Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Critical Thinking, Freedom, Your Right & Responsibility to Creativity: At What Cost?

In which, Trish goes Socratic…

A while ago, my friend, Dr. Aimee Weinstein, & I had a cool idea about having one of those fun intellectual conversations via Yahoo! Messenger. We've bumped ideas around for a while, but many of our conversations keep coming back to the ideas of personal freedom and liberty, discipline, education, and the differences between the countries in which we each live: U.S. and Japan.

As writers, we wanted to have some fun in scholarly discourse - and we'd like to invite you to join us!

Trish: Discipline, in and of itself, though... isn't the problem, right?

Aimee: Well, we're relying on parents to discipline kids and teach them self control, but the parents don't do it! "We" meaning Americans.

Trish: How many parents have a sense of discipline, though? ... One of the things we're working on in our Tai Ji course is the importance of dedication/discipline in practicing... and for a lot of the students - all adults - the concept is difficult.

Aimee: Ah, so you and I should blame our parents for failing to teach us discipline? That just takes the problem back one generation.

Trish: Well, you and I would be exceptions. We have discipline. I get frustrated at peers that don't. I don't know when the issue became like this in the U.S, but it's right around our generation, I believe. Before that, I think the culture of our country had a much stronger sense of discipline. If you worked hard enough, you could reach the American Dream. Now, with much of our generation finding this "American Dream" such a disillusion, why strive for it, perhaps?

Aimee: That's a really pessimistic viewpoint. It's almost like citing the Nazi view: work will make you free.

Trish: I think the original discussion started from how SAFE things are in Japan. One can leave their wallet in the park, and reasonably expect to still have it and their money intact. But, there is a much stricter police rule there... and much less room for individuality.

Aimee: Right. There's even peer pressure with these thing. Like jaywalking. I do it if I'm somewhat alone at an intersection and there aren't cars coming, but if there's a crowd of people, there's too much presure to wait for the light - even if the street is empty.

Bow to the will of the collective.

Trish: We still have a certain degree of that in the U.S. People who stand out too much in the crowd, who are too different, are ridiculed and bullied. You wear what "everyone else" wears; you like and share the things all your friends do.

Aimee: That's a very teen mentality, no?

Trish: Yes and no... it's a pressure for all of school. But look at adults... and the freelance or work-at-home culture. How many work-at-home people or freelancers are ridiculed for not having "real" jobs because they don't want to conform to the 9-to-5, business mentality? And, if a guy isn't into sports, he gets ridiculed by his manly peers. Women who don't like to clean their house, so help them G-d, must have something wrong with them!

Aimee: But in the U.S. a strong person can shrug his or her shoulders and be proud of his or her individuality. There's less of an option for that in Japan. It's more than ridicule - it is ostracization and there's a high suicide rate because of it.

Trish: Definitely true. I suppose the question is, how much is the opportunity for individual freedom worth? It was either Franklin or Jefferson that said something like "The person who sacrifices liberty for safety deserves neither."

Aimee: I have heard that. It's very applicable now post 9/11. What freedom do we give up for the security of knowing (in theory) that there's not a bomb on our airplane?

Trish: That's the thing - and related to critical thinking - that level of security is not a realistic goal, even in a full-on police state. There are creative individuals out there, and they are always going to be ahead of security measures. Realistically, the heightened security hasn't stopped any new attacks. Unless we force people to wear handcuffs for every flight, a properly trained individual can freely "carry" at least eight deadly weapons. Or, a laptop or netbook battery has enough of a charge to blow out the side of an airplane.

Aimee: Am I supposed to applaud that type of creativity??? Kidding!

Trish: If people take individual responsibility, or feel empowered to take individual responsibility, on the other hand - could we not take care of ourselves? Like the people who downed the plane before it hit the White House. You can't have positive creativity while stifling negative creativity.

Aimee: There's a relationship between personal responsibility and creativity.

Trish: Absolutely, I agree. Creativity is empowering. If one can harness his/her own creativity, one should take responsibility for that kind of power.

Aimee: This is still not what people believe in Japan - it's a socity of rule-followers where the nail that sticks up gets pounded down. It's been part of the ethos for centuries and look how safe of a society it is here.

Trish: I know... that's why it's such a conundrum. I mean, who doesn't want to feel safe? The U.S. citizens are moving in that direction by giving the gov't so much more power, currently. I mean, Obama reinstated the Patriot Act. And with the new Health Care reform, we're being forced to let the government "keep us safe" with healthcare options. As a culture, is it worth moving in that direction?

Aimee: Frankly I don't think so. I'm too much into my personal liberty. I want to decide what I eat, what I watch and even what healthcare coverage I have. Speaking of that, did I tell you that all Japanese people on the National Health insurance have to have their waists measured yearly? This is to prevent what they call "metabolic syndrome" - aka obesity! Then if the measurement isn't within guidelines, then they have monthly measurements until it's right.

