"You mentioned Pragmatism. Not sure if you embrace it, or just threw it out. Pragmatism is one of the few contributions of America to philosophy."
Not to diminish the contributions of any one individual, but voluminous contributions have been made by many ancient civilizations -- as well as many not-so-ancient civilizations that nevertheless preceded the US by millennia!!
Try this on for size: Imagine a person who knows ABSOLUTELY NO ENGLISH -- and doesn't spend much time studying translations of British or American literature or philosophy. Imagine just how VAST the store of knowledge that is basically out of bounds for this person!?! Multiply that by a factor or a hundred -- and you might begin to appreciate the wealth of knowledge in so many other parts of the world that is simply out of bounds for you! Knowledge that you don't even know exists!!
Nick, I think we differ in one main respect. Having interacted first hand with utterly different societies time and time again -- I completely accept the fact that not only do I NOT KNOW everything that's out there -- what's more, there are vast, vast, areas of knowledge that I don't even know exist!! In stark contrast, you are very assured that you know a lot -- and whatever you might not know -- you "know" that you have the ability to "think through them ultimately to the ONE, LOGICAL conclusion".
Parenting is the hardest job in the world. Bright teens acquire some initial knowledge -- and quickly conclude for themselves that they've "GOT IT". It's the result of a bright mind racing way ahead of actual (and very limited) life experiences. And their parents will tell you that it's really, really hard to tell a self-assured, know-it-all teen that there are still lots out there that're beyond their imagination -- never mind their understanding.
Nick, you've got a hellava lot more experiences than any teen. But reading your posts, you've also clearly made up your mind that you've GOT IT. That's way too soon, Nick, and also way too limited. Why? Reading some of your posts, they are mostly from the vantage point of YOU -- your struggles, your dilemmas, your triumphs. Based on this sample of one -- you've made many dramatic conclusions about "ultimate objectivity" -- such as the pursuit of happiness being everybody's ultimate goal (if they disagree with that, you simply conclude they haven't thought through sufficiently or rationally or both) -- and so on and so forth. Basically, Nick, your "sweeping" conclusions about humanity are linked right back to YOU.
Blessed are those who hunger. Why? Because be it food or knowledge -- you can't really feed someone who is already full of it. If you are truly interested in learning (and not just in acquiring and 'cataloging' facts), then I respectfully suggest that you jettison your "teenager approach" to learning -- and go back to being more child like -- and open! And along with innocence, a little humility will go a long way as well.
Finally, you wrote:
Regarding the need to visit China or any other country to gain a true understanding, wouldn't the visit be rather subjective, depending where and what we see?. Of course! But if you value only the objective, then the xerox machine is pretty darn objective and faithful. It is also rigidly limited. You can choose to faithfully parrot earlier philosophers -- or you can strive to synthesize your own -- by both exposing yourself to the world, and also by leveraging knowledge from the past.
I don't think one needs to be a combat soldier or war correspondent to understand the horrors of war.... My view? Intellectually, yes, you have a point. But emotionally, NO, not by a long shot. I've not been in combat and wouldn't even pretend to "know"!!
It is my belief that to understand another country, we need to understand that country's sense of life (i.e. their view of the Nature of Man, Nature of Society, and Nature of Government). These are intellectual pursuits that can be accomplished without visiting in person. My view? As described above, you will not believe me when I tell you that you are almost completely and utterly wrong! Like the teen who finds his daddy a dumb ass (no matter how much his daddy explains otherwise) -- the teen will have to go out and experience the world himself -- before he finds out, as most teens do, that his daddy was actually pretty darn intelligent.
Nick, you have been a great learner of your world. But there is a far, far bigger one out there.