Holding an Ontological Mirror Up to The Model Minority
(16 min read)
“Dokkaebi are legendary creatures from Korean mythology and folklore. Dokkaebi, also known as Korean goblins, possess extraordinary powers and abilities that are used to interact with humans, at times playing tricks on them and at times helping them. Most Korean legends have Dokkaebi in the stories. They are about Dokkaebi playing pranks on mortals or punishing them because of their evil deeds.
One of them is about an old man who lived alone in a mountain when a Dokkaebi visited his house. With surprise, the kind old man gave the Dokkaebi an alcoholic beverage and they become friends.
The Dokkaebi visited the old man often and they had long conversations together, but one day, the man took a walk by himself in the woods near the river and discovered that his reflection looked like the Dokkaebi. With fear, he realized that he was gradually becoming that creature.
The man decided to prevent himself from becoming a Dokkaebi and invited the creature to his house. He asked, “What are you most afraid of?” and the Dokkaebi answered, “I’m afraid of blood. What are you afraid of?” The man pretended to be frightened and said, “I’m afraid of money. That’s why I live in the mountains by myself.”
The next day, the old man killed a cow and poured its blood all over his house. The Dokkaebi, with shock and great anger, ran away and said, “I’ll be back with your greatest fear!”
The next day, the Dokkaebi brought bags of money and threw it to the old man. After that, the Dokkaebi never came back and the old man became the richest person in the town.”
― Wikipedia, Dokkaebi
The 2016 South Korean drama Dokkaebi, literally Guardian: The Lonely and Great God
THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The tale of Eden is a form of Monomyth¹ ― a universal pattern underlying all heroes’ journeys. According to Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces² (which helped inspire George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy), the monomyth consists of protagonists “venturing forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Campbell and other scholars describe narratives such as those of Gautama Buddha, Moses, and Jesus Christ in monomythic terms, a lens of comparative analysis forged by Carl Jung’s work on Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious³ (aka collective psychological schemas common to all human beings). Adam, of course, is the Hero of his own Journey, the Journey of all Mankind⁴.
Monomyths are allegories replete with symbolic vessels of forms and constructs (God, Adam, Eve, the Snake, the Apple) that allow us to pour into them the raw material of our lived experiences, hopes, and dreams to gather insight into the nature of living as a human being. In this saga of Paradise Lost, Adam is kicked out of the Garden when he takes a bite of an apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What does this Tree symbolize, in concrete terms? Well, our clue lies in the Father of Mankind’s reaction upon biting the Apple ― he instantly becomes ashamed of his nakedness and reaches for some fig leaves to cover himself. In other words, the Tree itself is Reflection, and its fruit is Self-Reflection.
According to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, this refers to the “Mirror Stage”⁵ of human cognitive development. The Mirror Stage marks the psychological expansion of the Self from a mere experiencing Subject, the one living through Life, into also an Object, apart from ourselves, viewable to others, and yet inextricably linked to us. This occurs anywhere from 6-18 months of age, when toddlers first learn to recognize their image in a reflective surface. Like a primordial bolt of lightning, this act of recognition suddenly breaks through the dark, overhanging storm cloud of our infantile Solipsism ― which psychologically enshrouds us during the first few months of our precarious existence ― and unifies the roiling, multitudinous chaos of our particular urges, seething impulses, and violent moods and tantrums into a coherent, generalized, totalized body: an Objectified Self.
This Objectified Self exists outside your fragmentary, Experiencing Self, and represents the earliest form of a Psychological Goal in the World: Coherence or Meaning. In psychology, we call this your “Ideal” or “Ought” Self ― the Freudian Superego⁶ ― and it will remain forever with you as an archetype embedded deep in your psyche, that prelapsarian recognition (and misrecognition, since the “Man in the Mirror” is not you) of yourself as you could be in the reflective Surfaces of the World. It is the Better Angel of your Nature: your Conscience.
Of course, like the angel Lucifer, your Conscience can be corrupted. Your Ideal Self is the concept of yourself as a Whole, and your entire brain is wired to defend its cohesive integrity. However, because it was initially formed through contact with Others (recall that it is your confrontation with the World outside your Mind ― your reflection in the water ― that first forms your Ideal Self), it comes bearing earthly meanings that are often at war with the holy reverence we have towards ourselves: our Narcissism, the Egotistical flower of our Ideal Self. The Mind continuously uses a whole host of internal defense mechanisms⁷ in order to reconcile this battle, most famously Repression (of facts that threaten our Ideal Self, including our own existence), but also Identification (incorporating brute facts into a coherent vision of our Whole Self), and Rationalization (providing justifications for our actions, thoughts, and belief systems). This battle, this struggle, crisis, war, dialectic, contest, or as the Greeks called it, agon, between Ourselves, The World, and our Reflected Self in the Mirror is the foundation of the Human Condition. It is what is known as the deep structure⁸ of all monomyths ― the process, or praxis, by which Men and Women are transformed into Heroes.
