Monday, October 04, 2010

A justifiable subway assault?

Update: Added another video. Also, it's pretty clear this editorial is against the girl, seeing how it messes up the chronology of what can be seen in the video to make her look worse.]

[Update - the youtube video I embedded was taken down before I even finished the post! The one below has the sound out of synch.]

Awhile ago, I posted about elderly people telling off pregnant women for being in "their seats" (the seating reserved for the elderly, handicapped, and pregnant), and oddly enough, it was just an hour ago that I re-read Gord Sellar's thoughtful response titled "Subways and culture"(and if you haven't read it yet, do). And then, I came across one of the big stories getting netizen attention today (which is, of course, followed by media attention - 80 stories so far) about a video clip of an elderly woman 'tussling' with a teenage girl on the subway:





I'm sure the video will disappear at some point, so here are photos:


According to the article, this happened yesterday on Line 2, and we can hear that the train is coming into a station what has a transfer to line 6. As Hongdae and Sinchon get mentioned later, I'll assume it's at Hapjeong Station. It also provides a partial description of what's being said:

Grandmother: "I'm an old person? Rude? What?"
Girl: "What do you want from me?"
Grandmother: "Right, I was born in 1934. Why? [Pushes the girl] I was born in 1934. [Push] Why? [Pulls the girls hair, drags her around]"
Girl: [Gets her phone back, crying] "Dad, I really hate Korea! I really hate Korea! I really hate Korea."
The last thing the girl screams, after noticing the person videoing the proceedings, is, "Put it on Youtube!"

While some articles have looked more at how netizens were picking sides ("the woman started it"; "the girl was rude and speaking banmal to the woman"), the one I linked above has compiled comments by netizens who say they were present at the scene. Apparently it started when the girl, who had dirt on her shoes, crossed her legs and got some dirt on the old woman's clothes, so she told the girl to move her foot. The girl politely apologized twice but the woman swore at her and constantly rebuked her until the girl lost her temper and shouted at her in banmal, which is where the video begins.

There were several commenters who said that they recognized the woman, and that she often provokes arguments with passengers and tries to force people to give up their seats. Another commenter said she as "famous" on line 2, but that she never directs any of this behavior at men.

What I find interesting are the people who side with the woman, who apparently think that the girl speaking banmal justifies her being physically assaulted. Also interesting, though not surprising for anyone who's lived here for some time, is the fact that everyone just sat and watched the girl get assaulted.

A friend of mine was on the subway one night in the late 90s and saw a middle aged man harassing a teenage girl while the rest of the passengers ignored it. He stepped in and put a stop to it, and afterward a man complimented him for having done so. When the man found out my friend was a student, however, he asked him, "Why did you speak to that [older] man in that way?"

118 comments:

Darth Babaganoosh said...

I recognize that old bat from when I used to live in Seoul. Screw loose is the most generous way I can put it. There's another one on Line 3 as well. Looney Tunes, both of them.

Nothing wrong with being a little fancy free upstairs in the attic, but throw in violent and you get a combination that should not be allowed to walk the streets unattended/unsupervised.

dvm said...

Assault is not justified.
The woman should have been arrested.

dvm said...

She still can be arrested.
Her identity is clearly visible.
If the girl were reading, I'd say,
"Press charges." --in banmal.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

The netizens get outraged over Dogshit Girl and a host of others and go all Sherlock Holmes on their ass and post their info all over the Korean intranet.

Where are they now, and why is this old bitch immune to their stalking?

I guess the old hag gets another free pass because she's old.

The Korean said...

Banmal to an elderly deserves a hard slap to the face, preferably several.

dvm said...

Even if the girl used the most profane swearing and called the old lady a filthy tabang whore, THERE IS NO JUSTIFICATION FOR ASSAULT.

The older woman committed a CRIME.
She should be arrested.

Any sentiment to the contrary is primitive.

It's easier to drag your knuckles when the streets are lubed with sewage and the horked up phlegm of such ajumas.

The Korean said...

Even if the girl used the most profane swearing and called the old lady a filthy tabang whore, THERE IS NO JUSTIFICATION FOR ASSAULT.

Care to give any justification for your a fortiori statement?

The older woman committed a CRIME. She should be arrested.

No, you don't arrest people for every petty offense. You don't arrest jaywalkers or litterers. And you don't arrest someone for putting a kid in her goddamn place. If I was standing there and she used banmal to an old lady like that, I would have slapped her.

Any sentiment to the contrary is primitive.

What is primitive is the inability to recognize the justified, socially sanctioned violence and the willingness to condemn wholesale a legitimate social rule.

David said...

Wow. Totally lost all respect for The Korean. Had no idea how 꽉막혀 you are. So you actually think after multiple provocations by the old lady, the use of 반말 justifies an assault? Seriously, open your eyes.

matt said...

So she was justified in dragging the girl around by the hair? I just want to make your position clear here.

It's been reported from various people (as above) that she likes to berate people. I also read that after the girl apologized twice the woman swore at her and continued berating her. If I remember correctly, that "legitimate social rule" you speak of was part of a reciprocal system in which the elder provides an worthy example and paternal care for the younger person, who gives them their respect and obedience. If the woman swore at the kid, to me it seems like the woman didn't hold up her end of the bargain.

That the girl responded badly is clear, but I don't see how that warranted assaulting her, much as I don't agree with the way the ability to administer corporal punishment is abused in schools, with some teachers beating the shit out of kids or hitting them with the stick for every error they make on a test (the latter referring to grade 4 students).

If I remember correctly, the rules during the Joseon dynasty were (supposed to be) that the teacher should hit the floor/desk with the stick before hitting the student in order to vent his anger before punishing the student, and to me this painting by Kim Hong-do communicates that the shame of being hit in front of his peers was more painful for the student than the physical punishment itself. The teachers/elders weren't supposed to just vent their anger and lord their superiority over their charges.

If you're supportive of the assault on the girl because it's "socially sanctioned violence," I'm curious how you feel about women who don't act according to their traditional social duty and kill themselves to prevent being raped.

Alex said...

I had a chat with my Korean friend that was born and grew up in Australia. Here's some of the things he mentioned:

-thats the culture though elders are always right no matter what
- well even in australia i wouldnt argue with an old person its just not right
***well then again, it goes back to the argument... did she deserve a physical beating?
-like i said its a cultural thing. teachers in korea are able to physically beat students
***so you rkn she deserved her ass to be kicked?
-i dont think she deserved it to that point, i think she could of just scolded the girl but like the grandma said shes born in the 1930s during jap colonisation, she grew up tough so shes probably doing the same as she is accustomed to.
- so i dont think you can really critique it but i think she did go overboard but you cant entirely blame the grandma either

Excuse the language and grammar. We were chatting on MSN. Do note that the (***) is me asking the questions. Just wanted to provide some perspectives from a Korean-Australian. Seems to me like it's just one of those cultural things we just gotta learn to deal with...

The Korean said...

So she was justified in dragging the girl around by the hair? I just want to make your position clear here.

No. That's just undignified. A hard slap or two is cleaner and sends a clearer message.

If the woman swore at the kid, to me it seems like the woman didn't hold up her end of the bargain.

The reciprocity you speak of requires a reciprocity of degree. There are many other things the girl could have done to appropriately show that the old lady crossed the line. Use of banmal is completely unwarranted in that situation, as well as practically any situation.

I don't see how that warranted assaulting her, much as I don't agree with the way the ability to administer corporal punishment is abused in schools...

You and I disagree there also. I want the abuse of corporal punishment to end as much as anyone, but I am aghast at the idea that people want to end corporal punishment wholesale. But that's another topic altogether.

I'm curious how you feel about women who don't act according to their traditional social duty and kill themselves to prevent being raped.

It has been long since Korean people agreed that honor-suicide is not a necessary part of the tradition, so that practice stopped. I am happy with that.

My wife's reaction was the best: "Why was sitting down in the first place? None of this would have happened if the girl gave up her seat like she was supposed to."

The Korean said...

To add a bit of levity, here is a relevant cartoon.

matt said...

Alex:
Thanks for posting that. It is a cultural difference to be sure. I remember a friend who took Taekwondo about 10 years ago had his teacher tell him that several years before that he'd been walking down the street and saw a middle school girl smoking, and so slapped her, took the cigarettes, berated her, and told her to give him her phone number so he could tell her parents. As he put it, no one criticized him, and several men even told him he'd done the right thing. He'd since lived in America for years, and had changed his opinion about the correctness of his behavior. It goes to show the belief that it's okay to intervene in others' lives, to the point of hitting them in order to correct their behavior, especially if they are young or female.

The Korean:
We're going to have to agree to disagree. I find the idea of slapping someone else's kid appalling.

That said, I'm not sure an outright ban on corporal punishment is the answer either. The west went too far in the other direction (not sure if it's the same now, but 10 years ago when my mother was still teaching she was not allowed to touch the kids, even if they attacked her). Meeting somewhere in the middle might be a good idea. In the old days you got the strap (that ended about 1980 or so), but it was administered by the principal (something that wouldn't happen in Korea, of course).

I did not realize the woman was standing and the girl was sitting down; the articles I read didn't make that clear, and it does put the episode in a slightly different light (especially considering her reputation).

Liked the comic - that's a great graphic at the end, and the connection of the birth years is quite clever.

Mockingbird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mockingbird said...

The so-called Korean's wife's statement, reported by the so-called Korean as "none of this would have happened if the girl gave up her seat like she was supposed to," is utterly inapposite. At the start of the video clip, the old woman and the girl are seen standing. If the problem was truly that the girl had not given up her seat, then that problem was already solved before the old woman attacked.

The public prosecutor's office should investigate the incident to determine whether it should charge the old woman with aggravated battery and disorderly conduct.

palladin said...

Lost respect for The Korean a long time ago when I realized he actually supported the "cultural" system of keeping older men on top and younger women on the bottom. There is never a good reason to assault someone, that that video shows an older women assaulting a younger girl. The girl could of yelled screamed and called the older women all sorts of nasty things, that only makes the younger girl a bad person.

Exit86 said...

Yup, I gotta get on the "I lost all respect for The Korean" wagon too.

Sorry dude, you are wrong and you know it. Shall I beat the crap out of you the next time I feel you are speaking inappropriately?

Do you hit your wife when she speaks inappropriately to you as well?

Of course not. In a truly democratic society with strong laws that are consistently enforced that all people are equally subject to, such actions
would be punished.

Do you hit your wife when she speaks inappropriately to you as well?

Further, you obviously aren't a parent; since, if you were, you would quickly learn that violent punishment just doesn't work; no respect is earned or maintained--just distance, callousness, and hatred .

How about this classic scenario?

You hit me; I hit you; I get a gun; and Mr. Colt makes us equal.
Gotta love corporal punishment!

The Korean said...

There is never a good reason to assault someone.

I am still waiting on someone to explain why that's the case without resorting to bald cultural superiority. (i.e. Confucianism bad, liberalism good.)

Shall I beat the crap out of you the next time I feel you are speaking inappropriately?

Depends on the situation. Try and focus on what I actually said, not what you think I said. I said banmal to an elder deserve a slap or two. Each one of them is a specific requirement. "banmal" is the requisite act, "elder" is the requisite object, and "slap" is the appropriate punishment. So if you are way older than me, and I speak (or yell, like the girl did) in banmal, you have permission to slap me hard. (Again, this is different from "beating the crap out of" me.) But I will never do that, because I know my manners.

In a truly democratic society with strong laws that are consistently enforced that all people are equally subject to, such actions would be punished.

No. Strong laws of a democratic only require equal application to equal situations. And whether or not those situations exist depends on local and cultural context.

Take the speed limit, for example. In Los Angeles, where I'm from, no one gets pulled over for going 80 mph on a freeway although the speed limit is clearly 65 mph. In Virginia/Washington D.C., where my wife is from, numerous speed traps on freeways capture and fine you if you are going faster than 65 mph in a 55 mph zone. And no one in America thinks twice about it. Oh noes, the inconsistent laws! Sure that's the unraveling of American democracy!

At bottom, there is a straight failure to understand how deeply offensive banmal in the wrong situation is in Korea. So people just draw their arbitrary lines in the sand, where deliberate, defiant banmal to an elderly is no different from a slip of the tongue, and where a slap or two in the face is no different from honor suicides and "aggravated battery." So when I try to make the case that banmal to an elderly deserves a slap in the face, people blindly react as if I said a slip of the tongue deserves a stab in the chest.

And again, I am yet to see any attempt to justify that line-drawing other than by resorting to what is no more than bald cultural superiority -- how it is "primitive", "appalling" and not "truly democratic." Folks, I have seen you guys around, and I know you favor rational arguments. So please, make rational arguments, not the emotional ones derived from your own culture. (Like Koreans often do!)

Alex said...

@matt - Thanks for sharing the story. Love stories like that! :)

On the other hand, i don't think many people (including us), knows exactly how seriously 'banmal' is taken, especially when we're talking about Koreans that have NEVER left the country before. I didn't too. Until i discussed the issue with my Korean friend (read previous post.) Maybe, try asking some Korean friends about it!

My friend does make some valid points, especially about the Japanese colonization. Beating kids is a common way to discipline them in Korea - not just in schools with the corporal punishments and whatnot, but in normal households too. This is also why i think everybody just stood there doing nothing about it. It's because they've had a 'taste' of it during their childhood. Therefore, it's a really nothing out of the norm for them to witness this. I mean, i've seen kids get beaten when i was young too, and what do you do when you see angry parents beating their kids? You shut the hell up and try not to get yourself involved.

Anyway, I think you guys shouldn't be too harsh on The Korean purely just based on this. I am, however, am very curious if The Korean will stick by his words if this exact same situation (between two Koreans) happened in a subway in the states? Or anywhere else for that matter.

For me, personally... I would NEVER hit a girl/woman. Even when being cheated on, blackmailed, backstabbed, and all that nasty stuff. That's just the way i've been taught though. Just walk away.

In the end, i still think that my Korean friend summed it up the best. "So i dont think you can really critique it but i think she did go overboard but you cant entirely blame the grandma either."

Alex said...

@The Korean - "At bottom, there is a straight failure to understand how deeply offensive banmal in the wrong situation is in Korea." - Like i said, i for one failed to see this before speaking to my friend. In a sense, the girl pretty much 'assaulted' the elder.

"I am still waiting on someone to explain why that's the case without resorting to bald cultural superiority. (i.e. Confucianism bad, liberalism good.)"
My question to you, The Korean. Lets put politics, culture, and all that good stuff aside for now. Being born as man (a male), do you think it's okay to slap a girl?

To me, i see slapping even worst than punching or kicking. Slapping a girl is just plain rude and derogatory. What's your take?

The Korean said...

Being born as man (a male), do you think it's okay to slap a girl?

In most cases, no. But in certain specific situations, yes. Those situations are few in number -- I can think of maybe less than five, and they all basically have to do with not keeping up with the most basic manners.

To me, i see slapping even worst than punching or kicking. Slapping a girl is just plain rude and derogatory. What's your take?

To me, punching or kicking are far worse. A slap rarely causes any real injury other than psychological one. Punching or kicking could cause real damage. I agree that slapping is rude and derogatory, but that exactly the point. A clear message needs to be sent for being out of line. A message from a punch is not as clear.

Exit86 said...

Sorry Mr. The Korean, but
you are really making yourself sound like an a-hole.

That is your choice I reckon.

Please continue posting here so we can learn more about exactly the type of person you are.

Thanks!

toddwelch said...

I don't understand why everyone thinks it's not "Western" when it's really just that insane Political Correctness has run amuck over the past couple decades.

Real Western men like Sean Connery know the score:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FgMLROTqJ0

Adeel said...

I can appreciate how rude it would be to speak in banmal to an old person. I do speak a bit of Korean, and 존댓말 comes out automatically when speaking to a stranger that's not a student, and my impression is that most Koreans are programmed this way.

So, isn't this roughly analogous to swearing at someone (at the level of "motherfucker" or "stupid old cunt")? Speaking in banmal is rude, maybe very rude, but that's all it is. Who gets to decide that you can slap someone though?

This is my rational argument: I believe that hitting people, even if they are children without much standing in Korea, is wrong. I would never hit my own children, and I would certainly never hit someone else's child, no matter what the situation.

All that slapping that girl accomplishes is that she can use force to get her way when she is older. The reason I don't yell at students, or try not to at least, is that all it teaches them is that when you're in a position of power, you can use force to get what you want.

The next question for anyone who defends slapping a child is, am I entitled to slap a student here if they speak rudely to me? I'm only 24, but what about my 46-year-old coworker? What about a Canadian professor in his 50s? Is the old Korean woman entitled to slap ethnic Korean children around the world who don't meet her standards?

The Korean said...

Adeel,

This is my rational argument: I believe that hitting people, even if they are children without much standing in Korea, is wrong. I would never hit my own children, and I would certainly never hit someone else's child, no matter what the situation.

That argument not rational at all! In talking about what you believe, this is a straightforward, culture-specific response by a Canadian. Why must it be universally true, across all space, time and situations, that hitting a child is wrong?

All that slapping that girl accomplishes is that she can use force to get her way when she is older.

Certain actions carry a culture-specific message. What you said might be true if the slapping happened outside of Korea. In Korea, it sends a clear and unmistakable message: she was out of line.

Who gets to decide that you can slap someone though?

Entire Korea, through general understanding of its culture. Of course, this understanding evolves and changes over time.

The next question for anyone who defends slapping a child is, am I entitled to slap a student here if they speak rudely to me?

Depends on how rudely, depends on who the student is, and depends on the situation in which this potential need came about.

