Erenlai - Harmony and Conflict 和諧與衝突
Harmony and Conflict 和諧與衝突

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.

亞洲真的是一個和諧之境嗎?在亞洲,引發衝突與創造和平的文化條件與西方國家有什麼不同呢?亞洲要如何靠智慧找到兩者的平衡呢?

週五, 28 一月 2011

eRenlai and life's unexpected troubles

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

 

週一, 03 一月 2011

光州行腳:韓國轉型正義的歷史現場

1980年5月18日爆發的光州事件,為韓國近代史寫下血腥殘忍的一頁。當我們在三十年後的今天重回歷史現場,赫然發現當地的遭遇與台灣的在地經驗間,竟有這麼多的相似之處。

週三, 05 八月 2009

Competition or Solidarity?

Are school and education only a matter of results and rankings? A description of an ideal model of education by Reverend Lo Chun-Gi.

Attached media :
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週二, 09 六月 2009

On Sport in Taiwan

"Sport is a subject that people do during their lifetime"

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/thumbnails_video/sport_tw_thumb.jpg|}media/articles/HerRanLiou_Sport_0509.swf{/rokbox}

週四, 30 四月 2009

謎樣採金村,喋血東福島

本文節錄自《西班牙人的台灣體驗》,更多內容見於2009年5月號《人籟》月刊


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西班牙人及荷蘭人曾相信東福島有一座黃金礦山,位於一個名為Turoboan的地方。這裡可能就是漢文史料中的「哆囉滿」,學界通認此地就是現在的立霧溪口。西班牙人幾乎不曾履足東福島傳聞中的採金地區,荷蘭人則在戰勝驅離西班牙人後,在東福島尋金活動上投資了相當的時間與人力,卻還是一無所獲。
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迷人的黃金村
1632年艾基水(Esquivel)的報告是第一筆關於Turoboan的敘述,他列出了一些採金的村落,以一種神話般的方式,宣稱那些地方有著「許多豐富的金礦;Taparri人到那裡去大量地採金,並在雞籠將之賣給付石頭錢和cuentas的生理人。那裡有一座山,日出時分之燦爛,無人能夠逼視。據猜測,那裡可能有一座石英礦或銀礦。」

自由居民阿葵拉(Domingo Aquilar)是我們所知唯一去過那裡的西班牙人,是在Caquiuanuan馬賽人的陪同下前往。不過根據數年後荷蘭人訊問他所留下的記錄,「他停留在海灘上,並未進入村子裡,因為他去Turoboan只是要追蹤一些逃走的〔西班牙〕王奴,而不是要去尋金。」


荷蘭人的尋金行動
征服雞籠之後,荷蘭人終於可以展開尋金活動;他們組織了數次前往Turoboan地區的探險,還為此有系統地向以前曾造訪過Turoboan的人收集所有可得的資訊。

第一次探金活動(1643年春)是由波恩上尉(Pieter Boon)領隊,出發之前並且訊問了阿葵拉。1646年,荷蘭人考慮要再派駐一人在Turoboan時,還召來日本人喜左衛門(Jacinto)和曾經去過那裡「十五次」之多的Quimaurri人丟哆囉(Teodoro)等充任翻譯,向他們收集情報。


殘酷的屠戮
Turoboan南部有一長條形的地區,有許多產金銀的村落。1632年艾基水的報告列出了一些採金(甚至採銀)的村落。第一個是不見於荷蘭文獻的Rarangus,我們只知道1628年曾有來自馬尼拉的補給船在此停靠。艾基水說這些人下場極慘,全被土著給屠戮了:

「Rarangus的人在鄰近村落的協助下,從我們這裡奪走了一艘舢舨船,船上載有馬尼拉來的補給。他們把東西全都偷走,殺了十個西班牙〔男〕人,原諒〔饒過〕了一個至今還活著的〔男人〕,以及四個現在還活著的女人。…

