Superman Is An Asian American Man – Part 2

Part 2 of 2 (15 min read time)

Personal Essay by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]

TRUTH

“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?


JUSTICE

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

— Matthew 5:6.

gifcapuchin
Fuck your cucumber. Give me grapes!


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

americanway.jpeg
National Association of Manufacturers billboard, Dubuque, Iowa, 1940. (John Vachon/Library of Congress)

“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 20
th 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?

kenforsuperman.png
Bizzare.

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.

(Part 1)


Endnotes:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow
  2. https://public.wsu.edu/~taflinge/biology.html
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory
  4. http://strangebeautiful.com/other-texts/kant-first-critique-cambridge.pdf
  5. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+4%3A1-11&version=NIV
  6. http://bonevac.info/303/Sartre.pdf
  7. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/this-article-wont-change-your-mind/519093/
  8. https://www.simplypsychology.org/asch-conformity.html
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2827453/
  10. http://learning-hangeul.tumblr.com/post/22486917204/common-korean-drama-phrases-lets-go-가자-ga-ja
  11. http://www.nature.com/articles/nature01963
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis
  13. https://www.csus.edu/indiv/c/chalmersk/econ184sp09/johnrawls.pdf
  14. http://www.intelligenceispower.com/Important%20E-mails%20Sent%20attachments/Social%20Justice%20in%20the%20Age%20of%20Identity%20Politics.pdf
  15. http://web.mit.edu/curhan/www/docs/Articles/15341_Readings/Negotiation_and_Conflict_Management/Thompson_Loewenstein_1992_Egocentric_interpretations_of_fairness.pdf
  16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Anti-Imperialist_League
  17. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25119121?seq=13#metadata_info_tab_contents
  18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herrenvolk_democracy
  19. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press 2005
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Bill_of_Rights
  21. https://twitter.com/kixes/status/1031847321682632704
  22. https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1164&context=tma
  23. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/02/the-artistic-history-of-american-anti-asian-racism/283962/
  24. https://www.nytimes.com/1964/02/02/archives/fbi-chief-warns-of-red-china-spies.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=55BA47E03F00482773D48C53406B13F0&gwt=pay
  25. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/08/08/trump-executive-dinner-bedminster-china-766609
  26. https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93457
  27. https://theintercept.com/2015/07/20/chattanooga-wesley-clark-calls-internment-camps-disloyal-americans/
  28. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/america-first-ku-klux-klan-slogan/
  29. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/acra-rejects-company-application-from-thum-ping-tjin-kirsten-han-says-it-has-foreign
  30. http://winterdrake.com/bad-comic-panels-7-im-the-goddamn-batman/

Superman Is An Asian American Man – Part 1

Part 1 of 2 (14 min read time)

Personal Essay by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]

asiansuperman

“Jeff Yang used to talk about how Superman is an Asian American: He has black hair, he wears glasses, he has two different names — an American name, Clark Kent, and a foreign name, Kal-El, with a hyphen in it.  His parents are non-English-speaking and sent him to America to have a better life.”

— Gene Luen Yang, author of New Super-Man


What does it mean to be a man?

There is an emerging scholastic field in the social sciences around something known as “masculinities studies” — the academic pursuit of what it means to be male in today’s world.  It’s a fascinating arena, particularly for an Asian American man struggling with emasculation. In 2015, the New York Times published an article under their Learning Network section literally asking the question: “What does it mean to be a ‘Real Man’?”¹

Reading the answers is illuminating.  The instructor begins by asking the following prompt: “Let’s say it was said at your funeral, ‘He was a good man’.  What does that mean to you?”

What follows is largely normative, not biological.  “Caring.” “Honest.” “Putting other’s needs before yours.”

He then asks, “Now, tell me what it means to be a REAL man?”

Again, normative.  “Take charge.” “Authoritative.”  “Take risks.” “It means suppressing any kind of weakness.”  “Never cry.”

