What to do about a friend who is becoming a hater?
October 13, 2013 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Someone close to me (a man) is developing an increasingly conservative, even bigoted, viewpoint on a number of topics. Please help me figure out what the hell is going on and what I can do about it.

This is someone that I am (or was) very close with and whom I care deeply about. He's in his mid-20s and has been living in South Korea for about four years as a doctoral student. During that time I've seen him about twice a year, every year. The last two or three times he’s been home to the U.S. I’ve noticed a shift in his beliefs. At first it was offhand comments relating to people being “fat” (he insists on saying “fat” and “fatties” rather than obese / obese people). That pissed me off, so I started calling him out on it and probing into what made him say such things, which led to the realization that he’s developed views like this about a lot of issues.

Some examples...
- he thinks that people who are obese "have let themselves go", should be shamed, etc
- thinks that race is not much of a problem in the U.S.; see justice / prison system
- that poor people should be able to change their lifestyles to better their situation; doesn't accept that poverty is a cycle etc
- anti-feminist stuff.... (never got to the core of his beliefs there)
- has a huge problem with "sluts", which is to say women who have a lot of sex; thinks that having lots of sex is bad for society, even if there are no obvious negative repercussions like STDs or unwanted babies
- piercings and tattoos; has told me that if I get a tattoo he won't speak to me for a year (even after I pointed out how utterly absurd this is)

It's really alarming to me that his viewpoint is changing like this and I don't really know why it is. When I asked him about it, he talked about how South Korean society is a lot more socially conservative than ours. (Koreans apparently shame people relentlessly for things like obesity, and shun people with tattoos and piercings, as well as unwed mothers and people who dress provocatively etc.) But I don’t see how simply being around people who have views like these can have such a huge effect. Mostly he's ignorant of a lot of facts, and seemingly he's been reading things on the web that are backwards and confirm his biases.

I want to send him lots of articles that cite lots of facts to change his mind. Is there a better way? (If not, can you suggest reading material?) Is this something he will grow out of?

I feel really silly for asking this question, since in our society today -- or at least among thoughtful people -- most of these things are not even issues anymore! Please help!
posted by switcheroo to Human Relations (37 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
has told me that if I get a tattoo he won't speak to me for a year

The second I read that I knew that you were a woman. That makes me think that all of this has something to do with power and control, a feeling that one is or should be considered superior to others and should rightfully have power and control over them.

My stab in the dark of a guess is that he's a guy who didn't see himself as being very powerful or generally thought of as superior before he went to Korea, didn't see himself as getting his rightful share of ____. Now he is in a place where, because of his gender, body type, socioeconomic status, personal appearance, etc., people openly and forthrightly consider him as being superior to others.

This is just my total conjecture. I would guess that either he actually is a compassionate person and just extremely insecure, and trying out a not-very-nice personality, and this can change if he becomes more secure --- OR he is not a compassionate person and just didn't have the social position to express it before, and in that case, I personally wouldn't expect it to change.
posted by cairdeas at 11:19 PM on October 13, 2013 [58 favorites]


I feel like living abroad can really skew people's mindsets. Not to say that Korean culture necessarily lines up with his views, but just that it's isolating in a way that I think can inspire people to have some really unique ideas about the way the world works.

There's also a degree to which people stop self-censoring about certain things, either because they aren't verboten topics in the new country (the thing about "fatties") or because they have become used to the idea that most people around them don't speak their language and thus there are fewer social pressures to avoid saying something embarrassing. It can also be tempting to see the people in the new country as a monolithic "them" who are open season for criticism. I think this is why your friend has suddenly become much more openly judgmental about things most Americans prefer not to discuss in that way.

I don't think you can change his mind with facts. I think he's going to have to come back to the world of being part of a community he has a stake in, where people can overhear and judge, and one's behavior -- even social behavior like stated opinions -- has consequences.
posted by Sara C. at 11:26 PM on October 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think that what this man is discovering while abroad is who he really is. Now you're seeing him as he is, too. Can you accept the high likelihood that you cannot change his mind, and that trying will further drive him into his bigotry and hatred?

Additionally, your statement that such bigotry really isn't an issue anymore in American society is very, very naive, and using that as ammo against his seemingly new-found ideas will not help you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:30 PM on October 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


Korea is more socially conservative than the U.S. in many ways, but it's a far from monolithic culture and there are huge generational shifts happening. A lot of K-pop stars, especially musicians, sport tattoos. The nutrition transition, while not as pronounced in Korea, has happened and there seemed to be an Outback Steakhouse on every Seoul city block that didn't have a KFC. Many of the Korean adoptees I know have been working with single mother organizations to push for greater governmental and societal support for unwed moms.

All this to say is that I'm worried your friend is using Korean culture as an excuse to indulge in some suppressed judgementalism. While the "oh Korea is a terrible country full of backwards patriarchal jerks" is also a junk response to moving to Korea, deciding that the U.S. is doing it all wrong is not a very thoughtful or scholarly critique either. It smacks of the "American women are too manly and outspoken, I want a feminine, nurturing Asian woman" ickiness that you can run into online from time to time.

