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The Asia Society presenting. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster league Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. Yeah. I think it's a very good sign that we are studying Asia these days. There was a time when Asia and Africa were never mentioned in textbooks. But why we are studying Asia. What is the motivation. Are we doing it the right way. Well these are some of the questions we'll discuss on this program. And I don't think we're going to have a qualified person with which to discuss it. Then our guest is Dr. Seymour furnish because he is the education director of the age's society. And this is his own belly wake. He recently came back from a trip to the Far East and I'm sure he'll tell us in the course of the program we shouldn't say
Far East and he knows the world well he's traveled it is much I suppose as most people do. Know Dr. Fish. The fact that we're starting a symbol is good but you seem to imply that we're not doing it for the exactly right reasons. What is the trouble with our problems. Well I'm delighted to have an opportunity to talk about it. I remember my own undergraduate studies. I was training to be a social studies teacher and the only course we had that included Asia and Africa was a course called World History which never really did include Asia in Africa it was more of a history of the American people and its past. And I've noticed in the last five or ten years that Asian Africa and other so-called non-Western studies are beginning to enter the curriculum. But I think the reasons are not difficult to discern and the first reason is that Americans are involved in these areas. Troops are involved in these areas. World War 2 the Korean War vet enemies war so that our interest has been carried into Asia
and converse flee Asia has been carried into our own living rooms through television. So that students today instead of waiting for teachers to bring information to them. Students are beginning to get the information first and in the same places incidentally as the teachers. And when the students go to class they begin to ask questions. And so in a sense the students and the world itself is ahead of has been ahead of the schools so that Asia and Africa in these other areas are now in the curriculum. Not so much because educators decided to put it in the curriculum but because of world events and radio and television and where all styles and so on have have made the world more part of everyday American life I think you would agree and so would most people that. It's good that was done in Asia at all. But if the reasons are right we're still better than nothing. But I seem to be something wrong with the reasons I mean. Well yes political necessity is not the best reason. I take it.
No I think that's right I think political necessity really corrupts in a sense interferes with learning. This is true in all countries I think in general all cultures teach their young that they belong to book culture and not to a culture. Each culture tends to think of itself as a center of the Chinese for example or the Middle Kingdom people. The British are indeed the center they have the prime meridian going through their country although they were the ones to decide where the prime meridian went. And in our own country we we have our own Mercator map of the world with the US in the center and so each of us a figurative lead tend to think of ourselves as being in the center and psychologically we tend to refer to ourselves unconsciously as the natural people so that when we use terms in referring to these other countries we as we start our study of them the terms themselves interfere with what we're trying to learn. For example when we say even though India is backward we mustn't feel superior. Or when we say that
certain countries or emerging countries underdeveloped countries backward countries. It's ironic that India was the country that Columbus was looking for and so whenever you say developed or underdeveloped or emerging or over developed there must be inherent in the definition some sense of what standard you're using. And when you examine it you find almost invariably that the standard is your own standard. But it would be difficult for many people to have standards other than their own. I'm exactly not up with this. Right they've only seen you know and they something exotic. Yes. All I am is generally considered inferior by them. Yes no well that's a very good point. I think the point is not that we would. Do away with our own standards but become aware of the fact that they are a standard perhaps rather than the standard it should be relativity and more absolute. Yes that's right. Yes that's very good. I think the key point here is
awareness of how you're doing the measuring when we say that the Watusi is or tall and the Japanese are short. We're suggesting What luck that our height is somehow natural and so we need to end in saying that we need to begin to smile about it to be aware of the fact that even in mud huts Indian mothers love their children. We sometimes see that in some of our textbooks as if mud huts were somehow connected to affection even in some tall apartment houses American mothers love their children African mothers in mud huts and yes children even Well yeah I think so but. But how does one get rid of this on was built in condescension which station gives that. Well you don't so much get rid of it. Almost like in psychoanalysis perhaps studying other cultures may be like cultural analysis you don't get rid of it but you learn how to live with it and you become aware of it. You bring it somewhat to the surface so that. You begin to catch yourself saying things. Making
