Madness at the Ministry of Bukkake: A Proposal for a New Mockery-Based Dokdo Strategy

For those of you not in Korea, you’ve probably never heard of Dokdo. Wikipedia has the scoop for you, and it’s pretty well balanced, but the bottom line is, Dokdo is a pair of rocks in the middle of the body of water that separates Korea from Japan. Dokdo is the subject of an ongoing territorial dispute with Japan. The issue flares up every so often, like a case of gout, and like gout, dominates life here for a while. Recently, the Japanese department of education announced that in new Japanese textbook guidelines, Dokdo is going to be described as Japanese territory. Korean media and a portion of Korean society is about to flip out.

Some out there think this is a godsend to Lee, to take the heat off him for a while. I think this is deeply mistaken: nationalists will be hating Japan, but I don’t think that’ll make them hate Lee any less. After all, Lee was the one who only a few months ago urged Koreans to “let go of the past” and move on so a better, more mature relationship with Japan would be possible. To many, the timing might not seem so accidental… I’ve heard some people draw a direct line between the two events, so it’s quite possible this will just lower Lee’s approval rating even further. Yet more, since he’s gone off on holiday now, in the middle of what lots of Koreans seem to consider a “crisis” with a South Korean shot dead in North Korea, and Japanese textbooks yet again in the news.  (Yes, a short holiday by our standards, but not by those of the average Korean worker — it’s almost as long as the average worker’s yearly allotment of days off, and Lee did after all make a no-holiday pledge.)

But, okay, whatever, I don’t want to discuss all that. If you want to read foreigners ranting about it, there’s tons of foreigner virtriol online that sometimes outstrips even the most amibitious annoyances offered by Korean netizens on the subject. What I want to say is this:

Dear Korea… Please, please consider a better strategy. Please!

Personally, like many Westerners in Korea, I am so not up for a major round of Dokdo-ranting, Dokdo raving, Dokdo T-shirts, Dokdo posters in banks, Dokdo everything 24/7.

I really am not. It’s been a long enough, hot enough, humid and tense enough summer already, and I really don’t need random strangers wandering up to me to teach me about territorial disputes, or, worse, ask leading questions only to act all offended when I give the “wrong” answer. Regardless of the political significance of the issue to Koreans — and it’s their right to care about it if they want — I just find that the earnest rage and horror I saw in the last Dokdo flare-up a few years ago  didn’t help.

Obviously didn’t help, given the current circumstances, though it seems that this is Korea’s standard response to the territorial dispute.

So I’m going to offer a little foreign perspective here. When Koreans get all earnest about Dokdo, it looks silly to people abroad. It looks silly because it looks like people in Korea are actually taking Japan’s claims seriously, instead of laughing at them or saying, “Yeah, right, go f*ck yourself,” to the Japanese government.

It’s a familiar response to me as a Canadian, because many Canadians have a similar national inferiority complex with regards to whoever is less peripheral than them within Canada or internationally. Lots of older Quebecois are all earnestly anti-Anglo-Canada; lots of people out West are all anti-Ontario; and even many Ontarians feel a kind of national inferiority to the USA (and, to a lesser degree in some areas, and a greater degree in others, to Britain). And when Canadians proudly declare, “We’re just as great as the USA!” or “Vancouver is a global quality city!” or, “Canada is the best place in the world to live!” it all but drips inferiority complex.

In Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century, Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul had this to say about the phenomenon:

Positive nationalism is a humanist movement seeking continual reform in order to improve the life of the community. This does include economic well-being, but only as a result of the more important elements — service of the public good, aggressive responsible individualism and culture. What I mean by that is culture in the largest sense, with language at the core of it being used to further the communication of the culture. In the practical terms of everyday life, culture is not about agreement, but about questioning. In other words, culture is not about solidarity, but about discussion and disagreements.

Nationalism, the public good, individualism, culture — we rarely put these concepts together. But if nationalism is not a metaphor for strengthening the well-being of society, it is nothing at all. Or rather, it has been reduced to the exploitation of emotion. And if individualism — in a democracy — is not the participation as a citizen in order to affect the public good, what is it but self-indulgence?