I know no one who became more socially conservative because of moving to Korea as an adult, and I mostly ran around in graduate student circles. The one shift I did make was to local norms in Seoul was to avoid any plunging necklines and spaghetti strap tank tops, but then again I felt uncomfortable with the extra short miniskirts that many Korean women are perfectly comfortable wearing.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:30 PM on October 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


Is he a friend? If this bothers you that much and he's a friend, then let him go and find a new friend.

Is he a family member? If so, unless he turns abusive toward you or others, you might have to find ways to gently disagree with him, or let it go.

One thing I feel I've learned is that people don't change their attitudes and habits unless money or a major lifestyle change are involved. Someone who is dismissive and horrid toward the poor won't grow out of it, and you can't talk them out of it. What will cause an attitude adjustment is if they lose their money themselves... or if they move to an entirely new community that gives them a new perspective.

So, I would drop the idea that you are going to convince him to change his worldview, especially when he's living in an intensely conservative culture that surrounds him every day. It won't happen.

I get how this is. For example, much of my extended family is intensely conservative, to the point of sitting around the dinner table spouting the usual Tea Party nonsense. I went over to one family member's house and he had a magazine he subscribes to out on the table called "End Times," apparently some fundamentalist rag about how we are nearing the end of the world and it's all the Democrats' fault.

One family member is a bit beyond... he is abusive to his family and actively supports a group I consider to be a hate group. I refuse to talk to him anymore. The rest, I tolerate. They're family and they're not horrid people... just misguided. So I do my best to bite my tongue, change the subject, and stick to friendlier topics.

As for your situation, either leave him behind or learn to tolerate him... but I would suggest you drop the idea that you will be able to change anything about how he thinks. A major lifestyle change is all that can happen to change that.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:31 PM on October 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think Sara C. has put her finger on the dynamic (expatriate life) that underlies his judginess. Living abroad too often lends itself to cultural essentializations. "Why do Koreans..." "How come Americans...?"

cairdeas also makes a good point. If he's a white American man pursuing an advanced degree, that comes with a huge extra helping of social, racial, gender privilege in Korea. It may have gone to his head and in the best case scenario, once his head deflates a bit, he'll stop being so judgmental. I also wonder what his doctoral research is because if he's in the social sciences, that might be a place where reading lots of good scholarly critiques of his positions could be helpful in slowing his freefall toward social conservative bigot-ness.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:40 PM on October 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think Sara C has it right when she describes how both one's outlook and self-censoring change when living as an expat. I actually lost a very good friend by saying something similar (though much less egregious) when I moved back to the States after living in Holland for many years. Conversely, I have a Dutch friend in NYC whose views and the way he phrases them would seem...quite odd to say the least back in Holland.

I think people advance through certain cycles as expats just as they progress through life. It seems your friend is at the total embracing of his adoptive culture phase and is being rather shortsighted about expressing this and rather self-unaware that it is (probably) a phase.

YMMV, but in my experience, it doesn't get any easier to make good friends as you get older, and of course the amount of history you can necessarily have with newer friends is limited. I'd tolerate what you can and sternly and vocally dismiss the rest until he gets over himself.

On preview spamandkimchi beat me to it.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:45 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing guaranteed in life is that your friends are going to change. Some of your friends are going to surprise you. That guy you knew in college who was a total screw up drunk who everyone just knew was going to end up living two blocks from campus and hitting on freshmen for the rest of his life? He's going to be married with two kids in ten years, BabyBjorn and everything. That Marxist guy who was all about Occupy? Yeah, he's going to earn an MBA and work in finance. And yes, some of your friends are going to take positions, political and otherwise, that you find repulsive. Such is life. Maybe his positions are informed or reinforced by Korean culture, maybe not, but if you find his comments personally offensive, you should not hesitate to make it known. If his beliefs are being expressed in such a way that you can't ignore them (e.g., if he truly can't get over the fact that you want to get a tattoo, to the point of cutting off contact with you), you should carefully consider whether this is a person who you want to continue having a personal relationship with.
posted by deathpanels at 11:49 PM on October 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Another thing that may be going on is that people tend to swallow whole what they discover for themselves in a new culture, which they'd previously ignored in their own as just part of the landscape. It has to do with understanding you develop yourself.

Korea is, in many ways, more socially conservative than the U.S., and your friend has likely developed some local friends with whom these things are discussed. They offer a generic Korean perspective; he thinks about it, finds it locally sensible, and adopts it because it's the first conclusion he came to after reflecting on it. The opposite values he held before had little sway because he didn't consciously adopt them.

Which is all to say that this is likely a phase. When I moved to the U.S., I went through a fixation on the virtues of American governance (real horse trading! actual negotiation to get support for your bill!) in comparison to the Canadian/Westminster style. Later on, I developed a much more balanced view, but for now, he's likely feeling a flush of belonging that comes with philosophically fitting in. Be patient and discuss these things lightly--a harsh challenge can make him dig his heels in, while contrary observations can nudge without threatening.
posted by fatbird at 12:02 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Uh-oh. Is this someone you have to be close to, like a relative? Because no matter whether he identifies more with the conservatism of S. Korean culture, or he's revelling in his newfound higher status, that "I wouldn't speak to you" stuff is unfriendly in the extreme. If you have a choice about being friends, I would consider this a signal that it's time to re-evaluate whether you really want this guy to be someone you count as close.