When the conflict between the World and our Self in the Mirror takes a dark turn, it creates a Black Mirror, an amalgam of everything with which you refuse to identify in the World, which includes your own thoughts, behaviors, actions, and physical characteristics of which you are ashamed. This Black Mirror is known as Delusion, an Idealized Negative that torments those who live inauthentic lives, in contrast to the Idealized Positive of your Superego, which forever seeks to be realized and embodied by your actual, Experiencing self. Carl Jung referred to this grim looking glass as our Shadow. If the disconnect between our Experiencing Selves and our Ideal Selves grows too large, and too much of our real, everyday self gets swallowed up in the abyssal Shadow (i.e., we refuse to recognize and justify our thoughts and behavior in everyday life), we begin to live delusional lives. This is the foundation of all true Human Mental Illness ― Existential Angst ― which is distinct from chemical imbalances or hormonal disorders.
Beware the Poisoned Fruit of the Tree: Narcissism
How can we break free of this claustrophobic mental prison and the baleful gaze of the Shadow, and live our lives freely, confidently, and exuberantly, basking in the sunlight? In order to confront the World, Asian America must first learn to confront its Dark Self, the parts of itself that have been buried, hidden, occluded, mystified, and torn asunder or obliterated in order to conform to the Procrustean bed of the Model Minority image. And since the Idealized Self, Light or Dark, is formed in reaction to the World, it must also hold a mirror up to the Time and Society in which we all find ourselves: the Western Police State, which has given birth in the American Imaginary to the ghastly apparitions of the dangerous, dwarfish, subversive, rapacious Yellow Peril, as well as the mindless, tireless, toiling, uncreative insect fit only for sordid, subservient, or subhuman tasks, whether they be physical, mental, or sexual.
Only by undertaking the Hero’s Journey ourselves ― the Eternal Journey of Self-Discovery and Self-Recognition throughout Time ― will we be able to cut ourselves free of the thicket of gruesome illusions and entangled delusions that threatens to suffocate and stifle all of us, and choke our community into non-existence like parasitic, life-devouring, crawling kudzu. In order to live forwards, we must, as the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said, understand backwards.
ASIAN AMERICA AND THE POLICE STATE
“Unity and self-sacrifice, of themselves, even when fostered by the most noble means, produce a facility for hating. Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on Earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind. Thus, hatred is not only a means of unification, but also its product. Renan says that we have never, since the world began, heard of a merciful nation.”
― Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
In the epilogue of her book, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of Model Minority⁹, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Asian Studies program at Indiana University Ellen Wu makes the following observation:
“60 Minutes foretold the lopsided battle between model minority and anti-model minority discourse that has persisted since the late 1960s. Structural changes in U.S. law and global capital have driven the viral reproduction of the Asian American success story, since expanded to encompass recent immigrant and refugee populations. The most significant has been the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act.
The Immigration Act… enacted a preference system favoring the admission of white-collar workers, scientists, and artists of “exceptional ability” to encourage the nation’s evolution from a manufacturing- to a knowledge- and service-based economy. Additional stipulations allowed for the entrance of business investors. Educated Asian professionals and entrepreneurs of means took advantage of these reforms in unanticipated numbers. Admittees, in turn, applied for the entry of their immediate relatives, thereby establishing a “chain migration” of Asians equipped with the educational and financial capital to enter straightaway the ranks of American middle class. All told, the post-1965 Asian “brain drain”/US “brain gain” has led to a marked shift in the socioeconomic composition of Asian American communities, tilting away from their historical roots in agriculture and labor.
Today’s perception of Asian Americans as highly educated and affluent can be traced directly to these selective immigration policies. As during the ages of the Asiatic Exclusion and racial liberalism, the State remains a pre-eminent force in the racialization of Asian Americans.”
What is the nature of the Western State, which has had such a decisive hand in the composition and character of our community here in America?