What’s interesting is that the traits offered up are all behavioral.  That means, for all the students that were participating in this thought experiment, a “man” is not simply something that “is”, but also something that “does”.  In other words, a man also ACTS. His behaviors are part of, and in fact, the essence of, what defines him as “manly”. Being a man is not simply an ontological description.  It is more than anatomical differences. Testes, phallus, larger physical size, testosterone and other assorted hormones and chemicals, facial hair, consciousness, moral reason, and atoms are all relevant components, but insufficient.  Being a man is normative: how should a man behave in order to be a man?


I HAVE NO ASIAN MALE ROLE MODELS

“In Confucianism, life is war.”

— Frank Chin


Test-taking.  Hyper-competition with other Asians.  Off-the-charts materialism and desire for luxury brands.  Gold-digging. Prostitution. Plastic surgery to look white.  Ultra-conservative attitudes towards sex and dating. Tiger parenting.  Patriarchy. Shallow nationalism.

amy chua
The Tiger Mom herself, Amy Chua (Penguin Press)

These traits are often essentialized as “Asian cultural upbringing”, or more hilariously, with “Confucianism” by Orientalist racists and traitorous war brides like Amy Chua².  This explanation literally defies all modern history, facts, and actual definitions of Confucianism, which is why white supremacists and their Yellow lapdogs find it a convenient and profitable lie to peddle.  In fact, all the characteristics described above are actually a direct result of white American values being forced down our throats at gunpoint by white supremacists and the World Bank/IMF (as are “English teachers” and white male English-speaking journalists known as “sexpats”³).  Modern “Asian culture” is actually a white Anglo-Saxon export.

This is best illustrated by an article in Volume 2 of Language in Society written in 2013 called “Neoliberalism as Language Policy”.  It is an interesting case study of the modern-day Anglo-centric culture and values of South Korea, and how they emerged as a result of social and economic restructuring by the IMF.  As Jinhyun Cho and Ingrid Piller show us in their article, and as I showed in my previous historiography of the 20th century, South Korean culture today is not a natural development of indigenous character, but rather an outgrowth of white American imperialism, their brutally repressive and authoritarian right-wing client regimes which were characterized by military chauvinism and male supremacy, and neo-colonization by the IMF in the wake of the global Asian financial crisis in 1997.  Rather than being falsely labeled “Confucian” or “Asian culture”, therefore, it should more accurately be called “Western capitalist culture with South Korean characteristics.”


TOXIC MASCULINITY IS A WHITE AMERICAN EXPORT

“For more than 600 years Buddhists and Muslims lived side by side in Ladakh with no recorded instance of group conflict. They helped one another at harvest time, attended one another’s religious festivals, and sometimes intermarried. But over a period of about 15 years, tensions between Buddhists and Muslims escalated rapidly, and by 1989 they were bombing each other’s homes. One mild-mannered Buddhist grandmother, who a decade earlier had been drinking tea and laughing with her Muslim neighbor, told me, “We have to kill all the Muslims or they will finish us off.”

— Helena Norberg-Hodge, How Globalization Fuels Terrorism and Fundamentalism


The day the IMF agreement was signed, November 21, 1997, is known as guk-chil-il “National Humiliation Day” in South Korea.  This is an intentional echo of the
other “National Humiliation Day”, August 2, 1910, when Korea was colonized by Japan.

For decades, South Korea had been ruled over by extremely right-wing, chauvinist, military dictators backed by the U.S.  Modern South Korean culture — with trace elements of xenophobia, repressive and paternalistic attitudes, and overall conservative tenor — is largely a combination of U.S. meddling that killed all leftists in South Korea⁵, as well as the tenure of Park Chung Hee’s regime during the 70s.  This also helped chaebols like Samsung and Hyundai, who paid the military dictator in bribes and loyalty, create the eventual economic domination of the Korean people.  State repression, purges, sex slavery, and an economy run on Korean hair were the result of American “salvation”, which led to desperation and impoverishment.  South Korea’s living standards, the result of a series of actions taken by the imperialist U.S. dating back to USMGIK, lagged behind that of North Korea until the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s.