"Mostly he's ignorant of a lot of facts, and seemingly he's been reading things on the web that are backwards and confirm his biases... in our society today -- or at least among thoughtful people -- most of these things are not even issues anymore!" Plenty folks in the US listen to the radio, read the news online, watch TV and DO think about it - and because of the media sources they consume and the like-minded folk they talk to daily, they're firmly in the same camp as your friend. There are enough of them that they voted in the present Congressional majority. And many don't take it well when loved ones "send (them) lots of articles that cite lots of facts to change (their) mind(s)".

For most, conservatism is not "fixable", and you may have to decide whether it's a dealbreaker for you. Friendships have a lifespan, and people sometimes grow apart.
posted by gingerest at 12:32 AM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


How well / badly is grad school going? It can be a lonely and stressful time, or a manic, I know more about X than anyone else, everything is awesome time, and in either direction be so extreme that people can retreat into the comfort of absolutes (and absolute idiocy) to cope.
posted by zippy at 12:46 AM on October 14, 2013


I think cairdeas is right on the money.

My stab in the dark of a guess is that he's a guy who didn't see himself as being very powerful or generally thought of as superior before he went to Korea, didn't see himself as getting his rightful share of ____. Now he is in a place where, because of his gender, body type, socioeconomic status, personal appearance, etc., people openly and forthrightly consider him as being superior to others.

This pretty much sums up a large proportion of the male expat ESL teachers I worked with in Asia. I was in another Asian country, not Korea, but...I've heard stories, and I think it's rife amongst certain sectors of the western expat community across Asia. (To be honest, I think a lot of these men are misinterpreting cultural clues, as far as genuinely being considered 'superior' goes, but that's another issue.)

Living in Asia seems to bring out the worst in men who already have anti-feminist/sexist/racist/ideologically conservative leanings. Frankly, I found most of those men obnoxious to the point of unbearable. This thread is reminding me of how much I wanted to poke them in the eyes when they held forth about how fat/ugly/hairy/masculine all the women in Canada/America/England/Australia are. Truly gross. Most of these guys were punching waayyyy above their weight socially/romantically in Asia, and had totally lost perspective.

I don't think that anything you tell him will make a difference, sadly. I think he'll have to come to the realization that he's turned into a bit of a twat all by himself. This will probably only happen if and when he relocates back to the US, and gets (metaphorically, I hope) smacked around the head for it.
posted by Salamander at 1:00 AM on October 14, 2013 [33 favorites]


We didn't get this guy's ethnicity, actually. Just because the US is his home does not necessarily mean that he is not, say, ethnically Korean or something: that would be very pertinent information.

It's quite interesting to read this guy's beliefs about poor people, because the Korean policy for such things is basically in accord with other sane welfare states: social insurance schemes, expanded social safety net, etc. It's been getting worse and worse, but so it has been in other sane welfare states. Korean government has a lot of other modern features, since we basically only got democracy which worked properly 20 years ago.

It's also quite interesting to hear that he's a doctoral student, because Korean universities, like universities everywhere, are hotbeds of liberal and socialist sentiment. Is he fluent in Korean? There's been a resurgence of the more awful kinds of insensitive jerkery in the Korean net lately. Ilbe and so on. In any case, he ascribes to Korean culture a homogeneity it hasn't had since the 80's, and which is really being destroyed at an exponential pace.

There is also a mismatch in the basis for judgment which he is using. He claims that Korean culture is so much more socially conservative than American culture, but what kind of socially conservative culture has a majority-atheist population? I mean, out of every 100 Korean marriages, 35 of them end in divorce. Is that really so different than the American 53, given that the divorce rate for Koreans over 55 is basically nil?
posted by curuinor at 1:47 AM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's quite interesting to read this guy's beliefs about poor people, because the Korean policy for such things is basically in accord with other sane welfare states: social insurance schemes, expanded social safety net, etc.
This may make him more likely to be of the opinion that poor people can "change their lifestyles to better their situation" and I think it may be somewhat more true in a country with a welfare state as well. I live in a European country with relatively okay welfare options, and I think it's way, way easier to get out of poverty when education and health care are free or subsidized, and there is a decent minimum wage and welfare safety net.
posted by blub at 2:24 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


But I don’t see how simply being around people who have views like these can have such a huge effect. Mostly he's ignorant of a lot of facts, and seemingly he's been reading things on the web that are backwards and confirm his biases.

We tend to wander around in self-selected echo chambers that reinforce our current worldviews, because cognitive dissonance is painful and hard work. He's going to keep doing this a bit. I also think he also gets attention out of you by winding you up with these little contempt-for-other displays. The attention also reinforces a sort of "I'm clever and know how the world works and this female is just digging herself deeper into a hole" smugness. But it's also the social mask slipping, now that he doesn't have generic free-floating American political correctness correcting his previous outbursts and behavior.