I'm only 24, but what about my 46-year-old coworker? What about a Canadian professor in his 50s?

Same, for both.

Is the old Korean woman entitled to slap ethnic Korean children around the world who don't meet her standards?

The consensus says, "Probably not."

The Korean said...

shit, I meant to write: "The *current* consensus says..."

Adeel said...

That argument not rational at all! In talking about what you believe, this is a straightforward, culture-specific response by a Canadian. Why must it be universally true, across all space, time and situations, that hitting a child is wrong?

I didn't say that it's a universal truth. There certainly are situations where it's acceptable to hit another person, including a child, but verbal abuse isn't one.

I'm sure slapping has a culture-specific message in Korea. I'm saying it's wrong. Just as we're not simply entitled to dismiss Korean culture on the basis of Western liberalism, you can't defend Korean culture on the basis of its being Korean culture.

Not all cultural traits are worth preserving, and this is one. If dealing with children through words instead of publicly slapping them is a Western concept that I'm imposing on somebody, then, well, I don't mind imposing it.

dvm said...

I have two children, whom I love very much. So I spank them gently and train them watchfully.

I have also stepped in and beaten men who were abusing a woman.

I was charged. I had to go through a process. When the facts were clear, I was exonerated.

The use of force is not entirely wrong..

I will reiterate, however, that attacking a stranger on a subway and pulling her hair like that, is grounds for arrest and assault charges, period. This video is evidence enough.

If banmal were legally a hate-crime of verbal assault, then the girl should be charged as well, according to the gravity of her offence.

If I could be so arrogant as to fantasize about being a judge presiding over this as a despute,
I'd rule the girl owes the lady dry-cleaner costs, and the lady should spend two nights in jail and attend sensitivity training.
^^

We can't excuse assault on the subway. It's a crime. Tell me it's not.

Wake up and smell the humanity, The K~nuckledragger.

dvm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Korean said...

Just as we're not simply entitled to dismiss Korean culture on the basis of Western liberalism, you can't defend Korean culture on the basis of its being Korean culture.

Adeel, you know I respect you, but this is just completely off the reservation. You did no other thing but dismiss Korean culture on the basis of Western liberalism -- the very thing you say you can't do. You think Korea's manner of enforcing social norms is wrong, without giving any reason other than a culture-specific gut reaction. You don't mind imposing something?! Thank god I left Korea to join a Western society, thanks to whose membership I can go around the world impose whatever the hell I damn well please!

And to be sure, I am not defending slapping in reaction to inappropriate banmal on the fiat of it being Korean culture. But I do agree that I could explain my reasoning a little further. I will handle that in the next comment.

The Korean said...

I will reiterate, however, that attacking a stranger on a subway and pulling her hair like that, is grounds for arrest and assault charges, period. This video is evidence enough. If banmal were legally a hate-crime of verbal assault, then the girl should be charged as well, according to the gravity of her offence.

That's all you think about, huh? Laws.

I am an attorney, and until just a few months ago my practice was criminal law. I was on both prosecution side and defense side through my career. So when I say this, I say this out of personal experience: It is a really bad idea to rely on the law as the source of all morality.

In the Confucian vision of society, it is not the law but manners and custom that rule the society. In an ideal situation, everyone will be able to live without laws. Those manners and custom involve love of learning, proper rituals, and respect for people according to their station. The last point is what is relevant here. Koreans internalized their respect for the people of a higher station by creating a grammatical structure that automatically shows such respect. Deliberate departure from that grammatical structure is not a mere slip of a tongue -- it is a challenge against the entire system. (And tellingly, the girl screams later that she hates Korea.) Such challenge must be met sternly, but still within the realm of custom and manners. The law has no place in it.

Is this vision perfect? Of course not. But does this vision work overall? Absolutely. Korea's crime rate is low. Korean schools do not require metal detectors. Korean children are allowed to bring knives to schools without worrying about their fellow students stabbing them. Korean students quietly listened to their teachers even when the student-teacher ratio was 60 to 1. Korean workers put in 14 hour work days without bitching and whining. No law played any role in these phenomena; it was all manners and customs.

We indeed can excuse assault, when it is agreed that it is a kind that is socially excusable. In fact, Americans excuse assaults all the time, given that something as minor as farting in a general direction of another person meets the statutory definition of assault under American law. And no one -- I repeat, NO ONE -- here gave a valid reason why a slap in order to maintain social order is not socially excusable, other than to blindly assert that it is not socially excusable in their society. (For the record, Matt tried.)

dvm said...

"a slap in order to maintain social order"

To get to my birthplace, I need an airplane; you need the Enterprise.

Different world, dude.

If the girl presses charges, you can go pro bono on the violent old bat.

Laws are not all I think about, but Korea subscribes to rule of law "in order to maintain social order" just like the liberal west.

Just because you're sick of laws, or above the law doesn't mean we dumb non-lawyers don't need them.

dvm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dvm said...

Why does it keep posting two copies of my comment? Do you hear an echo?

dvm said...

NO ONE here gave a valid reason why a slap in order to maintain social order is not socially excusable, other than to blindly assert that it is not socially excusable in their society. (For the record, Matt tried.)

Nice turn of the tables: you have challenged the others to give you a valid reason . . .

In fact the onus is upon you to give a valid reason why a "slap in order to maintain social order" can ever be socially excusable.

--in Korean culture, law, history as far back as you wanna go--

I wait with baited breath for the litany of precedence, lore, and Korean ethics resources which support that a slap is, or has ever been "within the realm of custom and manners" in this fine culture.

matt said...

dvm - regarding the 'echo,' other commenters have had problems today as well - seems to be a problem with blogspot.

Sort of on topic:

According to research done in the 1970s on conflict resolution in villages, the loud airing of grievances was meant to draw the neighbours, who acted as an audience, mediator, and judge of who was in the right and who was in the wrong, and they were meant to be there to restrain the parties from physical violence. That didn't happen on the subway, or in many other cases I've heard of, though I'd guess that's probably due to urbanization - those close-knit small towns, or even the urban golmok neighbourhoods, are quickly becoming things of the past, and many people don't want to get in the middle of a conflict between strangers.

The Korean said...

matt,

That's definitely what happened my grandparents' small town, so I understand what you mean. But wouldn't you agree that regardless of the presence of the villagers/neighbors, some low-intensity violence (e.g. 멱살잡이) nonetheless happened in such situations?

matt said...

Absolutely - I didn't mean to suggest that violence never occurred - just that there is a system in place to try to prevent it, one that suffers in modern, urban society. On the other hand, the girl yelling to 'Upload it to Youtube' was appealing for a third party to see it and judge, which is where the internet comes in (something I wrote about awhile ago).

As for issuing slaps, James Wade has a story from 1954 that deals with that - I'll post it later.

Ray said...

Regarding "no one… …here gave a valid reason why a slap in order to maintain social order is not socially excusable…"

What about the research that has shown that the use of violence fails to produce positive results in upbringing children, and may lead to the development of a variety of problems, including depression, juvenile delinquency, and a higher tendency to abuse others?

Further, there has been study into the effectiveness of violence, and much of it has shown that the results are usually superficial and short-term. Often the hostility developed makes violence ineffective in achieving results. This can be seen in the case of torture in interrogation. Often, the subject will either not respond at all or give whatever answer the subject feels will end the torture, regardless of the truth. Therefore, assuming the older woman had some purpose, other than satisfying her own anger, was the violence an effective tool, when the only apparent outcome was that the girl now expresses a hatred for the culture?

Does the fact that a "slap in order to maintain social order" might just do the opposite, perhaps make it not socially excusable? If the cultural norm is unhealthy for the culture, do you believe that is it healthy for the culture to enforce it?

What reason is there in saying that the older members of society are always in the right?

It's said that their longer lives and experiences is reason enough, but what good is a plethora of experiences if one fails to learn and grow from them? Judging by the video and the information given by the commentators mentioned by the poster, it seems that the elder woman hasn't really learned much in the way of social maturity, judging by her seeming eagerness to instigate confrontation with others in the society. If the girl apologized for her mishap and corrected it, wouldn't it have been the socially responsible and mature act for the older woman to be satisfied with the apology and be about her day instead of relentlessly berating the girl and then physically attacking her? Does she really deserve respect? Should not respect be earned, not blindly doled out?

At the risk of sounding crass, doesn't the experience of the girl, who will most likely outlive the older woman, matter more than the older woman's pride? In other words, isn't the elder woman's obligation to society for her to pass her wisdom unto the younger generations so that they may build upon it to further the civilization? If the old and dying matter more than the young and growing, just which way is society progressing, or regressing?

The Korean said: "…putting a kid in her goddamn place."

Just what is that girl's "goddamn place"? Who decides where she belongs? And what justification is there in putting her there other than the ubiquitous "It's the social norm" statement?

The Korean said: "If I was standing there… … I would have slapped her."

Just what justifies your actions other than a might-makes-right philosophy partially backed by social norms? If you slapped her because you believed that she transgressed the social ideal you have, would I be justified in slapping you in turn for transgressing my social ideal that one should not abuse those of a weaker position? And if I felt that the proper response to your transgression was more than a slap, but castration, would I be justified?

The Korean said: "A slap rarely causes any real injury other than psychological one."

Taken in the context of the paragraph written, I assume that you are implying that because the damage is psychological rather than physical, that its severity is diminished. Does this mean that schizophrenia is less severe than the flu because it is an affliction of the mind rather than the body? Is mental health second to physical health? Were Ted Bundy and Charles Manson healthy people?

"Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear."
-Albert Camus

gordsellar said...

Yeah, so, forgive me for expressing doubts that this really is The Korean of the blog "Ask a Korean." If it is... wow.

There are many ways to demonstrate why violence in response to banmal would be unacceptable. The first is this: it is disproportionate. Though Alex was convinced (or so it seemed) that banmal is a form of "assault" I am not convinced. A "good hard slap" can actually do serious damage, if applied the wrong way, something I'm sure the mentally-ill old lady is capable of. Banmal doesn't break bones. Violence is disproportionate to misspeech. And since human beings have an inherent sense of injustice at such things, I hate to break it to you, but most people I know who've seen the video, here in Korea, were shocked by it.

(In fact, I showed it to my students and while a very few tried to justify it as okay in Korean society, even they backed off and agreed with their classmates that it was bizarre and disproportionate when they heard the young woman had apologized twice already.)

The second point is that Korea is not longer, truly, this fantastical Confucian society you speak of. It parted ways with that vision of the world a long time ago, in many respects. Like, for example, women have human rights now. Like, for example, Korea's long-held practice of slavery is now illegal. Times change. If Confucianism is culture, then it will adapt as societal standards shift. Claiming it's sanctioned by Confucianism is no argument to maintain a brutal behaviour -- it was no more a sensible argument for slavery than it is for the sanctioning of crazy old women being allowed to assault young women with impunity.

The third point I'm going to note, though, is that one can use logic. It's the same logic that argues for that horrid Western invention we call human rights. Now, whatever problems are inherent in our current formulation of human rights, the question to ask yourself is: do I want to live in a society where human beings have rights, or would I rather live in a society where that sort of thing is repudiated or mocked?

I, for one -- and most people, I believe -- would rather live in a society that has human rights. Likewise, I would rather live in a society where misspeech does not bring the penalty of wanton, over-the-top violence... especially when the misspeech is provoked. You see, there's a double lie to the idea the girl provoked the woman. Either you're lying to yourself in thinking that the old woman was provoked, but the young one wasn't, or you're lying to yourself in believing that the older person is always right, when experience clearly tells you that old people are wrong as often -- or sometimes more often -- than younger people.

gordsellar said...

Returning to the question of whether one would want to live in a society where violence is an accepted, normative response to misspeech, I invite you to consider the fact that the young woman screams, "I hate Korea! I hate Korea!" The issue of what she hates Korea in comparison with is something I'll be posting about myself soon enough, but it's worth noting that she is clearly interpreting her experience as characteristic of Korean society... but also as part of a society in which she does not want to live.

Which is why "If you don't like it, go home" is a futile response to my comment of what kind of society I'd rather live in: my point is not my own preference, but a question of what sort of society Koreans want to live in. This girl in the video is very clearly saying the sort of society she would rather live in would not, would never, sanction the kind of experience she is having at the moment.

And the fact she screams for the video to be uploaded to Youtube is indeed in some way a strangely stunning act of faith: she is declaring a belief that other Koreans, seeing it, will agree and share the desire to have everyone recognize, finally, that this old woman's behavior is unacceptable and shameful.

Her faith may be missplaced: some people, ahem, will always blame the victim, and always cling to whatever social order they grew up with without questioning it. But I am happy to say a lot of my own students were quite disgusted by the scene, and while they differed on the question of whether bystanders ought to get involved, they mostly agreed in general that it was repugnant and unacceptable.

gordsellar said...

Also:

The village-grievance thing is interesting. There's a whole raft of behaviours one sees in Korea coming into play in a situation like this which make more sense in a village setting, and just end up being dysfunctional in an urban setting.

For example, the apparent fact that nobody's actually doing anything about this crazy old woman in the legal sense. In a village, every younger woman would know to avoid her, and she'd be less damaging to others. But in a city, this kind of thing needs to get regulated more, because of the anonymity that comes in.

Or the fact that one is supposed to "respect" one's elders. One wonders just when banmal becomes acceptable. Is a child allowed to speak in banmal to an adult who is assaulting him or her unprovoked? Does the child need to be choking to death? Already dead?

From what older people have told me, this stuff was more fluid in the past... and of course, much of it comes from the Joseon Dynasty anyway. A period which a few of my most interesting Korean friends consider a cultural misstep (towards stricter hierarchic rigidity, more profound sexism, the jettisoning of all interesting folklore and culture, and so on).

The Korean said...

dvm,

Just because you're sick of laws, or above the law doesn't mean we dumb non-lawyers don't need them.

No, no, please. I'm the dumb one. See, for a second I thought you might actually understand what I wrote.

In fact the onus is upon you to give a valid reason why a "slap in order to maintain social order" can ever be socially excusable.

Ha! You are the one trying to impose your standards upon Koreans, and you think Koreans have to justify to you why they are correct? Can you please get a little more colonial in your mindset?

But because I find this discussion interesting and I feel generous today, I will give you examples of socially acceptable slaps, if you just answer one question: Can you read Korean? I feel generous enough to list, but not generous enough to translate.

The Korean said...

Ray,

What about the research that has shown that the use of violence fails to produce positive results in upbringing children, and may lead to the development of a variety of problems, including depression, juvenile delinquency, and a higher tendency to abuse others?

Those research says nothing more than in societies in which no violence is culturally accepted, violence causes such negative effects. Take, for example, the study that spanking your children ends up in lower IQ. But Koreans liberally punish their children corporally, and their average IQ is one of the highest in the world. Unless violence is placed within a cultural context, those studies mean nothing.

If the cultural norm is unhealthy for the culture, do you believe that is it healthy for the culture to enforce it?

No. But I don't think slap in response to a banmal is unhealthy.

What reason is there in saying that the older members of society are always in the right?

No reason. So I never said that.

If the girl apologized for her mishap and corrected it, wouldn't it have been the socially responsible and mature act for the older woman to be satisfied with the apology and be about her day instead of relentlessly berating the girl and then physically attacking her?

Agreed, up to the part about berating the girl. At that point, the girl could have done a number of different things to signify that the old lady was crossing the line in a socially appropriate manner. The girl could have locked eyes and stared. That would be very rude, but proportionate to the old lady's crossing the line. The girl could have kept talking and disobeying (without using banmal,) which would have been also very rude but again proportionate to the old lady's transgression. THERE WAS NO REASON FOR BANMAL. And the fact that people don't understand just how offensive that is is at the heart of this whole debate.

Also, please note that I never endorsed the old lady. All I said, consistently, was that a slap or two would be called for, and the old lady's hair-pulling tussle was undignified.

The Korean said...

-continued-

At the risk of sounding crass, doesn't the experience of the girl, who will most likely outlive the older woman, matter more than the older woman's pride?

Everyone gets old. And Koreans made the decision that it is better for the older people, rather than children, to run the society. The girl will grow older and wiser, and the girl's offspring would do well to listen to her also.

Just what is that girl's "goddamn place"? Who decides where she belongs? And what justification is there in putting her there other than the ubiquitous "It's the social norm" statement?

The answers, respectively: (1) not using defiant banmal to elders; (2) entire Korean society, through interpretation of its culture; (3) because Korean culture served Korea very well for the last few centuries.

Just what justifies your actions other than a might-makes-right philosophy partially backed by social norms?

I never once advocated for "might makes right". And my actions would be justified for the reasons stated above.

If you slapped her because you believed that she transgressed the social ideal you have, would I be justified in slapping you in turn for transgressing my social ideal that one should not abuse those of a weaker position?

If we were standing in that subway car, located in Seoul, Korea, then no. Your social ideal is not compatible with Korea's, whereas mine is.

And if I felt that the proper response to your transgression was more than a slap, but castration, would I be justified?

Not only your "feelings" utterly arbitrary, but also a totally disproportionate reaction in virtually any human society.

Does this mean that schizophrenia is less severe than the flu because it is an affliction of the mind rather than the body?

No, and a slap or two never causes schizophrenia.

The Korean said...

gord,

forgive me for expressing doubts that this really is The Korean of the blog "Ask a Korean."

Yup, it's me. The same guy whose grandfather was a Confucian scholar at Seonggyun'gwan.

Banmal doesn't break bones. Violence is disproportionate to misspeech.