By the time of National Humiliation Day in 1997, when the U.S. blocked South Korea from obtaining assistance and loans from Japan and forced the intervention of the IMF, neoliberalism had been in full flight for over a decade.  Chaebols, massive Korean super-corporations, had monopolized all economic development under Chun Doo Hwan since 1980, leading to widening income inequality in collaboration with the Anglo-American Order and U.S. banks.⁹

While the IMF forced the chaebols to share the fruits of the newly burgeoning South Korean economy in the wake of the crisis with white multinationals, it also allowed them — in collaboration with national conservative politicians — to cut public spending per the usual neoliberal policy program.  This led to greater economic precarity, as well as indentured servitude of the Korean people to the super-corporations, leading to widespread social upheaval and civil unrest. Mass layoffs at Daewoo Auto, made in order to break apart its labor union as part of its preparation for sale to General Motors, led to a large-scale protest and riot in 2001¹⁰, which was met with police terror.  A full-fledged popular struggle by organized Korean labor to stop the privatization of public corporations began a year later.  Had these protests not occurred, nearly all public corporations in South Korea would have been privatized.

protestshoe.jpg
Protestor hurling the shoe of an anti-riot cop during the anti-FTA mobilization in Seoul on 11 November 2007, part of the revolt against neoliberal globalization. (Photo: Ahn Young-joon, AP)

Beyond skyrocketing suicide rates, the IMF’s intervention had another socio-economic-cultural side effect.  Its actions during the Asian financial crisis were the catalyst for a set of social transformations spearheaded by their collaborators at Chojoongdong¹¹ — the dominant, ultra-conservative, pro-neoliberalism (“modernization”), pro-U.S. media troika that owns 75% of market share in South Korea — that led to academic restructuring and the imposition of “competitiveness” as a core value.  This directly resulted in the grueling grind that is 24/7 “Asian” test-taking culture¹².  This “competitiveness”, which was also championed by the government and universities looking to make a name for themselves in the Anglo-American ecosystem, led to the adoption of a host of testing, assessment, and ranking mechanisms, all of which explicitly privileged English.

The result of this neoliberalization, aka “Americanization”, of South Korea was rampant social suffering, stemming from an insanely heightened state of competition where livelihoods, security, development, and well-being are constantly at stake from birth.  The unemployment rate tripled and the middle class fell by more than a third from 1996 to 1999. The income gap between the richest and poorest 10% of South Koreans became larger than in any other OECD country, and South Korea is now an even more economically polarized society than the U.S. itself.  Killing oneself became a form of protest. As Naomi Klein sums up: “When 24 million people [in all the Asian crisis states combined] lose their jobs in a span of two years, a new desperation takes root that no culture can easily absorb.”¹³   South Korean culture was transformed into a grossly hyper-materialistic vortex swirling with consumerist obsession in the cities, famously parodied by K-pop singer Psy’s satirical Gangnam Style¹⁴.  Hello, hyper-competition and hypergamy!  Hello, Doenjang Woman¹⁵!

Meanwhile, as the looting and the burning of the countryside was taking place, a new wave of “yeongeo yeolpung” (English fever) was sweeping the nation.  Thanks to the adoption of English-promoting criteria in its national university rankings by Chojoongdong (including ridiculous standards such as “internationalization”, meaning white students), English fever — the foundation of white worship — infected all educational levels of South Korean society.  Parents began to enroll their children in English-only preschools. A huge shadow market for English emerged, catering to all levels of proficiency, which inevitably began to attract the seediest, most predatory Losers Back Home and Charisma Men from Five Eyes countries. Study abroad trips in Anglo majority countries became highly popular.  The explosion of Anglo-philia as a result of the desire to be “competitive” in the White Man’s World cannot be understated. As of 2009, the private market for English language teaching accounted for 40% of the public education budget in South Korea.