It sounds like now that he's moved to South Korea, he's getting a chance to try patriarchy as a lifestyle choice. And that he's choosing to express contempt of other people that he regards as low-status in a way which is partly victim-blaming, partly just-world fallacy stuff. I think psychologists have studied this stuff, which is a bit tldr for me:
Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think
The Political Mind
The Political Brain

Here's a shorter summary article which might be good and I might read.

I want to send him lots of articles that cite lots of facts to change his mind. Is there a better way? (If not, can you suggest reading material?) Is this something he will grow out of?

Unfortunately, a lot of people grow into conservatism, not out of, about the time they stop reflexively rebelling against their parents and start paying taxes which also benefit the people they regard as Other. I don't know if articles with lots of facts would be as effective as carefully picked long articles and medium-size texts with really good narrative. Remember that we're a rationalizing species, not a rational one, so go with narrative, facts about individuals, and working with the ideas of "expressing contempt" and "compassion" in your arguments.

- that poor people should be able to change their lifestyles to better their situation; doesn't accept that poverty is a cycle etc
Give him the book Nickle and Dimed.
Regarding racism, misogyny, going on about "sluts", I hope other folk can make suggestions.

(Remember that while it's interesting to understand how this fellow thinks, switcheroo does want a list of resources. I've just discovered that a lot of the stuff that comes up from a random internet search is sort of inside baseball, preaching to the choir writing and not, say, a solid Rolling Stones article that just drags you in.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:39 AM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Want to Win a Political Debate? Try Making a Weaker Argument is an interesting article about why sending him "lots of articles that cite lots of facts to change his mind" may not be the best idea.
posted by blub at 3:03 AM on October 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've dated a few Korean-American women, and they were really, really not into Korean-American guys, describing them as having attitudes that sound a lot like this guy's. The obsession with weight, the slut-shaming, the whole bit. I don't know any Korean-American guys so I can't say from experience how common or uncommon those attitudes really are... but I can say that as I read the description of this guy, it sounded hauntingly familiar.

People can still be pretty dopey and malleable in their twenties, and it could be that he is a decent person who is just going through a really shitty phase. But you've got to call him on it. He needs all the resistance to that stuff that he can get. If he doesn't pull out of it, he could turn into a really hateful old lump.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:27 AM on October 14, 2013


Southern metaphor-fest:

If you swim in grapejuice, you're gonna get purple.

If your concrete ain't set, folks leave footprints.


He's immersed. Expect attitude absorption.

He's (relatively) young. Expect social pressures to affect him more than an oldster who have come to conclusions before exposure and solidified them.

Above all, expect change. No one is immune.
posted by FauxScot at 4:28 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Korea is an amazing place, full of really welcoming people. When I was there, I was consistently surprised by just how mindblowingly easy it was to make new friends sheerly through proximity - which could include "we are drinking at the same bar". And, unlike the US, there doesn't seem (or didn't ten years ago, which is when I was there) to be as much of a filter bubble problem - you make friends who are very different and think very differently than you, then talk a lot about things.

What I suspect happened is two things: first, that your friend was part of a filter bubble in the US, where he thought things, but wasn't allowed socially to say them. Things like race not being much of a problem would probably fit into this category. When he got to Korea, being able to say things out loud may have helped him firm up his beliefs.

Secondly, being in a foreign place with different culture does let you compare things - and Korea is a really, really great place with great culture. It would be easy to look at it and want it, and assume that the reason it succeeds is because of these differences, rather than other factors. For example, the anti-feminist stuff. I remember being a feminist in Korea, and my Korean "big sisters" just kind of thought I was weird and earnestly tried to help me by buying me makeup and showing me clothing stores and thinking it was a knowledge problem. Korea is full of traditional, almost ritualized femininity - young women tend to emphasize their youngness and giggle a lot and talk about how much the men know better - meanwhile running roughshod over them. Older women talk about submission to husbands, but they rule the roost in kind of absolute ways. But the performance of traditional feminine values is there, and it's part of this really great family-oriented culture.

When I was in Korea, it was also ridiculously easy to lose weight - you're eating rice and small pieces of meat and drinking a lot of water and soju , so the few obese people are very, very much an abnormality and Korean people themselves were freaked out by it. Also, only gangsters had tattoos, which may mean that his own antipathy towards tattoos may be coming out. I don't particularly remember poor-shaming, but I also remember that the poor in Korea were particularly hard-working and took a generational approach while rejecting consumerism. (I also lived in a farming town, so that might be different depending on where your friend is) There is, however, in the cities, a lot of sexual exploitation, which it would be easy to see as "just a bunch of sluts" if you didn't know better. But again - just because things are a certain way in Korea does not mean they work that way in America, but it's hard to see when you've been somewhere for a few years and don't spend much time in America.

