Sunday, June 29, 2008

Aunty revisited: Aunty-intellectualism

Further to my previous post, I did a little asking around over the net regarding how one should define aunty. Here's a list of some more adjectives that average Malaysian/Singaporean Chinese associate with auntyness:

naggy, prudish, loud, anachronistically conservative, narrow, fickle, MILF(???*)

Above list will be updated as more suggestions come in over the week. NotKieran (who's Singaporean, Chinese and thus totally qualified to comment) translated the original sentence ("She very aunty laiddat") as:

She's a nosy, bossy, gossipy, prideful superstitious old baggage who expects the world to pander to her.

Abovementioned translation came with a pic that was just too good not to share:

Reminds me of a certain fundie aunt of mine...

I must confess, at the time I wrote that entry, I didn't really dwell so heavily on the negative aspects of auntyness and was thinking more about the role of aunty-ish individuals in preserving traditional Chinese culture. So I'd like to devote this entry to discussing the place of auntyness in contemporary urban Chinese society.

Thinking back to a couple of dinners I had recently with my relatives, many of whom could be described as aunty-ish (literally, too) we make the following observations regarding the aunty mind. Please note that for the purpose of this entry, the word "aunty" will be used to refer to individuals who are aunty-ish and we'll ignore the common definition of aunty for now. I recommend using the ahn-TEE pronounciation mentioned in the previous post to help make the distinction.

The upbringing of the aunty mind is steeped in tradition, and is almost without exception carried out under authoritarian conservative Chinese parents. As such, much of the aunty mind's early development will be defined by the unquestioned "hard-coding" of traditional Chinese culture into their minds. To discuss traditional Chinese culture at length is beyond the scope of this entry, so I'll keep this restricted to highlighting the key behavioural drivers of traditional Chinese culture:

1) Material wealth is the primary measure of success. As such, intellectual achievement is valued if and only if it contributes to one's ability to make money. Hence philosophers, artists and scientists are traditionally considered inferior to, say, bankers, lawyers and entrepreneurs.

2) Loyalty to family above all else. The more closely related, the better. Note that this loyalty takes precedence over duty to society as a whole, hence the propensity for Chinese communities worldwide to coalesce and never quite fully integrate and go native.

3) Age is directly proportional to seniority in ALL respects. One is meant to listen to one's elders without question, for no reason other than because they are older. We note that senility is not factored into this.

Between these three drivers, we get an anti-intellectual society that glorifies material wealth above all else. Also, since traditional Chinese society is distinctly patriarchal, the aunty mind is prone to growing up and reaching maturity completely devoid of skeptical inquiry, since a girl's questions are far more likely to be ignored than a boy's. So although the aunty mind is a useful repository for traditional Chinese culture (and really, there are positive aspects to it, e.g. Chinese culinary arts), it is also a bastion of anti-intellectualism in contemporary Chinese society.

And so it is that we find many adult individuals in Chinese society whose belief system is based around the three drivers mentioned above, whose upbringing has been sorely lacking in matters of ethics and reason. It is interesting to note that owing to the lack of reason holding reign over the aunty mind, the aunty is rarely subject to cognitive dissonance and, like many Republican conservatives, is capable of breathtaking feats of hypocrisy. This is pretty much why the fundie Christian communities of Malaysia and Singapore are almost exclusively Chinese.

Also, without a solid grounding in ethics backed by reason (i.e. a humbler perspective of one's place in society) the aunty mind is often under the sway of that very old, very persuasive evolutionary driver - egocentricity. So the aunty mind will often have an over-inflated sense of self-importance. The aunty will often be loud, selfish and dismissive of views that do not agree with her own. So great is the aunty's sense of self-importance that they often view their ignorance of intellectual matters as a good thing, wearing their ignorance like a badge of honour.

This egocentricity, coupled with driver #2 above, means that the aunty almost always has racist leanings. This isn't so much born out of an actual malice towards other ethnic groups as much as a general unwillingness to understand other cultures. Throw their anti-intellectualism into the equation and you wind up with a breed of person who is very quick indeed to dismiss other cultures and traditions as barbaric and nonsensical.

Please note that I do note write this as a sexist, racist tirade of cultural self-loathing. This is simply an observation of a reality that I am personally familiar with. Had I been brought up with greater exposure to other cultures, I might speak more authoritatively on them. However, I wasn't, hence I cannot, not without further research, anyway. I have no reason to doubt that other traditionally patriarchal East Asian societies have their own parallels to the aunty being described here.

But fear not, Chinese comrades, all is not lost! The information revolution is having a clear effect on the traditional Chinese worldview, and greater access to information is leading to younger generations of Chinese questioning the 3 drivers (especially #3), and greater equality between the sexes is rapidly producing more and more Chinese women capable of critical thought. To be sure, there's plenty of work to be done in promoting the cause of science and reason in our world, but we can at least take some comfort in knowing that the aunty's days are numbered.

* I didn't get this one either.

1 comment:

Rambling Alcoholic said...

Not all aunties are MILFs, so u should remove that. =P

I suggest the inclusion of the words "self-righteous" and "pain-in-the-butt".