What is the consequence of all this white worship in media and language as the country is cracked open and devoured by the economic ecosystem backed by military imperialism that is the white supremacist Bretton Woods Agreement?  The situation in India described by Helena Norberg-Hodge provides us with a stark example¹⁶:

“In part, the Ladakhis’ confidence and sense of having enough emanated from a deep sense of community: people knew they could depend on one another.  But in 1975—the year Tsewang showed me his village—the Indian government decided to open up the region to the process of development, and life began to change rapidly.  Within a few years the Ladakhis were exposed to television, Western movies, advertising, and a seasonal flood of foreign tourists. Subsidized food and consumer goods—from Michael Jackson CDs and plastic toys to Rambo videos and pornography—poured in on the new roads that development brought.  Ladakh’s local economy was being swallowed up by the global economy, and its traditional culture displaced by the consumer monoculture.

The undermining of cultural self-worth is an implicit goal of many marketers, who promote their own brands by imparting a sense of shame about local products. An American advertising executive in Beijing admitted that the message being drummed into Third World populations today is “Imported equals good, local equals crap.”

But it is not just local products that are denigrated by advertising and media images; it is local people as well.  In Ladakh and around the world, the one-dimensional media stereotypes are almost invariably based on an urban, blonde, blue-eyed Western consumer model.  If you are a farmer or are dark-skinned, you are supposed to feel backward and inferior.  Thus, advertisements in Thailand and South America urge people to “correct” their dark eye color with blue contact lenses: “Have the color of eyes you wish you were born with!”

For the same reason, many dark-skinned women throughout the world use dangerous chemicals to lighten their skin and hair, and some Asian women have operations to make their eyes look more Western.  These are profound acts of capitulation to a global social and economic order that offers material and social rewards to those who come closest to the West’s commodified standards of beauty.

My father told me recently that young South Koreans in this day and age struggle with an identity crisis.  They do not know how to respond to the profoundly crushing impact of neo-colonization and “globalization” by the IMF and the Anglo-American Order, supported by their financial institutions and banking systems (and spies and armies).  Girls in South Korea dye their hair blonde in record numbers, and young South Korean boys celebrate marriages to a white “foreigner” in the comments section of popular tabloids. My people have been broken. They are all Twinkies and Bananas¹⁷ — fruits and desserts for White Men.

If I can’t look up to the White Man that oppresses me, nor the Yellow Man in my home country, who is a caricature of the White Man, who can I look towards?  In the absence of reality, I, like any real American, can only look towards comic books.


WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A BATMAN?

“I am vengeance.”

— Batman, The Animated Series


“Superman is an immigrant.”

— John Cho


In the annals of American popular culture, none loom so large as superheroes.  The past decade has seen an influx of superhero films based on comic books. These are no small affairs; today’s highest-grossing films are primarily superhero movies.  They are all major global blockbusters and summer tentpoles featuring some of the highest-paid actors in the world. Ironically, this fascination with superheroes in American mythology actually stems from economic depression.
¹⁸

While there is much to be said for the cutting-edge special effects and jaw-dropping action that underpin these movies, their primary appeal to Americans is escapism from economic catastrophe.  The modern rise of superhero films at the box office is a direct result of the financial crisis of 2008. While popular superhero movie franchises existed prior to the crash, such as Sony’s “Spider-Man” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, it wasn’t until people lost their jobs and homes that superhero films truly took flight.

It is easy to see the appeal, of course.  In times of tragedy and darkness, people want to escape to a different world: one where the hero always triumphs, and justice, not a golden parachute, is served to evildoers.  Blockbuster epics with tragic endings like “Braveheart” and “Gladiator” fell out of fashion, as nobody wanted to psychologically suffer in addition to their economic and physical suffering.  As their mortgages plunged underwater like Aquaman, the American public lost themselves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC equivalent, alongside a host of TV shows and Netflix series featuring dashing crime-fighters in spandex.  American superheroes exist in pop culture to psychologically save the American public from privation in real life.

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Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Interestingly enough, economic devastation was also the source of the two most towering figures in superhero canon who became dueling icons of ideal American masculinity: Batman and Superman.  Both were created in post-Depression America in the 1930s¹⁹, and offered two distinct interpretations of American culture and the nature of crime in the wake of the Great Depression.  Superman epitomized the immigrant minority experience and the idealism of justice and American democracy, while Batman focused on the realities of urban crime, inequality, and political corruption, along with their attendant social and mental illnesses.

