Harmony and Conflict 和諧與衝突
Is Asia a continent of harmony or discord? How much harmony do we really want? These materials explore the tensions and creative forces in families, schools, politics and society.
Translated by Jason Chen
People hate running into unexpected trouble. It catches us off guard and makes us feel helpless. Hackers are the greatest threat to websites and, being an administrator of the eRenlai website, my most feared type of unexpected trouble.
We are now 10 years in to the 21st century. The internet has been in rapid development since the end of the 20th century, evolving from a simple channel of communication to something that has become inseparable to everyday life. On the internet people learn new information, express their opinions and voices, create interpersonal networks and activity centres, share their everyday life experiences and so on. Through web-based texts, sounds and videos, we have developed a new kind of life and alternative social circles: the different experiences available in this new sphere have become important elements for many of us.
eRenlai is a new life for Renlai. This website allows us to share more of our stories, videos, sounds and relevant information with our readers. We can also get feedback from our readers and use this as the basis for improving our magazine. This is why we really treasure eRenlai; we are always thinking about how to make it better and to encourage more feedback from our readers.
Despite our best intentions, unexpected trouble has hit eRenlai. One day we were suddenly unable to upload pictures to our website because the folder path was gone and some functions of the website were lost. We were shocked and had no idea about what was happening. Not only were we in panic mode, we were also worried that the website - which we put so much time and effort into building - was going to go bust. Luckily the situation didn’t get worse and at least all the already-uploaded articles were still there.
We urgently called the system maintenance engineer and he undertook some chaotic investigations. The definite cause of the website’s problems was apparent - eRenlai was hacked. Our first reaction were that “Why? How could this ever happen to us?”. Like all unexpected trouble, everyone wants to know “the reason”. However, finding out “the reason” after something has already happened does not necessarily help the situation and can even delay the time available to solve the problem. Trying not to panic or fly into a rage, we asked the system maintenance engineer to urgently fix some functions of the website for us so we could at least keep it running. However, we knew that even if eRenlai is restored the nightmare wouldn’t just stop there. Not only do the website functions have to be fixed, we have to so improve security and change everyone’s username and password to prevent something similar from happening again in the future. A week after eRenali was hacked, all the staff in eRenlai were still reeling from this turmoil.
Although this unexpected trouble only happened on the internet and it didn’t cause any physical harm to me, the lesson it taught me was tougher than if it had. When expected troubles come, one can only face them, accept them, try and solve them and then let them go. Just as someone should carry on with his or her life regardless of whatever may have happened, a website should not stop running because it comes across moments of anger or sadness. For eRenlai to get back running and become a bigger and more secure website is a responsibility we owe to our dedicated readers. When such unexpected trouble arises we should learn to look forward as this is the only way we can turn such an adversity into an opportunity!
Photo: C. Chuang
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那西班牙人和四名女人送了一個土著女孩到我們的堡壘來跟我們說，那是〔加法哈，Cristóbal de Carvajal〕的舢舨船，土著從船上拿走了兩門大型的青銅火砲、十枝滑膛槍（musket），和兩個布織封面的小匣子，裡面可能裝著錢和我不知道的其他物品。那女孩說，他們把受害者的血裝滿桶子，然後將血喝了，之後又吃了他們的軀體和頭顱。」
"Memoria de las cosas pertenecientes al estado de la Isla Hermosa"
觀察1597年的羅留（De los Ríos Coronel）所繪製的福島地圖可知，馬尼拉的人很早就已經知道北台灣有著一個稱為「Keylang」的天然良港，因此第一支征軍於1626年開抵蛤仔難灣時，便小心地尋找這座港口。雞籠島這座小島以一條西班牙人稱為「小口」（boca chica）的小水道與福島本土相隔，形成了一個完美的防禦系統。
繼續往北便會看到偉岸的聖加大利納岬（Punta de Santa Catalina），也就是現在的三貂角。這裡駐有哨兵，可在荷蘭船隻出現在雞籠附近時警告駛來的西班牙船，警告訊號為向岬角頂端點起三把火，通知來船盡速回到聖老楞佐。
