Part 2 of 2 (15 min read time)
Personal Essay by Albert Joon-Ho Hur
[Edited by J]
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
— Proverbs 9:10
God said to Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
— Exodus 33:20
Death is real (as are taxes). You know this to be true. You know this in your bones. You have never personally experienced death, yet you feel it with an absolute certitude.
This is a vitally important thing that many intellectuals and philosophers and scholars forget in the euphoric haze of argument. DEATH IS A FACT. Moreover, you know it is a fact, and I use “know” here in the colloquial sense of a personal feeling: an in-your-bones, punch-in-the-gut, axiomatic, System 1 and 2²⁵ truth. It is completely independent of your subjective personal experience, yet you know it is real. You know it exists. You have never experienced death personally, only vicariously. People and things die around you all the time. The self-preservation instinct has been empirically documented²⁶. But never mind all that — you consciously KNOW it exists and that it is real. Memento Mori. You know you will die too.
This is the fulcrum upon which all human knowledge and experience rests²⁷. The existence and our knowledge of death, prior to any personal experience of it, lays to rest all these quaint and fanciful postmodernist notions regarding the fundamental unknowability of objective, material reality. You’re wrong; the empiricists were right. Death is real and concrete, and you know it to be true, which means there is such a thing as an unconditional, universal, absolute Truth, and human beings possess whatever bundle of facilities are necessary to perceive it. You will die. The objective evidence is all around you, and you subjectively know this as well.
This helps clear up a lot of things. It means you can trust reality, for one. Otherwise, you wouldn’t believe in death, and you’d shoot yourself in the face right now with a healthy expectation of living. The fact you will not carry out this experiment for the stated purpose above (as opposed to simply being contradictory), demonstrates a lot (behaviors always communicate more than words). It shows that even if everything in the realm of human existence is subjective, there is still a material, object reality. Additionally, all reasonable people can agree that this reality exists independent of their subjective experience through their implicit understanding that death exists. Objective reality is independent of your feelings and perspective, and we can observe it, even if only in glimpses. Therefore, truth is objectively knowable and we can all agree upon it as a species.
The natural corollary? Ignoring facts and truth is not a philosophical problem. It is a simple human aberration — intellectual dishonesty, which is a result of one of three things: 1) our reason extending beyond its practical limitations²⁸, 2) someone selling you something, or 3) someone covering something up. Metaphysical skepticism solved.
How does this fact-based attitude translate into behaviors a man should adopt? The Bible provides us an illustrative example. As the Son of Man is fasting in the desert outside Jerusalem, the Devil, Prince of Lies, appears in order to test him²⁹.
First, he tells Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus refuses.
Lesson 1: Do not be delusional. No amount of wishing stones turn to bread will make it so. This insidious thought error is known in the field of psychology as “magical thinking”, and is commonly deployed by racists and cowards.
Second, he tells Jesus to jump off a tower. Jesus refuses.
Lesson 2: Respect and fear material reality, the existence of which you know is true, as evidenced by your terror of death.
Finally, he offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, if he joins him. Jesus refuses.
Lesson 3: The desire to rule over others is not worth losing your grip on reality.
Jesus demonstrates that the proper attitude of a man in the face of the Devil, the liar in himself, is to be humble. If you accept things the way they are and respect facts and evidence as much as you do death, then no material possessions or earthly position should cause you to lie to yourself. This makes much more sense when you study the three great Abrahamic faiths as a whole. The Holy Qu’ran refers to God as “Reality”, and the Old Testament urges us not to have any false idols before Him. God is Reality. You shouldn’t believe anything before Reality.
Allow me now to make an important distinction between being humble and being modest. Humility means the ability to bow in the face of facts — the Truth. It means always practicing good faith — new evidence changes your mind or makes you reconsider, no matter how deeply it challenges your belief system (the opposite of the definition of “bad faith” by Sartre³⁰; “good faith” also colloquially means “to be honest”). It is something you must make a habit. It does not come naturally, although recent science has demonstrated that we are ingrained with a natural predilection towards fact and truth³¹. Unfortunately, self-preservation in the form of conformity³² (man is a herd animal³³ after all) often impedes our natural instinct to obey the Truth. Therefore, great discipline is required to maintain a humble attitude in the face of new facts.
Modesty is simply feigning weakness. One does not need to be modest to be humble. Being modest is optional, but being humble is not. To fail to be humble means you are unwilling to accept facts, which implies you defy death, the original fact upon which we can all agree. This either makes you delusional, or just a liar. In either case, shoot yourself. Ya, Jugule?!³⁴
Therefore, one of the ideals we must live up to as men is Humility. Be humble in all things — always reconsider after being presented with new evidence. Keep the faith. That’s what it means to stay True. Pride is when you lie to yourself. What Would Jesus Do?