Also important to realize is that a lot of people, especially young people in Korea, hate America. Anything that belongs to America may also be slighted as a result - it's about military presence and unification and a lot of other stuff, but keep in mind that talking negatively about America is probably a thing that gets rewarded. When I was there I pretended to be Canadian. (This is also a huge difference between young and old. I vividly remember there once being protesters outside a military base, and once the older shopkeepers realized the military base would be closed during the duration of the protest, they picked up bats and started beating up the protesters themselves so the gates could reopen and the soldiers could come out)

The thing about not talking to you is probably because he has just realized the power of shunning, that will likely pipe down.
posted by corb at 5:21 AM on October 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Your "friend" is an ass. He was probably a latent ass in his younger days, now he's in a place where his silly ideas are supported and he's become a full-blown ass.

You can't change his mind. So you have two choices, you can dump his ass, which is totally viable, given your rare contact. Or, you can agree to disagree.

I have conservative friends, while we have tons in common otherwise, we keep to our Venn Diagram of interests and beliefs and avoid the stuff that doesn't overlap. Religion, politics, etc. If your friend was a good person, while he might believe weird stuff, you could overlook it because he has respect for your beliefs and he'd make it a point of not challenging you. But he's not, he's accosting you with his opinion and he expects you to believe what he believes.

Think long and hard about this relationship. Can you say to him, "You seem to have come back from Korea with a lot of very conservative views. I don't agree with them and it makes me uncomfortable to hear you say those things. Out of respect for me and my beliefs, can we agree to keep to non-controversial topics?"

If he truly respects you as a person and if he values your friendship, it should be easy for him. If he doesn't, well, there's the curb, use it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:35 AM on October 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Personally, while I wouldn't actually GET a tattoo (I'm chicken about needles), I'd be inclined to have a nicely visible "tattoo" (a good-quality rub-on will do) next time he's in town, just to see how he reacts.

And if he DOES go ballistic, ask him 1) why is it any of his business what YOU do with YOUR body; and 2) how is having a tattoo a reflection on your morals?
posted by easily confused at 6:25 AM on October 14, 2013


Mostly he's ignorant of a lot of facts, and seemingly he's been reading things on the web that are backwards and confirm his biases. I want to send him lots of articles that cite lots of facts to change his mind.

This will not work. If you are like most people, you probably think that you reached your sociopolitical views through logic and reason until you came to the "right" answer. However, this really isn't the case. You didn't reach your "correct" views by reading "facts" in articles because sociopolitical views are largely about value judgments. There is no amount of facts you could cite to your friend about tattoos any more than you could cite me facts about how great it is for a couple to sit on the same side of a booth in a restaurant. I think it is silly and annoying to look at, and that's the end of it.

As to how you deal with it, you have to deal with the fact that not everyone will share the same value judgments as you. To that extent, I join in Ruthless Bunny's advice that if you keep a friendship with him, don't discuss topics where your value judgments are at such severe odds. He doesn't want you accosting him with attempts to reeducate and enlighten him any more than you would want it from him.

Or, don't stay friends with him. Not all friendships are forever. In either case, give a second thought to the idea that social conservatism in any way equates to "hate".
posted by Tanizaki at 6:36 AM on October 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


I agree with corb (and I also lived there for awhile)...he has an appreciation for the culture he is now living in but is expressing it in awkward and somewhat offensive ways. I don't think you are going to convince him that 'American cultural values' are superior (especially not right now!). It's okay to let friendships ebb and flow. Just let him go for awhile. Feel free to explain why but it's unlikely to change his viewpoints, for now anyway.
posted by bquarters at 6:46 AM on October 14, 2013


Isn't looking down on others, just a way for the insecure to feel better about themselves? That's how it's worked with my acquaintances.
posted by Neekee at 7:39 AM on October 14, 2013


But I don’t see how simply being around people who have views like these can have such a huge effect.

It makes all the difference. Ever heard Louis CK's bit about "what if murder were legal"? That's a comedian taking things to the extreme of course, but social norms are central to the way most people behave and think. If South Korean culture, or the part of it he's become part of, is notably more conservative on certain fronts, it absolutely could shift his attitude.
posted by mdn at 8:07 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


So he's becoming the kind of man who thinks that women's bodies should be controlled (women who have a lot of sex are bad for society, calling them "fatties"), but he also thinks that he should be able to exert control over your body, by telling you that he wouldn't talk to you for a year if you got a tattoo.

If he's someone like family that you have to deal with, I would avoid engaging him on any of these topics. If he starts going on about the evils of people in poverty or unwed mothers or any other crazybabble, firmly tell him to shut up. It's quite possible that whatever articles you send him will only reinforce his beliefs.

Also, the only person I know who relentless makes fun of people for their weight and fixates on the size of strangers used to be obese. He's quite obviously terrified of gaining back the weight he's lost.
posted by inertia at 8:33 AM on October 14, 2013


While cairdeas may well be correct in their assessment, I think it's also possible to give this guy a somewhat more sympathetic reading (I'm struggling with this on a personal level given the exact content of this guy's ideas, but... you know!)

Living abroad can really shake up your most basic world view. One of the things that I personally found extremely unsettling was realizing that some of the values and ideas that I had thought were 100% my own were actually just something that had been "imposed" on me by the culture/society that I was raised in. (I'm inclined to believe that you -- switcheroo -- probably embrace your progressive values at least partly because this is how your were socialized, presumably by some combination of your parents, teachers, friends and the people you choose to hang out with...)