But banmal destroys the social structure, and a slap rarely causes any permanent damage. Gord -- you are categorizing "banmal" as the same thing as any old "misspeech" like a slip of the tongue, and "slap" as the same thing as any old "violence" like stabbing. Such categorizations hardly appeal to the universal sense of justice that you speak of. It only disguises your own culture as the universal value -- which is the hallmark of cultural imperialism.

I hate to break it to you, but most people I know who've seen the video, here in Korea, were shocked by it.

1. Gord, you know as well as I do that as a foreigner living in Korea, you end up knowing a specific type of people, and not knowing a specific type of people. On the Naver comment board that Matt linked, the most "liked" comment is titled, "Of course it's the girl's fault!" Even given the well-known unreliability of Internet message board as a gauge of public opinion, doesn't it at least serve as a data point that contradicts your experience?

2. Shocked by what, exactly? What if the old lady did not tussle, but sternly slapped once in a dignified manner? I would bet the reaction would be different.

The second point is that Korea is not longer, truly, this fantastical Confucian society you speak of. It parted ways with that vision of the world a long time ago, in many respects.

But Korea never disavowed Confucianism, and remains (and intends to remain) a society whose primary values are derived from Confucianism.

Claiming it's sanctioned by Confucianism is no argument to maintain a brutal behaviour -- it was no more a sensible argument for slavery than it is for the sanctioning of crazy old women being allowed to assault young women with impunity.

1. Again, your perception of the events is colored by your own culture, describing the old lady's action as "brutal."

2. The old lady in question is hardly acting with impunity. Because old lady's actions were also uncalled for, there are plenty of voices within Korea (as you correctly note) that denounce the old lady as well. Now she will be infamous, and she will be shamed every time she rides that subway again. That's not impunity. That's justice served by Korean culture in a proportionate manner.

The Korean said...

-continued-

It's the same logic that argues for that horrid Western invention we call human rights. ... I would rather live in a society where misspeech does not bring the penalty of wanton, over-the-top violence.

The problem of the terms "misspeech" and "wanton" aside, why is low-intensity violence in reaction to something that challenges a fundamental social value incompatible with human rights?

You see, there's a double lie to the idea the girl provoked the woman. ...

That logic is false. Both women provoked each other, but the girl's reaction was disproportionate to the provocation.

This girl in the video is very clearly saying the sort of society she would rather live in would not, would never, sanction the kind of experience she is having at the moment.

And the girl is wrong in her assertion, which is why she deserves a slap in the first place. When we were young, we all dreamed of the society in which we never have to eat our vegetables or never have to do any homework. That does not mean that's a good idea.

And the fact she screams for the video to be uploaded to Youtube is indeed in some way a strangely stunning act of faith ...

And her faith is validated, in part. Observe Korean society's reaction as a whole -- it is, in fact, proportionate to each side's share of blame. Some people blame the girl for banmal. Some people blame the old lady. And some people blame the people around the conflict. This is exactly what is supposed to happen.

Ok, I'm done for now.

dvm said...

The Korean:

Yes, the onus is on you!

If the Republic of Korea has democratically made laws that say that woman can't do that, the onus is on YOU to prove why your challenge OF KOREAN SOCIETY is more valid than the laws of Korea.

Fortunately, the vast majority of Koreans are not like you.

Now, backed into the corner of your own idiotic ranting, you're gonna pull the race card? You're gonna say well, it's MY country, I make the rules?! What are you, a child?

The standards I want to "impose" are KOREAN standards.
Can I read Korean?
Can you read ANYTHING?
What gives you the impression I'm not Korean?
Cards down on the table! Send us the litany. I might need some help with the Chinese text, if it comes to that but I'll read every speck of proof you've got. Start researching!

I have showed this to some of my friends (citizens both of this country and others). Not surprisingly, their response is unanimous:

Attacking someone on the subway like that is.... (let's just dumb it down here, cause of my formidable dumbness)



.... bad.




I can live with that unsophisticated answer.




What kind of colony does that come from? An ant colony?


What concerns me even more than the sick old woman's act, at this point, is YOUR justification of any split-second of that sad scene.



Do you resent girls of her age so much that you are fine with that abuse? I would scream hate for ANY country in which that happened to me, even my home and native land. Does it excite you that she said she hates Korea? Does it enrage you? Is 우리나라 sacred and sinless as the lamb of God? Did she blaspheme?


Or perhaps you are just getting frustrated that girls her age are constantly rejecting your invitation to the back seat of your black car?




First, perhaps you could answer me just this one question:

Do you have a daughter?

The Korean said...

dvm,

The standards I want to "impose" are KOREAN standards.

Then why do so many Koreans on Naver disagree with you? Because they are not Koreans?

I have showed this to some of my friends (citizens both of this country and others). Not surprisingly, their response is unanimous.

Right, it's not surprising that your friends have the same opinion as you.

What concerns me even more than the sick old woman's act, at this point, is YOUR justification of any split-second of that sad scene.

I made it thus far without making this overly personal, all the while you hurl at me vile insults. I will tell you this only once: stop the insults. It is not as if I am incapable of doing the same. Unlike you, I know my manners and can discuss civilly. I don't have to waste my time doing this.

But I promised that I would deliver, so I will deliver. Wait for the next series of comments.

The Korean said...

Legal Justifications

1. Constitution of the Republic of Korea - 제9조 국가는 전통문화의 계승·발전과 민족문화의 창달에 노력하여야 한다."

2. 관습 헌법

3. Supreme Court precedents

4. More Supreme Court precedents

Reported cases of slap without any subsequent legal action

5. May 12, 1989

6. April 23, 1985

7. March 14, 1990

8. March 29, 1991

9. August 6, 1991

10. April 28, 1989)

11. Feb. 8, 1960

12. Feb. 2, 1967

13. April 11, 1961

14. March 19, 1982

15. June 4, 1970

The Korean said...

Reported cases of slap without any subsequent legal action (cont.)

16. Feb. 18, 1964

17. July 24, 1960

18. Dec. 26, 1960

19. Sept. 18, 1968

20. April 28, 1989

21. April 28, 1989

22. Oct. 4, 1983

23. Feb. 1, 1990

24. May 3, 1969

The Korean said...

I had total 36 examples, but somehow blogger is not taking a few links. At any rate, enjoy.

gordsellar said...

The Korean,

Yup, it's me. The same guy whose grandfather was a Confucian scholar at Seonggyun'gwan.

That's nice. My great grandfather was a journalist and a translator of poetry. I probably would be abhorred by his politics and his views on race, though, and I think that's a good thing. Moving forward means questioning how things were and are, so that things can get better.

I must say, I feel quite shocked that you're taking this position. It's difficult to respect someone who's actually claiming an adult has the right to hit a child because of speech acts in this day and age.

But banmal destroys the social structure, and a slap rarely causes any permanent damage.

First: destroys? I think you're overstating things as much as you say I am. It does not destroy anything. If the social streucture were that weak, it would have disintegrated long ago. Banmal transgresses it. And by the way, the social structure is transgressed when older people misbehave as well. The girl, by this logic, has a right to defend the social structure from destruction by the older woman, even by violence if necessary. In practice, though, we both know that most Koreans will agree that the girl has no right to initiate violence in defense of social structure. The fact an older woman's violence is supposedly justified in doing so therefore is specious at best.

(But I think it is an important question: at what point does the girl have the right to defend herself, or this much-vaunted social structure? Elders are supposed to be a good example, but I see plenty who are horrible examples: when do they get smacked into line? I know that in practice, a lot of crime goes unreported because reporting it transgresses the social structure too -- reporting a crime requires acknowledging one, which requires loss of face, and so on. Does a girl who is being raped by a local man have the right to hit him? Does she have the right to denounce his act publicly afterward? At what point does the right to defend oneself, or indeed to defend the social structure, kick in?)

By the way, I don't know the frequency of injuries resulting from slapping, but I do know the range of injuries possible: they include the risk of injury to facial muscles or even cheekbones, retinal detachment (and possible blindness), hearing loss (possibly permanent) and brain damage. And doctors I've known have said such results can come from slaps that don't even seem too seriously hard, because the human face is not designed to deal with trauma in the way our torsos are.

But hey, such are wages of transgressing the social structure by speaking banmal. Wait, no, that just makes no sense at all.

gordsellar said...

Gord -- you are categorizing "banmal" as the same thing as any old "misspeech" like a slip of the tongue, and "slap" as the same thing as any old "violence" like stabbing.

Just as you are categorizing banmal with "destroying the social order" and the assault we saw on the video with the defense of same, or as "a little tussle" -- both equally questionable positions too.

The remind me, indeed, of a post I recently read on bullying in the context of American schools, which the media seems to have once again "discovered." I share the opinion of the blogger there, that it's counterproductive to get all defensive of bullies (which this older woman clearly is); finally, we need t acknowledge that a bully is simply a "fucking asshole." And I'll be frank, your comment in general seems to suggest simply that bullying is normative in Korean society, and therefore nobody should say boo about it.

That's the kicker: try as you might, it's pretty hard to see the young woman as bullying the older one; she might be transgressing social expectations or rules, but she's not in a position to bully anyone -- and I suspect a lot of the credibility you've lost in this thread stems from your implication that somehow the younger woman is somehow verbally bullying the older. The old woman clearly is bullying the younger, and is taking advantage of her senior position in society (and the greater impunity afforded older people) to do so.

The old woman is clearly unafraid that the younger woman will take her down, though doubtless she could, if she tried hard enough. She knows this because while the younger woman was gutsy enough to transgress verbally (rare enough), she wasn't likely to follow through by physically attacking or physically defending herself. Which in itself illustrates that your placement of physical assault as less transgressive than banmal is at least questionable, and quite reasonable dismissable as nonsense.

Further, it is undeniable and obvious that acts of speech and acts of physical assault are different in nature. Both may have psychological effects, though physical assault carries an extra risk of physical injury. Thus unbiased people will agree, however bad they think verbal actions can be, that acts of physical assault are more serious than speech acts, however offensive. (Hence we teach children in the West, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." But that's not purely Western, and indeed, an ability to manage one's own frustration, and to differentiate between physical and verbal assault, are absolutely normative in Korea as well: if not, this sort of thing would not be videorecorded and uploaded as it would be utterly commonplace and nobody would notice or care about the clash.)

So to say that someone needs to get violent to uphold the social order is simply nonsense. And indeed, if the older woman were in the right, she would not have had to resort to such histrionics. "Violence," as Isaac Asimov pointed out, "is the last refuge of the incompetent." And if you've not been physically attacked by a stranger in public, I am afraid I shall have to consider you ill-informed on whether being dragged about by your hair, or even being slapped, is violence. Perhaps you are blessed with an iron temperament but for some people this kind of thing can be extremely traumatic. (I have one friend who had years of panic attacks after such an incident.)

gordsellar said...

Now, surely if banmal is "destructive" then the old woman's behaviour is violent. I'd be willing to entertain the idea of whether the young woman's behaviour is destructive of anything (though you would have to demonstrate that transgression and destruction are equivalent, and I'm doubtful youb can), but I don't think the claim that the action is non-violent makes any sense whatsoever. It is not murderous, but it is violent. (And, it's worth noting, it could easily have resulted in manslaughter. The girl would just have needed to hit her head on a post at the right angle and velocity. Which is worth thinking about, in the greater context of justifications of violence used on children.)

Such categorizations hardly appeal to the universal sense of justice that you speak of. It only disguises your own culture as the universal value -- which is the hallmark of cultural imperialism.

That's a very convenient dodge, but faulty as well. As we've agreed, plenty of Koreans think the old woman's actions were violent, and plenty of Koreans think it's unacceptable, and plenty of Koreans think that the girl's speech was understandable given the circumstances. You see, Korean society is, as all societies always are, in a state of transition and flux with a range of opinions and views competing for airtime, not some kind of monolith.

Now, this cultural imperialism of which you accuse me perpetrating would be me trying to impose that on Korean society. I'm not in any position to impose anything on anyone, nor am I particularly interested in doing so. I am interested in talking with people and sharing opinions, debating, and so on. But imposing my view would be pointless even if I wanted to do so: Koreans in general are well-trained to feign agreement or respect for statements they disagree with completely. Yet it's clear plenty of Koreans are divided without my help... with the view you're championing being the minority (since the people who think someone ought to have intervened mostly sympathizing with the girl, from everything I've heard/seen).

And this feels like that cheap, age-old dodge of, "You're not Korean, you cannot ever understand," which seems beneath someone who has been writing a blog for years and years explaining the culture to non-Koreans. Again, it's such a self-contradiction that it makes me wonder if this is not someone else posting under a pseudonym.

Gord, you know as well as I do that as a foreigner living in Korea, you end up knowing a specific type of people, and not knowing a specific type of people.

While this is (to some degree) true, I call bullshit on the implications and parts of the claim. While I do indeed tend to know people who are (a) young and (b) more highly educated, and indeed (c) people among the more highly educated segment of the population who also speak English well, this same group of people also evidences a wide range of opinions on just about any subject you could mention. And by the way: what's wrong with looking at what educated, young people think? Was the desire for democracy in Korea flawed or problematic when it was mostly people of this age group expressing it? Young people are allowed to -- and indeed ought to -- question the way things are, and push to make them better. Would that they did that as much now as they once did.

Meanwhile, you and I both know that a huge amount of Korean internet activity (such as comment-writing and comment-liking) is done by a very small percentage of internet users. And given the behavior we've observed more generally, I think there's a profile there which isn't too hard to pick out. Sexism certainly fits into it, as does overall "conservativism." So no, I don't think it contradicts my experience so much at all.

gordsellar said...

Shocked by what, exactly? What if the old lady did not tussle, but sternly slapped once in a dignified manner? I would bet the reaction would be different.

I don't know whether a slap would be seen differently, as that didn't come up in their discussions. They were mostly shocked that the old woman lashed out in the way she did, especially after two apologies from the younger. They were mostly focused on whether the blame for the incident should fall on the older woman or the younger one. A very few insisted that in Korean social settings, the older person is right and it sucks and the best thing for the young woman to do would be to leave the subway car. Others said this was good strategically, but that it shouldn't be necessary. Most felt the woman's behaviour was unjustified, though some felt the bystanders should have prevented it. And by the way, as soon as they heard the older woman was well-known for this kind of behavior, most of them agreed it was her fault, with only one or two offering any justification regardless of that fact.

But Korea never disavowed Confucianism, and remains (and intends to remain) a society whose primary values are derived from Confucianism.

The point is that Korea, like Christendom, was (and remains) quite selective about what elements of Confucian thought it chose to enshrine as cultural values, which values to emphasize, which to ignore, and which to jettison. And the jettisoning is increasing... and this is not necessarily a bad thing. (Just as it was not bad for the West to jettison elements of its own traditional culture in the name of a more humane society, admittedly an ongoing project with lots of work left to do... just as there is lots of work left to do in Korea.)

1.Again, your perception of the events is colored by your own culture, describing the old lady's action as "brutal."

I disagree that this perception is purely a case of cultural blinders. Remember, I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in Canada, with very conservative parents not from Western Canada. When a teacher physically disciplined a student, they tended to assume it was for a "good reason." I indeed experienced such things myself. So my "culture" includes a lot of offered justifications for that same behavior, lots of brushes with the same "blame the victim" mentality, along with all the stuff you seem to imagine is part of my cultural background.

It's not just a question of "cultural blinders." It's ethics. Just as I imagine we'd both agree the status of some female children in a place like Burma is horrifying (being sold into sexual slavery at age 12 is unacceptably oppressive, right?), the question of whether the older woman's actions are justified are not answered simply by "Lots of Koreans think it's a fine response." That tells us what one popular opinion is, not whether that opinion is ethically sound, well-considered, or even compatible with the fundamental tenets of Korean society. I'd argue that while Korea needn't follow the West in everything (this is something I often find myself arguing to Koreans), it's worth recognizing that the West struggled with the same sort of problem (older people treating younger ones like animals, rampant violence whether low-level or not, and so on) in the past.

2. The old lady in question is hardly acting with impunity. Because old lady's actions were also uncalled for, there are plenty of voices within Korea (as you correctly note) that denounce the old lady as well.

I don't think that is actually proportionate justice, if, as people have claimed a number of times, she is well-known for such incidents. That is impunity, period, and the old lady was just unlucky to have her most recent outburst uploaded for all to see. That's pretty fickle... or shall I say nonfunctional, justice. Which is to say, that is injustice.

gordsellar said...

The problem of the terms "misspeech" and "wanton" aside, why is low-intensity violence in reaction to something that challenges a fundamental social value incompatible with human rights?

Because challenging a fundamental social value is not inherently bad. It's something that happens in all cultures and societies. And besides which, the old woman also transgressed against those boundaries, too: as a wise elder, she's supposed to accept the apology with a little grace, to admonish the young lady to be more aware of others, perhaps grumble. She's not supposed to start a bumfight on the subway.

And by the way, what magical line divides low-level violence from high-level violence? Because I'd imagine most high-level violence results from an escalation of low-level violence. And Korea is struggling with more serious violent crime right now, with a broad perception (valid or otherwise) that it's on the rise.

That logic is false. Both women provoked each other, but the girl's reaction was disproportionate to the provocation.

I'm afraid this is the kind of thing that looks senseless, and not just from my "biased cultural background."

Indeed, if you cannot differentiate between the kind of shaming that a lesser imposes on an elder -- for transgressive behaviour, no less, and only after multiple attempts to smooth things over in the normal, commonly-accepted way -- and the kind of shaming that comes from physical assault by a senior on a junior in a public place -- then I'm afraid there's no real way to move forward in this conversation. Perhaps some violence is the only refuge left for us here? Ahem.

