Ignoratio elenchi

When my family moved to the US from Russia in 1999 we had some Russian friends and acquaintances. My parents are smart people, and they are unusual people, or rather very individualistic, just kind of doing their own thing regardless of what's "acceptable" by the community, no desire to be another brick in the wall. A lot of my close relatives are like that, actually, for apples don't fall far from trees. Well, anyway, we sort of tried blending into a community of our fellow countrymen here. There were many reasons for why it didn't work, number one being that we're just not "community" people :P But one of the more concrete contentions my mom especially had with a lot of fellow transplants was that they held this firm belief that Americans = dumb. That they don't read books, are all close-minded (oh the irony), poorly educated, not well-rounded in their knowledge, etc. My mom volunteered at a local library and she fought against this conviction, at least the "Americans don't read" portion of it. We eventually just kind of left this hopeless battle alone and slowly ended up separating from all of these people. Nota bene, not all Russians we've met (and certainly not all that exist!) have been like that. But there were enough of them to make an impression. I don't consider us ~enlightened, the "good ones", etc, none of that. Just a different viewpoint. That I agree with :D

I have my own theories why some of these people thought (and continue to think!) this way. It involves insecurity, not being well acquainted with enough of those people they so love to put down, inability to look at self critically, etc. As if there aren't any dumb, close-minded Russians who don't read books and don't want to learn. Just... ridiculous.

What I wanted to bring up, though, in this roundabout way is how it never ceases to amaze me how surprising people can be. I've met so many bright, curious and intelligent folks just riding the bus around the area. And these are often people with minimal higher education, with professions that have nothing to do with research and the pursuit of knowledge, etc. What they discuss isn't always correct, and is often speculative, but seriously, who cares? They are learning and exploring and *thinking*. I wish I could put together a collage of all of these people and just dump it, macro-style, whenever I hear another transplant from Russia or elsewhere, really, diss on Americans as a whole.

I spent my bus ride to work this morning chatting with this very interesting young man. He was curious what I was reading (my statistical machine translation book) and however much of a reclusive person I am, I absolutely don't mind talking to strangers if it's a topic that interests me (which I guess is a lot of stuff). Turns out that he has keen interest in physics, especially quantum mechanics, and although he mentioned that he had no formal education he talked about things on a level comparable to what I hear from grad students in physics. He said he's just very curious about the subject and would have loved to study it formally, but doesn't have the mathematical foundation to dig into solving pencil and paper problems. And he knew all this stuff about Bayesian stats, and neural networks, and other things, and we even had a nice detour into the complexity of consciousness :D When I asked him what he does for a living he said he works in insurance. I have so much respect for people like him, striving to learn and challenge themselves without having the privilege of a comprehensive education in the field, or a profession. I have a lot of respect for people like this...

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