Trish: I remember you saying that, and while, yes, the US has a major obesity problem (myself included), such a ruling frightens me because forcing people to do that can cause so much harm. A) It can force them to pay increased premiums. B) Force them to pay for extra visits C) Force them to follow "approved" and potentially costly treatment programs.

Aimee: It really is another conundrum though. We rely on parents to teach kids about healthy eating, keeping themselves safe, making smart decisions, etc. And a lot of parents abdicate this duty. Frankly speaking, though, that's their choice. I don't want the government telling me these things like they do here in Japan.

Trish: I agree. And the government/culture here still does try and take a power from parents in a sense. There's so much on how one can/should discipline one's child - and how a parent can get in trouble for spanking or yelling. You've got that problem of people being unable to distinguish a border between firm parenting and abuse.

Aimee: Well we're back to the whole McDonald's debate. I don't agree with the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors decision to take the toys out of happy meals so kids won't demand the meals. It's the parents' responsibility to teach the healthy eating and to indulge the kids sometimes.

Trish: I'd agree with you on that, too. But, how can we get the parents to take care of their children and educate themselves? Do we legislate mandatory education for parents? I mean... it sounds awful, but there are an awful lot of stupid/horrible parents in the US - because they don't know better.

Aimee: Education is the answer in my mind, but not legislation. People have to participate of their own free will too.
Trish: The U.S. doesn't hold education in very high esteem, unfortunately. It's "not cool." In Japan, if I'm not mistaken, education and educators are highly respected - proven with financial backing?

Aimee: Respected yes. Paid well? Not so much. But it's very impressive to be a teacher or especially a professor.

Trish: Do the schools get $ they need, though? Are there teachers or professors who are barely living above poverty level based on the cost of living?

Aimee: Education [in Japan] is all nationalized. I'm not sure how the teachers are paid.

I read about a program recently - it's for kids under 3 - specifically with parents who are teens. It's aim is to break the cycle of teen parents. They grab the babies of these teens and educate them. It's in New York - they're sorry they can't get to the teen parents, but it's nearly too late for them. But they can get to the children and teach them.

Trish: How do they educate them, though? And is it mandatory/by choice? And how much does it cost for parents to enroll their children?

Aimee: But I do know that teachers in the US can barely live in the communities in which they teach.

It's not mandatory at all. And it's free - but it does take a commitment by the teen parent. It's a new-ish program that aims to take these kids through to high school and aims to keep them "clean" throughout - with parental support. It's for smart teen parents who realize the mistakes they've made and want better for their kids.

Trish: That sounds very cool. And it sounds like a step in the right direction. So, we're agreed that improved education might be a means to handle the conundrum of personal individual freedom/creativity/critical thinking/safety?

Aimee: Yes, I would say that we are. But one caveat. I think it's overboard here in Japan. There is a point at which it goes too far.

Trish: Good point! Where does it go too far?

Aimee: When personal liberty is impinged upon.

Japan is a society based on the collective. There are no individual liberties. No thought for or plan for the individual.

Trish: That kind of brings us back to the root of the problem, because if we cannot infringe upon personal liberty, then people have the right to be ignorant - which causes societies problems.

Aimee: You're right. But it has to be balanced.

Trish: In the U.S., regarding safety, there is a very strong correlation in regards to safety and gun laws. The fewer gun laws in a state, the fewer murders or violence involving firearms. The two states with the most gun laws, MA and CA, have, significantly, the highest murder and firearm violence in the country.

Aimee: We could get into a lot of imigration debates - as well as debates on the severity of punishments. Another reason Japan has such a low crime rate is that the penalties are severe for crimes and suspects can be held for 45 days in Japan without being charged with a crime.

Trish: In Texas, the state with the fewest laws, has the least violence and murder.

Aimee: You and I speaking the same language - educate - don't legislate!

Trish: Hehehe... it's kind of hard to have a debate when we agree on so much.

Aimee: Discussion in lieu of debate! It's fascinating!

For the rest of our discussion, visit Aimee Weinstein's Blog tomorrow!


Ima2seven said...

It is hard to read a conversation and not chime in. Much harder than reading a monologue-like blog posting!

One factor I would ask you both to consider is that the government stepping in and educating in a forced way as well as regulating is that people further abdicate the responsibility! It is a welfare mentality regarding personal responsibility. Why should I bother? The school has a federally mandated program to pull my kid away from Math and Science to teach them about not talking to strangers, so why would I do it at home? Isn't that what I pay taxes for? By not feeding these things to the public, people are more likely to do the right thing. Some people. Others won't do the right thing no matter what government programs or education are in place. For some peer pressure will work instead. But any "system" will only work for one segment of the population, since we all learn and conform differently.

Trish said...

Great comment, Ima2seven. I agree - I've seen it happen with sex ed. Parents depend on the schools to teach their children when they should be doing that, really. (Of course, there's the other side of the coin on that hot topic, too...)

When you see Aimee's half, we both say that there really isn't any answer we see right now, but even without answers, it's important to ask the questions and to be aware of the limitations of any "system" that gets put in place.

Thanks for your insight!

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