Consider the classes of criminals each superhero ends up fighting.  Although Metropolis and Gotham City have certain types of criminals in common, like gangsters, thugs, hoodlums, and organized crime, it is their differences that truly paint the insider/outsider dichotomy between Batman and Superman.  

Like their superhero, the threats to the citizens of Metropolis come from somewhere else, foreign to either the city or the planet.  The criminals that Superman fights are outsiders who threaten the peace and social order in Metropolis. He often encounters anti-Americans that threaten democracy and the “American way”.  Superman, an outsider and alien himself, exists to protect America from threats like himself (although he will also occasionally deliver justice to domestic threats like the KKK²⁰).  Yet in his day-to-day life, he pretends to be meek, wears glasses, and adopts an inoffensive demeanor in order not to startle the xenophobic and racist natives of his adopted country.  Sound familiar?²¹

In contrast, Batman is an insider — a privileged, wealthy, and white playboy scion of Gotham City.  He is the epitome of Wall Street masculinity: slicked out and dressed to the nines, he whips around his city in a Lamborghini Murciélago by day, attending fancy cocktail parties and fundraisers at night with beautiful models draped over his arm.  It’s no mistake that the cinematic version in Christopher Nolan’s series was played by the same actor who highlighted Wall Street sadism and excess best in “American Psycho”.

Batman’s primary opponents are the products of urban corruption and decay.  Many of his recurring foes are corrupt politicians and members of the same wealthy community he belongs to in Gotham that want to “control the world” — all domestic, insider threats.  Others are “freaks” like the Joker who have risen up from the bowels of the city itself, products of a harsh and uncaring, amoral, and materialistic society that abandoned or mistreated them — the threat of domestic revolt by the disenfranchised underclass.

While I have always enjoyed Batman stories and comic books, I must confess I have never been able to relate to him.  But I do relate to his thirst and quest for vengeance. In fact, vengeance is the foundation of cooperation²².  American political scientist and Council on Foreign Relations member Robert Axelrod, who is most famous for his interdisciplinary work on the evolution of cooperation, has demonstrated this in his research.  In a society full of both honest people and cheaters, if cheating is not punished, then cheaters will slowly overtake the honest people until cooperation collapses and that society falls apart. This appears to be common sense.

What’s interesting is that professor Axelrod’s research also reveals that even if people are vengeful in punishing cheaters, cooperation still collapses.  Why? Vengefulness does a great job of diminishing boldness in cheaters. However, it is costly. Once boldness drops, people stop punishing cheaters because they don’t want to take on the burden of enforcement, and vengefulness also drops.  But once vengefulness has fallen, cheaters become emboldened once more, and the rate at which they cheat outstrips the vengeance of the honest people, as it is harder to get an individual to punish someone else due to the cost of enforcement.  This causes cooperation to collapse yet again, and this collapse is stable.

There is one way to enforce a norm: punish those who do not uphold it.  In other words, be vengeful, not only against cheaters, but also against those who refuse to punish the cheaters.  Punish complicity. In essence, you establish a “meta-norm” where one must punish those who fail to punish deviation from the norm.  Ostracization, exile, injury — or in the case of the Roman Army, death for both deserters and witnesses of desertion that did not blow the whistle — leads to the system becoming self-policing, and cooperation in society then becomes stable.  But this can only work in cases where the starting population had sufficiently high levels of vengeance. We must all be like Batman in our own way if we do not want society to collapse from those that would undermine it: the corrupt, the racists, and the cheaters.

