police tried to obtain pictures of protesters from the press to identify people who committed crimes. But the journalist association protested this to the police administration, since it can put journalists and photographers in danger. The police ignored us,just sending a low ranking official to accept the protest, said Su Tzen-ping in response to a question on the police reaction.

This concludes the presentation, he said. "There's a lot to do, but media is too important not to do anything."

In response to a question on circulation, he said he did not know circulation figures. Robin Winkler, a longtime lawyer and environmental activist, asked how to get the media to cover environmental issues. Su Tzen-ping responded by noting that this is a common problem for interest groups in Taiwan society. Sadly, I must note, in the modern political consensus, the "environment" is an "interest group." Su Tzen-ping advised Winkler that you have to "locate the media," those media and journalists who you can cooperate with. The media, he said, wants good stories.

On the list of Things Michael Never Wants To Hear Again, right near the top is the claim that Chinese aren't logical. Sure enough the next question, asking about the readers of newspapers and their education, came from a Christian missionary, who claimed that "most people in Taiwan I talk to are not logical." As if belief in Christianity is even within shouting distance of logical, or westerners have somehow taken out a patent on logic, or perhaps we possess special magic logic powers denied to the benighted denizens of Chinese culture. This was followed by a question observing that Chinese do not live in the same reality we do. I was very happy to hear this, since I had previously thought that all those missiles Beijing points at us were in this reality and not some other (yes, to paraphrase Nietzsche, even if it hasn't killed you yet, it is still real). That second question came from a media representative, because you know how media people have a special grip on reality. Su Tzen-ping handled these questions with calm agreement, observing that the readership must be improved, and that media organizations have pushed the Ministry to incorporate media courses in middle and high school. I have to say that I often admire the patience and serenity of the Taiwanese in response to egregious western ethnocentricity.

I then asked what I personally had come to hear: whether he had any thoughts on the CNA under the new adminstration, but he had none that he would share with us.

In response to a question on the future of the media, he pointed out that Jimmy Lai really wanted to get his hands on CTI, China Times' cable partner, in order to form the news channel segment of an integrated media. The Q&A session then became a discussion of the problem of getting beyond the Blue/Green divide, which led to some stimulating private conversations.

Jerome often gets great guests at his meetups. Many thanks for your hard work, Jerome, and to Su Tzen-ping for sharing.


Michael Cannon said...

As a first timer to the Saturday Meet up, thank you for making me feel welcome. It was indeed great to put voices and faces to the names I've been reading these past couple of years from the US.

To our presenter, thank you very much for taking time to give us outsiders an insiders look into Taiwan media.

Regarding the comment on how to built report with media folks, it is like a friendship. You give and help as you can, though the benefits aren't immediate. When the time is right, the good will come through.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great presentation.

China Times group already is an integrated media machine, though one that loses lots of money and leans heavily towards the KMT. And is filled with old dudes that are impossible to fire.

The future of Taiwan's media is the global Chinese-speaking community, reached through the Internet. While it's possibly a very, very lucrative market, it's one that's difficult to monetize as well. The HK media looks like it has the inside track for the China market, but there is little sign that China is willing to really loosen media controls and allow straight free market competition in the media.

Anonymous said...

“On the list of Things Michael Never Wants To Hear Again, right near the top is the claim that Chinese aren't logical… As if belief in Christianity is even within shouting distance of logical, or westerners have somehow taken out a patent on logic, or perhaps we possess special magic logic powers denied to the benighted denizens of Chinese culture.”

While I would agree that plenty of Westerners aren’t very logical, and while it needs to be said that some Taiwanese display excellent logic, I don’t get at all the basis for what you’ve written here. Yes, a lot of Christians do a bang-up job of completely erasing the distinction between faith and reason, but many (the majority, it seems to me) preserve the distinction on many things. And yes, half of Americans think evolution is a lie, but given that more than ninety percent (I don’t know the exact figure) are Christian, this means a huge minority of Christians is able to separate faith and reason and apply reason to the Genesis stories. And other Western nations far surpass the U.S. in this regard.

I do not see nearly as much capacity in Taiwan for applying reason to what Taiwanese use as fundamental tenets, meaning I don’t see this capacity much at all among Taiwanese with regard to the “harmony” value, the Mencius-promulgated idea that human nature is good, filial-piety-related matters, and personal-boundaries-related matters.