Negative nationalism usually identifies a defined national crisis as the primary problem which society must first deal with in order to save itself and thus make it possible to deal with other problems. The other problems are invariably said to be unresolvable because of the national crisis. But the national crisis is usually itself unresolvable in any real terms because it is based on abstract theories of identity or power. Negative nationalism cannot help but demote social reform to a lower level. It tends, in the normal process of political opposition, to end up as an anti-reform movement. (pg. 299-200)

If you look at Korean history, this is precisely how nationalism was built up here: Korea was modernized in a hell of a hurry, but at great expense to a whole teeming mass of individuals who are now living in increasing economic uncertainty. Development was harshly uneven, which is a part of why the southwest is so unrelentingly leftist and the southeast is complacently rightist. It even relates to gender issues: somewhere in the Yonsei university library is a book I need to track down — ooh, wait, it’s this one, which was also recommended by a commenter elsewhere! — which contains a chapter or two about how women’s groups in Korea during the Japanese occupation began to push for reform on women’s issues. They were, eventually, convinced to throw in with the greater nationalist movement on condition that their own policy complaints would be addressed once the bigger issue of Korean soevereignty was resolved, but of course, a new unresolvable existential crisis — the looming threat of communism in the North — served just as effectively as a cornerstone of South Korean nationalism, and also served just as effectively to sideline feminist reforms for decades.

Negative nationalism, in all these cases, caused people to make “sacrifices” for the sake of the nation which didn’t always work out to benefit “the nation” or to address whatever “problem” trumped personal concerns and individual (or even general, common) needs — partly because those national threats have been explicitly chosen to be practically unresolvable. It’s a rather toxic, agreement-enforcing way of shutting down societal dialogue so that the elites, or government, or big business, can get on with the business of doing whatever they do — and let’s be honest, money’s a big part of whatever they all do — while the masses are busy pointing at some distraction and shouting angrily.

So here’s my plea, to all you Koreans out there who are worried about Dokdo: Please, please try a different strategy. Stop being earnest. Stop being so sensitive about this. Stop letting this become the huge issue it becomes. This isn’t a national crisis, it’s a change in textbook guidelines made by  political wingnuts in Japan.

Instead of getting worked up, laugh in their faces. Throw a little ballsy irony into the face of the Japanese government. Hold an international techno-rave part there, with DJs from around the world. (Or build a hotel there for politically conscious ajummas, as has been proposed. It’s got to be safer than sending them to Baekdusan.) Hell, why not install a little hi-tech Buddhist monastery? Spend the rest of the summer with student volunteers building it, habitat for humanity style, and then monks can live out there in three-month shifts. Put some shoulder grease into it!

Make videos on Youtube sarcastically asking whether those Japanese hardliners would perhaps like to have a little of North Korea to go along with the island? Or maybe some cherry blossoms ranges on disused mountains from Jeolla province as garnish? Chuck offensive cracks into their face about how Korean men had better lock up their teenaged daughters, considering what happened last time Japan started eyeing Korean territory. Make amusing, over-the-top translations from Japanese textbooks that reflect what you think is the Japanese government’s real mentality. Hell, make a satirical webcast of the Japanese government’s nefarious plans to take over Dokdo and open a rip in the fabric of the universe from which they can summon millions of Flesh-Eating Interdimensional Hello Kitty Ghouls to wipe out humankind. If you can work in some Akira or Ghost in the Shell cracks, the rest of the world might get it, too. Or, no, wait, I recommend Hello Kitty. Everyone knows (and hates) Hello Kitty. Imply that Japanese PM Yasuo Fukuda is channeling the ghost of Hirohito (and give the old emperor a lisp and make him talk in teen-girly Japanese, while you’re at it).

Write satirical essays on how Korea should give the rocks to Japan, because the country obvious has small-balls issues and this is the only way to stop Japanese politicians from sending young conscripts going on murder and rape ramages in Africa (the only place quite as poor as Korea was when they did it here, and perhaps the only place they could get away with it this time). If Japan is not given Dokdo, then millions of young Japanese men will be forced to contract AIDS in their war to protect Africa from, er, well… whatever it is decided is threatening Africa. (Rampaging Flesh-Eating Interdimensional Hello Kitty Ghouls?)

