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Are academics able to interpret history?


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#1    pantodragon

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 03:48 PM

The above question was prompted after listening to a radio programme (Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time) in which academics were discussing Japanese history.  The academics were so out of touch with the reality of life, that I incline to a negative response.  In short, academics are so spaced out by living in their ivory towers that they have forgotten what it is like to be a real person with a real person’s responses to the world about them.

The programme was discussing a period in history from around 1600 to 1850 during which Japan cut itself off from the world: it became isolationist.  The historians, as usual, were unable to offer any insight as to why the Japanese shut their doors on the world.  They muttered something vague and insubstantial about “anarchy” and then quickly moved on to surer (for them) territory.

Well, here’s my suggestion as to why the Japanese got p***ed off with the rest of the world: they did what I do when door-to-door salesmen try to inveigle their way into my house, when under attack from those persistent sales phonecalls and so on --- I slam the door shut and take the phone off the hook.  Knowing that if they can’t get through my door, they’ll be down my chimney, I even block the chimney to keep the beggars out!

Japan was under assault by door- to-door salesmen e.g. the Dutch, the British, the Jesuits and anyone else who was trying to get a toe in the Japanese door through trade or missionary zeal.  The new Japanese rulers turfed them out, insisting that its population also refrain from contact with foreigners.  Apparently the Dutch were allowed to stay on an island off Nagasaki because they were protestant and didn’t have missionaries --- in other words, the Japanese tolerated the Dutch because they didn’t use such aggressive sales techniques as the other nationalities.  The Japanese also used the Dutch to provide them with reports on what was going on in the outside world, just as, even though I “repel all boarders”, I still listen to the radio etc.  But it is on my terms that I keep in touch with the outside world, not on its.

So, this is the trouble with historians/academics.  They have forgotten what it is like to be human, forgotten what it is to be concerned with the daily minutiae of life.  They create fancy theories about “anarchy” to explain Japanese behaviour, when in reality the Japanese were more likely responding to, and dealing with, the tedious problems that life besets us with.


#2    spartan max2

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 04:50 PM

I have to agree with you. Academica politicans and most celebrities. I think they all have basically lost touch with the rest of the world.

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#3    PersonFromPorlock

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 12:24 AM

I recall a book, The Etiology of Dirty Words (I think), where the (academic) author explains the expression "scared s--tless" as analogizing the low value of fecal material with the similar low value of a panicked individual. To be fair, he was probably an English prof and not a physiologist. He certainly wasn't a combat veteran.


#4    pantodragon

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 03:43 PM

I have raised this issue on several other forums: it is such a relief that, for once, the point I have been trying to make has been picked up and understood!


#5    Child of Bast

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 10:05 PM

We must all, then, bow to your superior intellect, because you know far more about anything than any of the rest of us do. :nw: :nw: :nw:

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#6    Emma_Acid

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 11:43 AM

View Postpantodragon, on 06 April 2013 - 03:48 PM, said:

So, this is the trouble with historians/academics.  They have forgotten what it is like to be human, forgotten what it is to be concerned with the daily minutiae of life.  They create fancy theories about “anarchy” to explain Japanese behaviour, when in reality the Japanese were more likely responding to, and dealing with, the tedious problems that life besets us with.

So you're lumping all "academics" together simply because of a radio show you heard; and of course your insight is much greater than someone who's studied a subject their entire professional lives.

We know very well why Japan closed its doors, and this is just another example of you not liking how academia works. Really really tenuous.

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#7    pantodragon

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 01:20 PM

View PostKasey2601, on 08 April 2013 - 10:05 PM, said:

We must all, then, bow to your superior intellect, because you know far more about anything than any of the rest of us do. :nw: :nw: :nw:

No, I would not say that I KNOW far more about anything than the rest of you, not to mention the academic world.  I do, however, UNDERSTAND more than any of the rest of you. :blush:


#8    pantodragon

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 01:24 PM

View PostEmma_Acid, on 11 April 2013 - 11:43 AM, said:

So you're lumping all "academics" together simply because of a radio show you heard; and of course your insight is much greater than someone who's studied a subject their entire professional lives.


