Monday, May 23, 2016

I am part of the problem and I want to talk about it

For those who frequent this blog, you know that I mainly talk about politics and economics. Or movies as it seems lately. That is because those are the subjects that I know best. But more than that, with the exception of the occasional heated debates that occur on social media, these are subjects that are, at the end of the day, relatively impersonal.

For example, yes, I think that a blanket increase of the minimum wage is disastrous for the poor. There are others who disagree with my assessment; and those debates often go on for an unhealthily long period of time. But, at the end of the day, it's nothing personal. Hell, I'm a blogger. No one in the Ministry of Labor is really going to care about what I or you (assuming that you are not some big shot in government) have to say about the topic, no matter how many hyperlinks you provide.

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And a lot of that is intentional. I have no problems whatsoever with discussing ideas. That's easy. The worst thing that can happen is that someone calls you stupid, and that matters only if you let the opinions of others matter. Besides, to be truthful, it's not like as though my ideas are terribly important to anyone else aside from myself. But on the other hand, sharing my feelings with others? I find that viscerally uncomfortable.

Sure, I can and have expressed anger before, but that's an easy emotion to share. In this age when people are looking for views or clicks or likes or retweets, rage (and if you can't muster the real stuff, faux rage) is one of the easiest things that anyone can tap into. But other emotions like grief... that requires the writer to make himself more vulnerable. And I have never been quite comfortable with that. So I tend to avoid those topics. Even when I wrote about the Sewol tragedy, I focused on the politicization of it -- not the actual tragedy.

But this time, I feel the need to try to get something out. And considering the fact that I am going to talk about something that I readily admit that I know little about and feel uncomfortable doing, I am fully aware that there is a very good chance that I will sound like an ass. So here goes.

By now, everyone already knows the story about the schizophrenic misogynist who randomly murdered a young woman in Gangnam. I don't think we need to rehash the grisly details.

I won't say that I was deeply upset when I first heard the story. Nor was I shocked. I was quite indifferent to it actually. I don't know about you, but I'm a news junkie. And when you consume as much news information as I do, the death of a random stranger doesn't really bother you. There are so many horrible deaths and so many vile acts of cruelty that are perpetrated in the world on a daily basis. So naturally I've become largely desensitized to a lot of violence that I read about.

I think the same can be said about a lot of other people, too. Maybe even you as well. When people say that they're not surprised to have heard that X happened, no matter how horrible X may be, I don't think that most people genuinely had the foresight to know that X was coming. I think most people have been desensitized by so many other things similar to X that by the time X happens, most people shrug and move on.

And that young woman's death was just one of those things for me. I furrowed my eyebrows a bit, shook my head, and then clicked on the next story.

If her death ended there and nothing else happened as a direct consequence of it, at least nothing else that affected anyone outside of her immediate family, I wouldn't have bothered to look through that story or think much about it again. But the protests happened. The hundreds of post-its, the flowers, the messages of grief -- they brought my attention back to the story. The message that got to me most was the one that asked why so many of these perpetrators who commit random acts of violence (RAV), 묻지마 범죄, seem to target women.

According to this article, six out of ten victims of RAV are women.

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So after having read the original article, then reading about the post-its, and then reading about the statistics, I then read about an Australian woman who was raped in Korea and how Korea is not a safe place if you are a woman, especially a non-Korean woman. Not long after that, I read about a Japanese pop star who had been stabbed two dozen times by an obsessed fan because she returned a gift that he had given her.

And that was when I learned something about being desensitized. It's a temporary state of mind. If you keep staring into the abyss, you stop caring about it for a while, even when the abyss stares back into you. But then when you look long enough and you see the rot and the decay that is hiding in the abyss, it does get to you eventually. And it got to me. Just when I thought I couldn't feel worse about what was going on, I read about members of Ilbe -- that rot and decay I just mentioned -- doing what they do best. Trolling mourners. A bunch of classy motherless assholes, those guys are.

It's easy to offer solutions -- harsher punishments, longer sentences, heftier fines, abolishing anti-defamation laws so that perps can be named and shamed so that they can be shunned by society for the rest of their lives, etc. It would be easy because I can then slip back into my "let's talk about ideas" mode of thinking. Plus, no one in the Ministry of Justice is going to listen to me anyway. So it's no skin off my back.

The hard part is that I have to accept that I am part of the problem.

I'm a Korean male in my 30s. I served my time in the Korean Army and I am fluent in both Korean and English (more fluent in English than Korean to be honest). I am a business owner, a blogger, and a columnist. I'll never be as rich as Lee Kun-hee, but I live comfortably. Plus I weigh about 200 pounds. So that means that if I were walking alone in Itaewon pissed drunk, and I have on numerous occasions, I will be left alone. And I have never been bothered by anyone. In fact, no matter how many times I've heard of racist taxi drivers who attempt to stiff their customers from expats, I can say with certainty that no taxi driver has ever tried to stiff me.

If you knew nothing else about me except for that brief description I gave of myself, there would be a good chance that you'd call me a gaejeossi, a term that I find about as endearing as doenjangnyeo.

So, why would I think that I am part of the problem? What has any of that got to do with anything? And why does this make me feel sick? It's because I don't usually feel there is a problem.

