Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Myopia in two forms

This week’s issue of Time magazine has a shocking but revealing look at how cultural norms in East Asia are creating major problems of short-sightedness and present-orientation in the form of a stingy materialism that in intensity rivals the more “showy” materialism of Scandinavia, New Zealand or the Pacific Northwest.

The revelation that, because they spend so much time in the quest of academic achievement, Asian children – not only East Asians, but also South and Southeast Asians - spend very little time outside and thus cannot adjust their eyes to the correct distance for more distant viewing. Pressure for high education achievement in Asia is very strong owing to those nations’ desire to rise as far as possible from poverty. The revelation of Time really does suggest that they are overdoing it just as much as the extremely low fertility rates of East Asian nations. However, Time does not consider whether the degree of government control over education – a facet I have never researched but which I suspect to be very high – does a great deal to encourage this tendency and whether it suppresses incentives to think beyond one’s own interest and “doing the right thing” which is so crucial in East Asia for gaining the status so many people seek.

In a sense, status is to East Asians what comfort is to Europeans, Canadians and New Zealanders: something their poverty in lithophile minerals would not naturally give them in a post-agricultural economy, but something which the mere observance of their own ruling classes and people moving to Australia and occasionally even other much less developed nations has over many generations taught them to want at any cost. That this cultural attitude is unsustainable there is no doubt when one looks at the financial plight of so many Enriched World nations today, a plight seldom taken seriously outside the US.

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