[KS] South Korea's Rollback of Democratic Rights
jsburgeson at yahoo.com
Sun May 10 04:40:31 EDT 2009
I find Frank's invocation of such terms as "colonial discourse" in dismissing my observations on recent progressive South Korean protest culture an interesting case of cultural relativism, which itself seems to rest on some sort of essentialized notion of Korean culture. How long must one live within another culture before one is allowed to have an "autonomous" voice that is able to engage within local discourses and debates? Doesn't the South Korean government itself claim to welcome the development of contemporary South Korea as a "multicultural society"? Does this only apply to Vietnamese brides imported to the countryside? If one is a "white American male" who has lived in Korea for 15 or 30 years, does a different set of standards apply when defining what "multicultural Korea" means? Well, let's turn the tables around and ask if a "South Korean male" who has lived in the US for 15 or 30 years is also to be denied a voice there for the very same
reasons? Surely that would be an absurd argument. Surely everyone has a right to have their voice respected as an equal, if one has chosen to live and work within another society for any significant period of time -- or even for just a relatively short time as far as many would be concerned.
In any case, I understand why certain Western intellectuals would be disposed to defend last year's protests here, and even serve as apologists for them in extreme cases, but I wonder how useful or productive such an approach really is. In order for South Korea's progressive social movements to advance forward and further develop here, surely they should welcome debate from all sides and address inconsistencies were they are pointed out. For example, a central trope of the protesters was to safeguard "democracy" and "freedom of speech," and yet those with differing viewpoints were often silenced either verbally or physically by these same progressive groups. (Indeed, death threats were even made against businesses who dared to advertise in the local so-called conservative media.) Meanwhile, Lee Myung-bak was repeatedly attacked by the protesters for being "deceptive" and "dishonest," and yet the protesters often had a difficult time living up to their
own standards of honesty and truthfulness.
As for the issue of "police brutality," the main reason I think it is important to critique that aspect of last year's (and this year's) protests is because I consider it to be a huge distraction, quite apart from it being a largely fake, manufactured controversy. Last year's protests became so focused on the issue of "police violence" that I feel they lost focus and dissipated the energy of their movement, energy which could have been used in more positive, productive ways. Much like the Republicans in the US in recent years, the lasting message of last year's protests here was a rather reactionary and not terribly inspiring "no." "No" to US beef, "no" to Lee Myung-bak, "no" to the terrible police. The leaders of last summer's protests failed to articulate a stronger and more positive message of how they think they could better lead society, in part because they were so focused on the trope of "police violence" and exploiting it for all it was worth. In
short, they squandered a great opportunity that I doubt will come round again in the near future. Of course, I could be mistaken, but at this point I doubt I'd be inspired to join in either way.
--J. Scott Burgeson, Chongno
--- On Sat, 5/9/09, Frank Hoffmann <hoffmann at koreaweb.ws> wrote:
> From: Frank Hoffmann <hoffmann at koreaweb.ws>
> Subject: Re: [KS] South Korea's Rollback of Democratic Rights
> To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
> Date: Saturday, May 9, 2009, 6:44 PM
> > My main critique with the protesters and their
> supporters in the liberal/progressive media here is their
> sheer hypocrisy, and the fact that many cannot even
> acknowledge that they are/were using violence for their own
> ends, while at the same time perpetually playing the
> "victim" card. (...)
> > No doubt the blows they sustained were mitigated by
> the fact that it was mere "playacting" in the
> "classic Korean mode."
> J. Scott Burgeson
> [T]he accusation of hypocrisy also has its counterpart in
> the colonial discourse of national character. Arthur Smith,
> for example, has plenty to complain about the "absence
> of sincerity" among the Chinese. In an indignant and
> yet resigned manner, Smith speaks of the impossibility to
> ever getting simple and straight facts from any Chinese
> person. (...) Smith declares that anyone who peruses the
> classics with a discerning eye "will be able to read
> between the lines much indirection, prevarication, and
> falsehood" (CC, 267). (...) That all the maddening
> instances of insincerity and hypocrisy do not seem to bother
> the Chinese very much is then taken as manifestation of
> their duplicity and moral depravity.
> Quote from Haiyan Lee, Revolution of the Heart, Stanford
> UP, 2006: 242
> The allegation of hypocrisy towards a political interest
> group is a bit like criticizing fishes to urinate in the
> water. That is utterly disgusting but somewhat unavoidable.
> > Look, I'm from the People's Republic of
> Berkeley, CA. I was arrested in San Francisco protesting the
> first Gulf War back in 1991. My father was an anti-Vietnam
> War activist/organizer who was on an FBI watch list. (...)
> > "sophisticated Europeans" viewing this all
> from afar.
> Hmmm, YES, Scott, you must know, "we Europeans"
> are just soooo sophisticated -- especially Mondays and
> Fridays between 5 and 7, never on weekends -- we do not go
> by someone's acclaimed status or racial and national
> background, we go by what someone actually says or writes.
> (Just do not get lost in the streets of Leipzig or eastern
> Berlin after 10 PM, you might get killed. :)
> -- --------------------------------------
> Frank Hoffmann
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