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How odd it is, the number of people with intense opinions / judgements about millions of total strangers.  Whether these opinions are positive or negative, the very underlying premise–that a person can have an accurate opinion about millions of strangers–is ridiculous, even if it’s quite commonly done.

It usually take the basic form of, people from ____ country are _____. Nations get reputations, or people from these countries are thought to embody certain supposedly national traits.

Another form of generalization comes from people making an assessment of the government of a certain country, and judge citizens of that country in relation to what they think of the people ruling it.

It’s usually subconscious, and it’s done even though it sounds quite stupid when said aloud.

People from rich Western countries look down on people who live under totalitarian rule, like North Korea, or under more or less military rule, like Pakistan. I suspect North Americans will say they care about the lives of such people, and they may, but there’s still a quiet and automatic feeling of superiority. We have no control over the system of government we’re born into, but I suppose many people here feel like we earned it. Like we deserve to have been born in a stable, wealthy nation.

I know people who hate Trudeau, yet are prepared to judge millions of people in another country by who rules over them. There are people who make an assessment of a foreign country’s leadership, then, based on this, believe these countries should be militarily invaded and attacked. Really, consider this.

My rule of thumb is, anybody who can’t name the language spoken in another country, let alone actually speak it, can’t really have an opinion about that country worth hearing. I lived in India for 1.5 years and didn’t learn Hindi. I only interacted to a subset of people who speak English, and this was very limiting. I know a lot more about India than I used to, but for a real political opinion, speak to a native. Natives from different regions. You can begin to understand another country’s politics when you understand their political cartoons.

The thing that determines status worldwide is money: Rich nations export their culture, and their culture becomes international pop culture. It’s not necessarily because it’s better art, there’s just money behind it, and confidence, and this sends it around the world. The fact that it’s been exported convinces people it ought to have been exported, and they’re more likely to embrace it because it was presented to them than they would if they stumbled on it themselves in some remote corner of the internet.

That art from their country is present around the world makes the people from that country feel superior, even if they have absolutely nothing to do with the art’s creation. That’s why politicians eagerly claim artists born within their borders, even if they didn’t fund or inspire or have anything else to do with the art. Countries even brag about writers who spent their lives denouncing that country, or at least its government. Politicians are likely to praise local writers they have never read, let alone understand.

It’s not a coincidence that America’s culture has circled the globe, and so has its military. Beyonce is great! Coca Cola is shit. Governments judge art not aesthetically but by how much Soft Power it’s worth. Art in this sense has no artistic value, or at least is not valued for its actual artistic value, it just confers status and prestige. If you see the way people scream at concerts, from Beatles to Bieber, you’ll see it’s as if they’re responding to partaking in their status by being in its presence, rather than showing appreciation for music they enjoy.

I am definitely not criticizing American artists! Most writers and musicians I love are American. I repeat, I love them. But all countries produce excellent artists, and we simply never come to know them. I’m sure of it. People claiming prestige because they come from the country that produced Melville, even if they’ve never read Moby Dick, are the same people judging strangers by what cultural capital that country has allegedly produced.

Culture in North America usually takes the form of ready-made Products–songs, novels, something ready for sale. In India, I found culture was mostly created to make the surroundings more beautiful. Textiles were created so people have something nicer to wear, and even though of course they are sold, its inspiration was artistic rather than commercial. Music is played in temples, to accompany prayer. I went to Piano Man to see some jazz, but small venues like that are rare. When I wanted to listen to some music, I went to my local Gurdwara.

Cultural needs to be understood in its context. There are people who think Pakistan isn’t a cultural capital because it allegedly hasn’t produced novels in the Western Canon. This is like saying American writers are behind because it hasn’t produced any good ghazals.

Anyway, I submit that people shouldn’t judge strangers by things that have absolutely nothing to do with them: their government, their artists. The truth is, they say you can be married to someone for years, and one day wake up and realize you don’t really know them. How is it then, that people form such strong and rigid views about millions of perfect strangers?

We’re probably hard-wired for the days when humans lived in way smaller groups, and even though it’s tempting to do we’re not mentally equipped to process reasonable verdicts on millions let alone billions of people. Especially total strangers. So it’s good to recognize this limitation, and only judge people or things after making reasonable contact. Don’t judge things without context. It sounds easy, but we all kind of do it.

Calibrate your outlook according to your staggering ignorance (no matter how many things you know, there’s way more you don’t…this has nothing to do with lack of intelligence, there’s just way too much out there to grasp–it’d take many lifetimes), be humbled by this, and keenly appreciate how little we know. Then judge, or not judge, accordingly.