Monday, March 01, 2010

Toward a Culture of Discussion: Introduction

Kishore Mahbubani
(Image from Homepage)

As some might have expected, I've been working on an article that deals with the significance of a culture of discussion for society, particularly in the context of Korea since I live and teach here. I spent the weekend composing a first draft based on my posts, and since I'm pressed for time this morning (because the semester begins tomorrow), I'll just paste my paper's introduction below:
In June 1997 at the 7th International Conference on Thinking, held in Singapore, the Singaporean philosopher and diplomat Kishore Mahbubani asked a singularly discomfiting question: "Can Asians think as well as others?" A year later in the National Interest, he followed up on this question by publishing an essay with the even more provocative, potentially insulting title, "Can Asians Think?" This essay became part of a book by the identical title that same year, but it did not have the effect that Mahbubani intended, for as he writes three years later in the second edition, "My main disappointment with this essay is that it has not yet triggered a discussion among Asians on how and why their societies and civilizations fell several centuries behind European civilizations" (Mahbubani, Can Asians Think? Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2004, 19).

Mahbubani might not have triggered the discussion that he desired, but the topic of critical thinking among Asians was being broached by some Asian thinkers. For instance, the Thai philosopher Soraj Hongladarom presented a paper in 1998 on "Asian Philosophy and Critical Thinking: Divergence or Convergence?" and noted several characteristics of Asian cultures that "prevent the full realization of critical thinking skills," among these, "the beliefs that teachers are superior and always right" and "that social harmony is to be preferred rather than asking probing questions." In short, discursive hierarchy and social harmony trump genuine discussion and critical thinking. Far from being dismissive about these things, Hongladarom holds that Asian societies perhaps once had valid reasons for deciding that "social harmony should take precedence over critical argumentation and open debates." In today's competitive, globalized world, however, he argues that Asian societies need real discussion and critical thinking.

Perhaps these interconnected issues deserve some discussion, and this discourse will necessarily be discursive, winding around through such interrelated concepts as culture of discussion, critical thinking, free expression, and various other correlatives of discursive reasoning.
As noted, that's the intro. I've written the rest, too, but am not fully satisfied with it and will spend today reworking what I've composed . . . along with finding some time to prepare for the semester's onset.

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At 12:04 PM, Blogger Teacher Leo said...

I am so looking forward to the completed paper!
I also believe that the current mindset here in Korea, where we do not confront except physically (and often violently), where the answer given to many questions demanding factual responses is 'maybe' and where children are deprived of a childhood where there are equal parts studying, exploring and playing, needs to undergo such searching questioning!

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I have the completed paper now, though it might undergo some changes as my wife translates it into Korean, thereby forcing me to clarify my points.

However, I can't post it until the Korean version is first published sometime this spring.

I agree with you on those difficulties in Korean culture . . . though I actually find a lot less violence here in Korea than I found in the US.

Jeffery Hodges

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