Explain how we should feel sympathy for the poor Japanese politicians who, after all, everyone knows are a bunch of wimp hentai and yaoi obsessive otaku fanboys and that of course they have lost their grip on reality through excessive masturbation during official meetings of the Ministry of Bukkake Relations. (Luridly cite Lord Baden-Powell or some other nutty Victorian Englishman on the effects of excessive masturbation.) Cite papers from obscure Korean medical studies “proving,” PD Diary-style, that excessive group masturbation has feralized the Japanese government, and note that Dokdo would be a perfect place for them to be placed for isolation from human society for the sake of the whole world.

Okay, maybe all of that is both over-the-top and not the kind of jokes Koreans would make to mock Japanese politicians. [And the last bunch of jokes probably wouldn’t win over the Japanese left, which you should try to do.] So just mock these guys in whatever way makes sense to you, feels natural and funny to you. What I’m saying is, you’ll get far more enjoyment out of creatively ridiculing the Japanese government, and by not taking its claims seriously, you’ll look like you have this whole thing in perspective. Which, frankly, the Korean populace didn’t look like last time the issue flared up. And people will be laughing, which is very often a good thing. You won’t look like you’re lending the Japanese right any credibility.

Wait until a gun gets fired before taking this thing seriously enough to get angry or make this a major national talking point, okay, folks? And foreigners — take a hint from Rob: find other things to look at and write (or talk) about, if you can’t approach it from some other angle, lest you get sucked into the tabloidy world of Korea-blogs where a tiny minority of rage-filled extremists somehow gets mistaken for the vast, nation-defining majority, and lest you find yourself once again just ranting about how annoying the Dokdo panic is. Focus on something else! That’s what I’ll be doing!

And that’s all I want to say about Dokdo!

24 thoughts on “Madness at the Ministry of Bukkake: A Proposal for a New Mockery-Based Dokdo Strategy

  1. Isn’t your idealized response to the Dokdo crisis, well, the same kind of response that slackers who aren’t civically engaged would come up with? If they aren’t going to take the dispute with Japan seriously, what makes you think they’ll get excited about community activism?

    Exhibit A:

    Exhibit B:

  2. I think looking at the Liancourt Rocks issue from the vantage of the protests is misleading. I regret my own postings were misleading, too. But, in a certain sense, these protests are rational, if one looks, not at states as discreet entities, but as conflicting bureaucracies and personalities who pursue their own agendas. Graham Allison analyzed the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I looked at the early episodes in the Spratly’s Islands conflicts. Unfortunately, one needs a paper trail to see the connections between ministers, subordinates, and interest groups.

    My sense is, that there’s a conflict within the Lee administration between the various ministries, parties, and interest groups to prioritize its foreign policy goals. Some leader, whether President Lee, the legislature, the military, or perhaps a popular mandate, has to make a decision. I’m generally not sanguine that ROK leaders can do this without resort to authoritarian means, i.e. by muzzling bureaucrats, legislators, and popular interest groups. The alternative is to establish a democratic way of channeling this rational competition between groups and leaders in a procedure the voters can monitor.

  3. Mark,

    I’m not saying they shouldn’t take it seriously. I’m saying they should use a different strategy for conveying their concern, because earnest panic in the domestic sphere doesn’t seem to help at all, and is a huge waste of energy here, whilst using the Internet to communicate their disdain for the claim would be healthier. (And might actually gain traction with Japanese leftists, who after all showed they could sympathize with Koreans in the past. They were also big critics on the right-wing’s handling of the comfort women issue, for example. Which — and I’ve never heard even a single Korean mention this in conversation, but as mentioned in many non-Korean sources — was reported in Japanese media and books, in a “What have we done?” sense, before anyone was discussing it publicly in Korea.)

    [I should note, though, that I realize the more extreme jokes suggested, including the one referenced in the title, probably wouldn’t win over Japanese leftists. I’ve added an acknowledgement of that to the post…]

    Anyway, Canada’s a great example of a case where a society was not thrown into mass social panic over a similar dispute. The nation’s banks weren’t postered, Canadians didn’t start wearing T-shirts over the issue, and nobody was hunting for Danes (and any other non-Canadians of any sort) to criticize publicly and interrogate in bars and restaurants. Most Canadians just shrugged and went on with their day, and the news media didn’t spend weeks on end on the rock, did they? Even your response is mostly a light mockery of domestic policies in Canada.