Less than two months ago, I gave a class (it included one of your former students from Chaoyang U.) a socratically-sequenced set of questions designed to lead to the understanding that no one ever does anything for “selfless” reasons. They didn’t only reach that point of understanding; on their own, they figured out that the key distinction, therefore is between “win-lose” selfishness (bad selfishness) and “win-win” selfishness. Excellent! But then one of them told me there was an exception to this truth: the love of a parent for a child: it is selfless. I asked how many agreed with that. To my surprise and dismay, all eight students (young adults) raised their hands. “But I don’t agree,” I said, and they asked why. I replied “No, if you’re going to say there’s an exception to what you’ve agreed is an otherwise-universal truth, it’s you who has to explain why.” Can you? No one could. It just was true because it was known to be true. “When parents kill their children in a family suicide,” I asked, “is that selfless love?” “They think it is,” was the reply. “Do you think it is?” I asked. They said no. “So is it or isn’t it?” I asked. “Isn’t it just a vey clear case of people persuading themselves they are being loving when in fact they are not? And don’t many, many parents – most parents – do this in lesser ways often? Don’t most parents regularly lie to themselves and call their own selfishness love with at least a few things related to their kids? I tell you that my parents certainly did. Don’t your parents, too, sometimes lie to themselves and call their actions and beliefs love – and believe their own lies?”

No, they said; that was not a fair description.

Discussions with students about whether people really hurt others emotionally or whether it is actually others who CHOOSE to be hurt, can be quite enlightening, too. Once you explain the idea a little, I have found, many will agree with it. But then they will say that though they understand, others do not, so actually you still have to keep thinking that it is you who is hurting others. But you just understood, I tell them. Are you geniuses or are other people idiots? Is that why you can quickly understand but they can’t? At this point, clear answers vanish, and mutterings of “impossible” can be heard.

Or try asking why, if humans are good, traffic in Taiwan is so dangerous. “Because people are very selfish to those they don’t know.” “Well then isn’t Mencius quite clearly wrong to say people are good? Isn’t it far more correct to say people are basically good to those they know and very often bad to those they don’t know?” Yes, they say agreeing. “But might it not be possible to get people to be better to those they don’t know if we first begin by saying Mencius was clearly half-wrong? If we begin by facing the truth, might it not be possible to actually improve ourselves and the society?” Again, they agree. “Well, isn’t it important then, and indeed very moral to actually point out to others how Mencius was wrong?” “People will think you are crazy.” “Do you think I’m crazy? And you agreed with the idea so are you crazy? So let me ask you this: Is ‘harmony’ actually moral, or does it actually allow bad behavior to just continue unchallenged. Isn’t it actually moral to break ‘harmony’ and be direct and challenge people to be good?”

“No, when you are direct you might hurt someone.”

Sorry, Michael, but these matters of “faith” that most Taiwanese profess do not pertain to the realm of the supernatural. Their truth or un-truth is measurable in large degree. A refusal to reason makes Taiwanese declare the true to be untrue and the untrue to be true with regard to the most basic things about people and about relations between people. In fundamental ways, Taiwanese illogic is therefore noticeably more widespread than Western illogic. I do not mean Taiwanese lack reasoning capacity; sometimes I wonder if Taiwanese don’t, on average, have more reasoning capacity than the average Westerner does (let’s not go there).

But in fundamental ways, on extremely important matters, most Taiwanese consistently not only don’t want to use this capacity; they insist on suspending it so that ideas which are both conceptually illogical and empirically not true can prevail. But this appears to changing for the better, mostly because a minority of Taiwanese doesn’t like being basically illogical and tries hard not to be – and succeeds well in the effort to not be.

And the number will grow. And I beleive that someday (decades from now), if this island doesn’t get swallowed up by the meanie next door, Taiwanese are going to put the rest of the world to shame in both capacity for and use of logic. But not if we try to censor or push away the truth of things here at present.

Michael Turton said...

Vin, the issue is not whether the vast majority of Christians in the US can sometimes be logical. The issue is someone whose identity as a Christian is the central fact of his existence -- the central fact of his existence is the completely illogical fantasy of Jesus the Son of God resurrected -- this person accusing others of being "illogical." Not a leg to stand on there!

The evolution/creation debate is not at issue here, nor does it indicate anything about the ability of Christians to be logical, since I doubt the vast majority on either side have ever looked into the question.

