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  • Andrew Andersen

Have They Truly Forgotten How to Trust Their Eyes?

Updated: Jun 16

Canada / Jan. 22, 2024

During the period from 1998 to 2003, I taught a course on the political history of China at one Canadian university. One of the lectures focused on the Chinese Civil War from 1927 to 1950. In the middle of that lecture, I conducted an experiment, showing the students two sets of photographs featuring soldiers and officers from two warring Chinese armies. The first group of photos displayed smiling, amiable faces of the Nationalist soldiers (anti-communists) and impeccably dressed Nationalist officers whose expressions radiated nobility and dignity. In contrast, the second group of photos presented Communist soldiers and their commanders and commissars—mostly untidy individuals in loose, dirty uniforms, with clearly discernible vices such as malice, greed, treachery, and extreme ambition written on their faces.

A year before I showed those photos to young Canadian students, I presented them to Canadian retirees to whom I also lectured on a voluntary basis. The elderly men and women immediately noticed the physiognomic contrast. Surprisingly, the young students failed to see any difference, perhaps influenced by the mantra instilled in them during their school years that all faces are equally beautiful.

However, all that was a long time ago, and I had almost forgotten about the situation with the photos until my friend Paul H. reminded me of it recently. Paul was born and raised in an intellectual Anglo-Saxon Canadian family; his father was a well-known local physician. However, Paul's paternal grandfather worked as an executioner for the death penalty in Canada, and his grandmother was known for preparing a tasty last meal for the condemned. But I seem to have digressed...

So, let's get back to Paul. Paul started his life as a jolly playboy and still doesn't think about tomorrow, content with the present day and not having any particular demands for the future. To support himself and pay his bills, he works as a taxi driver.

During one of our recent meetings for wine and exchanging news and impressions, Paul shared the following story. Two government officials hailed Paul's taxi and, during a fairly long ride, decided to "descend to the common people" and engage in conversation with the taxi driver about various trivial matters. In the course of their conversation, one of them unexpectedly asked Paul, "Excuse me, which region of India are you from?" Shocked, Paul turned to the passenger and, after a short pause, inquired, "Do I look like an Indian to you?"

Meanwhile, I must inform you that Paul not only speaks English without the slightest accent (unlike most Indians), but he also has an almost Scandinavian appearance: a tall blonde with blue eyes and light beard, wearing glasses with an expensive titanium frame.

"No, you don't really look like an Indian," the official responded, hesitating a bit, but then added, "However, since most taxi drivers in our city are immigrants from India (which is indeed true), I assumed that you might be too..."

In other words, the "logic" goes like this: if the majority of our taxi drivers are Indians, then the fair-haired Anglo-Saxon behind the wheel must also be Indian, right? Wonderful logic!

So, I think: either they have truly forgotten how to trust their own eyes, or their eyes now see something different from reality. What do you think?

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