    Doubtless, it would be better if Korea responded by sending a stern letter (open letter, published in the media) dismissing the Japanese claim. But the Korean media and a certain segment of the Korean public has a habit of going into hysterics over Dokdo, and it doesn’t help the situation. In fact, when people go into hysterics, the rest of the world usually looks a little more dubiously at their claims. So by earnestly panicking, Koreans who take this issue seriously are probably helping Japanese right-wingers gain more legitimacy in the eyes of the Japanese public and the world in general. Meanwhile, Korea would look a lot better to the world, and feel a lot better in general, by not having a heart attack every time some random far-right nitwit in Japan says something stupid. An ounce of mockery would outweigh five tons of earnest panic.

  4. Gord, what you’re railing against is not crazy!

    If one reads the fine print of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, one will realize no politician will ever be elected supporting it. No voter has that kind of patience. For a small state like ROK it makes perfect sense to grab its own oil resources and dare Japan to attack, which Japan will not do, because it has more reliable trade deals completed, which would probably vanish if it unilaterally attacked ROK.

    I’m not saying I agree. As a matter of fact, it gives me more reasons to despise South Korean pols. But, it’s not crazy, it’s wickedly clever. And it’s going to work, unless American, and Canadian voters get their governments to buttress international laws and the UN in general. But, that won’t happen because military and nationalist forces in all countries love and see disputes, like the Canada-US kerfluffle over the Arctic, as opportunities for funding and lifetimes in office.

    These performers are just the entertainment edge of a political stratagem that’s probably funded by some ministry. At the least, these guys are just gullible tools!

  5. I’m not sure if my original comment was clear, so with apologies, I’m taking another crack at it. My response to Denmark is exactly the kind of response you are advocating, but I’m the last person who would take to the streets to protest NAFTA, the Iraq War, or cuts to social healthcare. Not because of any deeply held political beliefs, but mostly out of sheer apathy. If a lot of Koreans adopted the approach you advocate, I think it would be indicative of a fundamental shift in attitudes towards politics in general, and the protests against beef and free trade agreements that are going on just wouldn’t be happening, or be as big as you describe them.

    Just as an aside, I don’t think the “right-wing” whack jobs in Japan would gain any traction from the kind of satire that you are suggesting (no offense, but it sounds more Larry Flynt than Clarion West) partially because (and I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth) I’m not as cynical about people in general, but also because those guys just piss a lot of people off on a day to day basis. Those trucks they drive around in are essentially a very crude shakedown scam.

  6. Now I’m worried that my daughter’s Hello Kitty underwear is going to prove to be a gateway for Flesh-Eating Interdimensional Hello Kitty Ghouls. :)

    I think if some of the tactics you suggest are taken, it’ll be amusing for enough people that word will get out on the internet to people who normally wouldn’t follow Korean/Japan relationships, but who would have the capacity to form an informed opinion, given the chance — and the notification.

  7. Baltimoron,

    Sorry to have missed those comments in the moderation/spam filter. I see what you’re saying, and it makes sense strategically for the government to try milk this. I’m saying it doesn’t really make sense for Korean society to freak out every time it comes up. If even a small fraction of the public energy wasted on ranting about Dokdo (or, for that matter, futilely preparing for unnecessary TOEIC exams en masse) were diverted to funding research into stuff like this, the Peak Oil debacle you mention in the post you linked wouldn’t be such an inevitablity for Korea. We don’t even know if we can mine methane clathrate safely, after all.

    I’m kind of hoping the public will figure this out in the next generation or two. And kind of hoping that won’t be too late.


    I disagree. I think it would be a step up the ladder of sophistication, essentially in learning to pick one’s battles, and to use a strategy that at least vaguely considers a point of view outside the “official” Korean one, when it comes to international issues. I would hope people would be protesting things that are obviously protest-worthy, not just moving from hairtrigger sensitivity to total apathy. The extremes are where the problems lie.

    I’m glad to hear the rightists in Japan annoy everyone else. Those black vans were awfully annoying. I think my traction comment was more along the lines of thinking it might insult the hell out of regular people who would then be less sympathetic to Korean objections to the Japanese right.

    Who’s the last Clarion West author you’ve read? You might be surprised at the range of things that amuse us!

    (By the way: Shakedown how? I’ve never heard anything beyond how annoying and extremist they are.)