In the 1500s in Europe, the first seeds of the idea of an autonomous State were stirring, as scholars began to investigate the rationale for the State’s existence. Previously, States were embodied in the personages of Kings and Queens, usually on a religious legitimating basis (“Dei Gratia”). In this vision, the State was a manifestation of the Divine Right of the Monarch, and the Body Politic was simply an extension of his or her own corporeal body. This was known as “pastoral” power, the power of a Shepherd over his Flock. Michel Foucault also referred to this as “biopower”, which designates forms of power exercised over people specifically in so far as they are thought of as living beings: “a politics concerned with subjects as members of a population, in which issues of individual sexual and reproductive conduct interconnect with issues of national policy and power.” Foucault expands on this concept later, correctly defining power as “actions on others’ actions” ― that is, power presupposes the individual autonomy of those it rules over. Without Subjects to rule over, there is no State.
The Thirty Years’ War¹⁰ that took place from 1618-1648 across Europe, radically metamorphosed the provenance of governance from the Divine Right of Kings¹¹ to the perpetuity of the Western State itself¹². One of the most destructive conflicts in human history, this conflagration of religious sectarian terrorism and White-on-White violence consumed 8 million lives, in a world that was only populated by 500 million human beings, and forever rearranged the European power structure. White nations declared the Peace of Westphalia in 1648¹³, which laid the legal foundations of the modern sovereign nation-state by establishing fixed territorial boundaries (borders) for European countries and the absolute right of each individual nation to handle their own domestic affairs within their borders, free of foreign influence and domination. The absurd and cruel irony of this is that what White nations granted towards each other ― Mutual Respect and Autonomy ― did not extend to the 85% of the World¹⁴ that they were relentlessly ravaging, devastating, exploiting, and colonizing at the same time until the nationalist independence movements of the Third World and Mao’s China forced the collective right to self-determination and the establishment of non-White borders into the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 20th century¹⁵. From the beginning, the notion of White Supremacy was immanent in the conception of the Western Nation-State.
The Westphalian Treaty also altered the relationship of Subjects to their Rulers in Europe, and later by extension, America. Previously torn between political and religious allegiances, the inhabitants of a given European State were now told that they were subject first and foremost to the laws and edicts of their respective state authority, not to the claims of any other entity, religious or secular. Suddenly, the government was no longer a religious leader or an absolutist tyrant but a figure-less abstract ― a non-entity entity, whose sole purpose was to secure its continued existence for all of time. In order to do this, it would have to come up with a new technological apparatus, methods of observing, monitoring, shaping, and controlling the behavior of individuals to forestall and prevent possible rebellion and secession, leading to the creation of the modern Western Police, or Surveillance, State. Of course, America is the largest modern Police State today, and it is no accident that it calls itself the World Police¹⁶.
This ambition of the newfound Nation-State, aka Police State, to maintain its structural form forever while leaving room for adaptation and evolving content relied on three dimensions of National Security:
1) securing its citizenry and forcing compliance;
2) securing resources from that citizenry to maintain operations; and
3) securing the social welfare of its citizens so they can contribute more resources to the State, strengthening its hold and position of supreme authority within its borders, and its competitiveness with other nations abroad.
To this end, whole sets of economic indices and tables were created ― the modern variants of which we can see embodied in the forms of the U.S. Census, Gross Domestic Product, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The idea of a “Statesman”, or Technocrat, also emerged: a personage involved in government operations, either as a civil servant or elected politician, whose duty and aim is to “tune” and attenuate both civil society and the machinery of government to best secure the perpetuation of the State across the three axes of National Security.
Unfortunately, the dreams of the Technocrats were dashed as society rapidly evolved from absolutist religious-monarchal States to rule by the bourgeoisie with the overthrow and weakening of monarchies, leading to the liberalization of the Nation-State throughout the 1700s, which was especially pronounced in Britain. The entrance of Homo Economicus, the self-interested man, threw the whole idea of the Social Contract into disorder. Looking at the vast, unruly, and teeming universe of self-interests that make up civil society, how can we ever reconcile particular interests with securing E Pluribus Unum, the perpetuity of the Nation-State (aka, the current form of government)? No index or measurement can be so precise as to accurately capture in detail and anticipate the whole infinite range of human behaviors across the rapidly expanding human population, which exploded in 1760 with the Industrial Age.