So once you have come to realize that these values were not actually your "own" but were imprinted on you, then you might begin to start questioning and/or re-evaluating them in a very different light. At this point, I can totally see why one may arrive at conclusions akin to these (despite their correlation-causation / hasty generalization / naivety issues)

-- In the US, we have "fat acceptance" and a huge obesity problem. In Korea, they have no "fat acceptance" and (virtually) no obesity problem. It must be obese people bringing this onto themselves. The right thing to do is creating a social stigma so that they feel the need to "straighten themselves out".

-- A lot of people in the US are poor, and seem to be stuck there. In Korea, fewer people are poor. Korean people also work really hard. It must be that poor people in the US are just lazy.

-- Korea has more stable and harmonious families, and every family member "knows their place" (Confucian virtue!). Families in the US don't work as well (respect their elderly, etc.). It must be that the Korean way of doing things (gender roles, etc.) is superior.

-- In the US, we have many issues that trace back to race issues. In Korea, which is ethnically homogeneous, these problems don't exist. Hence, it must be better if everyone just lives "with their own" (e.g., in segregated communities).

I'm not saying that these ideas are correct (I certainly don't agree with them myself), but I can definitely see why someone like your friend may come to espouse them.


So now back to you, switcheroo, do you think that you figured it all out? Consider, for example, this one:

- has a huge problem with "sluts", which is to say women who have a lot of sex; thinks that having lots of sex is bad for society, even if there are no obvious negative repercussions like STDs or unwanted babies

It seems to me that this view/value of yours is very easy to justify as long as your priority is preserving the freedom of the individual -- e.g., "my body, my business, end of discussion". I (and presumably most of the MF community) don't necessarily disagree with you here, but I just wanted to point out that more than half of the world probably do. For example, if you believe that social or intergenerational harmony is at least as important as the freedom of the individual to engage in casual sexual relationships (i.e., you consider it important that people form strong family bonds holding them together as economic / social -- perhaps multi-generational -- units), then it's quite easy to see how having sex with many different people could be thought of as undesirable despite having "no obvious negative repercussions".
posted by yonglin at 9:49 AM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's pretty clear he already looks down on you and diminishes you, he does not see you as equal to himself. He does not feel respect for you in any meaningful way.

He's stated he'll stop speaking to you if you get a tattoo. You're female, and he's spouted judgey hateful sentiments about women to you without shame.

Hon, get out of this relationship.

I'm not suggesting a big blow-up or anything like that!

If he's family, pull back emotionally and remain polite. If he's some kind of friend or romantic interest, tho, RUN.

Don't be friends with anyone who feels so poorly about something that is fundamental to who you are, like your gender.

It's a BIG world full of awesome people. Spend your time and emotional currency on those folks, not this bozo.
posted by jbenben at 10:04 AM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for all the responses, everyone!

Some more background… many of you were right in reading between the lines that we’re related, hence why I’m so desperate to stay friends with him. In fact, he’s my brother.

Cairdeas, that was a great response, and I think you're right in multiple ways. It has everything to do with power and control. This hits home...

Now he is in a place where, because of his gender, body type, socioeconomic status, personal appearance, etc., people openly and forthrightly consider him as being superior to others.

Also this, from Salamander…

Most of these guys were punching waayyyy above their weight socially/romantically in Asia, and had totally lost perspective.

Yeah. He’s doing really well over there, much better than he ever did in high school and college here. He’s taught himself Korean and is now fluent, he’s generally a really bright guy and doing well in his studies (physics), and being foreign / successful / tall & fairly attractive etc has made him pretty damn popular with the ladies.

Yonglin and corb, you also make very good points...

Living abroad can really shake up your most basic world view. One of the things that I personally found extremely unsettling was realizing that some of the values and ideas that I had thought were 100% my own were actually just something that had been "imposed" on me by the culture/society that I was raised in. ... So once you have come to realize that these values were not actually your "own" but were imprinted on you, then you might begin to start questioning and/or re-evaluating them in a very different light. At this point, I can totally see why one may arrive at conclusions akin to these (despite their correlation-causation / hasty generalization / naivety issues)

I think this is a big part of it. He's always been a bit of a skeptic, but now he's taken it further, questioning a lot of really fundamental things that he didn't used to question. Your assessment of his logic rings pretty true to me...

-- In the US, we have "fat acceptance" and a huge obesity problem. In Korea, they have no "fat acceptance" and (virtually) no obesity problem. It must be obese people bringing this onto themselves. The right thing to do is creating a social stigma so that they feel the need to "straighten themselves out".

Yes.

-- A lot of people in the US are poor, and seem to be stuck there. In Korea, fewer people are poor. Korean people also work really hard. It must be that poor people in the US are just lazy.

Yes. And he has a huge amount of respect for people who work hard, as he himself does.

-- Korea has more stable and harmonious families, and every family member "knows their place" (Confucian virtue!). Families in the US don't work as well (respect their elderly, etc.). It must be that the Korean way of doing things (gender roles, etc.) is superior.

That makes a lot of sense. All the ways that he thinks about family and the role of women support this virtue of family stability, as you say.