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。」



您想知道更多關於過去外國人在臺灣的記錄嗎?請看
美麗的台灣-異國人眼中的福爾摩沙

附加的多媒體:
{rokbox}media/articles/JoseBorao_eastformosa.jpg{/rokbox}

週三, 29 四月 2009

傳教士筆下的馬賽土著

本文節錄自《西班牙人的台灣體驗》,更多內容見於2009年5月號《人籟》月刊


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西班牙人殖民雞籠與淡水,與當地的土著有密切的接觸。十七世紀的西荷史料都提及一個「有著共通語言的海岸村落網路」,這些人使用一種稱為馬賽(Basay)的語言。道明會傳教士艾基水(Jacinto Esquivel)曾留下記錄,敘及雞籠、淡水一帶的住民,也描述馬賽人與西班牙人的關係,使我們得以透過西班牙人之眼一窺當年的馬賽世界。
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雞籠土著「在征服初期... 受了不少傷害」
錄自艾基水〈福島事務錄〉
"Memoria de las cosas pertenecientes al estado de la Isla Hermosa"

從城市或聖救主城的港口看過去,延著向荷蘭堡壘延伸的方向,福島有著下列的村落:Taparri(Taparri)是由四或五個村落所組成。這些Taparri人和Quimaurri人住在海灣裡靠近西班牙人的地方。他們是我們建有城市的小島嶼上的海盜,在〔我們〕征服的初期,他們受了不少傷害。他們被趕出他們的土地,他們的稻米和玉米的tambobos〔儲藏室〕被夷為平地,他們以優良木材所建的屋舍、他們的家具和其他物品也都如此。起初,〔我們〕意圖要為這些損失補償四千披索;到目前為止,他們只領到了四百或六百披索而已。之後,他們在各種場合下殺害西班牙人、大港人、與到港口做生意的生理人。雖然他們遭到房屋焚燬、有些土著受傷的懲罰,但考慮到他們對我們造成損害之嚴重,他們是否值得前述所言的那些補償,可能不無疑問。這也是西班牙人可以免除此一義務的唯一方法。從那些征服開始之時便在此地的人當中,就可以詢問得知那些損害。



您想知道更多關於過去外國人在台灣的記錄嗎?請看
美麗的台灣-異國人眼中的福爾摩沙

附加的多媒體:
{rokbox}media/articles/JoseBorao_Basay.jpg{/rokbox}

週三, 29 四月 2009

前往雞籠的艱險旅程

本文節錄自《西班牙人的台灣體驗》,更多內容見於2009年5月號《人籟》月刊


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一般人可能會認為,西班牙人要由馬尼拉前往雞籠(今基隆),理當取道台灣海峽,但實際上為了迴避荷蘭人的伏擊,西班牙人是沿著東海岸航行。艱險的航道和與荷蘭人間的緊張敵對,都可由西班牙人所命地名窺見一斑。

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福島北部的天然良港
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。

此外,這座海灣的其他部分卻有所不足,水淺而泥濘(尤以海灣最遠端為然,即現在旅客碼頭所在之處),荷蘭人的資料也證實灣內沈積物的累積程度相當明顯,使得大型船隻在這些年間都更不容易在海灣靠雞籠島的這一側下錨定泊。

正常情況下,由馬尼拉前往聖救主城需時將近一周。舉例來說,1626年5月的小艦隊是於4日自北呂宋的萬圭(Bangui)啟程,於10日到達南台灣,14日到宜蘭。這些航線都沿著東海岸而行,因為這是迴避荷蘭人的最佳方法。他們到達稱為聖老楞佐(San Lorenzo,土著稱為Catinunum,即今日的南澳)的港口時,就已經離雞籠不遠了。


躲避荷蘭人的避難所
聖老楞佐的位置具有戰略價值,這首先是因為它是個天然良港,若是海象惡劣,可以將此地當成暫時的避風港,其次則是因為在有荷蘭人於附近巡航之時,此地可以充當避難所。

離開聖老楞佐之後,他們越過聖加大利納灣(Santa Catalina,即蘭陽灣),這個小灣的終端靠近馬拉不里戈島(Malabrigo),此字意為「惡劣的避難所」,是為了要讓水手不會在天候不佳時誤往該處避難,而取了這樣的名字,也就是今日所稱的龜山島。