This girl in the video is very clearly saying the sort of society she would rather live in would not, would never, sanction the kind of experience she is having at the moment.

And the girl is wrong in her assertion, which is why she deserves a slap in the first place.

She is "wrong" because of her stated preference not to be subject to violence just for a speech act? Really? Because now you're not just declaring me wrong, you're dictating to her how she ought to feel about society, and whether she's allowed to imagine a society where norms are, say, less oppressive to young people, less violent in general, and less dangerous.

gordsellar said...

When we were young, we all dreamed of the society in which we never have to eat our vegetables or never have to do any homework. That does not mean that's a good idea.

Which is a stunning recharacterization of a desire not to be hit by a crazy old woman after expressing frustration when one has apologized in a proportionate manner for a tiny mistake.

Don't want to be threatened or attacked by strangers who seem crazy, after they push me into a corner and I speak out my frustration.

vs.

Don't want to eat my vegetables or do my homework.

Do you really, seriously think these are really both silly childhood desires?

And people wonder why Westerners shake their head in sorrow... or why the birth rate is falling.

(Time and time again I hear it: "I wouldn't want to have a baby in this society," or "I wouldn't want to put my kid through Korean schools." I'm afraid, "The status quo is great and fine... there's nothing wrong here," doesn't hold up.)

Any by the way, since I mentioned it elsewhere -- I don't know where your wife got the impression this was a fight over a seat. The articles linked and being discussed by people I know mention the girl getting mud onto the old woman's clothes. They also mention the old woman being well-known for this kind of aggressive, provocative behavior on Line 2. Is that stuff also "exactly what is supposed to happen"? I'd be interested in hearing whether a different story is circulating. Indeed, what I'd really love is to see an interview with both the young woman, and the older one. I'm pretty sure the older one would come off as a nut, and the younger one would come off relatively sane.

gordsellar said...

Two final notes:

I have no idea why my HTML got stripped out, but that's now a confusing mess of non-bolded text, some quoted and some my own. Argh. Sorry, and I hope you can sort them apart when reading.

And finally: a whole bunch of legal justifications and cases of no charges being demonstrate something... but I'd say they demonstrate the same thing as the number of women I know who have been sexually harassed or assaulted, without any charges being pressed or filed even when they reported it (either cops ignored their report, or pushed them to accept a cash settlement). What it proves is not that rape and assaulting strangers (by slapping) are things that shouldn't be punishable by criminal law, just that they often haven't been.

And I must admit, with everything on my plate I likely won't have much more to say. You're entitled to your opinion, I'm entitled to disagree, and we're entitled to be horrified by one another's positions I suppose. But I do think you're presenting a skewed view of the status of this incident in Korean "culture"/"society."

The Korean said...

I must say, I feel quite shocked that you're taking this position. It's difficult to respect someone who's actually claiming an adult has the right to hit a child because of speech acts in this day and age.

I am sorry to have shocked you. And I still respect you. Please try to see my point that it is not just any hitting, and it is not just any speech.

This is getting unwieldy, so let us progress thematically.

1. The scope of my critique

And I'll be frank, your comment in general seems to suggest simply that bullying is normative in Korean society, and therefore nobody should say boo about it.

No, I have been always very specific about the scope of my comment. Defiant banmal to an elder deserves a slap or two. That is it. I already said the old lady was in the wrong for screaming, and also in the wrong for engaging in undignified hair-pulling instead of a stern slap or two.

They were mostly shocked that the old woman lashed out in the way she did, especially after two apologies from the younger. They were mostly focused on whether the blame for the incident should fall on the older woman or the younger one. ...

I don’t doubt that your Korean acquaintances reacted the way you described. I winced at the entire scene myself. But that is a generalized reaction to the overall scene. Again, I never once said what the old lady did was justified. All I said, which started this entire discussion was: “Banmal to an elderly deserves a hard slap to the face, preferably several.”

2. On the offensiveness of defiant banmal.

[Banmal] does not destroy anything. ... Banmal transgresses it.

Such transgressions, without proper response to them, are small acts of chipping away the structure. They are small-scale destructions of social structure. And accordingly, most Koreans feel that defiant banmal is deeply offensive -- and that’s what animates the people behind the Naver comment board who feel like the girl deserved it, despite the old lady’s transgression.

The Korean said...

3. Justification for low-intensity violence

And if you've not been physically attacked by a stranger in public, I am afraid I shall have to consider you ill-informed on whether being dragged about by your hair, or even being slapped, is violence.

Yes, I have been so attacked. But I don’t understand where you are going with the rest of the paragraph. I never said old lady did not engage in violence. In fact, I clearly said that it was “low-intensity violence.”

And, it's worth noting, it could easily have resulted in manslaughter. The girl would just have needed to hit her head on a post at the right angle and velocity.

Which is one of the reasons why I thought the whole tussle was undignified and uncalled for.

Further, it is undeniable and obvious that acts of speech and acts of physical assault are different in nature. Both may have psychological effects, though physical assault carries an extra risk of physical injury.

It is absolutely NOT “undeniable and obvious”. Certain acts of speech are intolerably vile, and certain acts of physical assault has little risk of injury. There is nothing wrong with responding to the worst kind of speech by the lightest kind of physical assault.

By the way, I don't know the frequency of injuries resulting from slapping, but I do know the range of injuries possible: ... But hey, such are wages of transgressing the social structure by speaking banmal.

When such extensive damages do happen, Korean laws definitely kick in to punish the slapper. Which means people would know not to slap very hard in the first place. Corporal punishment is always, always, always supposed to NOT cause any permanent physical damage. If a corporal punishment does cause permanent physical damage, the punisher is not only roundly denounced, but punished by the law for going over the line.

challenging a fundamental social value is not inherently bad. It's something that happens in all cultures and societies.

Right. And neither is low-intensity violence that leaves no permanent damage. That’s also something that happens in all cultures and societies, even in the West.

And by the way, what magical line divides low-level violence from high-level violence? Because I'd imagine most high-level violence results from an escalation of low-level violence.

The line is: permanent physical damage. That’s a pretty clear line. Humans have a vast storage of institutional memory of what just stings for a little bit, and what causes serious damage.

And in fact, I’d imagine the opposite. A person who has no knowledge of any pain-causing mechanism either flinches at the slightest violence possible, or discounts suffering altogether. Which explains American liberals’ tendencies as they denounce the war in Afghanistan. (Just FYI, I also vote liberal also; I am focusing on American liberals only because they are the most likely to indulge in the no-pain, no-violence mantra.) They are either scared that even one soldier might die in the course of the war, or crassly discounts the real suffering inflicted upon the Afghan people by the Taliban.

The Korean said...

4. Attempt at internal disapproval of low-intensity violence

And by the way, the social structure is transgressed when older people misbehave as well. The girl, by this logic, has a right to defend the social structure from destruction by the older woman, even by violence if necessary. In practice, though, we both know that most Koreans will agree that the girl has no right to initiate violence in defense of social structure.

The same social structure says no violence from a younger to an elder is permitted. If you want to argue internally from the social structure, you cannot pick and choose the things you like.

Also, like I mentioned earlier, the girl could have done a number of different things to signify that the old lady was crossing the line in a socially appropriate manner. The girl could have locked eyes and stared. That would be very rude, but proportionate to the old lady's crossing the line. The girl could have kept talking and disobeying (without using banmal,) which would have been also very rude but again proportionate to the old lady's transgression.

The old woman is clearly unafraid that the younger woman will take her down, though doubtless she could ... Which in itself illustrates that your placement of physical assault as less transgressive than banmal is at least questionable, and quite reasonable dismissable as nonsense.

Again, violence from young to old is not the same as violence from old to young.

The Korean said...

5. Other topics

At what point does the girl have the right to defend herself, or this much-vaunted social structure?

When she is facing a level of violence utterly disproportionate to any act that she did. And associating my position as advocating for rape without resistance is really low.

And this feels like that cheap, age-old dodge of, "You're not Korean, you cannot ever understand," which seems beneath someone who has been writing a blog for years and years explaining the culture to non-Koreans. Again, it's such a self-contradiction that it makes me wonder if this is not someone else posting under a pseudonym.

Gord, please think about what counts more -- my hundreds of posts sincerely explaining Korean culture, or the unfair characterization of my argument into which you pigeonhole me. Whether or not you are Korean has nothing to do with anything, and I never made that an issue. But you do have to get out of thinking that your position is “undeniable”, “obvious”, or “unbiased”, as if that is the only correct position throughout all space and time.

While I do indeed tend to know people who are (a) young and (b) more highly educated, and indeed (c) people among the more highly educated segment of the population who also speak English well, this same group of people also evidences a wide range of opinions on just about any subject you could mention.

I am sure that is true with respect to the range. But you are not just making a claim about the range -- you already mentioned that a few did try to justify the old lady’s action. You are making a claim based on the proportion within that range -- i.e. because the majority of your social group thinks X, X must be true. That has to be false.

And by the way: what's wrong with looking at what educated, young people think?

There is nothing wrong. But it is wrong if you try to characterize that as what the entire Korea thinks.

Any by the way, since I mentioned it elsewhere -- I don't know where your wife got the impression this was a fight over a seat.

She read the story but did not watch the video. Her reading was that the old lady was standing in front of the girl, and the girl brushed her shoe against the old lady who was standing. Hence, her comment -- instead of crossing your leg in front of an elder (which is already rude,) the girl should have just gotten up right away.

It's worth recognizing that the West struggled with the same sort of problem (older people treating younger ones like animals, rampant violence whether low-level or not, and so on) in the past.

And it is PRECISELY the failure of the West that makes me convinced of the strengths of Confucian values. America has the highest rate of murdered children in the industrialized world. Its schools need to have metal detectors. It has high school students causing mass murders. All after letting children run free, and punishing adults for even supporting corporal punishment.

Perhaps some violence is the only refuge left for us here? Ahem.

No, I prefer to try the other Korean dispute resolution mechanism before getting to violence -- i.e. getting drunk together. By the way, I am planning to visit Korea soon. We should hang out.

The Korean said...

Saw this after I posted...

Argh. Sorry, and I hope you can sort them apart when reading.

No worries bro.

And finally: a whole bunch of legal justifications and cases of no charges being demonstrate something...

Actually, the third segment has a list of sources that positively describe slapping, and negatively describe legal action brought for mere slapping. But it disappeared into the blogspot nadir, apparently.

Also, that list was in response to a challenge from dvm that it is Korean custom to bring legal action for slapping someone. And that list shows that it is not. It only goes toward Korean culture's light regard for slapping. Whether or not that light regard is justified is something else, which we discussed.

And I must admit, with everything on my plate I likely won't have much more to say.

No worries, we all got lives. Except me today, because it is oddly quiet at work right now.

The Korean said...

I'm gonna try the third segment again:

Cases in which legal action subsequent to a slap was denounced by newspaper columns

March 27, 1981

Sept. 30, 1981

Feb. 22, 1960

Positive characterization of slaps

April 1, 1996

Fictional depictions of slaps (no subsequent legal action described)

Sept. 12, 1978

April 19, 1995

Historical approval of slaps as a means to discipline

<a href="http://dna.naver.com/viewer/index.nhn?articleId=1974011400329201022&editNo=2&publishDate=1974-01-14&officeId=00032&pageNo=1&printNo=8706&publishType=00020&from=news”>old story</a>

The Korean said...

Gaa it is still losing links. That's supposed to have 10 links in it, but somehow only 7 links are going through (with 1 broken)

Ray said...

The Korean:

I believe in the effectiveness of corporal punishment in specific cases, mostly those that are related to violence. The punishment should fit the crime, not only in degree but in nature.

Further, shouldn't action taken in response to a transgression work to eliminate the negative effects of said transgression?

That being said, completely ignoring the situation in the video, I find myself disagreeing with your statement that "Banmal to an elderly deserves a hard slap to the face, preferably several."

Culturally, being from a traditional Korean family, albeit, born and raised in the US, corporal punishment was liberally used in my upbringing. And in retrospect, in some cases it was effective in teaching me a lesson, and subsequently, I do believe in the capability of corporal punishment.

But in other cases, it failed to achieve its purpose of correcting my misbehavior, and often exacerbating it. And while I almost always use 존댓말 with all older members of my family and the Korean people associated with them, it is because they have shown me a level of maturity and wisdom beyond my own. However, and this may only be true to my particular family, but the respect deferred by 존댓말 is reserved for those who deserve it, regardless of age.

In more than one case I have been confronted with a situation of an older Korean person who, through their actions and words, demonstrated a complete lack of maturity, wisdom, and respectability, and in such a case, I don't feel that 존댓말 is appropriate, and spoke as such.

In all three cases that come to mind, no one, both family and strangers, felt I overstepped my bounds. In fact, in a particular case where I did not use 반말, a much older acquaintance (Korean immigrant) mentioned to me that the disrespect implied by 반말 would have been more appropriate to the situation.

And with that tangent completed, I don't see how fear and pain breeds anything but contempt, and a slap in response to disrespect seems to fail in create any real sort of respect. And if the point of 존댓말 is to show respect, how does a slap address the problem?

And in response to:

"What reason is there in saying that the older members of society are always in the right?

No reason. So I never said that."

Doesn't a completely blanket use of 존댓말 to any elder imply just that?

"I never once advocated for "might makes right". And my actions would be justified for the reasons stated above."

Doesn't the use of corporal punishment, a slap to the face in this case, itself imply a might-makes-right mentality? Would the slap be effective if the target wasn't a girl but a 6'5" 250lb professional MMA fighter? Would you even attempt a slap?

"And if I felt that the proper response to your transgression was more than a slap, but castration, would I be justified?

Not only your "feelings" utterly arbitrary, but also a totally disproportionate reaction in virtually any human society."

I was using hyperbole to illustrate, but there have been similar cases, for example, there have been multiple cases where child abusers and child molesters have suffered extreme, and sometimes fatal, beatings at the hands of others.

Speaking of hyperbole, isn't your use of "Entire Korea, through general understanding of its culture" seem a bit overstated, I find myself doubting that 100% of Korea, or any country for that matter, agrees on any topic, let alone a controversial one. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say "social majority"?

dvm said...

To the Korean,

You win.

(and I'm sorry I said those mean things)

dvm

Gary Norris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary Norris said...

By the way, thought I'd mention that the policy permitting teachers to physically punish students is ending next year. Our high school just had an open debate about the new policy. And, go figure, it's the older teachers who are pissed about it. Most arguments for corporal punishment seem to rest in emotional appeals to authority and control.

Matt, this comments thread is very engaging. I'm most interested in "The Korean" and his (educated guess) argument that because something *has been* culturally acceptable means that it *is* always permissible.

I'm not Korean, but I'd respectfully note that The Korean's sentiment is something my high school kids consistently say they dislike about Korean culture.

matt said...

Sorry for the comment eating, The Korean - you obviously put time and effort into finding and posting all those articles (thanks for that by the way - isn't Naver's DNA search great?), so it's annoying that they're not posting correctly. I'm not sure if this is something happening to blogspot now or if it happens more often.

Gary Norris:
I agree that it's been an interesting discussion. It's also interesting that the corporal punishment ban is looking more likely (I've heard that it has been announced a few times in the past with little follow up). It does seem to be a recipe for chaos in the short term (at the very least), however, since many teachers - especially those who are fond of corporal punishment - have not been trained in how to effectively control classes without it.

Exit86 said...

Ha! You never let me down The Korean.
You indeed showed us all your true colors here.

I just think it is funny that you don't live here in Korea. This place is changing by the minute dude. Your whole belief in a conservative wonderland of "Etiquette, Righteousness, and Wisdom" is going the way of the buffalo.

Have fun living in your dreamworld dude. The view is a lot different
from this side of the pond.

dvm said...

(I read as much as I could.)

I have concluded:


"Assault is not justified.
The woman should have been arrested."

^^

Denise Arcoverde said...

What this very, very old lady did was wrong. But she is an old woman, and if it is true what many people said about her, she is clearly not mentally healthy. So, it is the same of seeing a crazy guy hitting someone at the subway in Stockholm, like I had seen once. They need some help not hate. IMHO.

dvm said...

I heartily agree.

A loving arrest. Then sentenced to some loving counseling.

She shouldn't be hated; just arrested.

Even though she seems kinda full of hate.

We can't have this kind of thing happening on any subway in any culture.

It wasn't slapping either, it was an attack. A bystander asked her why she assaulted (폭행) the girl.
Nobody said, "nice, slap to preserve social order." She was swung around by her hair.

If it happened to your daughter...?

joey said...

If it is the societies obligation to correct the behavior of the younger generation that is fine. To do so and then rub their nose is shit is different all together.

"It's our culture you don't understnad"

But like my Korean room mate I need to understand when it makes a situation better for him. I get gaijin smashed for lack of a better word. That's ok I am still his friend but you see a lot of shit about Americans and our propensity towards violence guns and all that. It is of course used to balance an attack on Korea, or what is taken as an attack. May I suggest next time you damn my country and everyone in it, you remember your pure Korean brothers and sisters just some 50 miles from Seoul and read something like the Aquariums of Pyongyang or Nothing to Envy.

gordsellar said...

I have a response I've working on, to the Korean's stuff. Some of the other comments posted since my last one, and his response, are not so helpful, though. Really, what does North Korea have to do with this? (Except perhaps noting that there is a pattern of what he prefers to call "low-level violence" that is also normative in reports of life up North. Confirming that this is a Korean cultural phenomenon, but not suggesting it's a healthy thing in and of itself.)