As for the rest of the discussion, their logic may not be our logic, but it is not "illogical." That simple. All Taiwanese are eminently logical; that is their common heritage of being human. Ditto for Christians, Americans, astronauts, etc.


Unknown said...

My belief is that he probably cannot follow the Taiwanese logic...

In 3 years living in Taiwan, I still have a problem with that myself, and it does take some time to get in line with the way people think in here... not to speak my own wife, that constantly buggers me telling me that I cannot think logically...

Anonymous said...

"The rest of the discussion" was the key point as far as I was concerned, because I thought you weren't only tired of hearing such Christians say this, but also of hearing anyone say it, which would include me, too.

I don't understand what you mean by everyone is "eminently logical." There's a logic to everything that people do, but there's no certain connection between that fact and whether or not the ideas they hold and use can stand up well to much inductive/deductive analysis -- no gurantee at all that their thinking is not riddled with logical fallacies.

If what you mean with regard to the many examples I gave is that most Taiwanese use only "associative" logic in those cases or that they suspend, out of a logical fear of the consequences, the use of much induction and deduction -- if you are agreeing that most will refuse to apply induction/deduction if it could threaten fundamental social tenets here -- OK. But given that even Taiwanese usually mean induction/deduction/abduction/fitting analogies when they use the word "logical," isn't the onus on you to qualify your statement before you call it merely a "claim" that Chinese/Taiwanese aren't logical?

I mean, I have a Taiwanese friend who is preparing to teach critical thinking precisely because he feels it's too lacking here. (And because he's incredibly smart,very capable of teaching this, and enjoys teaching this.) And dozens of Taiwanese during my time here have told me, without my trying to elicit the statement, that many Taiwanese are not good at using logic. They're not talking about things like figuring out how to tie a slip knot or do a math problem, and neither am I. They're talking about the ability or the inclination to draw outside-the-box inferences and string together new inferences well with regard to self and human relationships.

No surprise that this is generally true in a "high context" society. I'm just saying I don't think it's fair to expect people to widen their notions of "logical" to include associative logic or emotion-based or holistic perception of social situations when Taiwanese themselves mostly exclude these from their use of the word "logical," too.

Michael Turton said...


"Critical thinking" is not logic, (another thing I never want to hear is people saying "I want to teach Taiwanese critical thinking") "Critical thinking" consists of the ability to make connections between apparently unrelated entities, and the ability to see below the surfaces of things -- what you talk about at the end of your discussion. That is, it is driven by knowledge of a given field in particular plus critical insight, which consists of creative leaps as well as the ability to abduct and associate (hooray! The Symbolic interactionists live!) and perform other logical operations. Knowledge without insight is barren, but it is not "illogical".

"Logic" is not the issue here. If you want to claim that Taiwanese lack critical and creative insight because they are uninformed and because they have not been well-trained by their educational system, you'll get no argument from me. But cultural preferences for "subjective" modes of expression and argument, and political choices are not the same as "being illogical." What you're really saying is that Taiwanese do not reflect on the premises about the nature of human relations and sociopolitical reality that drive their lives. But "you're unreflective" is a cultural and political accusation that is clearly not the same as "you're illogical". And certainly one that can be aimed at almost anyone in the great mass of people everywhere.

Let's not forget that the foreigners who come over here are a relatively select group -- almost all middle class, college educated, generally open minded and traveled, they are not normal people, and we shouldn't be comparing them to Taiwanese. If you painted everyone like that in the US blue, pretty soon everyone would be asking why the Blue people are so much better at thinking than everyone else. So much more "logical" and reflective.

Moreover, these foreigners, overwhelmingly male, come from a culture where displays of logic and argument are prized, butting heads in debate is normal, and arguments do not mean the end of relationships. Taiwanese come from the almost exact opposite culture.

And then there is the language issue, where speakers of either language are hardly fluent enough to either produce or understand sophisticated verbal display.

Let's stop saying that the Taiwanese lack "logic." That's just stupid. What it really means is that the speaker has failed to reflect on what he was talking about so that he can talk about it in a way that is meaningful to others.

Another thing I dislike about the "logical" claim is that it is "gendered." It feminizes and infantilizes those whom it is deployed against. It is totally ethnocentric.

Finally, no one who believes Christian mythology is real is in a position to call someone else illogical, period. Especially a freakin' missionary whose identity is completely wrapped up in the outstanding unreason Christianity. Cast out the beam in your own eye, sir.