Thanks as well for pointing out my own biases and naivety, yonglin and These Birds of a Feather. ^^ I figured someone would. (I said that last bit knowing how naive it was, but I was feeling idealistic and a bit desperate, as well as nervous about posting this.) You're right, there's definitely a different set of values underlying Korean society that are equally valid as my liberal American ones.

I've heard of the cognitive bias studies and the adverse effect of arguing with someone. Aghh, so frustrating. The idealistic side of me still wants to send him things to read. Not framed in a "you're wrong, read how I'm right" way, more like "hey, what do you think of this?". He really does respect me, and I think he might be open to the ideas. (Goodness some of you are quick to judge...) We'll see. Hopefully he'll be moving back to the U.S., to be closer to home, after he finishes his degree.

Thanks again to everyone! You've helped me clarify a lot of things that were muddled up with emotion and personal investment in my head. Please continue to comment if you have anything else to say!
posted by switcheroo at 1:08 PM on October 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Entrenched mental structures treat change as death and fight against it. That's what you're seeing.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:09 PM on October 14, 2013


He’s doing really well over there, much better than he ever did in high school and college here...and being foreign / successful / tall & fairly attractive etc has made him pretty damn popular with the ladies.

People generally show support for the beliefs of those that treat them well. If he was treated as "average" in America, and then as a minor celebrity in Korea, you can bet that he'll be singing the virtues of the Korean way.

To be honest, I think a lot of these men are misinterpreting cultural clues, as far as genuinely being considered 'superior' goes, but that's another issue.

I agree with this. I lived in Beijing for a year and was quite popular. Not because I'm superior, mind you, but because I was a guest in a country that values being good hosts. Also, I had a built in novelty factor as I'm really Anglo looking and have the classic American Film Star accent. I would bet money that your brother is soaking up the same type of attention without bothering to figure out why people are so interested in him.*

*This is all internet stranger speculation, YMMV.
posted by Shouraku at 5:48 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, this is your brother?

I have three younger brothers. We're all over the political, cultural, and worldview spectrum. I'm the heathen liberal feminist who moved to the big city. My brothers are southern liberal/moderate, libertarian, and politically/socially conservative, respectively.

Despite being the oldest, and until very recently the only one of the four of us who left home for the big city, I've come to realize I simply cannot educate my siblings on the "correct" ways of seeing the world. (By the way, if your brother is older, and even if he's not due to the magic of mansplaining, this might be a factor in why you continue to butt heads about this stuff.)

So there are topics we just don't talk about. At various points some of them have "come around" on things, and there have been plenty of times when we've had fruitful discussions, or times when it turned out that we agreed about something despite our very different outlooks. But at any point, when the conversation about (for example) climate change is starting to not be fun anymore, it's OK to just say, "let's change the subject." And then actually follow through with that.

There are people I think it's permissible to just write off because of their insufferable beliefs -- family members, even. But I think that when it's a sibling, it's better to just take certain things off the table. It's definitely possible to love your brother, and even enjoy spending time with him, despite the fact that you disagree on major issues.

Let him take the philosophical trajectory that suits him. Eventually the pendulum will probably swing the other way, and even if it doesn't, it's very likely that his beliefs will moderate themselves over time.
posted by Sara C. at 10:12 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think you should "accept" his new ways just because there's a conceivable reason for it. If he says he wouldn't talk to you for a year, that's a truly shitty thing to say, and you should let him know, out of kindness. Offer him the gift of resistance. Make fun of him. Make it clear that you don't even believe him. "Of course you'd talk to me, you dork."
posted by mbrock at 12:32 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ah, physics. I guessed it was something STEMish.

Physics students occasionally tend towards a very particular sort of arrogance, before they get over it. Something about dealing with a chunk of the world which can be analyzed as as problems that respond to hard work with a handful of rules. Sort of "I can understand the motion of an electron in a spherical potential well using hard work, therefore the world is knowable, soft sciences and fluffy human stuff like sociology or urbanism are just kind of boring and (but would be really easy if I tried doing it) ..." A mix of that and "If everyone just started acting sensible ..."

Regarding resources, I'd suggest trying to find something like Feminism: A Very Short Introduction. Maybe. I'd read it first. Or the ones on Racism or Sociology. The Very Short Introduction series is a bit classy, and the reader doesn't feel like they're being talked down to, or advocated at. (Advocacy stuff is tricky. If you're ingroup, it's interesting and important, if you're outgroup, it can be really tedious. Think of trying to slog through some creationist or let's-hate-gay-people tract; your brain starts to squeak after a bit.)

Regarding obesity, I'd send him this (Via google scholar search "obese shaming"). Since he's a scholar working in the science, he may respond to it.

I'd actually get him a copy of Death and Life of Great American Cities. It may wake him up a bit intellectually - he's probably spent the last 4 years doing physics where he has to think and fluffy downtime media where he doesn't have to think. And get him thinking about people as people.