    Julia: Sorry for turning your daughter’s undies into a scary interdimensional gateway! And yeah, I’m thinking the amusement factor would at least get people listening to something that disputes the current Japanese government’s position. If it could amuse Japanese people while doing it, that would be optimal. The problem now is that all discussion of the issue is utterly Korea-centric. Or, as Baltimoron would likely note — that’s exactly the purpose of the Dokdo/Takeshima issue: domestic politics on both sides. But if the people pushed this thing into a kind of public dialog, by circumventing the proper channels and using the Internet, maybe this could be avoided.


    Yes, well, you should see how much I write about issues I do want to heard and talk about. And to be fair, I was talking about negative nationalism, about alternative strategies for dealing with these issues, and so on.

    To make myself clearer, what I don’t want to hear are the usual: Koreans ranting about Dokdo and Japan in the same way that other Koreans did three years ago; or, more offensive still, the endless foreigner blogs that just use Dokdo to “prove” (with routinely incredible illogic) that all Koreans are insane. Posts of both sorts abound out there.

    I wouldn’t mind hearing more thoughts on better ways for the Korean public to grapple publicly with this issue. (From Koreans and from knowledgeable foreigners alike.) I’d rather not read ignorant rants by people who don’t give a shit about the Korean public and are just out to mock people.

    And while we’re wordcounting, over 10% of those approximately 2060 words above are a quote from a book on Canadian politics, so, you know, the post does range beyond just Dokdo. Quite far, I’d say.

  8. Well, the first and last Clarion West writer is you, which probably isn’t a representative sample;)

    The guys driving the vans are paid to do that. It isn’t volunteer work, it’s a job. They’ll occasionally approach businesses for money – if the businesses pay them off, the vans take an “alternate” route.

    I suspect the Japanese “hard right” is a lot like it’s Western counterparts: nasty, and ugly to be sure, but with a hold on the popular imagination disproportionate to it’s actual membership.

    It’s an old standby of humorists in newspapers and magazines or TV talk show hosts to point out that at a public parade held by some racist organization, 200 anti-racist protestors showed up, 100 journalists were on the scene, 50 police men made sure no fights broke out, and 25 actual racists marched.

  9. Mark,

    I didn’t know the vans extorted money for route adjustment. You’d think people would demand a crackdown on the noise pollution, given how much less tolerated noise pollution seemed, when I was visiting, anyway — it was nothing like how in Korea, techno music blasts from every damned storefront in some districts.

    The hard right, for all that they may have a disproportionate hold on the public imagination, also did manage to have a profound influence on Japanese society in the first half of the 20th century. (As discussed early on in the only book I’ve looked at on the subject, Kaplan and Dubro’s Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld. The Dark Ocean Society’s involvement in promoting Japanese imperialism, various rightist groups in the 30s assassinating and marginalizing moderate politicians, and so on, suggests that — as unlikely as it would be now, given the current state of affairs — a small number of utter bastards — as few as 25 marching racists — can have a massive effect when the 200 anti-racists are staying at home, the 100 reporters are scared to report, the 50 cops are sympathetic or told to do other things, and the 25 racists are the only ones willing to use violence to achieve their goals.

    Not that I think a rightist overthrow of Japan’s political system is likely for now, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a world where resources turn scarce. Same goes for Korea, actually. I imagine a lot of relatively homogenous states, and some not-so-homogenous ones, would go that route.

  10. Well, in the thirties Japan wasn’t a democracy. It was a lot easier for groups of dedicated radicals to seize control of the agenda. Why would Japan take a hard right turn now because of a lack of resources? It’s success, post World II is built on it’s lack of resources – Japan focuses on manufacturing, but even the advances in robotics that they have made were a response to a labor shortage.

    Nota bene, the example I cited was supposed to be evidence of the overall “health” of civic society, and wasn’t meant to denigrate the actions of the anti-racist activists.

    As for worrying about the scarcity of commodities starting conflicts, despite the recent uptick in commodities prices, I’d still bet on Simon in the long run.

  11. I guess inadvertently referring to the rocks as “Takeshima” would be a definite no-no then. :)

    Ir’s amazing to see how many photo icons from Panoramio appear clustered on and around Dokdo. Do people vacation there? :D

  12. Mark,

    You’re right, it would be utterly ridiculous to say that a dedicated group of right-wingers could seize the discourse and railroad a major, developed, democratic country — much less a hegemon — into a messy invasion and occupation over harebrained, irrational ideology and over resource security. How silly of me to imagine that could happen today.