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。

以聖雅各命名的村鎮
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。



您想知道更多關於過去外國人在台灣的記錄嗎?請看
美麗的台灣-異國人眼中的福爾摩沙

附加的多媒體:
{rokbox}media/articles/JoseBorao_Keylang.jpg{/rokbox}

週二, 28 四月 2009

文藝復興風的福島征服行動

本文節錄自《西班牙人的台灣體驗》,更多內容見於2009年5月號《人籟》月刊


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十七世紀是荷蘭的黃金年代,當荷蘭人在自己的故鄉爭取脫離西班牙統治獨立建國的同時,他們也以新海上霸權之姿在香料群島與日本競逐財富,從而對早已在遠東建立龐大勢力的西班牙人造成莫大壓力。為此,西班牙人來到福爾摩莎,試圖建立一個抗衡強敵的新據點。
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馬尼拉的三場危機
西班牙人於1571年在馬尼拉安頓下來,之後的幾年裡開始與鄰國交誼。白銀流使馬尼拉意外獲得饒富魅力的名聲,這座城市因而成為一個商業轉運站。但馬尼拉也因此而受盛名之累,在十六、十七世紀之交,先後落入與日本(1597)、荷蘭(1600)和中國(1603)的三場危機當中。十六世紀末,日本因為一名軍事領導者的權威而走向國家統一,此人便是幕府將軍豐臣秀吉(Toyotomi Hideyosi)。但他的野心尚不僅止一統日本,1597年甚至考慮要征服菲律賓。西班牙人為日本可能來襲而預做準備,於1597年探勘福島海岸,以備抵禦日本帝國野心之時建築要塞、充作戰場之需。這場危機後來因為秀吉猝死而煙消雲散,西班牙人也不再視立足福島為第一要務。

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。

第三次危機與中國人有關。定期自阿卡荸果(Acapulco,位於墨西哥)流入的白銀,吸引愈來愈多的中國人到馬尼拉定居,他們製造並散佈謠言,宣稱甲米地(Cavite;馬尼拉附近的港口,傀儡王船在此停靠)一帶有著一座黃金礦山。到十六世紀末,甚至還有中國官員前來求證此事,但西班牙人懷疑他們此行別有他圖,恐怕是將馬尼拉的中國居民視為中國臣民,意在評估是否有加以控制的可能。一系列的誤解和猜忌隨之而來,最後以1603年中國人的一場叛變,和因而爆發的大屠殺事件告終。


在福島建立新據點
在另一方面,馬尼拉的西班牙總督就跟後來的荷蘭人一樣,十分豔羨葡萄牙人能夠立足中國的門戶──媽港(Macao,今稱澳門)。西班牙人曾於十六世紀末試圖在媽港附近建立類似的據點,但這場冒險只持續數周,便被葡萄牙艦隊給制止了。事實上,西班牙人於1606年奪取了摩鹿加群島上的一些葡萄牙據點,大概就是唯一稱得上壓倒葡萄牙人之舉,而那還是因為自十七世紀伊始,荷蘭人便經常現身海上,葡萄牙人頗受壓力之故。

荷蘭人海上活動的目的,是要透過武力終結伊比利半島的競爭對手,他們定期封鎖媽港和馬尼拉,以切斷菲律賓與中國的貿易線。馬尼拉的西班牙總督則於1626年在福島建立據點,以與早先荷蘭人建立的城市大員(Tayouan,即安平,在今日的台南一帶)相抗衡,同時也試著以之作為第二個吸引中國貿易的地點。此舉在宗教上也有其重要性:首先,日本迫害基督宗教漸趨嚴重,1624年以後愈演愈烈,福島據點有助於傳教士偷渡日本。其次,傳教士也能迴避葡萄牙人所控制的媽港,另覓他途進入中國。

以上所提到的這些因素,是文藝復興時代的西班牙人抵達福島、構築雞籠要塞的時代背景。福島只是龐大的西班牙帝國裡極小的一個區塊,大概也是最為偏遠的地區,西班牙軍隊在此宣稱主權十六年,恰與帝國勢力加速衰退同時。