judgments. When we say that people are poverty stricken What is the measure. How are we measuring them. I was once thinking about writing an article and putting it in the terms of an Indian talking about the US as in a fluent stricken society and then beginning to cite all the evidence that would support his contention of a fluent stricken city. The fact that do we may have a little more money but we like a number of writings that just clear and agree yes. Well that's a related point is that we in this country have tended to use gross national product as a kind of a magical word and we think that it we suggested it measured standard of living. Don't you think though Dr. Fish that a person has to at some point in his life develop what he thinks Austan. Yes. So yes to have a guideline. Right. So what do you do it without After seeming arrogant. Well I think I think the standards that you develop come out of your own
context. In fact I'd like to just mention this in relation to what we're looking at Asia that. In trying to make an assessment of a certain event or certain fact I don't think it's really possible to make an assessment of it unless you understand the context. Let me give an example. India Today it is one of the countries that are concerned with birth control and many Americans find it difficult to understand why Indians are not moving more quickly in the direction of birth control but all you need to do is to take a few minutes to see the different context of the role that children play in our two cultures. Now in our culture in the last 20 or 30 years it's become I think quite incontestable that children are an economic liability. I say it not in any with any malice but to try to put the point clearly that is most Americans and deciding how many children to have asked themselves the question can we afford to have children. Meaning can we assume the
responsibilities of parents having the children's teeth straight and sent to school and through graduate school and so on. And we don't expect anything from them in fact this is perhaps one of the problems in a sense we make this clear to our children that we're willing to make these sacrifices. And you might put that in quotation marks. And in our own old age we rely on unemployment insurance so Security pension plans and so on so that children for us are something we perhaps want to have but they are not involved in our economics except as a. As a liability. But if you reverse this and you go to countries such as India and if you examine along with the birth rate the death rate the death rate after all is related to the birth rate and the death rate in India until very recently was something like 4 out of 10 would die in the first year. And of the remaining 10 perhaps three would the remaining six perhaps three would die before they became adults.
And of the remaining three became adults the key person were male children. Because the males would help support the family. And so it is not difficult to see why in India. And and of course this was true in our own country a hundred years ago it isn't as if this were an Oriental birth pattern that is the fact that many children don't babies. Yeah. So early in life that population does explode. Well what has happened what has happened in the last 15 or 20 years in India is that the birth rates have remained pretty much the same. It's the only two people are living longer Well and also the infancy rates are dropping it's easier to introduce death control. Through sanitation and through. Different medical practices and so on. Now in India what is happening at the moment is that the there's a cultural lag that is most of the village people are still following a pattern
which made sense 25 or 30 years ago when the number of children they had did not the number surviving was not great enough to offset cutting down on the number. I think in all fairness we should say that not only we as Americans are guilty of this kind of cultural Yes and you know but the people of various countries are Chinese. Yeah. Yes no doubt think we are impossible and the French. Yes they are less than the best American God. I mean everyone is doing it. Is that something that one can remedy. Is this something so inherent in people. Well I think I think well what we're talking about here is variously called ethno centricity. I think each culture needs to be ethnocentric wherever babies are being born. Babies are the most amalgam of all the species and wherever babies are born there is a way of life which precedes them which is more or less the best way of life that people
have been able to evolve in that particular area. And so when the mother says the child that there is a proper way to do things she believes it and indeed for that context it is perhaps the most proper way to do it. Now until recently most people lived out their lives within their own cultural region and so it really didn't matter how they felt about others. For example if there is life in other parts of the universe it doesn't really matter so far at least as far as we can tell what the kind of life is there because it doesn't seem to touch on our condition. Yeah I know but what has happened especially for Americans is that now that we are moving outside of our own cultural area we are coming into contact with people who are as ethnocentric as we are not more so or less so but it's the it's the touching of these people from different cultures and then each person tending to make a judgment. Of what seems sensible on the basis of what seems sensible within his own context. I
just want to quickly add that I think in our own country what what we have been calling the generation gap between. One generation and their children is not really a generation gap but a cultural gap. That is the kind of context in which we live. Twenty years ago is so significantly different from the context within which our own children and students are living. If you just look at the technological differences the changes probably been more rapid than at any time. Yes yes we call or read about in history yes but don't you fish I know that you travel quite a bit throughout the United States as well as the world in your activities is education director of the Asia Society and you come in contact with many teachers and students. Do you have the impression that this is a national malady this looking at all the cultures with a somewhat superior and saying poor. They don't yet have it but maybe someday they will be as good as we are. Yes we all do.
