Friday, April 02, 2010

Bae Young-dae: "Korea needs a 'culture of discussion'"

JoongAng Daily Logo
(Image from JoongAng Daily)

I've been saying this for years, so I'm gratified to see that Koreans themselves are starting to echo my words. Bae Young-dae, for instance. In a JoongAng article published yesterday, "Korea needs a 'culture of discussion'" (April 1, 2010), Bae first uses heavy irony to note that:
Koreans apparently are good at "special skills," such as talking to themselves, fistfighting and ignoring established processes.
He then explains this through a hypothesis about cultural lag:
Korea [has] proudly achieved economic growth and democratization in a very short amount of time, but the culture of discussion [has] never quite made it.

That is the dark shadow of our modernization miracle.

Conflicts have accumulated in various sectors of our society. We face conflicts between classes, ideologies, regions, generations, genders and cultures.

Political conflicts such as the Sejong City issue actually fuel the inability of Koreans to talk things out. According to a June 2009 survey by the Samsung Economic Research Institute, Korean society's conflict index was ranked fourth among the 27 members of the OECD, following Turkey, Poland and Slovakia.

There is always agreement and disagreement, optimism and pessimism, about any issue.

In Korea, however, conflicts worsen between the extremes of conservative and liberal, left and right. Justifications based on the black-and-white dichotomy often prevail.

Intellectuals are largely responsible for the culture of "bullying and browbeating" and we have no model on which to base a behavioral change.
I agree with some of this. Korea does lack a culture of discussion, and the reliance on "bullying and browbeating" is noticeable. But Bae's analysis of the reason for this fails to hit the mark, in my opinion. The aggressive dogmatism of intellectuals is just another 'symptom' of the problem, which is too deep-rooted to blame on intellectuals alone. The cause, I think, lies in Korea's hierarchical, Confucian social structure and is reinforced by the Korean language's system of 'courtesy,' which forces interlocutors to make distinctions of status and thereby judge some individuals as more worthy of being listened to, but other individuals as unworthy of respected opinions. And the problem is far-reaching. For open, honest discussion to take place, two individuals speaking in Korean would have to be of precisely the same status . . . and how often does that happen?

Perhaps I overstate the case somewhat, but I do so to make a point, and I'll soon make a better case when a translation of my article on the need for a culture of discussion is published in a Korean journal, for I can then post the original English version.

But "soon" is a relative term . . .

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At 12:11 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Korean culture?

This as well describes academic culture, particularly English Dept. culture, and especially the Americanists.

I'm just venting. Maybe. The circumstance of the Hawthorne Society not accepting my paper for their conference this June in Concord invited me to make the comparison. The rejection began, "Competition to read papers was very stiff..." Yeah, and pigs fly. It's a three-day conference running multiple concurrent sessions.

What are the politics of these people? Last year the American Literature Association rejected my proposal to talk about Jonathan Mayhew at their conference. Perhaps it was an act of abject temerity on my part to want to publicly suggest that Mayhew's 1750 sermon on "The Resistance to Higher Powers..." (in the latter years of the 18th century referred to as "the opening shot of the American Revolution") should be anthologized and read in the survey courses?

At 8:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Competition is always 'stiff' . . . and dead as a doornail (whatever that means).

Sound as though you've had your run-ins with the powers that be, but you're at least a published novelist. Not many scholars can say that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:17 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Kidding aside, the issue of academic bullying and browbeating is to be taken very seriously. Not only is bullying unethical, it encourages and nurtures a culture of abuse in the academy that corrupts the integrity of the curriculum and our ability to properly and successfully deliver it to students. Considering the centrality of the university to the administration of our complex civilization, it is easy to see how a culture of abuse inside the academy can and will have a detrimental effect on society at large--politics, professional ethics, the legal system, civil service, human rights....

I might point out here that my novel, though it "pokes fun" at intellectuals and the culture of knowledge, is not merely a cathartic post-modern purgation of academic frustrations, humor notwithstanding. I come form two cultural traditions--Jewish and Scots Presbyterian--that take education very seriously. Perhaps too seriously. But the point is, though my satire may be over-the-top, there is actually a consummate strait-laced Scottish school master in the background who is not at all amused and who has no time for foolishness. Consequently, the satire can be taken seriously and the novel can be read as a monograph on the corruptions within our community.

At 6:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There are bullies everywhere, even in societies that have a culture of discussion. The way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them . . . though this is easier said than done, especially when they have power.

This gets into the difficult issue of insults, since bullies use these to bully. Strictly speaking, intentional insults are not part of a culture of discussion, for they don't offer sufficient reasons or relevant evidence, but they do belong to free speech and need to be permitted because distinguishing intentional from unintentional insults is not possible. Moreover, the critical discussion of some topics is considered intrinsically insulting -- Muhammad's 'Satanic' verses, for example.

My own experience is that one must learn not to feel insulted and learn to respond coolly to the bullying of intellectual bullies -- and to insults generally.

Otherwise, one is at the mercy of the bullies.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There’s a review in the NYTimes of a potentially interesting book by Diarmaid MacCulloch: CHRISTIANITY, The First Three Thousand Years (Illustrated. 1,161 pp. Viking. US$45).

The reviewer, Jon Meacham, discloses himself as an “Episcopalian, who takes the faith of my fathers seriously (if unemotionally)…I am also a critic of Christianity, if by critic one means an observer who brings historical and literary judgment to bear on the texts and traditions of the church.”

I thought about your various posts (not specifically the current one) on the culture of discussion when I read this paragraph:

“Christianity’s foundational belief is that Jesus was the Son of God, who died and rose again as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of a fallen world. It seems banal even to note this. But guess who did not know it on that epic morning of Resurrection long ago? Those closest to Jesus, the disciples, who, when told of the empty tomb by the women who followed Jesus, were perplexed: what could this mean? Jesus had not adequately prepared them for the central dramatic action of the new salvation history that was to take shape in the wake of his Passion. Read carefully, the Gospels tell the story of the disciples’ working out what a resurrected Messiah might mean, and the conclusions they drew formed the core of the belief system that became Christianity.”

Thine Is the Kingdom
April 1, 2010

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, WJS. I happened to read that in the IHT the other day. I didn't make the connection that you did, but I suppose that I can see that. Many of the epistles in the New Testament show discussions going on. A bit polemical at times, though . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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