Anonymous said...

It is difficult to gauge and compare logical aptitude among such vast populations. In any case we could only be speaking of a minority in each society--and hardly anyone can be found applying critical reasoning to every situation.

I would say that Westerners are, in general, more willing to reach conclusions that go against the (apparent) general consensus. Our societies valorize and reward this, at least sometimes.

As a practical matter, I feel it must be very difficult to teach the equivalent of an undergraduate course in critical reasoning here--and not only because students resist expressing their opinions.

I am amused by the emotional reaction to the subject of religion, or more particularly, Christianity. (Local religions make at least as many unlikely claims, but Michael focuses on the spectacle.) That is a very American attitude--that one must either love it or hate it.

HeiShouDang 黑手黨 said...

Thanks for a great summary of the meet.
It's just a shame that he wouldn't answer your question.

Michael Turton said...

The issue is not which religion is more fruitcake. Is that the local religions aren't engaged in a colonial project to replace all the religions on earth with their own. Christianity would be merely amusing if it wasn't for this colonial program. The reason it is a very American attitude is because the US hosts militant Christian sects with enormous political influence quite unlike the situation in other Christian areas.

And yes, I enjoy the spectacle of local religions very much. I don't have to worry about them trying to convert me, or deny some segment of society civil rights, or suppress all other religions but their own, or constrain science, etc etc etc. I can simply enjoy other humans going about a business they find meaningful and enjoyable.


Anonymous said...

we really had a great guest (thanks to Jerome)

thank you Michael for the so interesting summary.

i enjoyed your comments on religion so much!!! i agree with you 100%, especially as I come from an extremely religious country. I blame Catholicism for lots of Poland's problems and, unlike the majority of my countrymen, consider our pope JPII a true shame for our country and the church itself.

Anonymous said...

I remember you had really great analysis of missionary work in another post with a blogger named... "little Yellow" or "little bird" or "Taiwan Prattler" or something. You are completely justified in your comments.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I followed all this, but that's never stopped me before.

I think the issue is being misstated. Michael's use of the term 'Chinese' does not mean 100% of people who meet some definition of Chinese. The meaning is clearly meant to be there is no meaningful difference in logical reasoning ability between Chinese people and citizens of that paragon of logical reasoning, the USA.

The example given had something to do with syllogisms. And failure to perform adequately on these demonstrated some illogic. I think you'd be surprised how poorly Americans would perform on an exercise like this. In fact, the Net is full of various examples of Americans arguing why they should vote for Sarah Palin or not support Obama that would fail this sort of test. I even remember reading studies that asked American students to solve these kind of exercises as demonstrations of Americans student's lack of logic.

In fact, I bet there are problems sequenced along logical lines that Vin would fail because of some emotional value he holds, or even his inability to cognitively comprehend the meaning.

The whole concept of 'logical thinking' is much more difficult to handle than just this straightforward argument being presented here. Certainly the idea that Americans are the paragons of logical reasoning defies imagination. It flies in the face of vast amounts of evidence and acceptance of this belief is in itself a sing of illogical thinking.

Anonymous said...

One more request for keeping an open mind -- re: "a colonial project to replace all the religions on earth with their own."

There was a time in some places when much mission work was wrongly done under colonialism. This perhaps was especially prevalent during the 19th Century. If a missionary was loyal to God and country in equal measure -- and also treated as second-class the people among whom he/she was a foreigner -- I think that could be called colonialism.

However: If there are ideas discussed. And people are persuaded and change their beliefs. And they form a church. And this church is run by the members who voluntarily associated. And the cross-cultural person who brought the ideas shared the ideas seeks not to be in charge, not to manipulate, but rather present for others to hear and decide for themselves if what their parents or their neighbors taught is true or if what that foreigner taught is true -- how is that colonialism?

The same could be said for persuasion of any ideas -- democracy, rule of law. Was the Deming Management Method that was put into effect in Japan after World War II colonialism? The Japanese freely embraced it because it worked. The Japanese run their own ship -- they have no American masters. Perhaps at the very beginning W. Edwards Deming was the respected teacher -- but eventually Japanese themselves were the teachers. And finally, the American automobile industry in the 80's had to go to Japan to learn about quality control from Japanese car companies.

I would respectfully ask people to keep an open mind and be careful not to hold any simplistic caricatured view of all Christians or missionaries.