Well I think yes I think we do. And I'm not really upset about it because I think it's it's somewhat natural that is and important that is people need to have a self-image. Of themselves it's this ability which I guess is quite rare to combine confidence in your own style because that's what you were brought out right. Combine it with the tolerance of other people for what you do. For most people it's hard to do as long as you think of it as a chore. But I for me it becomes an opportunity. For example I hear people calling this the problem they say one of the problems is how can we help. How can we understand people from other cultures. The word problem itself is probably the most overused word in our own culture. And as soon as I substitute the word opportunity I think I get a much different picture. That is we now have an opportunity not to live not only in our own culture but to live in other cultures. And this opens up our options now in many ways. We in this country have already had those options and are so used to them that we don't notice them. We
are among all the nations one with the richest heritage from Europe. And we we don't even notice the amount of different foods we have I mean pizza and kosher meals and Italian restaurants and French restaurants and so on are almost considered American dishes for us. And when you go to Europe and you go to each of the European countries you're aware of how homogeneous they are. Within their own country. So that studying other cultures in is something. Well let me just try it one other way. Mahatma Gandhi said something once that I think makes the point very clearly he said that he would like his house opened to the cultures of all the world and he would like them to blow through his house and swirl around but he would not want to be blown off his feet by any of them. And I can know about you like all the little but still himself. And in the process of studying other cultures you also get an insight
into your own culture. It is as you say not only an opportunity but a most fascinating adventure. Dont you think that with the opportunity that perhaps Americans have more than any of us will to travel yes we should be better at this and some other groups. I don't say that show but yes we are now just economic wealth. Americans have a special opportunity because we do have a chance to travel more widely and also we have a greater responsibility because of all the peoples of the world we have chosen to involve ourselves in the affairs of other people. If someone in I hesitate to even mention any country but if you say as say in Nicaragua. It's born in his town there and he goes to his grave knowing nothing about other cultures. I would say that it was his personal loss but we in America are affecting the world in such great measure. But what we don't know about the world affects not only ourselves but others. And therefore you have no right to go out into the world
until you prepare yourself to understand how the world functions. Yes it becomes a noblesse oblige situation which if you have the wherewithal you must do something about it. But. I was wondering Dr. First if you were able to notice any differences in the attitude of Asian people towards us at this point in the course of your travels there. Do you have the feeling that they see in the US an increasing desire to understand them better and to appreciate them more. What do they think we're still pretty backward from their point of view. While I don't I'm not quite sure whether they think we're backward or not. I almost like shooting. Well I feel like shifting the ground a little bit and then perhaps we can come back to it but I do think that Asians and others will be most impressed by what we have to offer to the world. To the degree that we are able to function better at home I mean it seems so elementary but
a country cannot offer itself to the rest of the world as a model. At the same time that it has not exhibited an ability to to deal with its own national situation more effectively and I think this is reflected in many of our younger people who I think a few years ago were interested in the Peace Corps because they felt that the United States had a great deal to offer to the world. I think many of these youngsters now are beginning to feel that their service should start here and that in order to prepare yourself to live in the world we need to. Improve our own system. How do you think we are going to handle our difficulties. How much do you think this is due to bad propaganda. If I may say subversive elements who are envious of our success and ability. How much of this is a genuine problem. You know I think we have much of it is just bad broadcasting. Oh no I think.