您想知道更多關於過去外國人在台灣的記錄嗎?請看
美麗的台灣-異國人眼中的福爾摩沙

附加的多媒體:
{rokbox}media/articles/JoseBorao_Formosa.jpg{/rokbox}

週二, 20 一月 2009

The Blessing of Babel

Let us start with a few definitions: a tongue (as in mother tongue) is a system of vocal signs, expressing and communicating thought, including knowledge, desire or feelings… The term of language is very close from the previous one (German has only one word, “Sprache”), as it refers to a diversity of uses of a tongue. Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) defines a language as a “tongue” plus a “speech” - the tongue is a social institution, speech is the tongue as individuals make use of it, at a given moment and time. Linguistics as a science is not concerned with “speech”, but only with “tongue”.

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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週二, 20 一月 2009

New Zealand’s Multi-Million Industry: Overseas Student Recruitment

Though not as flamboyant as its counterpart Australia in advertising its foreign student recruitment, New Zealand may very well be one of the most popular and costliest choices of destination for education amongst Asian nationals.

Roughly the size of the UK, New Zealand is residence to over 350 000 Asians alone according to statistics taken in 2006. Not frequent yet ever so present, are the racial violence in New Zealand, which has otherwise done little to discourage wealthy parents from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and Korea from sending their children half way across the world to learn English.

When Yi Ren, also known as Tina, a 30 year-old Chinese national from Beijing, was murdered in Auckland, New Zealand in September 2008- she became the fourth Chinese national to be murdered in the four weeks to 5 October 2008, where two Chinese men were also killed, and the body of another dead Korean was discovered.

New Zealand continues to be regarded as a generally friendly and racially tolerant nation. The plights of these foreign nationals, be it the repercussion of racism or other motives, can be mirrored in Australia but of a noticeably smaller percentage in the past years. Australia, on the other hand, has achieved a racist notoriety amongst Asian states for its overt ‘White Australian Policy’ and racial conflicts.

I was thus baffled as to why exactly foreigners, especially those from Asia, are bent on paying heavy sums of money in sending their children to study in New Zealand, where a year alone in high school and boarding costs approximately 30 000NZD (770 000NT), not including the expenses incurred by families visiting their children- which could amount up to a terrifying sum, unaffordable even for the wealthier middle-class family.

I am also speaking with personal experience that although not blatantly aggressive, racism is present to a large extent in high school to university life in New Zealand. From harmless name-calling, to vandalism of property to various degrees of physical abuse to murder, I have heard and seen all types of racial disputes during my stay in the country. The pricey cost of living and tuition in total for one year in New Zealand living there as a 17-year-old teenager has lead me to question: Is it really worth spending millions on secondary or tertiary education in a foreign country when one may face rejection in local social circles and face, from time to time, racial prejudice?

Were they, like myself, drawn by the praises of the country’s beauty through word of mouth, or recruited through the numerous profitable agents i.e. the foreign embassies, the so-called education attachés, other embassy staff, or their representatives? Recruiting international students is starting to look like or perhaps has always been a big business in New Zealand whereby the staff of foreign embassies and schools alike have an enormous stake; about 15 percent of all school fees paid by foreign students are claimed by these agents.
While these agents are more than willing to entice foreign nationals to study in New Zealand, promoting the multi-million ‘foreign relations’, the now increasingly negative behaviour of a significant number of locals beg to differ.

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.

週二, 30 十二月 2008

I am from Mars, you are from Venus

As a student in communication in Taiwan and, moreover, as being part of an international program, I have come to face several times issues of cross-cultural communication, both theoretically and practically. Actually, I am confronted everyday with such issues when I have, for instance, to collaborate with Taiwanese classmates in order to prepare a homework or a presentation for our class. Working with people from another culture, with different codes and sensibilities, has always proven to be very enriching for me, and, to my knowledge, neither me nor my partners have ever encountered any particular difficulty in the completion of any project.

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)
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Benoit B. interviewed Kouchouching, a Taiwanese hip-hop band:

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週一, 24 十一月 2008

连结两代的断裂

There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

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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