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The silly "paradox" paradox

Via Slashdot, I came across The Puzzle of Japanese Web Design.

With respect to clarity, simplicity, and boldness of line, the Japanese have been a thousand years ahead of us in fine art and graphic design. Our best painters learned minimalism, cartooning, and much else from the Japanese during the “Orientalism” period of the late 19th century. Before that, western fine art was judged in part on its complexity and detail. And our posters and advertisements! Don’t ask.

Following that simplistic, stereotyping, jingoistic "us vs them" nonsense, there's a bizarre bit about chopsticks that somehow mistakes cheap, ugly, scrap-wood waribashi disposable chopsticks as the only form of chopsticks in Japan. It's really unrelated, but I can't resist:

Even the way the Japanese design chopsticks reveals this genius for simplicity coupled with a reverence for the natural world. Your Chinese chopstick is all lathe work. It’s about the gloriously smooth finish of the stick. Chinese chopsticks are miniature masterpieces that we tragically toss away after a single use. But they are masterpieces of human skill.

In contrast, the Japanese don’t change the shape of the wood. They simply put a small crack in one side—just enough that you can snap it like a wishbone when you’re ready to use the chopsticks. The Chinese chopstick is about Man and His Craft. The Japanese chopstick is about the sacred, ephemeral beauty of the revealed world.

This guy's a hoot; it reads like a parody of culturologists, but I think he's serious!

Anyway, that's just a wacky tangent. The gist is this:

Given Japan’s world-leading preference for the boldly simple in the applied and graphic arts, it’s puzzling that so many Japanese website designs prize clutter over clarity. 

All right. Yes, many Japanese websites are cluttered. I've certainly noticed it myself. And... so?

As I'd expect, the comments below the article are rife with chipped-in inanities about “Western” vs “Eastern” ways of thinking and “zen perspectives” and “contradictions” and "more is more" vs "less is more" and on and on... 

Give me a break, people! There is no "contradiction", no "paradox", no "puzzle" here. The two-second answer to the whole "puzzle" raised by the article is this:

People making austere, elegant pieces of traditional artwork… and people making gaudy, cluttered web sites… are generally not the same people.

Boom. Solved. Aren't simple answers lovely?

A “puzzle” or "paradox" appears only when one adopts the silly delusion that a shared affiliation with a political entity (“country”) among multiple individuals should mystically create a shared sense of (among other things) aesthetics. But that delusion simply doesn’t mesh with reality. 

Here's the truth in a nutshell: When reality conflicts with your preconceptions (like "aesthetics is a property of countries, not people!"), that doesn't mean you've found a "paradox". It means your preconceptions were wrong. That's all.

Yet as the linked page demonstrates, there's no doubt that the converse – "OMG everything's a paradox, at least if there's the name of a foreign nation attached to it!" – is so damned beloved out there. Why? That's the "paradox" paradox that always puzzles me.


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