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
— Matthew 5:6.
What is the definition of justice?
Scientific evidence shows that all primates instinctually have a sense of fairness. Capuchin monkeys that are paid less food than other monkeys for doing the same work actually go on a hunger strike and riot.³⁵ Fairness is something that exists within us as human beings, which makes it natural. But it is not something that exists outside us in nature.³⁶ Yet when it is absent, we feel its absence keenly, just like our primate cousins who refuse to be underpaid for their efforts. Our hunger for fair treatment, apparently, is even stronger than actual hunger, and we are willing to undertake actions throughout history to rectify our unfair treatment by others. Justice, the presence of fairness in human life, is therefore a creation of mankind — we bend the moral arc with our blood, sweat, and tears to bring fairness to life in a world that is not naturally just. It is a manly endeavor.
What is the nature of a just society?
A just society is one in which fairness amongst its citizens is enforced by its people and government, as illustrated in Plato’s “Republic”, which a young Superman is caught reading in Zack Snyder’s 2013 film “Man of Steel”.
What does that look like? What is the nature of social justice, and how should it be designed, realized, and arbitrated in real life through the government and its people?
John Rawls presents us with an illuminating framework for which to think about this problem. Since human beings are naturally biased towards their own situation when considering fairness, he suggests that in order for us to conceive of a just society, it must be one in which we are all under a “veil of ignorance”³⁷ — that is, we must picture ourselves as not knowing which particular set of life circumstances we are currently a part of, and instead imagine that we could end up as anybody in the birth lottery. Only then should we start considering what our vision of a just society should look like, since ignorance of our own circumstances and the chance of us ending up as any other individual should induce us to be more empathetic and fair-minded towards all.
Justice must be blind, in that all must receive fair treatment. So far, so good. However, now that we are at this juncture, how should we then design a society in which justice is present?
Well, when we are considering how we should change the real world, it is important to understand all available evidence, circumstances, prior histories, and human nature. Like understanding human beings, this is an incomplete, but forever aspirational process. It is also plainly evident and intuitive. In the criminal justice system, for example, the judge should be indifferent with regards to both the plaintiff and the defense in his quest for fairness, but he must always consider context and circumstances when rendering judgment. If new evidence comes to light at a later date, it should be considered in a reversal or retrial. In other words, justice requires an iterative investigative process to identify what material unfairness exists, if any, based on all available evidence, and what empirical solutions we should use to rectify and redress it, while also allowing for changes to past judgments based on new available information.
The best way I’ve discovered to think about what framework to use to approach the discovery and judgment process of justice is from Nancy Fraser’s 1996 lecture at Stanford, entitled “Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition, and Participation.”³⁸ In it, Nancy talks about a concept she calls “Parity of Participation”.
To achieve parity of participation — fairness — by all members of society in their own governance, there are two necessary prerequisites: 1) a constant redistribution of economic wealth and social power to the extent necessary for every individual citizen to have a platform through which to express their views and grievances (a “voice”); and 2) an equal opportunity at recognition given all available context, which Nancy refers to as the rectifying of material imbalances in achieving social esteem and position — that individuals and groups experience due to empirical patterns of unfair treatment — in society. This unfair treatment could be things like lopsided policing, discrimination at airports, universities, and the workplace, and economic exploitation. I can also include media portrayals with negative effects and social reception in public and private spaces like sexual racism, homophobia, and vigilante violence. Both prerequisites must be obeyed for social justice to exist in real life. Fair enough.
According to Nancy, these oppressed individuals and groups bear the personal responsibility of identifying where these material imbalances lie and offering solutions using their voice. This makes sense. Research shows that none are more willing to be fair about another person’s situation than the people in that particular situation³⁹, given that they are not being coerced to act against their own interests by either social pressure or force. Any solutions offered must keep in mind the end goal of the presence of fairness and equality of opportunity for achieving esteem in the real world. Those who act against this goal deserve neither recognition nor a platform, and they must be marginalized in any society that aspires to be just.
If the voices of these individuals and groups are stifled through economic, cultural, or state oppression, or if society refuses to recognize empirical evidence of their mistreatment or forestalls any solution despite the use of all available legal mechanisms, then society has broken its social contract with that individual or group of people. At that point, moral law transcends human law. As the saying goes, there is a three-stage escalation process to praxis, or changing society: the soap box, the ballot box, and then the ammo box. When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty. Anything less makes you less of a man. Even a monkey can do it.