To explain, of course there are troubles in my life just like everyone else. But I don't perceive any of my problems to be things that a little work and a little discipline can't resolve. Oh, I'm not the next Robert Koehler? Whatever. I'll just keep doing what I do best and see where things go from there. Oh, boohoo, paying bills and taxes are hard and running a business is even harder? That's when I down a few shots of soju and tell myself to man up because nothing ever good has ever come easy! Yes, life is tough. Wear a helmet and soldier on.

But I never have to worry about getting drugged and gangraped in a seedy motel. I never have to worry about getting killed because someone hates my gender. I never have to worry about some random drunk ajeossi groping me because this stranger somehow feels entitled to my body. I never have to worry that a cop is going to believe someone else's ludicrous accusations and neglect to hear anything I have to say because he doesn't understand a word I say. I never have to worry about being denied entry to any bar or business establishment because my skin is a shade too light or a shade too dark.

And this is a problem because when you don't ever experience the problems that others endure, then those things don't exist -- at least not in your mind. It's not something that anyone can be blamed for. It's human nature to see everything from our own perspectives, to often be blinded to the problems that others face. When people have their own problems to deal with, concerning themselves with problems that others face is not something that a lot of people have time for. And when these things don't exist for you, you don't ever talk about them.

And I think that's why I think I'm part of the problem. I don't talk about the kinds of problems that so many other people face because it's not part of my experience. And I don't think nearly enough people talk to each other.

Yes, people talk to each other plenty on social media. But I think most of the time people talk at or talk over one another on social media, rather than talk to each other. Plus, I think social media is part of the problem (yes, I am using social media to say that social media is part of the problem; the irony is not lost on me). Social media might have made it much easier for people to communicate with one another, but the impersonal nature of it all has it made damn near impossible to talk about anything of substance to our personal lives. So I think the genuine conversations that need to occur are among families -- face-to-face. I just don't think there is enough of that going on.

We know the usual stories. Mom and dad are both busy working. They have to stay late at work. They are tired by the time they get home from work and/or hweshik. The kids are tired, too, because they spent the whole day at school and at a million hagwons. Neighbors don't know each other. Etc. Etc.

Family is vital. But when that most basic and vital of relationships breaks down, it's only a matter of time before society itself begins to break down. I'm no Jerry Falwell-conservative who thinks there ought to be one mommy and one daddy and that they have to stay married with legal custody of their biological offspring for such a unit to be called a family. Admittedly, that's the kind of family that I grew up in, but I recognize that there are other kinds of families. It doesn't matter what the family looks like and how the individuals are related to one another. What's important is that families get together to talk to one another. Otherwise, we get a bunch of kids addicted to smartphones, gaming, and the Internet and the only place where they get to learn about morals is from the comments section of Internet forums and they end up relying on a steady diet of stupid and ramyeon.

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I don't have children of my own (which I am grateful for!) so I don't think I'll ever be part of a parent-child conversation where I get to dispense wisdom to my younglings. But I'm going to stop being part of the problem by talking to others. And this meandering ramble is my opening salvo. I am willing to talk to others and, more importantly, I am willing to listen.

I might not know a whole lot about the patriarchy or the fragility of the male ego or about the problems that women or other minorities face in their daily lives. I might not ever understand some of them. But I'm willing to take part in a conversation. Perhaps you should, too. Talk with a friend, a colleague, a child. Post your own stories on your social media pages or blogs if you can't bring yourself to have a face-to-face conversation. Whatever. Hopefully, this will lead to more people talking to one another and sharing each others' stories.

I think this is vital because I am convinced that the majority of people in the world are good. I just think that one of the biggest problems facing the good people of the world is that many people have become isolated from one another. When enough good people get together, I think these evil cretins will crawl into whatever hole they came from.

And then maybe, just maybe, we can at least start to act like civilized beings who don't get too desensitized to murder.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you, you just eloquently explained something I've been struggling to put into words for the last few weeks/months.

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  2. "And I think that's why I think I'm part of the problem. I don't talk about the kinds of problems that so many other people face because it's not part of my experience. And I don't think nearly enough people talk to each other."

    Welcome to the solution, John. Great post.

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  3. it's not just ajjoshis, it's young men as well who sexually harass women out there.

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    1. Yes, when I lived in a rural military area near the DMZ, most elderly people were very respectful toward Americans. Shockingly, the ones who harassed me were about 25-35 years old.
      The best thing you can do (which it definitely seems you are doing) is listen.
      I hate it when my male friends say "Why aren't you more friendly?"
      In my experience, being friendly to strangers in a bar will result in a hand on my thigh under the table, that's why.
      Even if it doesn't women often have instincts about this type of thing. I told one of my friend that I was uncomfortable around someone and he was immediately protective "What happened?! Did he touch you?"
      But when I said that nothing happened, I just had a really bad feeling about it, they looked at me like I was crazy. :/

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  4. Thank you so much....this made me feel a lot better about this whole thing.

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  5. Third culture kid you have my attention. However I have to disagree with you that you are part of the problem. I get that you can save a few starfish but koreans are not going to follow you because you are half foreigner. They might observe you and move on...

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