    In any case, you miss a big part of the picture when you say that the basis of Japan’s modern success is resource poverty. (After all, that was built upon earlier successes directly resultant from not just a head start in industrialization, but also in Japan’s colonial exploitation of places like Korea.)

    Resource poverty and ingenuity can work well in a world where trade can be relied upon to make up the difference — that is, in a material-resource abundant world, like ours now. In a world where resources are less abundant, though, and viable, affordable alternatives are not found, that system becomes increasingly less feasible. Resource poverty becomes real poverty in such a world, and the likelihood of reverting to older methods of gaining resources to fend off poverty begins again… especially in one’s immediate neighborhood.

    Do I think Korea should be afraid of this right now? No. But I do think Korea has a strong incentive to drive research into alternative energy, so as to keep the system from breaking down.

    By the way, this is not a Simon-Ehrlich discussion: I haven’t brought population up at all. (Though Simon’s reasons for refusing to take the second wager is pretty revealing of how distanced he is from the fact that economic processes have to occur in an environment. How can athletic performances be better if the track is fullof potholes?) My point is that our post-industrial world civilization is dependent on resources that will, eventually, run out unless we develop alternatives. And if we don’t, our world civilization is likely to become much less civilized. Sliding back half a century is not so big a leap as we would like to imagine. All that said, I think your long run is probably on a different timescale than mine: that my long run extends a century or two beyond yours. The current trends of commodity prices are best considered noise on the scale I’m looking at this from.

    I’m hopeful alternatives will be developed long before then, of course, and things are looking relatively bright at the moment, for example if (well-sealed) tanks containing this bacteria become feasible, and oil sands processing improves, and who knows what else…

    But if they don’t, we will be seeing resource wars on a growing scale. The history of human civilizations has been driven, after all, by a series of wars over resources. And the first places Japan will be looking, naturally, are Sakhalin, Korea, Taiwan, and — conditions there depending — parts of coastal China.


    Yeah, calling the island Takeshima’s a bad idea. :)

    And yeah, there are a lot of photos from there. And what a lot of colorful arguments. Bleah!

  13. The hypothesis, that resource scarcity causes war, like any monocausal theory, is not strong. There is even an indication that the opposite is the case, that wars cause resource scarcity. Political competition between rival groups is a stronger indicator of future wars. That resource scarcity exacerbates wars is a stronger hypothesis.

    Also, we have to recall that the present spat occurs when Japan-ROK trade favors Japan heavily, and past controversies either were ended or occurred in the midst of large Japanese ODA grants. Both states are fully capable of doing business, trading, and exchanging gifts while vilifying and belittling each other.

    Actually, for the sake of argument, I think if the chaebol ever lost their supply links to Japan, it would prompt radical diplomatic and structural reform. As it is, ROK lives on borrowed money. It’s another reason I believe this is all a matter of domestic consumption and bureaucratic infighting.

  14. Misguided ideology might have been at the heart of the Iraq War, but as P.J. O’Rourke pointed out, after seeing all the troops, tanks and jets massed at the Kuwait border, or as he called it “wall to wall war”, it was about oil in a world where it was worth a $1000 a barrel.

    At this point, you’ve watered down the meaning of “right wing” so much that I really can’t comment any further. I know I’ve been guilty of making historical analogies on occasion myself, but as I get older and realize just how complex things are, historical analogies just don’t work. Obama is not Carter, Iraq is not Vietnam, and Sadaam Hussein is not Hitler, to name just a few.

  15. Baltimoron,

    You have an interesting point, though I have to qualify what I’ve said about resource scarcity and war — there is never any single cause for anything, even a single discrete act in a person’s life, if such a thing can be said to exist — but in the broad schematics, I think conflict over “resources” (including, in the broadest sense, access to territory and enlistable human labour) is the driving force that has basically run the engine of human history. I think that makes sense — it’s wired into us, and can be observed in our closest primate relatives very, very clearly. We’re just such better tool makers that it carried us to every habitable zone (and several almost-uninhabitable zones) of the planet… and our genocides have been on a bigger scale.

    But yes, I’d say that wars also boost resource scarcity, and therein also stimulate more conflict. Conflict can cause scarcity, scarcity can cause conflict. Even unreal scarcity — the fear of it, or a sense of relative scarcity among one group looking at another group that seems to have more — can serve that same triggering function. There’s probably an autocatalytic cycle there, in which either can start as a trigger.