Of course, the liberal European bourgeoisie had an answer. In 1776, the same year America declared its independence as a nation on July 4th, Adam Smith published his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations¹⁷. In his book, Adam Smith expounds on his conception of “laissez-faire”, which Foucault characterizes as the following:
“The setting in place of mechanisms of security… mechanisms or modes of state intervention” ― regulations ― “whose function is to assure the security of those natural phenomena, economic processes and the intrinsic processes of population: that is what becomes the basic objective of government rationality.”
Adam Smith referred to these “intrinsic processes” that arise out of well-regulated spaces and spheres of human activity as the “Invisible Hand” ― an emergent phenomenon bubbling up from the complex interplay of relationships and feedback loops between market actors that creates spontaneous order (in this way, his conception of the “Invisible Hand” was an early precursor to the science of Complexity). In this liberal bourgeois conception of the Nation-State, the State’s purpose is to secure the grounds of these market forces through the passage and enforcement of certain laws, while commercial and civil society itself ― rather than the government ― maintains order and discipline among the autonomous and self-interested subjects of the nation. It was through the idea of laissez-faire that the Problematic of Mass Administration and Social Policing ― aka National Security ― was to be resolved. The Market itself would also police civil society, using methods of punishment and coercion that Gramsci calls “Hegemony”, while the State would police all those things and people that disrupt or threaten the Market. The Western liberal nation-state was born.
The concept of Hegemony demarcated an ever-shifting and transitional boundary for citizens between Public Domain (Duty) and Private Domain (Liberty). Of course, the question is, who benefits from this transfer of control and autonomy from the dominion of the State (the government) to Civil and Commercial (Private) Society? Modern history tells us the answer. As 20th century French sociologist Jacques Donzelot cites in a draft law on factory regulations:
“Since it would be a vain ambition to attempt to provide for all the details of production through regulations issuing from the public power… in view of the varied nature of industrial occupations, the best expedient is to authorize those in charge of the conduct of labor to regulate everything that relates to it.”
In other words, the Outsourcing of National Security similarly coincided with the Privatization of it, forming the ground of the eternal competition between economic classes. Who should be in charge of the conduct of labor? On one hand, you have the bourgeoisie (the capitalists), whom the ruling order and the heads of Nation-States often used to solve administration problems, as Napoleon supposedly did with an 1819 edict that conceded national mineral rights to private enterprise, conditional on the obligation of the entrepreneur to ensure “good order and security” among the masses of men, women, and children needed for their exploitation. As Francois Ewald, the French historian and philosopher states:
“A mining company was as much an enterprise of pacification, even of regional colonization, as a commercial undertaking… These spaces of private enterprise are, from the standpoint of common law, strictly speaking illegal. The law, nevertheless, allows them, so long as they properly fulfill their task of order and security; they do not lie outside the sphere of public order just because, on the contrary, they maintain that order by producing docile individuals.”
On the other hand, you have masses of the poor, landless, working classes and the subjugated women and racial minorities of America and Europe: the most dangerous threat to the Regional Colonizers that are Private Enterprise, and their strict, ruthless, Tayloristic¹⁸ regulation of social and workplace behavior (the terms “Normal” and “Abnormal” were invented in the 1800s to create a distinction between docile, “normal” individuals, and disruptive, “abnormal” ones who threaten the liberal economic order). Their collective struggle for autonomy and control over the modes of production, the economic structures and institutions in which they labor and are exploited, is the age-old struggle of Socialists for their independence from the regional sway of Capital, which is underwritten by the State government. The Western liberal nation-state provides the two-front theater for this Eternal Conflict, which Marx saw as the transitory stage to socialism, and eventually communism. The science and study of these debates over which domains of human activity should be Public versus Private (aka Socio-Politics) and who should rule the Private domain (aka Class Struggle) is what is known as socio-historical materialism, the idea that historical and political events arise out of these continual conflicts.
As Ellen Wu said, the State has had a strong hand in shaping the Asian American community from its inception, not only through the passage of exclusionary laws and regulations, but also by its non-passage of laws and regulations to prevent harm or redress injuries and grievances. It is the unique characteristic of Western liberal nation-states that, due to the bifurcation of National Security between the State government and the Market, national attitudes cannot be characterized merely by formal laws, but must also take into account unregulated Public Opinion, especially of those Private domain actors that wield the greatest influence. And what has the Public Opinion been towards Asian Americans, particularly Asian American men?
Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur
[Edited by J]
- The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung (1968)
- The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority by Ellen D. Wu (2014)
- The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality edited by Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (1991)
- The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn (2010)
- The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)