Anonymous said...

Another time I'm very willing to engage in a discussion about my conclusion of the intellectual integrity of Christian propositions -- that was reinforced by my studies in the maths and sciences at a secular Ivy League school.

That really had nothing to do with my comment at the Breakfast Club. This is not the case of assumed western and Christian cultural superiority. I was born in Korea and often find myself looking at American culture as an outsider. Also, people can be illogical in any culture including a church culture.

But there is the matter of the general level of accurate analytical reasoning of a voting population that varies from culture to culture. To insist upon some extreme equal validity and parity on this in all cultures is I think an article of unreasoning dogma -- of cultural relativism.

I would not want the fact of my Christian faith to distract from the question I asked about what is the best way to improve the level of logic or analytic reasoning in Taiwan. Seeing a need for this in Taiwan was completely an independent observation particularly reinforced by the most recent campaign cycle with all of its commercials that led to the election of Taiwan's current president.

I saw the most ridiculous arguments on TV. Just to give one: The KMT ran an ad saying that the referendum was too complicated -- so it was just a waste of time to vote on it. At the same time, the KMT was insisting on making a more complicated process with separate ballots and separate pick up and drop off places instead of putting all the referendums on a single ballot like you see in the U.S. Anyone with basic analytic ability would realize that the KMT was being hypocritically contradictory in its behavior and statements.

When a population can be easily influenced by these kinds of fallacies -- we have a problem where people have turned or been turned away from reason to propaganda.

Day after day, campaign ad after campaign ad coming out of the well-financed slickly marketed KMT machine, I heard logic fallacies. Then day after day in talking with people in Taipei, very, very well educated people in Taipei, they just repeated the statements from these campaign ads, and the KMT news outlets and believed them.

Authoritarian regimes do not train their people to be analytical and logical. They train them to be sheep and parrot whatever the party line is. People coming out of an authoritarian education system too easily value things other than the reality of causal connections. The Chinese culture has had several thousand years of this.

Taiwan in particular has had an intense fifty years of indoctrination. If you go to the Taiwan Democracy Movement Museum in I-Lan, you will see a typical test paper where the essay is given a high grade specifically because at the end of the paper it says "fight back to the mainland" and "Long live Chiang Kai-shek." The paper could be horribly incorrect in the thought, presentation and analysis on whatever subject was assigned but it would still get a good grade because of those phrases. I've heard confirmation of this from many, many Taiwanese friends of mine who grew up during that era.

There is a difference between a free culture and an authoritarian culture. Taiwan is still dealing with the remnant effects of the latter.

The East-Asian "logic" of sympathetic-magic has also probably left these cultures more susceptible in this area.

When I hear non-stop over and over again things like how a pregnant mother eating soy sauce will cause the baby to be more brown-skinned, you can see how open the culture is to manipulation by a slick, well-financed and shamelessly lying political party.

Am I missing something?

Michael Turton said...

However: If there are ideas discussed. And people are persuaded and change their beliefs. And they form a church. And this church is run by the members who voluntarily associated. And the cross-cultural person who brought the ideas shared the ideas seeks not to be in charge, not to manipulate, but rather present for others to hear and decide for themselves if what their parents or their neighbors taught is true or if what that foreigner taught is true -- how is that colonialism?

The goal of Christianity, whatever you may say about individual Christians, is the destruction of all other forms of religious belief and their replacement by Christianity. That sometimes this action is "voluntary" does not change either this goal or its colonial meaning. In India or Annam or Taiwan many locals served the colonial state of their own free will, but that did not make those states one whit less colonial.

The adoption of Deming quality control standards contains no parallel with Christianity, since adopting Deming did not mean that those firms excluded all other understandings of quality, Deming produces measurable effects that are accessible to rational explanation, Deming did not demand that proponents of his beliefs interfere in the moral and social lives of others or adopt particular political and social stances, nor did Deming make a claim on their resources by demanding a tithe, nor does Deming call for the death of his opponents in this life and and the next, etc. The fact that you could even make such a comparison simply demonstrates again that you are not in a position to call others illogical, when you can't even spot the problems with a simple analogy.

would not want the fact of my Christian faith to distract from the question I asked about what is the best way to improve the level of logic or analytic reasoning in Taiwan.

It;s not a question of "distraction" but goes to the heart of who and what you are. You cannot accuse others of illogic when you yourself believe in things every bit as stupid as "pregnant women eating soy sauce will make the baby brown-skinned." Even dumber, since no one has ever been hurt by eating/not eating soy sauce.