Don't be absurd!  Understanding comes with experience, and I've had a great deal of experience of all sorts of things in my life.  As to academics, I know the type.  I only needed to see about 3 sheep before I learned to identify the animal.  Similarly, academics are a "type".


#9    ealdwita

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 05:03 PM

View Postpantodragon, on 11 April 2013 - 01:20 PM, said:

No, I would not say that I KNOW far more about anything than the rest of you, not to mention the academic world.  I do, however, UNDERSTAND more than any of the rest of you. :blush:

Aaaaahhh.....Now I'm on to you! You're Dr.Sheldon Cooper, aren't you?

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Edited by ealdwita, 11 April 2013 - 05:55 PM.

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#10    Mekelyn

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 07:05 PM

Pantodragon,
I think you have presented a very interesting alternate theory on the self-imposed isolation of Japan. Which might have prompted a flurry of discussion and alternate theories along with more information. I certainly would have welcomed a discussion on the subject. The problem though was that you lumped all academics together in a rather unflattering light.  Discussion over.  Maybe that was your plan all along?


#11    tipsy_munchkin

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 07:34 PM

Being an academic does not exclude someone from also having life experience.  Conducting research correctly and having to use sources to back up your arguments does not make you lee human. I feel you are placing academics together as one group with one nature which is simply not the case. Do you really think no historian has had your experience of door to door evangelists? Do you think they all live under a rock? The difference between an idea suggested on a forum and an academic paper is that the latter can not rest upon a personal anecdote but on relevant evidence. There are some things where the evidence is limited to a degree where we may never know what actually happened and historians are well aware of this. An admission of a gap in historical data is not a bad thing. I think you will find that academia is not sat in an ivory tower detached from the world. The ability to study sources and think critically I feel actually makes you more in touch with the intricacies of human nature and doing so does not exclude you from other interactions and experiences.

    

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#12    pantodragon

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Posted 13 April 2013 - 03:10 PM

View Postealdwita, on 11 April 2013 - 05:03 PM, said:

Aaaaahhh.....Now I'm on to you! You're Dr.Sheldon Cooper, aren't you?

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'Attempting to explode the feeble mind of an historian!'

You insult me!


#13    pantodragon

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Posted 13 April 2013 - 03:47 PM

View PostPersonFromPorlock, on 07 April 2013 - 12:24 AM, said:

I recall a book, The Etiology of Dirty Words (I think), where the (academic) author explains the expression "scared s--tless" as analogizing the low value of fecal material with the similar low value of a panicked individual. To be fair, he was probably an English prof and not a physiologist. He certainly wasn't a combat veteran.

I hope you don't mind, but, as I have raised tghis topic in another forum, and as further explanation was necessary, and as this expresses what I meant so very well, I quoted it.


#14    PersonFromPorlock

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Posted 15 April 2013 - 12:29 AM

View Postpantodragon, on 13 April 2013 - 03:47 PM, said:

I hope you don't mind, but, as I have raised tghis topic in another forum, and as further explanation was necessary, and as this expresses what I meant so very well, I quoted it.

Feel free.


#15    Andami

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Posted 15 April 2013 - 01:13 AM

What "academic" would state anything other than the fact that Japan entered its period of isolation due to a need to preserve their own culture (Mormons would fit better than door-to-door salesmen as an analogy)? It's common knowledge. It's also the reason the Dutch were allowed to continue trade; they were much less likely to push their beliefs on other peoples or cause military conflict. Something very similar occurred in North America with the Native Americans and Dutch. So, yes, you are partially right, but one instance of "academics" being wrong is a poor reasoning to believe that they are all wrong. Ever heard of hasty generalization? It's something you should have learned in English class.





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