    The ODA grants thing is interesting, though, and yeah, states certainly can be quite interdependent while talking sh*t about one another, that’s for sure. I’m curious to read more of your thoughts on bureaucratic infighting and ODA grants’ relation to Dokdo outbursts, if you’ve written more about that somewhere!

    (By the way, I’ve edited the time stamp of your post, because my own response predates yours, stuck in the spam filter, coming to my attention. Hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to keep the thread clear. I wonder if it’s the word “moron” that’s in a filter somewhere, though I know the app I use checks for matches with a spam server online. Maybe someone else marked one of your comments as spam elsewhere?)


    Just because you don’t like my definition of right wing doesn’t make it meaningless. And by the way, if you carefully reread your last comment above, you’ll probably notice it can be read as carrying a very patronizing tone and the following two arguments:

    1. people who think differently from you are immature and undersophisticated
    2. that any opinion differing from yours is “watering down” the terminology.

    You may have forgotten, but other people will define terms in ways you don’t. For plenty of people worldwide, the whole American political spectrum begins right of center. Could you keep it focused on ideas, please? I’m more than happy to be disagreed with, but the other insinuations are insulting at best. Your own website is a more appropriate place to insinuate that people you disagree with are unsophisticated and immature. If you want an example, look at Baltimoron’s comments: they’re focused on the ideas in play, and he’s disagreeing with me pretty forcefully, but I don’t feel insulted.

    (By the way, I realize Japan in Korea is not US in Iraq; I just think it’s unrealistic to suggest that what happened in Japan couldn’t happen in an established democracy today… especially when an ideology-driven)

    As for the O’Rourke quote, you know, he’s also asking his readers to squint and play make believe. (Each time you quote him I feel less interested in reading his work!) The war was obviously not about short-term oil supplies. Anyone who suggests that is implying the Bushistas are even dumber than I think they are. The best analogy I can suggest is that first scene inside prison, where the new guy beats the living shit out of the biggest, meanest SOB he can find. The US invasion of Iraq did not happen in a bubble where only Americans were watching, after all. The whole world was watching, and the take-home message was different in every country whose citizens I’ve discussed it with.

  16. Actually, I didn’t see anything patronizing about my right wing comments at all. While I’m sorry if you took offense at it, a Republican administration in late twentieth century America is radically different than being right wing in Japan at the start of the twentieth century.

    If you think it is similar, well, we’re on two different tracks, and I don’t feel I can say much more. To be frank, maybe I took your initial response the wrong way:

    You’re right, it would be utterly ridiculous to say that a dedicated group of right-wingers could seize the discourse and railroad a major, developed, democratic country — much less a hegemon — into a messy invasion and occupation over harebrained, irrational ideology and over resource security. How silly of me to imagine that could happen today.

    I suppose I could have inserted a polite, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” but I thought that went without saying.

  17. I also used the following examples in my earlier response in an attempt to make it clear that I didn’t like historical analogies in general, regardless of who was making them, and that it wasn’t directed at you or any specific group:

    Obama is not Carter, Iraq is not Vietnam, and Sadaam Hussein is not Hitler, to name just a few.

  18. Here’s hoping this comment does not trip Akismet. I’ve registered with this blog now, and I didn’t even know it was a WP blog before.

    Gord said: “…in the broad schematics, I think conflict over “resources” (including, in the broadest sense, access to territory and enlistable human labour) is the driving force that has basically run the engine of human history. I think that makes sense — it’s wired into us, and can be observed in our closest primate relatives very, very clearly. We’re just such better tool makers that it carried us to every habitable zone (and several almost-uninhabitable zones) of the planet… and our genocides have been on a bigger scale.”

    Two quick comments lest we go so deep beyond the sense of the post. I sense you’ve Jared Diamond. Two aspects of human existence impressed me from the three books, and one article, of his I have read. Firstly, humans are territorial, and not all animals are. Not only do humans make distinctions between species, but also between races and tribes.

    Secondly, there’s a cultural component, too. Neolithic, agricultural culture, which still is a large component of human societies, creates a terminal competition between reproduction and food production. Neolithic societies face pressure to produce more laborers to produce more food, yet as societies advance specialization removes agricultural laborers from the fields for non-ag labor in cities. Paleolithic societies, like PNG and Native American societies control population expansion by limiting birthrates.