Anyway, I won't have time to finish my response till tonight or tomorrow, but one is on the way. In the meantime, I think it's worth considering Gary's comment: most young people do evidence a dislike of this aspect of Korean society. And regardless of what Korean culture said of young people in the past (for that matter, young people are pretty deprived of a lot of the rights of personhood in North America these days), they are people in this society too. More on that later...

The Korean said...

matt -- no worries. I'm sure posting a bunch of links three times in a row would look like a sure sign of a spam comment.

gary -- I'd respectfully note that The Korean's sentiment is something my high school kids consistently say they dislike about Korean culture.

I am certain that's the case. I too hated it with passion when I was in HS. It is hard to appreciate the wisdom of the system when young.

exit86 -- Ha! You never let me down The Korean. You indeed showed us all your true colors here.

I don't know about you, but I never show any false colors. I am like a Samsung TV -- all of my colors are true.

The Korean said...

Ray,

I don't see how fear and pain breeds anything but contempt, and a slap in response to disrespect seems to fail in create any real sort of respect.

If you approve corporal punishment in at least some situations, how do you not see how fear and pain can sometimes serve to teach a lesson?

Doesn't a completely blanket use of 존댓말 to any elder imply [that older people in the society are always right]?

존대말 has nothing to do with right or wrong. Older people can be wrong, and are often wrong. 존대말 only means that their positions are accorded with respect. Which is the same reason why 존대말 is used between complete strangers (as long as they are adults,) regardless of age.

Doesn't the use of corporal punishment, a slap to the face in this case, itself imply a might-makes-right mentality?

Depends on what you mean by "might-makes-right" mentality, and its normative value. If you think a punishment to reinforce a social order counts as a "might-makes-right" mentality, then such mentality is hardly a bad thing. (For example, if the old lady is to be arrested as many here advocated, the police would still require might to do so.)

Would the slap be effective if the target wasn't a girl but a 6'5" 250lb professional MMA fighter? Would you even attempt a slap?

Absolutely. The pain caused by the slap is not the main point. The main point is reinforcement through humiliation, and the slap achieves the same effect no matter who the recipient.

I was using hyperbole to illustrate, but there have been similar cases, for example, there have been multiple cases where child abusers and child molesters have suffered extreme, and sometimes fatal, beatings at the hands of others.

Ok, and I agree. But a slap is neither extreme nor fatal.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say "social majority"?

How can there be a majority without consulting the entirety?

Exit86 said...

Once again, let me get this whole thing straight: The Korean is defending a mentally unstable old lady for assaulting a kid on the subway?

Hmmm... I must admit that The Korean is making good use of his lawyer skills--unquestionably defending a cause regardless of its ethics/morality, weaving threads of selectively chosen facts and partial facts together to help confuse listeners.

This joker is making this crazy old bat sound like an f'ing hero--the savior of Korean culture which South Koreans have been longing for.

What a riot!

Exit86 said...

Oh yeah,
The Korean (yes, I am picking on you guy),

Please do the other posters here who can't understand Korean as well as you and I a favor:

Would you care to translate what the gentleman with the grey hatin the second video (posted above on the original article by Matt)is saying to the crazy old lady? I'm wondering if his words and actions match your ideas on the matter. If you won't do it, I'd be happy to; but, it would be more fun to hear it from you.

Exit86 said...

Oh yeah, that would be from 0:49 to 1:26.

gordsellar said...

Well, The Korean, I am back, and I find most of the comments (not all, but most) that have been posted in the interim less than helpful. Guys, telling him to think about DPRK and read this or that book is profoundly unhelpful.

But first, a couple of caveats:

1. I didn't say that you are speaking in defense of rape, nor was I being low. I may have used hyperbole, but then I think you have been too -- all along. Note how you backpedaled from "destroying the social order" to "chipping away at" which is not the same thing.

2. I think it's a wholly different cultural difference that's in play in this discussion, and I'll get to that below.

3. I'm not sure whether you mean your invitation, or were trying to demonstrate your own courtesy in the face of what I'm sure feels like an attack. I think you have been one of the more better-behaved commenters here, better than me perhaps. But I still feel some of your beliefs are repugnant.

Yet people who think one anothers' beliefs in some subjects are repugnant can talk, can even affect one another's thinking, can certainly speak civilly. So I am back and commenting again. And while I cannot promise anything--I am insanely busy, as pretty much anyone among my friends can tell you--feel free to email me when you come to Seoul.

Anyway, I think I have a couple of insights on all of this:

gordsellar said...

1. IS vs. OUGHT

I think people are talking from different modes here. Most of the Westerners are speaking from a position of ought. I feel that you, The Korean, are speaking primarily from a position of is.

That is not to say you're not making "ought" statements; you are. But you're making them occasionally, while the expats here are making them pretty constantly.

I think this creates problems for dialog. After all, we're talking about an ethical question, and you're talking about a question of culture--an "is" question. This is why the mixed opinions of netizens seem to you to justify your position, just as their ambivalence and confusion seems to justify our position (which is, I believe, implicitly that this status quo is not a healthy one).

Now, I am sure you know this about North Americans; utopianism is in our (cultural life-)blood. Not utopianism like the pilgrims, or like the hippies; I mean the deeper foundation of imaginative utopianism, the radical imaginative function that is balanced with the bourgeois status-quo-favoring tendency; this balance has informed those and many other projects in North American life, and is an important part of our way of thinking and feeling about things. I mean that the utopian function of thinking is an important part of our cultural consciousness. When we see a political scandal, when we see (what we consider) a social problem, many of us (especially the educated) will tend not just to decry it, but to seek a solution or resolution for the problem. We ask ourselves, how can it be improved, solved, bettered?

This is not, I believe, a major component of the cultural consciousness of Korea. There are of course individuals in every society who tend toward this, but for whatever reasons -- historical, politico-historical (decades of dictatorship are certainly part of it), social, religious, or otherwise -- most Koreans (including the highly educated) tend away from a discussion of the problem in the context of formulating a solution, bettering the situation, solving the problem. This is so profound that in fact, one SF translator I know has actually come out and told me that Korean SF doesn't work the way Western SF does, in precisely this area: characters don't use ingenuity to solve problems. The problems either work themselves out (sometimes through something as far from the tale as a remote government office changing its policy) or they don't. In many of my dealings with Koreans across the spectrum of ages, and in many of the dealings they report to me, "is" and "ought" are not fundamentally separable for many people here. (Which is why so many people seem to use the word "wrong" interchangeably with "different," especially among older people.) Fatalism is a bigger part of the Korean cultural consciousness, while many North Americans see such fatalism as a case of moral apathy.

I'm not saying you're fatalist, mind you. You clearly seem to think that this model is good. I have a number of reasons to suggest you're misinformed, especially in your comparison with the USA -- or rather, you're putting blame on the wrong thing. But more about that later. For now, I just want to highlight our "ought" is not necessarily an "ought" that maps well onto your "ought." (And yes, I know you've lived in the west for ages. Still, you are speaking here as a Korean, about Korean cultural values -- or what you believe are such -- to a group of non-Koreans. I think it matters.)

gordsellar said...

2. MAD LIB THAT ARGUMENT

I think the other thing about your argument that has triggered so much shock, rage, and disgust is that it resonates very clearly with other ethical dilemmas of the past that North Americans tend to consider largely decided.

One example is this: you note that the old woman as a right to engage in a low-level violent assault on the younger, but not vice-versa. Violence in the other direction is not permitted under any circumstances. The older individual can speak down to the younger, but not vice-versa. The younger is never permitted to speak in "banmal" to the elder.

These are obviously a case of a double-standard. Now, here's the interesting part: North Americans have largely internalized a double standard about young people too. Research in the last decade or so demonstrates that teenagers actually live under more restrictions than anyone else in North America (more than Marines on active duty and more than incarcerated felons). They are held to strict behavioral standards, have far fewer civil rights than adults, and so on.

Nobody dares to point this out, though. Because, for all that, teenagers do have a few rights protected for them. Strangers cannot just strike them with impunity. They are not obligated to be polite in the face of verbal abuse. They are free to defend themselves from adults when assaulted.

Many North Americans living in Korea see, in a way a I think a lot of Koreans don't get to see, how teenagers live here today. They see this because Korean teens know they can talk to a Westerner about things that they could never bring up to a Korean. (This continues in young adulthood, so that I and the other "foreign" prof in my department are the ones to go to when students are suicidal, confused about whether to come out of the closet, suffering anxiety attacks from a near-miss sexual assault, and trying to decide whether to get married at age 23.) And let me assure you, a lot of these issues also don't fit very well into that social order you're describing the old woman as defending. As I'll be writing elsewhere, there are ways in which even the blatantly racist, blatantly sexist world of mainstream, prime-time American TV drama could appear proto-utopian for a young Korean. That's important.

gordsellar said...

It's important in the same way that showing an episode of The Cosby Show to a slave in the American South 180 years ago would have made 1980s America look utopian. Hell, it would have been. And I mention slavery for a reason: basically, because if you played Mab Libs with your argument defending this social order, you get some pretty good matches with tyrannies of the past in the West. The fact a child is not allowed to speak to an adult or elder in "banmal" might seem all very specially Korean to you; to me, it sounds like how a black in America not so long ago had to put up with being called boy, but could never verbally challenge a white. The fact that violence (even of a supposedly low-level) is permitted one way, but not the other, is clearly insane, unjust, and tyrannical when you swap in just about any other power-differentiated pair: man and woman, white and black, "native" and "immigrant", straight and gay, Christian and pagan, rich and poor.

This is part of the point: that "social order" you're discussing is deeply problematic for large numbers of Korean people. A gay man or lesbian in Korea will spend all of his or her life having trouble seeing the "wisdom" of your beloved social order, which marginalizes and excludes both of them and also enfranchises their persecution, public mockery, and social exclusion. A Korean of mixed-race will similarly spend a lifetime struggling with a social order that is, from what many experience, singularly lacking in wisdom. And while some may see it as petulant whining, a lot of Western people find many aspects of that "social order" singularly unpleasant, and they're going to compare and contrast it with what they see at home.

This is important for a couple of reasons. One is that, as members of this society -- as surely someone like me, eight years here, is -- a number of Westerners are and will for the foreseeable future remain excluded. They are afforded power, respect, and consideration in ways different from Koreans, but as one expat of many years here put it, "You can stay here decades on end and you will still be treated like a child." This is not to say that Westerners in Korea know what it's like to live as a Korean kid, but they do have some sense of what it's like to be denied adult autonomy within the system, to have on some level their inherent and basic humanity obscured by a question mark. If you consider how kids are often treated, how they experience interaction with adults (especially non-relatives) and the kinds of prejudices we have about young people, there are some pretty clear parallels. Westerners are also vulnerable in this system, in a way that kids also are. Pretty much everyone realizes this, which is why crazy people seem to like trying to provoke Westerners: inevitably, if a fight breaks out, it's the Westerner who's said to have started it, is said to be at fault. In the same way, I think a lot of people blamed the kid just because who are you gonna blame, old lady or kid? A lot of people will just blame the kid, period.

gordsellar said...

(Incidentally, A friend of a friend actually blamed the kid for another reason altogether: that is, "There are so many crazy old people in Seoul walking around, she should have apologized and moved because nobody will help or protect you if a crazy person attacks you, that's life in Seoul." Which suggests that the poll for blame was too small by at least one category. I think it's too small by two, the other response being, "When are we going to see a proper mental health care establishment founded in Korea?" This was one of those "people I wouldn't get to know," who went to a poor school and is one of the half of Seoul who lives in a half-basement apartment, by the way.)

In any case, I mention Westerners because I think seeing the parallels between how Westerners experience Korea, and Korean kids do, is worth noting in how it helps us understand the dynamics of this discussion. I believe that this vague similarity, as perceived by Westerners here, is why they react so strongly to this sort of thing. It's not just cultural difference, or revulsion: the videos of teachers smacking kids around, or of crazy old women attacking girls on the subway, provoke what is not just a reaction to an interaction between two Koreans, but what also seems to function as a kind of metaphor for their own experience of marginalization, legal vulnerability and disempowerment, and so on. They are the ones who've had to leave a subway car for another to avoid a fight breaking out between them and a crazy person. They're the ones who have to hear Koreans saying unthinkably rude things in their presence (unthinkably rude as in, Koreans would never say it to other Koreans absent of a foreigner) without responding as a Korean might (say, access to the low-level violence you mention).

gordsellar said...

3. COLONIALISM

I feel the "colonialism" or "cultural imperialism" argument is a sidestep. Koreans have accepted any number of norms or ideals that are not native to Korean culture in the present day, for various reasons. Some, but not all, of those reasons have to do with colonial-styled imposition. In any case, the Westerner in Korea is in no position to impose his or her cultural values on society in any effective way, just as you, The Korean (living in the USA) are in no position to impose this "Korean" cultural standard you suggest is normative here on America.

To argue from one's own cultural standpoint is inevitable. So to call a position of opposition "colonialism" or "cultural imperialist" is disingenuous in that it immediately discounts the interlocutor on the basis of his or her not being Korean. Worse, it dilutes the meaning of imperialist or colonialist imposition. Sooner or later, saying, "I don't like so-and-so food" will be decried as such.

Young Koreans love to complain of how the Japanese imposed modern, Western hairstyles on Korea. Well, but they are also going out and paying for their hair to be cut in Western styles now. I have asked people, "If it was such an evil thing -- and I agree, forcing a hairstyle onto a person is evil -- then why follow the style today? And worse, why allow that same form of abuse to be visited on young people in thousands of schools nationwide?" They tend not to have an answer. That's one of the more perplexing examples.

One of the less perplexing ones has to do with women's status in Korea. For after all, another part of that good-old Confucian social structure that the crazy old woman in the video is "defending" puts women on a much lower footing than men. Now, Korea has a long way to go but things seem slowly to be changing, and even improving. One could argue that on the basis of the status quo and history, it oughtn't do so. But for a complex set of reasons -- including but not limited to the act of Koreans looking at other societies, seeing that yeah, this or that status quo really does suck less for women -- has pushed things in a different direction.

And that's the thing I think you're ignoring: the teenaged girl isn't saying, "I hate old people." She's not saying, "I hate Confucianism." She's saying, "I hate Korea." That implies a comparison, however misinformed it might be.

gordsellar said...

But what if it's not misinformed? What if she's Korean-American? Or, heaven forbid, a Japanese tourist who speaks a little Korean? Perhaps slapping people into line worked as a village practice (though I doubt it), but when you transpose it to a society with more and more people from abroad -- not all of them apparently so -- and old people being enfranchised to walk around slapping strangers is going to lead to bad things. Not just confused Japanese girls who have no idea what they did wrong, but also old men and women beaten down by people -- young Koreans who refuse to accept such treatment, non-Koreans unwilling to accept such treatment. Sooner or later, older people are going to start being treated in kind, and thereafter I imagine that this atmosphere of violence -- the line between low-level and high-level is unclear, and escalation is easy -- will lead pretty inevitably in cities to murders.

And if you imagine for a moment that granny-killing and grandpa-lynching is not what this kind of thing will eventually lead to, stop and look at the demographics. Young people will increasingly be a minority -- more and more surrounded by elders. Elders will continue to live longer, not die off at 50 or 60 as they did in the old village system. And mixed-race or foreign people will continue to swell the population's empty ranks -- people who are very unlikely to accept being slapped by a stranger for what in most of their host societies would be approached more flexibly. (Most societies I've visited have some strict rules of etiquette, but also approach them more flexibly than what you outline.) On top of that, there is the Korean penchant to go to extremes: no violence to elders at all is an extreme taboo, and when it eventually breaks -- as it inevitably will -- it's going to break hard.

And there's some reason to think that this attitude of low-level violence being acceptable in exchanges between Koreans leads to a sense that violence is also useful in exchanges between Koreans and non-Koreans, but with the rules suspended. And when the rules are suspended, where are the limits? Sure, when dealing with a teenaged girl, there may be some traditional limit. (I'd guess the fluidity of limits in human minds leads to dangerous places, but let's take for granted most older Koreans will follow the unspoken rules.) How does this apply when dealing with people who have no clear place in that hierarchic system? Say, the mixed-race child, or the Nepali worker who doesn't like being spat at in the street and curses at the older man who does it? However comfortable you may feel with the system now, as an older Korean male, I think you need to consider that it's not practicable for the shape that Korean society is now taking: urban and thus increasingly anonymous, highly media-saturated and thus increasingly sensitive to violence and aware of its crazy people, highly diverse and thus no longer parseable along the simple age-based hierarchic system.

So it's in the best interests of older people, and indeed of Korean society in general, to reconsider.

gordsellar said...

4. YOUR ARGUMENT IN FAVOR OF THIS IS ACTUALLY AN ARGUMENT AGAINST IT

I would like to address this (to my mind) ridiculous idea that American society is falling apart because people have stopped using violence on kids. The work I'd like to direct you to is that of John Taylor Gatto, and Robert Epstein. Gatto is former teacher and writer on the subject of schooling (and the systemic, inherent flaws in the system) while Epstein is a researcher and advocate for youth rights. His book Teen 2.0 is one I happen to be reading now, but I just started it so I have no data to share at the moment. But it is very pertinent to your argument.

In a nutshell: I think you're missing the point that Korea and the USA share many things in common, in the treatment of their young people, which are likely a cause of the shared problems. (For as much as you extoll the wisdom of this social structure and its ways of dealing with things, it looks much more problematic when you look at issues closely. Sex crimes and violence between young people likely aren't on the rise, but people feel they are because they're being discussed more. Which means they were discussed less in the past; suppressed, hidden from view. This is something America went through too, and is still working through.)