Authoritarian regimes do not train their people to be analytical and logical. They train them to be sheep and parrot whatever the party line is.

That's exactly what Christianity does, Joel, which is why so few people not raised to Christianity and/or supernaturalism from birth adopt it in adulthood.

The paper could be horribly incorrect in the thought, presentation and analysis on whatever subject was assigned but it would still get a good grade because of those phrases

Yes, it is very much like what missionaries teach in Sunday school. Memorize this, make sure you say the right phrases. Authority centered systems, whether centered on God, the State, the Objective laws of history, Allah, all operate the same way: get 'em young, train them right.

The irony of your complete lack of self-reflection and staggering illogic is almost too painful to bear. You are what you accuse the locals of being.


Anonymous said...


Even though most of what you wrote sounds like it’s disagreeing with me, I wonder how much we actually disagree here. Anyway, I’m glad you wrote in, because there was no way I was going any further with this if no one at least chimed in to say that in fact those students did demonstrate illogic according to the Aristotle-derived frame for logic – the same frame Taiwanese themselves are referring to when they say “logical” and “illogical.” Because why bother with being told red is blue, up is down, etc.? Using faulty premises already makes an argument illogical (not invalid but unsound), but further: (1) premises are inferences; (2) as Webster’s Unabridged and many other detailed dictionaries make clear, “illogical” equals making illogical inferences; (3) so what else could continuing to use a premise that has been shown to be faulty be but willfully making illogical inferences – being illogical on purpose?

I’m not going to argue directly with anyone, Western or Taiwanese, who insists things are opposite of something as basic as a dictionary definition.

In addition to also insinuating that I don’t know the basic difference between critical thinking and logic as subjects, Michael made several other categorical assertions based on inferences pertaining to me that were either faulty in conception or else were made on the basis of not considering possible exceptions (which is poor induction). For example, in an effort to be pejorative, he labeled my statements a “political… accusation.” This succeeds in being pejorative through the use of the word “accusation,” but it fails to consider a key point: Am I attaching blame or not when I do the logical operations I described? And do I let illogic become a cause for my not respecting those I use logical argument with? (The answer is that it depends on whether hey are respectful of me and of others.) My guess is that Michael took the way I often write on comments to this blog as representative of how I talk with Taiwanese people. But most Taiwanese are not psychologically disordered people, and few who I meet are overt chauvinists – they’re not candidates, in other words, for aggressive and unfriendly sallies of logic from me.

If I’m not blaming or showing disrespect for anyone for not agreeing with me at the end of the logical operations I do, of course there’s no “accusation” involved. But is it still a political “act”? Of course it is. So… what could have been the point of Michael’s charge? I fail to see one. Saying what I say is a political act, and failing to say what I say is, in equal degree, a political act. Every choice in connection with power relations is a political act – including the choice to pretend power relations are irrelevant or don’t exist.
And I assert that the values I questioned in those dialogues are directly responsible for not a few highly-institutionalized imbalanced power relations in Taiwan.

Michael doesn’t know anymore than you do, Scott, whether I blame or lose respect for Taiwanese who disagree with me on this stuff. But at least you didn’t automatically assume that I blame or lose respect for them. Nor did you assume that what I say is perforce a “cultural act,” “ethnocentric,” feminizing” and “infantilizing.” You seem aware that:

1. A person might do what I do for social-class-based reasons or to try to help privilege one group within a culture as opposed to another. Or just for fun! (Why does it occur to so few that this logic stuff can create a form of jousting that students often actually enjoy so long as you have their trust first and do it in a friendly way?) Or are we going to maintain that a social class or a group within a culture is a culture? Fine: then I belong to some cultures here in Taiwan, and like everyone else in a free society, I can work on behalf of my culture(s).
2. Maybe my “ethnocentric” choices don’t derive from my own culture at all. (In fact, the strongest influences on me are J.D Krishnamurti and Anthony DeMello; two Indians who questioned everything, of course including culture, and used logic to do it. [DeMello was careful to not use too much at once]) The same as a Taiwanese who chooses to use Aristotelian-frame logic is not un-Taiwanese, I’m not ethnocentric just because one of the tools I use, which has long been used by at least some people in many cultures, happens to originate from the tradition my original culture is situated in. And though Americans statistically may be more likely to range far and wide in order to adopt or compose customized personal philosophies, the fact has nothing to do with the integrity or otherwise of any particular American’s chosen personal philosophy.
3. No Eliza Doolittle (99.99 percent of Taiwanese) is going to get feminized and infantilized by my actions, but I’ll get feminized and infantilized by the Elizas if I need my choices to change them – if I get upset when others fail to change per the implications of my logic. So I say it’s simply paternalistic to think that Taiwanese need a defender to prevent me from doing to them whatever bad stuff my use of logic is presumed to be doing.
4. Maybe my primary intention has nothing to do with trying to get Taiwanese to be “logical” about fundamental interpersonal tenets. In fact, my primary intention is to goad them into defying me with friendly and open confidence; if a few of them want to change and incorporate logical understandings into their lives more, too, that’s great, but it’s far less important to me than the friendly-and-open-confidence objective. And a Taiwanese who decides to change in that way has not become a quasi-American. He or she has simply become a more open and confident Taiwanese.

If this all comprises hypocrisy, blindness, infantilizing, and ethnocentrism, then for all I know (for the much I apparently don’t know), just about anything else could, too. So my only safe bet, it seems is to stand in place for the rest of my days, and not do anything besides breathe. Tragically then, as I’m not willing to restrict myself so, it appears I’m destined to keep sinning.

If you read again the first comment I posted, you’ll see that near the end I expressly said that not only do I believe Taiwanese are NOT inferior in ability to reason logically per the Aristotle-derived frame; I actually think their ability, on average, is better. I strongly disbelieve that Taiwanese have inferior reasoning ability.

And I’m in total agreement with you that with regard to politics: most Americans and most people everywhere (including Taiwanese) are often illogical and often appear doltish courtesy of their refusal to let information and reason come between themselves and the labels, values, and ‘identities” they have been persuaded are so important. I don’t think Americans, on average, are at all paragons of logical thinking in many other areas of life, either.

And I’m certain it would not be hard at all to design a problem sequenced along logical lines that would trip me up, because logic is not something I’m interested in much at all for it’s own sake -- my mind starts kicking and screaming – it rebels -- once logic problems become at all complex. Logic is a useful tool for insight –especially self-insight, -- but it’s far from the only tool for that purpose. And sure, emotions attached to values at times blind me – despite my reminding myself repeatedly these days that the values I hold dearest are no less subjective than any other values. But I never said values aren’t capable of blinding me, and if I implied otherwise, I for sure did not intend to.

Yes, I did make a comparative statement in my first post, but not about reasoning ability. I made a statement ONLY about comparative willingness (not ability!) to use logic to examine fundamental tenets that are open to empirical investigation. Faith in a god is not open to empirical investigation. You look for him and you don’t find him. Logic therefore does not support the idea that he exists. But equally, it gives no basis for categorically rejecting that he exists, so long as he is said to be supernatural. Therefore, so long as a Christian does not that God is supernatural and his existence cannot be proven (and plenty of Christians will say this), I, have no problems at all with his logic.

Fundamental Taiwanese tenets are of a different order. Whether parents’ authoritarianism towards their kids is selfless love actually would be measurable now with CAT scans and other devices. Do you think that if such research were done and the results were published and they showed it’s not the “love” regions of the brain that are activated when parents treat their kids in an authoritarian manner, it would make any difference to those young students I mentioned? The selfless parental love students were positing is in direct defiance of the Aristotle-derived frame – is ascribing a sort of supernatural/divine quality to something they themselves would say is a natural part of the natural world. It’s this ascribing supernatural qualities to common, everyday interpersonal behavior and the striking use of euphemisms (“the “harmony” value; “I don’t want to hurt him”) on matters describing and governing interpersonal behavior – and it’s ONLY this stuff – that I’m talking about. On this stuff, I continue to maintain that most Taiwanese are more illogical than most Westerners – and most insist on being so, even after the material illogic has been exposed.