折過聖加大利納岬之後，便可以望見稱為聖雅各（Santiago）的村鎮出現在遠方，這是他們自5月10日以來首度見到聚落人煙。此地的命名遵循著西班牙及葡萄牙軍隊長久以來的一項傳統，或者應該說，聖加大利納是在日後才因聖雅各（即荷蘭文獻中所稱的St. Iago）而得名；這個名字由荷蘭製圖師經過英國製圖師而傳至法國製圖師，大家對這個岬角都各有不同的命名：聖雅各角（Hock van St. Jacob）、聖雅克角（Point Iaques）、雅哥角（Pointe Iago）等等，後來中國人則將聖雅各音譯為「三貂」。
下一個明顯的地標是今日的鼻頭角，可能就是西班牙人慣稱的「猴角」（Punta de Monos）。最後在離雞籠將近一里格遠處，他們航經一個稱為「Babatangan」的小海灣（荷蘭文獻中稱為Bawatang），有些中國人在此為西班牙人從事燒石灰的工作。
第二場危機隨著范努特（Oliver van Noort）麾下的荷蘭艦隊而來。范努特在橫越太平洋之後，於1600年以私人身份航抵馬尼拉，正是這起危機的背景。強大的荷蘭東印度公司（VOC）此刻尚未成立，但范努特在商業上所獲致的成功，對這家商業公司的創立（1602）確實起了加速作用。
Is language what is “proper to Man”? The very understanding of this question varies according to the evolution of the philosophic tradition. In the Greek tradition, Man is composed of a body that draws its determination from a form, the form being in the case of Man a reasonable soul. The risk of dualism thus implied has but increased in the modern thought with Descartes. The prestige of Reason gives rise to the Age of Enlightenment. In this specific tradition, the definition of language as being “what is proper to Man” takes a new significance: Language is the expression and communication of a thought in a social context (whereas in the Cartesian cogito language as a “mediation” between the mind and the world was not strictly necessary.) Moreover, in the Enlightenment tradition, language as a system of vocal signs implies to pay attention to the body.
To consider language as specific to Man does not disqualify the Aristotelian definition but involves a counter-proof: wouldn’t language be present in the animal world? Indeed, the behaviour of certain animal species appears to aim at the communication of information, and in doing so represents a language. It applies for the language of bees, dolphins, greater apes, and maybe other species. For greater apes, one is in right to speak about intelligent behaviours. - Two remarks: First, the question of languages in the world of the sentient beings is as old as humanity. The animals are able to speak in myths, tales of origin, just like they were speaking in our childhood’s imagination. The second remark is that if one can and must speak about language in the animal world, it is about a language that does not reach the level of the human speech.
When the Theologians today read the myth of Babel in the Book of Genesis, they are confronted with the question of the diversity of languages. At the first glance, this diversity seems to be a punishment caused by the folly of the builders who want the Tower to reach Heaven. The blurring of languages seems indeed to constitute a curse. A second look at the story might teach us a different lesson: the Babel story is one episode or « instalment » among others in the human pilgrimage that starts after the Flood in order to repopulate the Earth. This pilgrimage stops when Men arrive in a plain called Shinear, where they want to settle. They use a sole language for giving orders for the moulding of bricks and the preparation of bitumen, so as to build the tower and reach Heaven. What is at stake here is the use of language, when the unicity of language makes Men become robots. It is as if an « unique» language goes along with an « unique » totalitarian power. In the Babel story, the unicity of language is also associated with the fact that Men give a « Name » to themselves, while the Name is what is received from the Other within the chain of generations. In this perspective, God intervenes so as to make Men resume their pilgrimage, and, throughout the way, encounter the Other – so as to make the Other, initially an Alien, become a Guest or, reciprocally, a Host.
Such reading is reinforced by the story that follows the one of Babel, i.e. the story of Abraham, who is called to start on the road towards a country he does not know yet. He will thus receive from God a new Name which would be a blessing extended to all Nations. Once he reaches Canaan, Abraham does not build a tower but rather an altar, at the very place where God has appeared to him. The pilgrimage that starts anew after Babel needs to go beyond the false dream of a unique language so as to enter the « time of languages » that testify to the diversity of nations’ and people’s history and memories. The blurred languages of Babel become a blessing when the name of Abraham, the Chosen one, resonates throughout them.