If he balks, I'd twist his arm a little bit. "If I was going on about physics, like free energy devices or "lifters" or just using the word "radiation" without knowing what it means, and I wasn't willing to read an introductory text, you'd get a bit frustrated. This is the same sort of thing. You think the social sciences are easy, but you're not willing to do the reading. Which is like someone who believes in homeopathy who's not willing to read about avagadro's number or acknowledge that people work on this stuff. Until you do the reading, talking about how culture works like like talking about how physics works without doing the reading." (This argument is designed to get under a physicist's skin. Trust me.)

Regarding the "slut" thing, I would actually confront him on it, invoking a bit of your authority as his sister. Say something like 'Amongst my people, that is to say women, "slut" just means "woman that it's ok if I rape" or "woman who has premarital sex (and it's ok if I rape)". So it's actually a hateful term, exactly as if you were going on about "niggers" or "faggots". Unless you think rape is cool and women shouldn't be in charge of their bodies, you should stop using that word and going on about feminists. I'm not really comfortable with my little brother calling women like me "sluts" if they have sex more often then he thinks is appropriate or in circumstances he thinks is innappropriate.' When he tries to backpedal or escape: 'I'm sorry, but I'm a feminist. You used the word "slut". We're going to have this conversation.'

This is confrontational, but this is the one part of his bigotry that actually touches on your agency as a person, where you can invoke it and get him into a wrestling hold. It may be a teachable moment - sometimes being called on the carpet by an angry family member works. I think it might be needful to have that conversation with him before his attitudes gel and set.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:00 AM on October 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think his bringing up these topics to spew hate about is itself a power/control move-- like corb said, he's discovering and experimenting with the power of shunning and social shaming, but he's also discovering the power of trolling and getting a rise out of people. This judgmental posturing phase is about trying on a patriarchal role, specifically it's all about showing other people (you) that he's someone whose opinions and judgments matter, that he is an important person who gets to decide who is virtuous and who gets to be treated with contempt (sluts, fatties, etc). Engaging with him on a lot of these points is giving him validation as a person whose opinions should to be taken seriously, when in reality, telling your sister that you won't speak to her for a year if she gets a tattoo doesn't deserve a bigger reaction than laughing in his face. He's a 20something young dude who's trying on the suit of an embarrassing racist grandpa, which is ridiculous. If he starts going off about sluts or whatever, defusing his power play with a polite "lol okay" might be more effective than countering him with hard facts about sexual health statistics or facts.

It breaks my heart to see you speaking so highly of him and being so proud of how he's doing, and in return, getting shat on by him with this nonsense about sluts and petty threats to cut you out of his life. So maybe try to get through to him with that. Tell him that you're proud of how well he's doing, that he's managed to be fluent in another language and that he's flourishing in his program; that you're proud of him and love him for who he is, not because he's not fat, not a slut, not poor, not a member of whatever group he's deriding for a superiority hit. And tell him that you hope he feels the same way about you, because he's your brother and you care.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:12 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but you won't be doing your brother any favors if you let him continue to freely spout this stuff.

Sending him articles and websites to read wouldn't help: he'll either ignore them or start sending YOU articles and websites supporting his biases. Unfortunately, you're going to have to confront him: every time he starts spewing this garbage, call him on it. ANY time he uses the terms slut, 'fatties', lazy, or any of the rest, don't just politely let him slide --- "Hold it, WHAT did you just say? Explain that, please." Halt that conversation in its tracks and break it down, right then and there, word-by-word if need be.

Sure, he's smart and you love him, but being smart about physics doesn't mean he's smart about everything or that he's some kind of universal expert.
posted by easily confused at 2:33 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Since you invited continued comments, I will add a bit more.

If I were your brother, I would not have made the comment about not speaking to you for a year if you were to get a tattoo. That said, I would wager that he and I are of similar minds about a number of things. (I will do my best not to speak to the merits of those views) In my case, it was Japan instead of South Korea but I was already socially conservative before I went. While you say you wish for your brother to return, be ready for the possibility that he might not, especially if he continues to have romantic success with local women. (the "punching above weight" line was not called for - people may date whom they choose). It ended up that Mrs. Tanizaki (a Japanese) and I came to America, but we could have just as easily stayed in Japan. FWIW, we want to return to Japan because we reject a lot of what current western culture purports to value. Your brother gets to reject it, too, if he so chooses. Frankly, I think he could not be farther from being homesick.

I think yonglin's comment was excellent. As yonglin pointed out, these value judgments are not out of meanness but there is an underlying reasoning. For example, I recommend against sexual promiscuity for everyone, and strong family bonds are certainly a reason for it. He gets to be disgusted by obesity if he wants just as others are disgusted by fedoras. This is not about being "correct", but about value judgments. You may disagree with the underlying reasoning of the value judgment, but it is one all the same. It may be helpful to keep in mind that everyone loves to allow things they like and ban things they dislike. Some people want to tell me what to do in the bedroom, while other people want to tell me what to do with the money I make. Oh, and everyone certainly shames behavior they don't like. Have you ever seen the reaction if someone decides to throw a can/bottle/piece of paper into a trash can rather than a recycling bin?

If you truly believe "there's definitely a different set of values underlying Korean society that are equally valid as my liberal American ones", please leave it alone.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:05 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


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