If you look at societies where the infantilization of young people is less entrenched, where young adults are treated as adults and afforded fuller rights sooner, they tend to rise to the challenge. Meanwhile, those same societies tend not to infantilize the old, by giving them free reign and protecting them from consequences. A few Koreans I know who are in their 20s now have spoken to me at length of their dealings with Koreans in the 50s and 60s or older, and essentially they believe this infantilization trend has gone into overdrive for various reasons, mainly the over-confidence of the generation or two who believe that they, under the guidance of Park, hauled Korea from poverty to wealth. Which is true, but it is no reason to infantilize their young adult and adult offspring to the point where infantilization stretches into the late twenties or beyond.

gordsellar said...

I think you're romanticizing the power of the occasional slap (and the judiciousness of its application by the old) and ignoring the power of overschooling (and of a social order that infantilizes youth) to decay respect, responsibility, and common sense among the people. Indeed, I'd suggest that the system you describe is likely a distortion arising from the traumatic effects of the first/second generation (if we can say there were two generations, or waves of students) of forced Western-styled (via Japanese) schooling on colonial Korean society.

I agree with Ray that "might makes right" is very much implied in what you describe. Also, "age makes right" which leads to not only colossal blunders and inefficiencies, but also the constant wasting of time, energy, and talent here. (You say that 존대말 has nothing to do with right and wrong. I'd suggest that Korean Air's policy of pilots speaking English would be a counterexample, with Flight 801's crash being an illustration of how far one might carry that sense of being unable to criticize elders.)

But scarier, I think, is that you're right: slaps or other "low-level violence" being the province of the elder, and never responded to in kind by the junior, does indeed teach a lesson... just not the lesson you think. It teaches one to game the social system, use violence when convenient to get one's way or bully one's lessers, and that might makes right, and that the wrong argument or position need not be reconsidered if one is old enough, for it can be bolstered with a slap. Are these truly lessons we want people to learn? They were examined and found wanting when this sort of thing was common in the West, after all... it's not like we didn't go through this too. (And Confucianism be damned: hierarchy and permissiveness on age-favoring abuse is a part of many or even most "traditional" cultures after all.)

gordsellar said...

I think you ignore the parallels, and prescribe the status quo for Korea, very much at Korea's peril. There may need to be metal detectors at the gates of schools here, at the subways, and so on, sooner than you think. Or old people cars on the subway, or security guards protecting old people who think they have the right to behave like kings and queens, from the young people who repudiate that right and refuse to be shat upon any longer.

5. RESPECT:

I would also like to add one thing. If you're going to be a stickler for "translations," and for the understanding of words in a linguistic-cultural context, I think you're misusing the word "respect." Consider it and I think you'll find that you must actually mean something else -- most likely "deference" -- and not what the English word respect actually conveys. One-sided deference, enforced by slaps from elders, in strict hierarchic patterns, enforced by strict social rules that are unbalanced and one-sided (allowing immense agency to confront "wrongs" to the elderly, and constraining the agency of the young to utterly constrictive proportions), simply is not what we in the modern English-speaking cultural sphere tend to regard as "respect." At best, we would consider it a cheap simulacrum of respect, a sham. And we would regard anyone who conflated the two as lacking in nuance (at best) or stupid (at worst).

Indeed, the structure of Korean society is such that a word like "respect" is problematically applicable, just as the structure of most Anglophone societies is such that a concept like "banmal" is problematically applicable--and for the same reason. This is why Koreans so often seem to think that respect of elders is so important in Korean society, while North Americans stand in awe of how utterly disrespectful of their fellow human beings (Korean or otherwise) people seem to be in public here.

gordsellar said...

Not to suggest that "there's not such thing as a respect" in Korean society, but I will say that what Koreans mean when they talk (in English) about respect is not much like what the North Americans I know mean. But many things Anglophones tend to not consider respect at all--such as dramatic public shows of deference, the prescribed use of linguistic formality, and so on--seem to get passed off as (and accepted as) respect far here very, very often. In fact, they're conflated, as you so clearly demonstrate in your comments. (And indeed, many older people seem quite willing to settle for and indeed even to demand such deference even when it's clearly resentful, fake, deceitful, or strategic... that is, when it's obviously *not* respectful. Some individuals even seem to relish most heartily the deference that is offered with a strain of unmistakeable resentment. In fact, one thing Miss Jiwaku said to me about her father's issues with me was that he seemed to wish I would "behave in a more Korean way" which she then clarified meant, essentially, that he wished I would pretend to respect him in his presence, no matter how he acts or how I feel... she noted that disrespecting him behind his back is not a concern of his, but that the public performance of deference is what he craves.)

If we're gonna split hairs, let's be consistent.

6. BRAIN WIRING:

If you'd like to see the other side -- where I try to develop a take on why Westerners and Koreans seem to have so much difficulty finding common ground -- see here. But note this isn't to disavow what I see as a need for change. It's worth remembering that we in the West also had periods where our status quo was unfair, uneqal, and so on -- in ways I outline above -- and I think whether or not you think the direction we've taken is a good one, or would be a good model for Korea, it's still necessary to acknowledge that the system The Korean is arguing for above is extremely problematic, and growing moreso by the hour.

The Korean said...

Gord,

A few caveats of my own to start:

1. Why am I even doing this? Unlike the way I was at our last encounter, I am presently very busy. And if I had the energy to write anything, I should devote it to my own blog, not a remote corner of the Internet that few will read. (No offense Matt, but the post IS rather old at this point.) From the way you are arguing, I know I will never convince you. After years of being a blogger (maybe a Z-list celebrity?), I learned not to waste energy on something just for the sake of the felt need to win an argument.

I guess I am doing this because I appreciate the time and the thought you put in, for you are just as busy, and you can probably tell that you will not convince me either. I do this out of respect. I have always respected you and your writing, and I still do. Nothing I write is intended as an attack on you, merely your ideas. And I was sincere about my invitation, because I would love to have a chance to meet you in person.

2. I do, however, find your argument strategy deserving of indignation for how deeply unfair it is. I will explain this more fully below, but in short you are bundling my position with basically everything that goes wrong in Korea. In particular, the rape point was such a galling representation of your overall argument strategy that I feel that I should address it up front. This is not mere hyperbole of the kind that you allege me of using. (Which, by the way, was not a hyperbole at all. Small scale destruction -- "chipping away" -- is a destruction nonetheless, and a continued, uninhibited small scale destructions inevitably lead to total destruction.) Rape is not an issue here, so what is the point of bringing it up other than smearing my position? How is it any different from other commenters' strategy of associating my position somehow with DPRK? In fact, I would submit that a significant portion of your argumentation is no more than a sophisticated version of the very comments that you chastised.

With those caveats, here is my rejoinder.

The Korean said...

A. QUICK DETOUR ON META-CONVERSATION

Since you spend the first two big portions of your argument not exactly addressing the issue at hand but presenting a meta-conversation about why Westerners are engaging me with such emotion, allow me to do a quick detour from my central point and offer my own version of meta-conversation, about the factors that shape Koreans' reaction to Westerners.

Allow me to indulge a bit about my own family history. My mother's side of the family comes from Gwangju and Jeonju, not far from Iksan where you (used to?) live. They were educated, and had the misfortune of having a towering sense of justice that still runs strong. One of them died in Gwangju, at the hands of the paratroopers. Several more of them went to prison for organizing democratization movements. Their lives, distorted by the beatings and the wasted period of youths, took a long time before becoming normal. My mother spent many days sending food and money to my uncles in prison, crying all the while.

My father's family was dirt-poor. My father wanted to be a doctor, but had to become a teacher because the family needed the money now, not 7 years later after med school. (And they had no money for a private college anyway.) My grandmother, 95 years old now and one of the 3% of Korea who cannot read, supported the entire family by running a boarding house. My father recalls that even in his own house, all the food that his own mother prepared was for the boarders, and all he got as a growing boy was scraps, literally the half-eaten leftover food, still sitting on the kitchen table after the boarders finished eating. My father hated poverty. HATED it. Hated so much that since adulthood, and to this day as he is coming to his 60th birthday, he has never had a work day that was less than 15 hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays.

This is not just a sob story limited to myself or my family, but the story of the entire Korea and all Koreans of my parents' generation. Except for the privileged few (and I really mean few,) this was Koreans' lives -- oppression, torture, poverty, backbreaking labor. Mirrored against this, my own life -- filled with structured education and physical discipline by which Westerners are so horrified -- has been a picnic. I did not have the perspective to know that when I was a child (and trust me, I was a rebellious child.) But I do now. Many, many, many people of my generation came around to appreciating the sacrifices of their previous generation in the same manner.

Part of the reason why Koreans react in a way that marginalizes Westerners is because most Westerners have not been part of this process. It is upon Koreans' -- my family's -- literal blood, sweat and tears upon which Westerners stand, mocking and complaining about current-day Korea without giving proper respect to the enormous sacrifice made. If one did not put in much into forming the current-day Korea, what right does one -- particularly the ones who get to take a year-long, all-expenses-paid trip to Korea for having the decent fortune to be born as an Anglophone and have a college degree that was far, far easier to obtain outside of Korea -- have to criticize it?

Now I, as well as many Koreans, know that this is not a constructive attitude. Korea needs to take in immigrants and make them feel welcome, and being a touchy nationalist is not conducive to that aim. I did not write this in order to justify people being assholes. Just like your illustration of the possible connection between being a Korean child and being a foreigner in Korea, I only gave this example to illustrate the depth of emotions behind Koreans' attitude.

The Korean said...

B. MY POSITION -- KOREA'S SOCIAL HIERARCHY DESERVES PRESERVATION

Now, the main point. Instead of simply reacting to your position, I figured it would be helpful to establish my overall position clear, then engage where our differences stand.

Unlike your characerization of my position, I do not believe that everything about Korea's traditional culture must stand, crystallized in its original form until the end of time. I do not "prescribe the status quo," as you put it. Certain significant portions, including for example the parts that encourage sexism and xenophobia, must change. But separate from those aspects, Korea's way of age-based hierarchy has served Korea exceedingly well. It creates a serious, well-disciplined populace that is willing to sacrifice for the greater good. And indeed, that is the force that propelled Korea from a pile of shit to a prosperous democracy that you are enjoying currently. It might have become harder to see in everyday life, but the ability of Koreans to act selflessly in the face of a perceived common problem is unparalleled.

A quick illustration: when the financial crisis hit Korea in 1997, thousands of Koreans lined up to give up their gold to contribute to the national treasury. When the financial crisis hit Europe in 2010, thousands of Europeans threw rocks at riot police and went on strike with the labor union, trying to get theirs above everyone else.

To be sure, having the hierarchy is not the be-all, end-all goal. It is only useful to the extent that it helps Korea. If the hierarchy completely overran Korean society such that old people can simply go around, beating up anyone who has any small amount of disagreement (something against you warn darkly, without any basis in reality,) that would be a problem. But having an age-based hierarchy, to a proper degree, is definitely helpful toward generating the benefits that I outlined above.

Maintenance of that hierarchy requires the recognition of everyone within the hierarchy to know where his/her respective place is, and an enforcement mechanism to place people into their places when they stray. Defiant banmal to an elder is one of the clearest defiance to the hierarchy. It is not a minor transgression like locking eyes or talking back, for it denies the existence of hierarchy itself. It breaches one of the last lines of defense for the social order, and is utterly intolerable.

(You seem to imply that this is not necessarily Confucianism. I found the label Confucianism to be convenient, but I see your point. Call it whatever you want -- for our purpose this label is inconsequential, as long as it is not misleading.)

Astute observers like you may find connections between the aspects of Korean culture to be preserved, and the aspects to be discarded. Such connections, however, are hardly prohibitive of keeping one and abandoning the other. In my "dog meat" post, one commenter made a point that there were certain parallels between the way humans justify killing animals to consume, and the way humans have justified discrimination against other humans. The lesson from that parallel that the commenter apparently drew was: "if you continue to discriminate against other life forms because they don't look like you, speak your language, or have an ability equal to yours; then, my friend, we will never transcend racism." I'm sure you can see the plain ludicrity of the argument that we can never transcend racism if we continue to eat meat -- it is possible to put humans and animals on different planes, and agree upon one set of rules for humans and another set of rules for animals. Likewise, it is possible to put women and foreigners in the same category as Korean males in Korean culture, while children in another, and have different rules apply for each. In other words, all your points about Korea's racism and sexism -- the aspects that I deplore as much as you do, and spend significant time denouncing on my blog -- are irrelevant to this discussion.

The Korean said...

C. WHY YOUR POSITION IS WRONG.

I will summarize your positions as I understand them, then tell you why they are wrong. You can of course correct me if my summaries are misleading.

1. "Soon, young people will respond in kind and start hitting old people."

This is an absurd argument. Law is not the same thing as custom, but at least in this instance I find this parallell useful for illustrative purposes: your argument is as if to argue that the police should not any force at all, because the police's usage of force is more likely to invite further use of force from the suspect, putting the police is further danger. The point is that the suspect did something wrong in the first place, causing the police to take enforcement action.

You are making this kind of absurd argument because fundamentally, you cannot accept the fact that banmal is a significant transgression. Really, that's all it comes down to -- you don't get it. You refuse to get it. You refuse to see the utility of having a hierarchical society, although having that hierarchy is precisely what built Korea of today, the Korea that you are enjoying.

2. "Social hierarchy will not work on people who have no previous place in the hierarchy."

Customs and traditions adapt. That change will take place organically. Social hierarchy is flexible enough to accommodate newcomers; everyone is at one point young, and at another point old. I can't predict how it will turn out, but it will find an equilibrium -- it always does. And it will generally not go overboard -- the outer edge is set by the law such that serious assault will in fact be punished. If it does go overboard, Korean law as well as Korean society will denounce it.

3. "Age-based hierarchy infantalizes the youth."

This argument is so vague that it is nearly useless. "Rise to the challenge" -- what does that even mean? Here are people who rose to the challenge by any definition of the term -- Korean youths who fought for democracy in the 1960s and 70s, when the social hierarchy was much, much stronger than today. By my age, one of my uncles (who was like a brother to me, being only 8 years apart,) was imprisoned three times organizing protests and labor unions. How do American and Canadian youths rise to the challenge -- by teaching English in Korea?

The Korean said...

4. "Age-based hierarchy wastes time, talent and effort, and teaches 'might makes right' mentality."

The flip side is true also -- the idea that every last opinion, no matter how silly, must be valued equally creates a huge waste of time, talent and effort. Instead of being told to shut up and get back to work, people have to coaxed and cajoled lest their feelings might get hurt. If their feelings do get hurt, they sue, fattening the wallets of personal injury lawyers.

As to the "might makes right mentality" argument, you are arguing against a strawman, an imagined society in which the effect of age-based hierarchy is much more draconian than it is in reality. In reality, a Korean organization that relies on the age-based hierarchy more than it should loses out in the market competition. Korean society is NOT a society bent on self-destruction -- a younger person may disagree with an older person tactfully. Even a less-than-tactful manner exhibited by a younger person generally invites a verbal assertion of authority, not a slap. Only something as egregious as a defiant use of banmal to an elder invites a slap. The proportionality is clear.

The Gladwell example has little to do with 존대말. The KAL crash in 1997 had many different factors, one of which was Guam airport's failure to send Minimum Safe Altitude Warning to the airplane. (The U.S. FAA told the airport not to send the warning because it sent too many false alarms.) But the real kicker is this -- the KAL pilots were already speaking in English! Even before the reform, much of KAL pilots' communications were in English, especially because they had to communicate with the control tower on the ground (who don't speak Korean). Here is the transcript of the blackbox -- you can see for yourself that especially in matters relating to the operation of the airplane itself close to the time of the crash, vast majority was actually done in English. The first officer's second-to-last last words were in English: "Missed approach." Even the pilot responded in English as he belatedly tried to cancel the landing: "Go around" -- two seconds before the crash.

The Korean said...

D. WHY YOUR POSITION IS WRONG -- THE "CULTURAL IMPERIALISM" POINT

I find it curious that you spend so much time on the "cultural imperialism" point, when I only mentioned the term once in passing and did not spend any ink on it otherwise. If that was because you do not want to be associated the label "cultural imperialism," I think your writing did a poor job distancing yourself from the label.

To wit: your first point is that you lack the capacity to impose. But refer back to my (tiny) point on "cultural imperialism" -- all I said was your arguments bear the "hallmark of cultural imperialism." Put differently, my point was that your arguments are culturally imperialistic; your counterpoint thus misses the mark. Even a person who is in no position to murder can entertain murderous thoughts.

Your next point is an a fortiori statement: "To argue from one's own cultural standpoint is inevitable." Not so. My argument has been made thus far within a pragmatist framework, a decidedly American trend of thought. I point out the social utility of having hierarchical structure and a stern enforcement mechanism. But you don't even try to support your statement -- instead, you make another a fortiori "slippery slope" statement, then jump onto talking about sexism, then granny-lynching. The way I read it, this is a desperate distraction from the "cultural imperialism" point.

How is your argument culturally imperialistic? Because you set forth your own culture as the teleological end point which Koreans must reach. Instead of presenting your culture as an accidental product peculiar to the development of your own nation (and its predecessors,) you present your culture as the universal truth -- by saying that Western culture all experienced the same "problems" of Korean culture, but they all got over it. And unless Korea gets over those problems, Korea will remain a barbaric and backward place in which grandmothers will be lynched. This is a definitional display of culturally imperialistic mindset.

If you want set up Western culture as the essential end point of history to which Korea must aspire, go ahead. But you cannot do so without being culturally imperialistic. And if having the label of a cultural imperialist bothers you, perhaps you should re-examine your stance.

