Arguing About Tastes

Before I talk about tastes, I want to present two scenarios that I think are very similar which others don’t notice.

1. Rightish/conservative types criticize the idea of cultural appropriation as stupid, unfair, and a regressive concept. What’s wrong with a white guy opening a Thai restaurant?

2. The same rightish/conservative types love to shit on “hipsters” as posers, wanna-bes; characterize “hipsters” as people that just put on music/looks to be cool without really understanding the history. It sounds a lot like cultural appropriation… If one is confused by my portrayal. Sit down calmly and try to explicate why you or others hate hipsters. Be honest. I don’t think it’s very different than how I portray it.

There are many aspects to taste. One of the central issues is reference points. Elites, critics, educators, and others implicitly argue that if people had different reference points they would appreciate elite tastes more. Let me unpack this idea with a story.

When I first met my wife Robin, we would eat at various Chinese/Vietnamese restaurants that she liked. I thought the food at these places was pretty awful. In my reference point formulation, Robin had a very low/basic reference point in regards to Chinese food. She consumed a very narrow subset of Chinese food. My claim is that if she were to eat Chinese food every day with other Chinese people and was exposed to the depth or broadness of the cuisine; her reference point would move, and she would feel the same way as I initially did. Without much overt coaxing, this is what played out in our lives. Robin’s taste in Chinese food is pretty close to mine. A lot of arguing about taste is, “If you only had as much experience and knowledge as me, then you would be closer to my position”

Obviously, this isn’t always true (preferences still matter) and it’s truer in some domains than others. I would say… people are generally more open to food than to different types of music for example. Music preferences seem majorly determined during youth (I have a story for this); music is more tribal and less open as a taste category. Anyways, a lot of food arguments are basically about reference points. I tell people that Americans have extremely bad taste and what I mean is that they have relatively low reference points compared to other people in the world. This may be news to many Americans, but go to any European country and ask them what they think of American food. Most educated Asians have similar condescending attitudes.

Now, in this reference point argument… there are some people who are more right than others. It is true that everyone self-deceives and would think that if people just understood their tastes like they did with their experience; then we would move to their position. Still, some people are more right… With regards to Chinese food in particular, I have many data points from my own life that indicate I am correct; I and other Chinese people have the superior reference point. People generally move in our direction; we don’t move in their direction with experience. In music… I claim higher reference points will not shift opinions that much on Classical/Jazz, but will shift rap or electronic music preferences.

A deeper point I would like to make though is… people generally think preferences are more fixed than they are. People are also too certain/too sure of their own position in tastes; food is an area where higher reference points will generally change people’s attitudes/behavior.

If you buy my reference point framework… let’s evaluate the two scenarios I first presented: cultural appropriation vs. hatred of hipsters

I will concede that there is some underlying truth to both propositions. I am automatically skeptical when a white guy opens a Vietnamese restaurant. I don’t care if he does do it… but my natural inclination is that it won’t be very good. Again, I could be wrong. My stereotype is that I have a high reference point, he has a low reference point. And most leftists that use the cultural appropriation argument are generally higher reference point types; they are open and know more about cultural things. They find it offensive that someone would just put something on without much respect/knowledge. This may be wrongheaded on some level.

On the other hand, let’s look at rightish types’ arguments against hipsters and actually a lot of what they think about art, music, movies, food, etc. Rightish types are low reference point people in all of those domains…

Some people are more right than others.

Here is some scattered anecdotal stuff, the biggest difference between left/right people in the five factor model of personality is in openness. Leftish types are much more open than rightish types. If you look into the subdivisions of openness and where the biggest differences lie; they are need for structure and need for cognitive closure. Leftists score low on those measures. Right leaning people generally hate abstract art and complex art (there are studies on this). Extrapolate to other complex and ambiguous fields.

In the stereotype accuracy literature; minorities’ stereotypes of majority groups are more accurate than majority groups’ stereotypes of minorities. The majority group will have accurate stereotypes of the minority group, but they tend to be more extreme. Pretty obvious, but minority groups tend to know a lot about the majority group whereas the opposite is not true. Don’t think of white/black; think of white/Vietnamese. One group knows almost nothing about the other on average.

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