THE AMERICAN WAY
“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
— Bill Clinton
What is Americanism?
On the eve of the 20th century, American senators were clamoring for the annexation of the Philippines, which would ignite a hundred years of white supremacist imperial warfare and neo-colonization of the Yellow race through the IMF. American industrialist Andrew Carnegie suddenly thrust himself into national politics to vociferously denounce the plan. An unabashed white nationalist himself, Carnegie was also part of the American Anti-Imperialist League, an odd bunch ranging from famous and respectable American authors such as Mark Twain to protectionist white nationalist socialist traitors like Samuel Gompers, who famously whipped up hatred and violence against the Chinese in America with racist polemics.
The American Anti-Imperialist League⁴⁰ offered an interesting argument, one that strikes to the heart of what makes America — a country of white racists that yet, similar to POC nations, revolted against a white supremacist empire —special. They believed imperialism violated the fundamental principle that just government must derive from “consent of the governed”. In other words, they believed in the collective right to self-determination, which Third World nations led by China had forced into the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights against great resistance from colonizer nations. American ideals were trumpeted to oppose “expansion” — ideals of self-government and non-intervention which had been previously expressed in the United States Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s Farewell Address, and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Unfortunately for the Yellow Man, the better angels of the U.S. White Man were defeated, and millions upon millions of human lives were lost and ruined over the course of a hundred years. Yet still, this truly exceptional and experimental strain of thought lives on. Even the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace today remains staunchly opposed to “expansionism”, the American terminology for white supremacist imperialism in our foreign policy.
During the two-year Anti-Imperial movement from 1898 to 1900, Andrew Carnegie himself articulated these principles best in his speech “Americanism versus Imperialism.”⁴¹ These real American values have been corrupted over the past century by the disease of white racism and the siren song of neoliberal colonization by corporations and the rich, yet they still live on, buried in the deepest recesses of our democratic institutions and polity:
“[A “free and independent” Philippines under the temporary protection of the United States is the best policy.] If left to themselves they will make mistakes, but what nation does not? Riot and bloodshed may break out — in which nation are these absent? Certainly not in our own; but the inevitable result will be a government better suited to the people than any that our soldiers and their officers could ever give.
Thus only can the Republic stand true to its pledges, that the sword was drawn only in the cause of humanity and not for territorial aggrandizement, and true to the fundamental principles upon which she rests: “that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed;” that the flag, wherever it floats, shall proclaim “the equality of the citizen,” “one man’s privilege every man’s right” – “that all men are created equal,” not that under its sway part only shall be citizens with rights and part only subjects without rights — freemen and serfs, not all freemen. Such is the issue between Americanism and Imperialism.”
This is the American Dream: Equality of Opportunity — and the American Way: Sovereignty and Liberty. What might Carnegie’s definition of Americanism look like if we were to examine the best ideas produced by America’s history?
Security extended to all citizens, as outlined in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 2nd Bill of Rights. Deepening our democratic institutions and redistributing wealth so that every American has a voice. Expanding the franchise through mandatory voting, which has been shown to work in 25 countries all over the world and throughout Latin America.
In a 1995 speech to the American Political Science Association, political scientist Arend Lijphart explained that it increased voter turnout anywhere from between 7-16% on average. This fits in with research on choice architecture by social scientists such as Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in America.
Greater representation in Congress (especially in the House of Representatives, which has not expanded its number with the growing population, meaning each old, white, and male representative now represents far more people that don’t look like him than was originally intended, thus undermining democracy and upholding white male supremacy). Minority and gender quotas with no caps at all levels of society and industry to address discrimination and racial prejudice, as was done in the past. Anti-imperialism and anti-colonization. Cooperation, not endless war. Freedom from foreign entanglements and conspiracies. Civil liberalism, not unfettered market liberalism. Social democracy, not Herrenvolk democracy⁴².
Let us sum up the above vision of American exceptionalism and lived values in the words of David Harvey, who once stated, “The world is in a position to reject that imperialist gesture and refract back into the heartland of neoliberal and neoconservative capitalism a different set of values: those of an open democracy dedicated to the achievement of social equality, coupled with economical, political, and cultural justice.”⁴³
To aspire to the ideals of Life, Liberty from Discrimination, and Equality in the Pursuit of Happiness⁴⁴ — that is what it means to be an honest and just man in America. That is what it means to be Superman.
SEX AND THE ASIAN MAN
“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
— George Orwell
“Given a history of emasculation and desexualization of U.S.-born Asian men, these men for the most part have been able to make a masculinity that does not completely resemble white hegemonic masculinity or a model minority masculinity that uses male privilege, power, and domination in relationship with a variety of racialized and class-stratified women and men.”
