In the university library there’s this reasonably okay travel book, Korea: A Walk Through The Land Of Miracles, by Simon Winchester, in which the author walks around the country encountering Korean things and Korean people during the 1980s, which is rather interesting for several reasons, as it seems the entire country was encircled by a barbed-wire fence at the time (to keep North Korean spies from nocturnal amphibious landings), and Koreans themselves had to work incredibly hard if they wanted to obtain a passport, while their relationship to gigantic conglomerates like Hyundai sounds a lot like the typical North Korean’s relationship to the state: in exchange for your life, the company will provide everything you need, even your shoes! I don’t have the book with me now but I may post an excerpt.
The book is fairly light—enjoyably light, but far too light for me—and the perspective of the author is definitely critical, in that he views the antics of Jeju honeymooners (for example) as being totally ridiculous: many of the newlyweds arrive at their hotels without having ever spoken to one another, as they are the products of matchmaking rather than something as silly as love, and it’s up to the hotel owners to get them to bone each other before their honeymoon ends after two or three days. They resort to dousing their guests in alcohol and force them to sing songs from their childhood, which apparently gets the job done most of the time.
There’s a lot of crazy stuff here, and it seems like a useful text for the small number of us who can’t read Korean but who likewise have an interest in learning about the history of the country, as told through eyes that are not going to focus entirely on the glorious taste of kimchi, the perfect beauty of the four seasons, the scientific mastery of the Hangul alphabet, the wonders of the Seoul Olympics, or the actions of elites. Still, the book has been savaged on its amazon page, seemingly for the same reasons that I was savaged after I posted a lengthy article on asiapundits a few weeks ago: I am critical of a country, therefore I am a generalizing racist. I’m working really hard on pumping out an ebook on Korea at the moment, and wondering if I should throw in a sentence to pre-empt the numerous readers who are going to accuse me of looking down on Korea as a whole as a result of saying that, as a Westerner, I for one, find Confucianism to be fairly arbitrary. Actually I was really unhappy when I first came to this country for a lot of good reasons. I lived near Deokcheon in Busan, worked in a pretty bad public school, and was getting over the fact that the world outside of college is a lot harsher than the world inside. I was not unhappy because I hated the Korean race—I mean, I married a Korean and my son is half-Korean! Still, I now know that a lot of people are going to say I’m an asshole or a weakling, and they’re not going to listen if I try to convince them otherwise.
A friend recommended a different book to me, this one written in English by a Korean American, Still Life With Rice, about the extraordinary life of her grandmother. What’s interesting is that if the (very excellent) first page had been written by a white man instead of a Korean woman, that man would have been accused by someone, somewhere, of demeaning the Korean race or women in general. What’s up with this? Why do I have to belong to a tribe in order to talk about it critically? Isn’t that so simplistic? I suppose I suffer from the same problem when people who are not Jews start talking about Jews, because it just seems like their knowledge is always so incomplete (to say the least), and yet if a fellow Jew were to tell me, like, what’s up with all the Orthodox Jews in Borough Park?, I would be like, hell if I know. But if a non-Jewish person were to say this, I would immediately freak out and accuse that person of Nazism.
Perhaps it comes back, as so many things do, to The Selfish Gene. Dawkins argues that the genes in your body want to preserve themselves: if you encounter another body that seems to possess a lot of those genes (belonging to a sibling, a relative, or perhaps someone who just looks and acts a lot like you), you are more likely to act in a fashion that seems altruistic (sacrificing yourself for that person’s preservation) than if you encounter someone with whom you seemingly have nothing in common. These actions seem altruistic, but really they are selfish, because the genes in question just want to preserve themselves, and don’t give a damn about anything else. If we have the same gene, and I die to save your life, the gene we share still survives. An act of altruism would involve sacrificing myself for someone or something with whom I have nothing in common—a fairly rare event. People will die to save other people, but they will very rarely die to save animals or plants, and this is probably because they share fewer genes.
Somehow this comes back to the tribe. If I share a tribe’s genes, I have a right to criticize it, perhaps because in so doing I can further the chances of the tribe’s survival. Outsiders should only be interested in the propagation of their own genes and their own tribes, so it’s obvious that if they criticize me or my tribe, they’re doing so out of motives that are not as pure as my own—when Winchester makes fun of all those numerous things in Korea that are so effortlessly easy to make fun of, he is really trying to destroy the Korean race. The same, apparently, goes for any non-Jew who has ever even thought up an opinion on the Jewish people.
This makes me think that racism may be engrained in our genes. Perhaps, so long as people aren’t killing each other, assaulting each other, or being complete assholes based on race, all of us should just, as my mother says, take a chill pill, because everyone’s a little racist, and to act otherwise is kind of unrealistic. I didn’t go apeshit the last time someone said I was acting Jewish—a non-Jew did actually say this to me several months ago—but his motives did not appear to be negative, so perhaps I shouldn’t have viewed them as such.