Well I think it's both. I think for some reason bad news gets printed more quickly than good news. There's been a lot of comment on that recently. But I think the point is that in studying other cultures and recognizing how other cultures have had cultural lag for example we see the the Indian population rates not taking notice of the death rates that are changing we say that's culture lag. When we talk about the sacred cow in India and if I had more time I'd talk about good reasons why they do treat the county a special way. But as you see other cultures unable to respond to change you conditions you come back to your own culture and you very often recognize the same kind of stickiness. Now for example the automobile in our culture it's almost subversive to raise the question of whether we shouldn't deal with the automobile in a different way now that conditions have changed. And I was discussing this once with an Indian friend and he said the solution is so simple. He said Why don't you practice birth control for your automobile for the automobile because the arguments
came very close to being the ones that we gave for his practicing birth control of people. I mean why should anyone that they have more than one woman well there's where there's a there's a lot of reasons in our culture why you don't have birth control of the automobile in the sense that something like one out of every six Americans makes a living from an automobile. Automobiles raise taxes. We've created it we've arranged our culture in such a way now that you need an automobile to go shopping you need an automobile to go to two resorts and so on. The point is that when the Indian says we should practice birth control of the car we say yes but and then we begin to mention all the things that he usually is not aware of in terms of the context so that he let in us but we help. Yeah and him but you also in the process of explaining to him why his idea is not a good one. I think begin to realize that perhaps when you have an equally good idea in quotation marks for his culture there may be reasons that are unknown
to the outsider. Do you see improvement in this. It's all let's say you collaborate in the cultural looking glass always looking more clearly than at other people. As a result of this new interest. Oh yes yes absolutely. That's distortion. Yes well I think I think you I think we've begun to see it in our own country there is a new I think a growing sense of humility brought on by many of our crises now and in many ways the some of the crises that we're experiencing are probably necessary and good. That is we may have had false notions about some of our systems and by seeing other cultures how they deal with it and becoming less parochial literally I mean as you move outside of your own system. You begin to see other options. Even with a small amount of travel you. Really shocked by your own ignorance I just cursed now not only that I don't want to
I certainly don't want to get caught with people inferring that I'm I'm thinking that the United States is somehow deficient in these ethnocentric ways and so on compared to other cultures. Now that I've said yes it's and but those who will see the study of other cultures as an enrichment will be able to harvest all of these marvelous things have been created by other cultures. I would like to ask a personal question. What has attracted you so much to study. Well I think in your life which Yes you know yes it was exactly that. I think my own enthusiasm for Asian studies is is accounted for by the fact that I was not an Asian studies expert. All of my schooling including my doctoral work in American history and so on it was not related to age at all. And then I was invited to go to India for a year as a Fulbright professor. And when I returned
I was furious that my own education had been so limiting. I knew nothing about Hinduism knew nothing about Buddhism knew nothing about Indian music and nothing about Chinese art and so on and. So my own first reaction was not motivated by the political events but the realisation that that all of us are inheritors of all the cultures. And that to the degree that we don't expose ourselves to other options other cultures we are really limiting ourselves. But there is this danger. Let's say a conflict between the specialist generalist you try to know a little bit about everything and then society finds fault with you because you don't know a lot about someone I think. Well you do. Well I think it's I think. Each of us have different contributions to make and the specialists are there in fact. I want to. I certainly don't want to close without saying a word about the publications that my own offices have been issuing was I think in the range of well
I want to mention them because I think the the opportunity now is one of great choice there has never been so many books paperbacks films records maps Globes they're never been so many good materials for studying other cultures. Some people refer to this as the problem of materials and I refer to it as you could suspect as the opportunity of materials and so in my department we are putting out guides selected an annotated trying to identify outstanding materials and in each instance we identify a specialist as you're suggesting who knows India. And he suggests the books on India. We pick someone who knows something about film as a medium and also something about Asia. How have these made available to people. Well I think the quickest way to write yes if they write to the education department at the Asia Society and see what is available. Yes just one sheet of paper I think we have male abilities and the right to see what they might like. Well I thank you very much Dr. Fish not not only for being here which
operates you in the agency side appreciates but all that you are doing on such a broad scale and in such an interesting manner. Well it's it's embarrassing to be thanked for doing something that you know you're doing. Definitely I feel the same way about my work and I want you to know that our guest on this program has been doc to see more fish. Who is the education director of the age's society and if you would like to know more about. What we've been discussing you simply have to write to the aging society and ask for information about the material. And this is Lee Graham saying goodbye but always asking you to remember that although East is East and West is West we do think the time has come for the twain to meet. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with league Graham. The series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs.
Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and make a nod to join us again next week at this time for another edition of the Asia Society presents. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
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Asia Society presents
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Series Description
Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
Talk Show
Global Affairs
Race and Ethnicity
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Host: Graham, Leigh
Producing Organization: WNYC
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-6-15 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:27:21
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