The Korean said...

E. MISCELLANEOUS

I don't understand the necessity for the "respect" part. (In fact, most of the time I used the term "respect" to say that I respect you.) But seems to me that the word "respect" in plain English also encompasses a formal showing of respect without necessarily involving a corresponding state of mind. When you attend a funeral, you are paying respects to the dead whether or not you in fact respected the dead in your heart.

I find the brain-wiring article from Tufts to be interesting, but I think your interpretation of it is totally wrong. But I don't have to energy to deal with that point further.

Alex said...

Language and culture are not prescribed - The majority determine what is correct or incorrect. Languages and cultures change. I think this is an issue of an older woman refusing to accept a new social consciousness. From my own anecdotal evidence, the Koreans who I talk to about the issue say the woman was not entitled to physically abuse a girl for using banmal. For me, it seems that the majority of Koreans do not feel that it is necessary to "put people in their place" through physical violence, a la parental tactics of the 1930s. I don't care to argue whether or not this has anything to do with an imperialistic Western culture asserting its influence over traditional Korean society, but that is what the state of society appears to be from my perspective. It seems that contemporary Koreans tend to accept that, "the right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." So whether or not you feel the old woman was justified in her reaction, if the majority of Korean society says otherwise, regardless of tradition, then contemporary Korean culture doesn't see it as justified. I have no survey data to back up my anecdotal evidence, but that it was such a major issue in the first place suggests the existence of a sea change.

Noland said...

seems to me that the word "respect" in plain English also encompasses a formal showing of respect without necessarily involving a corresponding state of mind

The Korean nails it and I "respect" the heck out of him for it.

gordsellar said...

Noland wrote:

"seems to me that the word "respect" in plain English also encompasses a formal showing of respect without necessarily involving a corresponding state of mind

The Korean nails it and I "respect" the heck out of him for it."

I don't think so. My point was that in Korea, very often a simulacrum of respect is mistaken for (and demanded in place of) the real thing. This happens in the West, but I don't think our fundamental understanding of the word is tied up in unfelt public shows of respect; my experience in Korea and the experiences recounted to me by Korea people on a constant basis suggest that's a cultural difference.

I am returning to this discussion for two reasons. One, because it came to mind in the context of some recent events, and two, because I've always regretted not responding to The Korean's last points. I don't mind if he replies later -- we're all busy. But some of the claims he makes rankle. So...

gordsellar said...

I'll be frank: I had a long response written most of a year ago, and never posted it. I didn't do so for a number of reasons. Mostly, I got busy with things, and never got around to editing it to a sensible length. Then I got busy with deadlines.

Anyway, I have always regretting not responding to some of the above, so... here I am, a year later, responding. Because, frankly, I think The Korean needs to be called on some bullshit.

So here I go:

1. The Rape Thing

The Korean went into paroxysms of anxiety about my mentioning of rape, and the general social sanctioning of rape, in the context of a patriarchal, age-based hierarchic structure. Perhaps, not living in Korea, he doesn't get it about just how socially sanctioned rape is. About just how afraid women are to go out alone, and about how few people take this seriously.

The Korean ardently insists that he wants to eliminate sexism, but maintain age-based hierarchy. What he refuses to recognize is that they are coextensive. In the current Korean social hierarchy, sexism, ageism, racism, regionalism, and class are all deeply intertwined; these hierarchic structures are coextensive, meaning they meld together and support one another.

Thus I see it as unrealistic when the Korean seems to want us to believe that we can battle sexism and racism, without addressing ageism. He offers no clear sense of how it can be done, he simply insists it can be done... and, he wants us to believe, it ought to be. His justification for this imperative, as we shall see, falls flat in a number of ways, despite its popularity in Korea... especially among those privileged by the hiarearchic system in place, but also among older and younger women and men who have internalized the oppressive structure of Korean society.

If the Korean was truly offended, then I apologize, but I nonetheless tender that he missed (or, even in his offendedness, stubbornly avoided) my point: that age-based hierarchy is coextensive with racial, regional, gender, and wealth-hierarchy in all societies -- including Korean society -- and that the stricter and more pronounced the hierarchy, the worse the vagaries of that hierarchy will be to those lower down on the ladder.

gordsellar said...

2. Teleology and Imperialism

Laughably, The Korean insists on the cultural imperialism inherent in my position.

This is amusing for a number of reasons. For one, I am the one living here and subject to Korean laws, cultural mores, and so on. The Korean does not live here -- and yet he feels entitled to proclaim from on high about what system works best for people living here. Granted, his life may be intertwined -- in a more abstract and distant sense than mine -- with the lives and fates of many individual Korean people. But he is not surrounded by people upon whose lives this social structure, as extant in Korea, exerts a distinct, constant, clear, and inescapable impact upon my faily life, and the lives of most of the people close to me.

His attitudes being formed from across an ocean, I was tempted to show forebearance; but when he claims I am imposing a teleological model onto Korea, I feel as though I must ask: is he actually so unaware that Koreans themselves have bought into just such a teleological model? As has he, in his adoption of the very economic-developmentalist rhetoric promulgated by the Park dictatorship, which sidelined everything except economy -- human rights, the arts, culture, philosophy, education: everything was sidelined for the benefit of economy. I do not wish to disparage the economic development Korea achieved -- but I do disparage the fact that to achieve it, a dictator convinced a populace that nothing else mattered, and convinced them to throw everything else, very nearly, off to the side. This is something many people in Korea realize, as well, and I suspect it lies at the heart of the continuing anti-American sentiment: America represents that which Koreans themselves have become, someplace to project the horror and emptiness of a world where money seems to be the prime candidate for success, and questions of personal happiness and interest in one's work or study are a far, far second.

For the record, have long I spent my time actively encouraging students and friends NOT to look to America (or Canada, or necessarily anywhere in the English-speaking world) as the source of all anodynes for Korean social problems. I do encourage them to look abroad, since for Korea some problems seem "new" which have long been dealt with -- well or badly, and both are useful -- in other places. When a student suggests Korean education should be reformed to resemble American education -- a suggestion students make often and loudly, by the way -- I attempt to remind them that there's a whole world of different approaches and maybe, say, the Swedish or Italian or Singaporean approach might suit Korea better... or maybe a different approach needs to be developed within Korea.

Here's the thing: for me, the discussion of Korean social hierarchy isn't isolated from other oppressive, discriminatory regimes in other places. I see human history, in the coarse-grained view, as being a massive struggle by the intelligent few against something we could, quite easily, call The Hierarchy. Monarchs bleeding their population dry, theocrats burning people to death for heresy or instituting obviously sexist controls on a society, rich white men in suits polluting the public water, older Korean policemen refusing to look into a sexual assault reported by a teenaged girl, an older woman assaulting a younger one on the subway because she wasn't willing to put up with an endless stream of abuse, and reacted (perhaps) imperfectly: all of these are manifestations of the very unfortunate and broadly observable human tendency to construct patriarchal, power-based, exploitative and oppressive hierarchies. (In this, we are not so far from our evolutionary cousins -- chimpanzees -- and other primates.) That hierarchy is embedded in the processes of the human social mind does not justify it: indeed, it necessitates that the struggle be more ardent.

Of course, the coarse grained view is not sufficient. So let's zoom in.

gordsellar said...

3. Blood, Sweat, Tears... and Myths

Zooming in is an interesting thing. There's a comfortable, safe distance that The Korean likes to take with Korean economic and developmental history, and that is the distance of the mythic narrative -- the invented history, as Hobsbawm and Ranger famously called it. I am familiar with this, having grown up with the fantasy that my ancestors on my Scottish side were highlanders tromping about in kilts, running their British oppressors through with swords at every opportunity. "We resisted," the story goes, building a convenient monolith that obfuscates history.

The monolith is a fantasy. My ancestors were lowland Scots, the men wearing pants and working in book publishing/printing. They may have been book pirates -- working the print-era equivalent of Napster or piratebay.org. Or maybe they were just publishers. No swords, though, no running through English bastards. Just real life, with those daily struggles to put food on the table, and salt a little away, to stay out of harm's way, to keep things going day by day.

Similarly, the Korean's fantasy of Korean history is very deeply problematic: Koreans built up Korean on blood, sweat, and tears, and almost nobody helped them.

Really?

Wait. Who founded the most beloved universities here? Who preached several of the religions so beloved by so many Koreans today -- and simultaneously built so many of the earliest hospitals and orphanages? Who funded the establishment of important parts of the infrastructure that made modern Korean possible? Who placed troops here to offset the military costs South Korea would have needed to expend to remain independent of North Korea, allowing the nation to divert resources straight to economic development? Who made development loans and gave food to Korea over the lean decades after the war?

I am tempted to ask The Korean whether his mother, hailing from Jeonju, remembers Jesu Byeongwon. That was the most advanced hospital in Jeolla-do even into the mid-1980s, and it was staffed by, as one friend called them "blue eyed doctors." That friend specifically is alive because the doctors used their advanced Western medical techniques to save her life, and used the expensive medical equipment donated to the hospital by foreigners, namely, a ventilator, to keep her alive when she was born months premature. Her father's life was saved there several years later after a stroke, when the hospital was still one of the most advanced around. As everyone in Jeonju then knew, the doctors were not there for a "year long expenses paid holiday" but working out of a sense of common decency.

What do Westerners do? You ought to know: you live in America, don't you? Plenty do missionary work, or Peace Corps work, or charity work, or volunteer in development programs. Plenty fight the manifestations of The Hierarchy in their own society, or push for reforms of corporate laws and the relationship between government and business.

(You will search in vain to find as many Korean medical missions to impoverished places today, despite Korea's burgeoning wealth, as you would would have found foreign medical missions in Korea during the dictatorship era. I know this because the friend I mentioned has worked as part of one or two of them herself, now that she is a doctor too. There is no real equivalent of the Korean Peace Corps. The Korean equivalent of the Occupy Movement consisted of a tiny fraction of the number of people who turned up to protest US Beef and their newly elected president.)

gordsellar said...

The risible claim of self-reliance on the part of The Korean (strangely echoing the fantasy of "juche" self-reliance on the part of a North Korea that fell apart as soon as the Soviet state most responsible for proppping it up fell apart) is just plain bunk. It may be popular Miracle on the Han mythology today, but it is a load of bollocks. The reality is that thousands of missionaries, Peace Corps workers, medical doctors, educators, and other professionals who came to work in Korea, along with hundress of thousands of other people donating food, money, skills, labour, and even their lives were part of the story of how Korea developed into what it is today. Korea is not an island, not even when North Korea cuts it off from the rest of Asia land: Korea's history is intimately bound up with other histories. That Korea -- and its self-appointed spokesman, "The Korean" -- prefer to pretend otherwise does not erase this reality.

Closer examination demonstrates that these grounds for discrediting the criticism of foreigners are pretty poor -- they depend not only on a kind of amnesia, but an amnesia that implicitly ignores the role Western critics played in the shape and direction of Korea's development, including in many areas that the broad majority of Koreans hold to be important. The claim that foreigners didn't contribute comes after the prejudgment that foreigners shouldn't criticize, not prior to it. Racialized thinking, or its relative absence, determines how closed (or open) people are to foreigners' criticism.

This is not to discount the work and struggle many Koreans did contribute. It is only to refute that Koreans' did it on their own, or that outsiders never, ever contributed to the changes. Outsiders contributed decisively, whether Koreans feel inclined to remember it or not.

But all of that aside, this is also the first crack in the facade of The Korean's argument for why The Hierarchy -- or rather, the age-based, ostensibly (see below) Confucian instantiation of it in Korea -- ought to be preserved. Recall that, above, the stable willingness to self-sacrifice to which The Korean attributes Korea's economic development -- and which he in turn attributes to the age-based hierarchy -- is pretty much the main supporting argument offered by the Korean in favor of The Hierarchy. "Look what it has achieved!" he says, as if it were directly attributable to The Hierarchy, and as if it occurred in a vacuum.

It was not, and indeed I do not believe it is an overstatement to argue that the contributions by non-Koreans who were in fact being critical of aspects of Korean society -- like its lack of a system for dealing with orphans, for example -- ended up playing a significant part in the improvement of the lives of millions of Koreans. That is to say: Confucianism isn't the only thing that made it happen... and indeed, it may have happened despite Confucianism.

But the main support for his argument is even more paper-thin, as I shall demonstrate next.

gordsellar said...

4. Economic Justifications

The Miracle on the Han. That is what it is called today. That is how some remember it.

The Korean describes this period in history:

This is not just a sob story limited to myself or my family, but the story of the entire Korea and all Koreans of my parents' generation. Except for the privileged few (and I really mean few,) this was Koreans' lives -- oppression, torture, poverty, backbreaking labor.

Not to make light of misery, but it is singularly odd that he fails to connect a couple of dots within that narrative... such as why the period had to be an age of oppression, torture, poverty, and backbreaking labour. While the relative and absolute poverty were likely to some degree inevitable, were the torture and oppression?

This should raise eyebrows. He fails to recognize that part of what facilitated the unrelenting oppression, torture, and backbreaking labor -- as well as, in some regions (like that from which his own mother hails) extremely disproportionate poverty -- was The Hierarchy itself. Consider the patriarchality of the Korean dictatorial regimes. Consider the government-sanctioned consignment of Korean men to fight in Vietnam, and Korean women to serve as effective sex slaves to Japanese tourists and American soldiers (both discussed by Katherine HS Moon in Sex Among Allies). Consider the political oppression of Koreans, the habitual dismissal of gender and feminist issues (all the way back into the colonial era, indeed (as discussed in the essay by Kenneth Wells, titled "The Price of Legitimacy: Women and the Kunuhoe Movement," in the anthology Colonial Modernity in Korea). The Miracle on the Han was a horror show, yes, but in many ways the horror was deepened and worsened by the exploitations of Koreans by Koreans, of women by men, of the young by the old, of the poor by the rich. This is universal -- but to argue it was not facilitated by The Hierarchy is disingenuous. It was obviously facilitated on a very deep level by the norms and governing expectations of The Hierarchy, in its then-current form.

But if we step back from this, we can analyze another mythic, teleological fantasy central to The Korean's argument: that the current state of the Korean economy "proves" the, ahem, shall I call it the "functional validity" of the age-based hierarchy? He argues,

Korea's way of age-based hierarchy has served Korea exceedingly well. It creates a serious, well-disciplined populace that is willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Here, The Korean in fact rehearses an argument that a fellow Korean Ha-Joon Chang admonishes against: arguments about culture determining economic potential are dangerous. (If I remember one bit of that chapter he devotes to this point correctly, outsiders once thought the Germans were lazy and shifty, and argues that Germany's economy could not develop because of German culture; now, a common stereotype of Germans is how hard they work.)

Chang primarily argues this point from the question of potentialities: that one cannot argue a society has failed to develop because of cultural reasons. (It is wrong, he might have argued, to assume that, for example, Malawi remains among the poorest of nations in its region because of elements within Chewa culture.) But the reverse is also true: The Korean looks back on a success and says, "Ah, see, it was because culture facilitated it!"

This is erroneous for several reasons: for ignoring extracultural reasons why Korea's economy developed as it did; for ignoring implicit costs of this form of development (including lost opportunities for more balanced, more egalitarian, or broader development; but mostly, because it assumes culture explains the economic state.

gordsellar said...

"Koreans work hard!" is the favorite cant here, but knowing how "work hard" is defined -- including hours of sitting in an office, surfing the net until the boss goes home, for many workers -- I am dubious. Some, indeed maybe many, Koreans worked very hard. This is far from unique to Korea: people all around the world have worked hard, especially when they were poorer. But Korea arrived at a very unusual time and place, for a number of reasons, some of them far-removed from culture. The industries that Korea used to build up its economy were ones that could be implemented cheaply and feasibly in a place that was dirt poor; the electronics industry was brand-new, and people were hungry for cheap electronics from East Asia; factory outsourcing was not a major concept yet. Korea was very lucky to show up at the table in 1952, hungry to join the developed world. Were Korea arriving today, I suspect all the age-based hierarchy in the world would not make possible what happened during The Miracle on the Han.

Again, history is not mythology: it is more complex, nuanced, and troublesome.


He goes on to argue:

A quick illustration: when the financial crisis hit Korea in 1997, thousands of Koreans lined up to give up their gold to contribute to the national treasury. When the financial crisis hit Europe in 2010, thousands of Europeans threw rocks at riot police and went on strike with the labor union, trying to get theirs above everyone else.

This is how the story looks from his point of view. I wonder, did he live here when it happened? Or was he looking upon it from the far shore? Was he a part of the Korean system of economic class -- the haves and have-nots -- or was he living outside of the system by then? I don't know, and he doesn't say here. But someone who actually lived through it herself said something radically different to me regarding the same affair:

"I donated the only gold I had -- the gold chain my father gave me when I was Confirmed in [the Catholic] church, which meant so much to me. But the rich people mostly just took their money out of the country. I regret donating that chain, now; I wish I could have it back. They screwed us. We knew they would, but we gave out gold anyway. So stupid."