Sure, it does sometimes dismay me that this willful, seemingly-defense-mechanism-driven illogic on fundamental interpersonal tenets hasn’t diminished more yet here. But it will, it will; and as it does, authoritarianism in politics and in the education system here will diminish in proportion, too. I know both you and Michael care about those things at least somewhat the same as I do. We just have very different opinions about what are best ways to oppose authoritarianism, and we each have different foci. From what I know of you, which is not that much, you try to serve as a strong-minded but gentle and friendly example, and I think that approach is great. And Michael’s blog I view as great – even though I sometimes stridently disagree with his angle and attitude. A variety of approaches and foci is probably the best. And just as each of you has your own approach, I have my own approach, too. And I like it, and it seems to work. So, I have no intention of observing Michael’s patronizing and imperious injunction that I (along with everyone else) stop (sometimes) saying that Taiwanese are illogical on fundamental interpersonal tenets. Rather, I just wish both him and you continued energy and high spirits for continuing with your own excellent work and state that I will
continue on with my same motives and methods so long as they appear to be helping create more win-win interactions between people.

But of course now that Michael knows I won’t obey his diktat, I respect his right to make a boundary for himself, and I won’t make the statement again on his blog. And of course I’ll remain open to respectful challenges from anyone who is not jumping to non-evidenced-based conclusions about my goals, sources of motivation, and methods.

Michael Turton said...

For example, in an effort to be pejorative, he labeled my statements a “political… accusation.” This succeeds in being pejorative through the use of the word “accusation,”

That was NOT an effort to be pejorative. That was an effort to point out that when you call people unreflective you are not making a judgment about their logic but about their political stance.

As for the rest, you are welcome to your opinions.


Anonymous said...

Michael, you might have to wait until we have that Taiwan beer some evening to thoroughly investigate the matter, but I think you argue against a straw man with lots of good kindling. Set fire to him if you wish. I am not him. I'm not sure what your own personal brush with whatever kind of religious folks was that led to your strong assumptions and strong reactions.

But your assumption about my thoughts and motivations and perspectives I as a missionary from the Presbyterian Church in America is not accurate. ( )

Your conclusion: "The irony of your complete lack of self-reflection and staggering illogic is almost too painful to bear. You are what you accuse the locals of being."

A brief answer:

1. My presupposition, based on quite a lot of evidence both historical and scientific, is that there is a personal Creator/Designer of the Universe. (What is your presupposition?)

If this is true, many things you dismiss as impossible superstition such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ are actually within the realm of possibility. (It remains then to consider them and the evidence for them. Just because something is possible does not mean it actually happened. I'd recommend Tim Keller's book, "The Reason for God." He's a pastor of a large church among the sophisticated upper middle class in Manhattan and has heard all the same arguments and questions over and over again so he finally wrote a book. I myself had a lot of these kinds of discussions with athiests and agnostics during my college years at Columbia University. Take a look with an open mind and perhaps you will change some of your own presuppositions. )

2. Everything I stand on is logically consistent with this presupposition.

3. If there is absolute truth, then I want to know it and also I want to let others know about it -- not through trickery or compulsion or cultural elitism such that people would embrace the current prestige culture but through discussion and persuasion.

4. It is also my belief in God that makes me value other people's cultures and languages. God designed creativity into human nature. I see a lot of beauty in other cultures. So there is the desire for both the preservation and flourishing of other cultures. But cultures will flourish more the more they are founded on truth. So yes at an appropriate time in a discussion with a Taiwanese, I will not hesitate to say that the ghost money being burned will in no way help the souls of those who have already died. I will challenge people's thinking with respect, but yet not hold back. And they can accept it or reject it. The only reason I would ever want anyone to accept things is because they have become convinced of the truth of them.

Michael, would you not agree that if there are knowable absolute truth propositions, there is nothing wrong with wanting everyone in the world to have a chance to hear about them, and if they so desire abandon their own former ways of thinking to embrace what they have come to be convinced as true?

To think the loss (I think the word "destruction" has a connotation of "forcing" that I would not agree with.) of other religions is inherently evil reveals your own presupposition about the world, I guess. My ancestors used to run naked into battle and drink blood from skulls of their enemies. Celtic culture has a lot of beauty but not the human sacrifice.

I think (1) the relativism I see in your argumentation as well as (2) the presupposition of there not being a Creator and there not being any possibility of supernatural events outside of the normal laws we experience -- these two things to my mind are much harder to back up with the evidence in the world around us.

Who is standing on firm ground? I guess we both think we have chosen the firm ground to stand on. And we are both doing what we should do -- try to stand on thinking firmly grounded in reality.

But ultimately either you are correct or I am correct or neither is correct. But there is no possibility of saying both are correct. They are mutually exclusive presuppositions. And yes, that is a very absolutist statement.