    If we want to address this issue at this level, humans need to take conscious responsibility for species evolution by combining the prudence of paleolithic cultures with the prowess of the neolithic and modern. But, I think human territoriality will always be a final limit on social evolution.

    On ROK’s miracle, I do have some reading in the queue, but Glenn D. Hook discusses Japan’s ODA and FDI contributions in “Japan’s International Relations”. America’s contribution is the other question. As the 50= years elapse there should be a paper trail now.

  19. I forgot to login when I submitted my last comment. Yet, I wanted to point out on Mark’s point, that Japan had fewer significant resource problems before the modern era. Hokkaido’s significance is as a resource base, and the reason why Japan and Russia came in contact.

    And, after contact was established with Europeans, even after the shogunate closed most of the ports, there were still contact and trade through the black ships of Portugal.

  20. Mark,

    I’m afraid I’m not the only person seeing what I’m seeing in your comments. I’ve had several comments off-site about it in terms of a repeating pattern with your comments… So maybe you should reread them again and think about how someone could take offense in reading them.

    Not putting others inane words (and arguments) into my mouth would be a good place to start. It’s a bit Procrustean, as in you can always supply me with inanities to disagree with.

    (For example, I can’t recall equating Iraq to Vietnam, or Obama to Carter, though you have mentioned both analogies on my blog repeatedly. Even my Japan:USA analogy is not meant to be 1:1, but rather just a demonstration that extremists and ideologues can still railroad nations in bad directions, even now. Now is not so special, is all I was saying.)


    I’ve emailed you again about this crazy spam thing. I hope it works out. Akismet is so good usually!

    Yeah, I like Jared Diamond a lot; there are things I kind of disagree about, or shrug at — the first and last hunk of Guns, Germs, and Steel, for example. I haven’t really gotten too far into Collapse, either, though I can anticipate a fair amount of what he’s saying. But The Third Chimpanzee is one of several books on human nature — along with Pinker’s The Blank Slate and several (loaned out and never returned to me) books on human evolution/prehistory — that inform the sense of humans as described above.

    The territoriality/cultural component thing you discuss is certainly interesting, but I think that a few things that aren’t so far off, historically speaking, will reformulate the question of whether human social evolution can go anywhere new.

    One of them is radical life extension technology, which is still a fair way off — we probably won’t live to see anything much more radical than our parents saw — but which, in historical time, may be a mere eyeblink away, and secondly, when technology obviates certain kinds of resource competition. (When neat shit is so cheap anyone can download the schematics and fab it at home.) This would at least decouple territoriality from resource access, which is a big step, but not everything.

    I’m actually working on a novella about the latter revolution — the elimination of certain kinds of material scarcity — hitting a future Burma that’s pretty much stuck where it is right now. The long and the short of it, for me, is that humans will sublimate their competitive instinct to other things, just as kids in school do it with relation to grades or popularity or whatever.

    (Iain Banks’ Culture novels have characters competing over invitations to the best parties, because social status is the only real resource left for people to compete over. My story is considerably less far-future, and there’s still much more left to compete over in the world I’m writing about.)

    Conscious responsibility — oh, yes, but how can we get the masses to do so? One hopes that, other problems aside, Clay Shirky’s characterization of our own addiction to lowest-common-denominator-entertainment being a short-term “bender” is correct, but I don’t think there’s ever been a time when huge masses of people were able to rationally enact their responsibility for the fate of the species, and I wonder if we can pull it off. (Or find some way of doing it without the inevitable coerciveness of most workarounds people are prone to suggest.)

    It blows my mind that the subways in Seoul were built using ODA loans from Japan.

    Significant resource problems or not, Japan was exporting very large amounts of Korean agricultural production to Japan during the colonial era, was it not? I seem to recall staggering figures in one or two books I read my first couple of years here.

    It makes sense the Japanese were worried about Russian expansion into Hokkaido, though interestingly, the one book I’ve read about the Battle of Tsushima (much later, 1905) was from a Western perspective and pretty much claimed that around then turn of the century, the Russian leadership was in turn scared (rightly so) that Japan was going to expand onto the mainland. I don’t know how much of the fear was mutual in Japan at that time.

    Yay for Portugal, anyway, or we wouldn’t have spicy gochu in Korea!

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