True or not -- some rich people did donate some of their gold, supposedly -- the idea that "they" screwed the common Korean people is a feeling that is understandable. After all, leaving aside the question of who got the Korean economy into such a mess in the first place, anyone paying attention to the Korean economy since knows that the gap between the wealthy and everyone else has been growing since 1997, and is doing so at an increasing rate -- with social mobility decreasing steadily. From past discussions, or even parts earlier in this discussion, the Korean seems to be in need of a little disabusing of some of his misconceptions, such as that all the Koreans I know are rich and fancy and went to hakwons all their lives. Indeed, the people closest to me hail tend to have a similar history: a well-to-do background until around 1997 (if not before), followed by grinding hardship. Far more individuals than he seems willing to imagine have told me stories that have left me shocked. Some hint, others come in tears. As an outsider, a lot of people feel free to tell me things they would never tell any but the closest of friends. Those people who spend years living in dingy, flood-prone basement apartments with no indoor toilets? (And whose numbers are growing here, even as the government allows neighborhood after neighborhood to be gentrified into apartments nobody can afford anymore?) People in such situations are very well-represented among the people I talk with about these issues. Indeed, their reported struggles are an important part of what informs my perspective.

gordsellar said...

Leaving aside the current dysfunction of the Korean economy -- the undeniable and extensive exclusion of women, the growing have/have-not gap, the consolidation of wealth, the diminishing room for anyone but the wealth in the capital as area after area gets gentrified -- and the ways in which Hierarchy facilitate these problems, there is a more thing to consider:

If you base your justification for a social system on apparent economic success, you are setting your argument's foundation on what could, very simply, turn out to be sand. After all, until 1989 or so, the Western world was not only terrified by Japan, but also was convinced that Japan's success was based on how differently they did things. Americans started studying Japanese, and reading books on Japanese business culture. The lingo in Western conferences shifted to privilege Japanese concepts and approaches.

Then the Japanese bubble economy burst. And things have never been the same again.

The reasons for the Japanese economic decline are complex, far too complex for this discussion. Likewise, the differences between Korea's and Japan's economic systems, and the two countries' responses to situations like the '97 economic crisis. But there are also enough parallels, especially in the corporate and cultural arenas, to imagine Korea heading down a similar road. It may not, but... if the Korean economy were to bust, and fail in the long term to recover -- as so many Koreans actively fear it will do -- the basis of The Korean's defense of The Hierarchy would be gone. Would he then acquiesce, and agree it needs to be dismantled?

After all, the current state of Korea's economy is not an endpoint. To think thus is to think in the very teleologies that The Korean assumed I was thinking in, and castigated me for. On one level, I find this ridiculous, since one hears Koreans worrying about the Korean economy even when it is doing, on global standards, remarkably well.

On the other hand, I see there are some pretty sensible reasons to worry. The reasons may not be apparent to all Koreans. They may be apparent to very few of them. The reasons may not be the ones that people are worrying about at all. Space and time preclude a finer discussion here, and I am still researching the issue, but it's fair to say there is good reason to worry that Korea is stumbling towards the trap Japan fell into, as far as I see it.

gordsellar said...

I have no hard evidence Korea is absolutely headed there. But, likewise, the Korean has no hard evidence that Korea absolutely is not headed there. But I can assure you that somewhere, Japanese people said something remarkably like what he said about Korea:

"Korean society is NOT a society bent on self-destruction..."

Indeed. Neither is (or was, in 1987) Japan. But then, what society ever is? The ancient Romans were not bent on self-destruction either, and indeed it was in part their efforts to stave off destruction that sped up the Empire's demise. This is not unique to Korea: a great example in the country in which The Korean ostensibly lives now, the USA, is the political inability to bring about socialized health insurance.

But, for example, the persistence of unhelpful social structures is definitely part of why Japan still hasn't managed to climb out of that pit. Japan remains a major economy, and by some measures it's doing quite well (gap between rich and poor, for example, much smaller than we see in Korea). I like to think that in a world where economics was not predicated on the idea that economies and businesses must either grow like cancer or be considered failures, Japan might be considered successful in a number of ways, even.

Korean society doesn't need to be bent on self-destruction in order to persist in self-destructive practices or systems: it just needs to have enough people who are convinced that the maintenance of a particular social order is a good thing, when it is actually stifling and even strangling in the cradle the very things that would help Korea adapt to the changing circumstances it is now facing.

After all, it's not 1987 anymore, let alone 1997 or 2007.

gordsellar said...

5. "Destruction," Doom, and Hyperbole

Let's be frank. I conceive of The Hierarchy as oppressive, as negative, as something to be resisted. I see it as something that bubbles up from our basest instincts, and which takes form in all of the social hierarchies humans establish.

Our systems tend to bubble up from those structures, so that we perceive the world through a filter that suggests it is reasonable for people with great talent to be highly rewarded, or for people who "work hard" (by whatever definition) to be rich while others are poor. As I recall reading somewhere other other recently, if innovation, resourcefulness, and hard work were the key to wealth, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.

So if The Korean wants to engage in hyperbole -- in defining active, defiant resistance to the abuse of the Hiarachy as destruction -- then fine, let him. And I shall join him: I advocate the destruction of The Hierarchy when it takes form in our societies. I advocate the concentrated resistance and active chipping away of oppressive social orders. Indeed, I advocate a public guillotining, a bonfire, of The Hierarchy. I argue that the Hierarchy be drawn and quartered by those whom it harms.

Not Hierarchs, mind you: I am not advocating mass murder of the old, as (believe it or not) some young people in Korea I've talked to joke about. But if we accept the hyperbolic notion that defiant, linguistic resistance to the Hierarchy is destruction, then fine: let's get comfortable with destruction.

A social order that makes one member of a society subject to physical punishment by strangers for an act, while rendering other members of a society able to perform the same act with complete impunity, is clearly unjust. It's plain and clear and simple.

The history of humankind is very easily read as a multifarious narrative throughout which intelligent human beings have risen up and opposed unjust systems like this, systems appearing in different forms: imperial conquerors; theocracies; monarchies; sexist patriarchies; slave-trading oppressors; racist exploiters; dictatorial regimes; but also oppressive families, oppressive marriages, oppressive encounters with strangers on the street... or on a public city bus, or in a subway train.

And here is where it should be clear how throroughly cheap and trashy The Korean's claim is that I impose a telelogy onto Korea's future. I am not imposing it on Korea, I am reading it in what I see around me, and in the comments of Koreans I know. And I am reading it as part of the story of humankind. I see the same process as ongoing, and obviously far from resolved, in all societies in the world today. (Hence, for example, the widespread Occupy Movement and the frustrations that have given rise to it.) I don't have a clear picture of how we get to the future, but I am relatively certain that, barring complete ecological collapse, our descendants will look back on us with the mixture of shame, pity, and awe we feel when we look back on the Middle Ages, or the ancient world. They will wonder at the arrogance with which we classified youths -- adolescents, especially -- as problematic while interring them involuntarily into education, placing them in purdah from the real world, from friends of any age except the same age, with more rules governing their behaviour by far than any other members of society (including prison inmates and marines on active duty).

(I likewise suspect that our descendants will look at the question of animal rights with a perspective much more like the commenter mentioned by the Korean, incidentally. They will likely be horrified at the mass, industrial slaughter system we implicitly harbored but rarely acknowledged.)

gordsellar said...

Teleology suggests that I imagine a final endpoint, and The Korean suggests I think that endpoint is the American reality today. Perhaps he assumes all white people think this way, I do not know; but I can assure you that, as a professional science fiction writer, the very notion baffles me.

I freely, and happily, admit that there are systems in Korea -- such as the socialized health insurance system -- which are much better-developed than in America. (Though not as good as in Canada, for major illnesses.) I live in awe of the fact any wealthy modern nationstate, let alone one as rich and powerful as the USA, can look at itself in the mirror every day in the absence of broadly socialized health care, when it is so obvious a way to do things.

But just to clarify: I chafe at the teleology in visions of the world I encounter. I am frustrated that everyone thinks electoral democracy of the kind we have now is the endpoint of political development. (It looks to me more like a hokey sort of short-term, temporary electoral monarchy with a few safeguards in place. The best system we have now, yes, but you'd be an idiot to see it as the apex of political evolution.) And I am frustrated especially by the ridiculous teleology buried within The Korean's economics-fetishism, a conception that has done at least as much harm in Korea as it has done good.

That said, with a year's hindsight, and a lot of thinking on the question of how Koreans deal with the bad behavior of others, or those instances when they feel they're being screwed over, I have to say that the idea of young people assaulting older ones in retaliation might not be a valid one. It may well be -- but I don't know the statistics on crime involving violent confrontations between youth and elders -- there are stories in the news, often reported as being related to "internet addiction" or "MMORPG addiction," but I don't know if such confrontations or violence are on the rise. I can say that yet another case has come up in recent days of a child committing matricide against his abusive parent. (And Korean history has its examples of groups of people in oppressed positions bearing it and bearing it and then, finally, exploding with violence in response. Indeed, my experience fits with those of a few expat friends of mine who had never seen as much violence on the streets in their homeland as they saw in their first few months in Korea.)

But these days, I suspect that suicide -- as of a month or two ago, now acknowledged in Korea as the top killer of all age groups under 40 -- may be the more common means of escaping the system.

Those who are below the apex of power in this hierarchic system are not beating up grannies: they're killing themselves. Not that the suicide problem is necessarily solely related to The Hierarchy, but it seems very likely there is some link. (Just as Florence Chee has shown there are solid sociocultural reasons why Koreans engage in so very much online gaming.)

I admit I may have been wrong in my projection, but I fail to see how the actual outcome is better. And bear in mind, we could well be in the period parallel to that in Japan prior to the economic bust. If such a bust does come, and recovery is not swift, I imagine people will handle it much less well than they did the blip in 1997.

gordsellar said...

6. And About That Social Hierarchy

One thing The Korean never bothered to take note of, in this discussion, was the shift in Korean public opinion after it came out that the woman who assaulted the girl on the train was well-known as a mentally ill, problem individual who made a habit out of picking fights with girls. "Always young girls," someone told me, who had encountered the old bat herself on Line 2.

So let's talk Confucianism. I don't know if The Korean has studied Confucius, as I have; I imagine not, since he skips over a very important point: the social hierarchy cuts both ways. A younger person is expected to show deference to an elder. An elder is expected to be a good example, and a sensible guide, to the younger. This is what we call a social contract.

It's been a while, but I don't remember Confucius addressing the question of what to do when an elder violates the social system -- as the older woman, in wandering the public spaces attempting to pick fights with young girls -- clearly did. I do know that if anyone in the case being discussed was "destroying" the social system, it was the older woman.

Of course, that's part of why Confucianism-in-practice in Korea has such a bad rap with so many -- Koreans, overseas Koreans, non-Koreans: because the responsibility side of the equation is largely ignored in normal practice. One often sees an elder demanding "respectful" behavior; one almost never sees an elder apologize for, or being reprimanded by his or her elder for, indecorous behavior, despite the fact indecorous behavior on the part of older Koreans is so widespread as to be, in the words of one young Korean I know, "just a part of the scenery."

If Confucianism is a social contract, it is a contract that is binding not only for the young, but also for the old. Like many older Koreans, the older woman in the train violated her side of the social contract, all but declaring it null and void by her behavior. This is something many, many Koreans recognized -- especially when it emerged that the older woman was famous in Seoul for her tendency to attack girls on the subway. And yet, this is something The Korean tacitly ignores.

gordsellar said...

7. On Theatrics

I find the theatrics of the discussion above particularly objectionable. My mention of rape causes The Korean to launch into an I'm-so-offended complaint-fest, as if it's impossible to see I'm talking about the coextensive nature of racial, gender, and age hierarchies here. When I make the point that Westerners in Korea may have an experience that renders them more sympathetic to the child in the video than the old woman, he launches into a recounting of his sad and painful family history, which culminates in a particularly like a sophisticated statement of the "you foreigners did nothing here, so STFU!" until he, rather tidily, argues that he doesn't think so, but you can see why Koreans might. An invitation to meet was extended, but I suspect now it was all part of the theatrics; The Korean never did bother to email me to meet up, though I know he has my email (and it's easy enough to get); I suspect that making such an offer -- with or without the intention to follow through -- was designed to present an aura of magnaninimity and generosity of spirit.

Yet, crucially, I do not detect magnanimity or respect in the argument: no magnanimity for the people whose lives this reality we're talking about affects, no respect for the perspective of someone who, unlike himself, has lived in this reality day-in and day-out, for the past decade, as an adult -- working with people who extend me less respect because of it, comforting Korean friends who have been subjected to incredible pain and suffering because of it, working to help young people driven to the brink of suicide by it. (As the Korean may or may not realize, children's experience of a society are pretty sheltered and shielded; but as an outsider, I myself hear a pretty unusual number secrets and painful stories from students desperate for help or encouragement.) And that is leaving aside respect for Koreans who have to live in this reality day-in and day-out, and many of whom clearly see how unhelpful is the system he is so quick to praise.

From the tripe he has written -- crap about year-long expenses-paid holidays -- I surmise that the Korean knows precisely nothing about the experience of teaching. He should refrain from talking crap about things he doesn't know about. When I recently mentioned the suicide issue, and the lack of response by one Korean educational institution to deal with an ongoing rash of suicides -- indeed, their efforts to cover it up -- the response of other Westerners I know in Korea was a mixture of frustration, anger, and sorrow at how opposed to action Korean institutions are.

gordsellar said...

The educators I know and associate with here are passionate, systematic, and supportive of their students; on top of that, they tend to work far longer hours than Korean educators, for much lower pay and benefits, even when they are equally qualified or more qualified. (Hakwons are an exception, but then, most people working in hakwons cannot fairly be called educators.) Indeed, Western teachers I know here in many cases share similar complaints -- that they wish their Korean colleagues (and some of their foreign colleagues as well) took things like student evaluation and feedback on submitted work seriously, so that the Westerners wouldn't have to pick up the slack. They feel angry when they see cases of corruption. They worry about the example Korean teachers set for their students. They rage at cases of academic, professional, or even sexual misconduct among teachers or professors -- Korean and foreign alike -- that go unaddressed. They genuinely care for their students, despite moments of frustration... and, sometimes, they marvel at how little their colleagues seem to care for their students.

Are there bad Western teachers here? Obviously -- just as there are plenty of bad Korean teachers here -- but that doesn't sanction the wholesale dismissal of Westerners working in English education here as The Korean seems to think, in insulting tones that suggest he's been slumming in the comment threads of The Marmot's Hole too often for his own good. And that's to say nothing of the amount of charity work, volunteer work, free teaching, fundraising, and more that Westerners I know here do... often secretly and at their own peril, since, as I was once told by the Ministry of Immigration, "Volunteer work is work. If you do volunteer work, you need another visa, and permission from your employer, or we will charge you, deport you at the end of your contract, and blacklist you so you can't come back." So many people keep their volunteer activities relatively quiet. I know I have done with my own.

In any case, I do hope that if The Korean deigns to reply, he will spare us such theatrics.

gordsellar said...

8. Misc:

- IQ tests don't demonstrate intelligence. They're highly contentious, and besides Koreans are likely to score more highly on tests since their whole educational experience hinges on formal testing. (To the point where people can score incredibly well on language exams, for a language in which they cannot formulate even a single coherent sentence on their own.)

- This fantastical idea that slaps are innocuous needs to be shot down, and hard! Slapping someone when you don't know what you're doing obviously cannot (directly) cause schizophrenia (though if it caused a fall that caused the right brain injury, it perhaps could induce a state like it). But it can cause serious damage and necessitate a lengthy recovery, dangerous and painful surgery, or worse. It is still more dangerous between strangers, especially in an inflexibly hierarchic situation like the one The Korean advocates, since the attacker (especially one who is mentally unbalanced, like the old woman on the train) is less likely to hold back.

- Another point about The Korean's prescription of other ways the girl could have signaled to the old woman that she'd crossed the line ignore one thing: there are people with communicative problems. Or is there no Tourette's Syndrome in Korea? (Of course there is.) As an educator, I can recall a pretty large number of students both in Korea and in Canada who don't mean to come off as aggressive, or rude, or impertinent, but can't seem to help not doing so. Slapping people for poor speech takes on a different coloration when you realize you might be speaking to someone suffering from one of a broad variety of mental problems or handicaps. I can say for a fact that I've encountered mentally handicapped, and what seemed from my past experience like high-functioning autistic people, "pass" for normal in Korean social contexts; my (discreet) inquiries as to whether someone's condition had been acknowledged or diagnosed was usually met with surprise that I thought the person wasn't just "shy" or "nervous" or whatever. The underdiagnosis (and poor handling) in Korea of mental handicaps and mental illness here should give us pause when we give broad license to people to slap others' children. Unless, like many older Koreans, he just can't be bothered to consider such things.

- If the entire Korean society, through its interpretation of its culture, has the right to decide whose place is where, that means nothing more than there is a social transaction of power on all sides; it means that the "destructive" chipping away of the social structure is warranted when actively performed by members of this society (including, by the way, people of different ethnic backgrounds fighting for respect or fair treatment, as in the America where The Korean has the very same right to change American society). This is the only sane interpretation of social change, really, that could be made. People have the right to fight for non-oppressive circumstances. Just because adults denigrate kids, doesn't mean kids need to put up with it, Confucius or no.

gordsellar said...

"If the hierarchy completely overran Korean society such that old people can simply go around, beating up anyone who has any small amount of disagreement (something against you warn darkly, without any basis in reality,) that would be a problem. But having an age-based hierarchy, to a proper degree, is definitely helpful toward generating the benefits that I outlined above."

So, Kim Young-ha (who, you know, actually lives in Korea, and experiences that social order daily that "The Korean" so ardently defends but is exempt from in daily life) seems to agree with me in terms of dark prognostications:

"For now, South Korea’s intergenerational conflict seems limited to the underground. But without a meaningful dialogue on how to help both our struggling elderly and disaffected young people, the tensions will find a way of rising to the surface."

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/opinion/young-ha-kim-south-koreas-underground-seat-fight.html?ref=younghakim