Today, the diversity of languages may still appear to us as a blessing : it testifies to the diversity of our experiences and memories. It also requires from us to enter into a process of translation, which obliges us to pay attention to this diversity of experiences and memories. We are thus led beyond the superficiality of a communication process that would be led by the false belief that the community of languages makes us perfectly understand each other. Ultimately, the diversity of languages testifies to the diversity of our experiences and histories, and points at the same time to the memory of our origins and to the « uniqueness » of each of us.
(Painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1563 - Wikimedia Commons)
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Christchurch became the first city to create a website for international students to address racial harassment in New Zealand. Christchurch is perhaps no more racist than your average city in a predominantly Caucasian country but the fact that it has taken action to address these issues show that New Zealand may still be able to abate the anti-Asian sentiments before it grows out of hand.
We often say ‘fear cripples our ability to learn’. Parents overseas too, may need to reconsider before investing million of dollars on education in an otherwise beautiful country. Much needs to be done on integrating the overseas students, and even more so on the young kiwi’s understanding of the Asian people.
Photo by A. L.
So everything in my past experience of working with people from a different culture had been quite simple and easy to deal with, until the day when I decided to take a class in cross-cultural communication. Then, everything suddenly became complicated: I was taught that Westerners and Asian people had different mindsets, and that they dealt with emotions, conflicts, and more generally with human relationships in completely different ways. To say it in a few words, these classes gave me the impression that I came from Mars, while Asian people came from Venus.
Cross-cultural communication is a relatively young era of scholarship, but it has had a deep influence in the field of organization studies during the last twenty-five years. The main goal of this discipline is to provide international decision-makers tools that can help them dealing with cultural differences inside their organizations: a manager might for instance find here a few recipes that will help him avoiding conflict with his employees, while a businessman will learn there a few tricks in order to gain the confidence of his business partners, avoiding awkward behaviors that might shock or offend them. But might they have some practical value, cross-cultural communication theories are often, in my opinion, over-simplifying.
Take for instance Geert Hofstede’s Culture Consequences (1980), the book that pioneered the field and that has been constantly referred to until today. In this work, Hofstede isolates a series “cultural dimensions”, namely: individualism vs. collectivism, low vs. high power distance, masculinity vs. feminity, and uncertainty avoidance, to refer to the four most famous categories that he created. Then, using statistical data from different countries, Hofstede gives scores to different countries on these dimensions: say, for instance, that the US will get 91 points on the individualism scale, while France will score 71, and Taiwan 17. Such scores might have a practical utility, in that they allow predicting to a certain extent the behavior of people: Americans in general are expected to behave in a more individualistic way than Taiwanese.
However, the mere idea of placing national cultures on numeric scales is, in my opinion, a dangerous process of over-simplification, and that for two reasons. First, cultures are prone to change with time: Asian people are not collectivistic by nature, and social changes as well as personal enrichment produce more and more individualistic behaviors in Asian societies. Second, there is no national basis for culture: in multi-cultural countries such as France, where people from Western Europe, Africa or Asia live together, how can you possibly give a description of the behavior or the mental set of a “typical Frenchman”, since it is precisely the coexistence of different cultures that makes the particular identity of this country? By attaching measures, numbers and scales to different cultures, there is a risk of radicalizing their differences and making such differences appear as insurmountable.
Ironically, the original objective of Hofstede when he started his research on cultural dimensions was to help people better communicate by understanding their differences. However, the dimensions discovered by Hofstede have been simplified over time to such an extent that they do now convey the most simple clichés and stereotypes about cultures. A practical experience of working with people from different cultural backgrounds shows on the other hand that, even when some codes of communication are not shared between collaborators, the willingness to communicate and the existence of common goals are, more than the acknowledgement of essential differences between cultures, efficient ways of overcoming these differences and gaining deeper understanding of the Other.
(Painting by Bendu)
Benoit B. interviewed Kouchouching, a Taiwanese hip-hop band:
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Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.
In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.
Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.
Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.
Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!
The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.
Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.
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