Wednesday, August 19, 2009

About this blog

I’ll introduce myself by saying that I go by the name ‘semprini’ (Monty Python geeks will understand) on the internet. I’m 46 years old, American, married 20 years, no kids. I grew up in the Bay Area, and I’m living in Tokyo, teaching English conversation to Japanese adults.

As blogs exploded in popularity over the past decade, occasionally someone I know would ask me if I’d ever write one. My automatic response was always, what would I say? What is there to say that I want to say enough to write it down regularly, and would it be interesting enough for people to want to read? Nothing came to me, so I put aside the notion.

During my working hours, my English teaching includes many hours of conversations with high-level students about all sorts of topics, including social, political, and cultural ones. Japanese culture is quite different from America’s, and I found that exploring the differences gave me a different perspective on my own culture. I would ask myself and my students, ‘why do Japanese do X’, but I would also wonder, ‘why do Americans do Y’, about which I’d never before wondered.

I found myself getting in the habit of analyzing why we do what we do: the individual forces that motivate us, and the social forces that shape and direct us. I would read a newspaper article and try to understand why things were happening as they were. For example, as I write this, President Obama is trying to get a health care bill passed, Congress is in recess, and at town hall meetings across the country, highly agitated citizens are showing up shouting, criticizing, and disrupting many of these forums. Obviously they can be considered right-wing agitators, doing anything they can to derail Obama’s plans, but many are clearly sincere in their belief that a ‘government takeover’ of health care will cause disaster, signify that socialism has arrived, and so forth. Many of these people are on Medicare or soon will be, and they strenuously resist any changes to that (government-paid and administered) program.

So, I can’t help but wonder: Why is one government medical program okay but another isn’t? Why are these people so emotional about this? Why do so many people believe that Obama’s program will create ‘death panels’ that will ‘pull the plug on grandma’ in the utter absence of any evidence that there’s any plan to do so? Why does the media not simply report that these rumors are false? Where do these people get their information, and what care do they take to make sure the information is accurate? Why don’t they take better care to avoid getting false information?

Some of these questions would appear to have easy answers (‘they watch Fox News’ covers some of them), but I tend to want to look deeper, into the psychological and social forces that encourage people to choose a news source that validates their beliefs at the expense of assisting their understanding of an issue.

I talk about these matters with my wife (who is also American) and sometimes with my students, but it occurred to me that writing out my thoughts might help focus my thinking, and who knows, the blog might find other people who have ideas and insights along these lines.

The blog will sometimes comment on politics, but won’t be written along partisan lines; the reader will get to know what I think about this or that issue, but also that I’m open to persuasion and intellectually honest discussion (trolls on either side will find their comments not posted). I’ll be commenting on social events; not to bash this person or that group, but to understand and examine why things happen the way they do. I’ll sometimes write about life in Japan and how it differs from America, for good or ill. And I may occasionally write about this or that from my life if I think it may be of interest to others. I’ll post as often as the mood hits me, so I encourage anyone interested to subscribe to the RSS feed. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you around.

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