— Peter Chua and Diane Fujino, Negotiating New Asian American Masculinities: Attitudes and Gender Expectations
Yes, I care about my “fuckability”⁴⁵. Apparently, so do American white supremacists. In 2013, Michael Park wrote a legal and historical article for the Modern American titled “Asian American Masculinity Eclipsed: A Legal and Historical Perspective of Emasculation Through U.S. Immigration Practices”⁴⁶. In it, he recounts the real reason for the institutional and de facto segregation and emasculation of Asian men in America:
“From 1850 until the repeal acts of the 1940s, Asian immigrant masculinity was institutionally marked different from that of European-American “white” citizens owing in part to the communities that were available to Chinese men as a result of exclusion and miscegenation laws. Such exclusion laws helped to emasculate Chinese men by restricting their access to heterosexual norms and ideals such as nuclear family formations.
Fearful that Asians would establish strong communities, voting rights and gain political power, the Euro-American power structure deliberately denied Asians the ability to establish nuclear family formations. However, the anti-miscegenation and exclusion laws that resulted from such economic and social fears have helped contribute to the construction of the emasculated Asian American male subject.”
Even Mark Twain, who harbored his own prejudices against Native Americans, observed the ill treatment of the Chinese and remarked on their unjust treatment:
“Any White man can swear a Chinaman’s life away in the courts, but no Chinaman can testify against a white man. Ours is the ‘land of the free’—nobody denies that—nobody challenges it. (Maybe it is because we won’t let other people testify). As I write, news come that in broad daylight in San Francisco, some boys have stoned an inoffensive Chinaman to death and although a large crowd witnesses the shameful deed, no one interfered.”
This is what “emasculation” means, after all. It is restriction of access to Life, Liberty, and Equality in the Pursuit of Happiness. It means denying us fundamental reproductive rights through negative eugenics, whether institutionalized through laws around immigration, citizenship, and anti-miscegenation, or through the artistic history of American anti-Asian racism⁴⁷. It means killing us with impunity, because our lives are not equal to the lives of White men. It means turning the courts and Congress against us, and the head of the FBI declaring that all Chinese in America are spies⁴⁸ — a paranoid, racist assertion backed by the current President of the United States⁴⁹ and nearly half the American public⁵⁰. It means racists are more hateful towards a hypothetical Asian male U.S. President than a Black man, which is frightening when you consider the number of white hate groups that mushroomed in the wake of Barack Obama’s election. It means white supremacist imperialists like former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and Democratic Presidential candidate Wesley Clark calling for internment camps for brown “dissidents”⁵¹, while his Asian mistress stands smiling by his side. And it means our countries are seen as nothing more than wild, untamed, uncivilized jungles, to be razed to the ground, plundered, exploited, ruled over, and polluted, while the indigenous people are good for nothing more than tour guides, sex tourism, wage slavery, and social engineering to make them pliable.
Knowing all that, I, the Yellow Man in America whose adopted country hates and fears me, still remain unbowed and unbroken. Unlike many of my Bizzaro brethren who dream of being a Bat, the allure of green dollars is like Kryptonite to me. There is nothing wrong with an honest living (keyword: honest). But I have bigger dreams. The root of all evil and the wellspring of human misery and destruction caused by neoliberal economics and neoconservative imperialism — the twin prongs of modern global White American Supremacy — holds no power over me. I have a higher calling; the Stars and Stripes call out to me. To be a Real Man is to Aspire to the Noblest parts of his fellow Countrymen. That is the Phenomenology of the Spirit, of Reason, and of Progress. I may be alien and an outsider, but I love Metropolis, even if I must save the natives from themselves instead of the imaginary evil they believe lurks beyond their borders, whipped up by evil, rich white men in their gleaming towers. After all, what is Justice?
So when the White Man shows up at my doorstep like a Jehovah’s witness with his wolf’s smile to sell me some ratty red baseball cap with a white supremacist slogan⁵² as he blasts on all the airwaves and the billboards and the TV screens and flashing Internet ads that I am not a Man — that I don’t have what it takes, that I don’t measure up, that I don’t know how to treat a woman, that I lack the essential qualities for Manhood — while using his little green rocks to sway others of my kind to join the chorus of how we must bow down to Uncle Sam, to the Almighty Dollar, and to the wisdom of white “civilization” to reclaim my masculinity, I can only laugh in his face, and in the faces of all his conniving, crooked, lying henchmen⁵³.
Of course I’m not a Man.
I’m the goddamn Man of Tomorrow⁵⁴.
- David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press 2005