As an outsider in America, a Yellow Man, it is impossible for me to ever truly identify with White Man, the ultimate insider.  In his 1974 article, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”²³, philosopher Thomas Nagel beautifully outlines the problem.  No matter how much I might imagine or envision myself as a bat, no matter how many analogies I draw between the physical experiences of the Bat and my own, at the end of the day, I’m only a human and I can never know what it is like for THE BAT to be the Bat.  I can only speculate what it might be like for ME to be a Bat, wear a Bat-cape, drive a Batmobile, and live in a Bat-mansion. But that’s just me wearing a costume. The Bat’s subjective, psychological consciousness will forever remain an impenetrable foreign fortress²⁴ to me, no matter how many of his objective characteristics I share.  In the case of a well-paid, well-connected, and well-laid rich white boy, a Yellow Man in America has little to imagine in common.

On the other hand, identification with Superman, an alien who grew up in the Midwest like me, is automatic.  He is the ultimate power fantasy to the emasculated outsider — the icon of rugged American masculinity — and he’s not from here.  His ideals represent the Platonic Ideal of what it means to be a Man in America, as underwritten by the millions upon millions of his fans in this country who view him and the Hope he represents as cultural icons.  And what are those ideals? It is embodied in his own catchphrase: “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

What is Truth?  What is Justice?  What is the “American Way”?  If being a man is something normative, how should we, as Asian American men, behave in a way to achieve these norms which the black-haired apex of American masculinity himself is meant to embody?

How can we be Superman?

(Part 2)


Endnotes:

  1. https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/09/10/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-real-man/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Hymn_of_the_Tiger_Mother
  3. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/18/sexpat-journalists-are-ruining-asia-coverage/
  4. https://research-management.mq.edu.au/ws/portalfiles/portal/64092559/Publisher+version+%28open+access%29.pdf
  5. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9193/780e8fd2025a14599f13a67871d2c385052a.pdf
  6. https://piie.com/publications/chapters_preview/341/2iie3373.pdf
  7. https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/03/sexual-violence-is-a-trademark-of-imperialism/
  8. https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2012/12/6/1167928/-How-North-Korea-Fell-Behind-South-Korea-Part-1
  9. http://www.eroseffect.com/articles/neoliberalismgwangju.htm
  10. https://www.bilaterals.org/?the-struggle-against-neoliberalism
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chojoongdong
  12. http://theconversation.com/south-korean-education-ranks-high-but-its-the-kids-who-pay-34430
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shock_Doctrine
  14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gangnam_Style
  15. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doenjang_Girl
  16. https://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/globalization-and-terror/
  17. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chloe-kim-asian-american_us_5a8440c8e4b0adbaf3d968a2
  18. https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/the-rise-of-superhero-films/
  19. https://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol10is2/vollum.html
  20. http://mentalfloss.com/article/23157/how-superman-defeated-ku-klux-klan
  21. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/06/01/the_bamboo_ceiling_university_of_toronto_researchers_look_at_why_its_so_hard_to_crack.html
  22. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~axe/Axelrod%20Norms%20APSR%201986%20(2).pdf
  23. https://organizations.utep.edu/portals/1475/nagel_bat.pdf
  24. Herder, Philosophical Writings, Cambridge University Press, 2002

 

The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 5

Part 5 of 5 (12 min read time)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]


ASIAN AMERICA AT THE END OF HISTORY

“After the Duke had taken Romagna and had found it governed by powerless lords who had been more anxious to plunder their subjects than to govern them and had given them reason for disunity rather than unity… he decided that if he wanted to make it peaceful and obedient to the ruler’s law, it would be necessary to give it good government.  Therefore, he put Messer Remirro de Orco, a cruel and able man, in command there and gave him complete authority.  This man, in little time, made the province peaceful and united, and doing this he made for himself a great reputation.

Afterwards, the Duke decided that such great authority was no longer required, for he was afraid that it might become odious; and he set up in the middle of the province a civil court with a very distinguished president, wherein each city had its own counsellor.

And because he realized that the rigorous measures of the past had generated a certain amount of hatred, he wanted to show, in order to purge men’s minds and win them to his side completely, that if any form of cruelty had arisen, it did not originate from him but from the harsh nature of his minister.

Having found the occasion to do this, one morning at Cesena, he had Messer Remirro placed on the piazza in two pieces with a block of wood and a bloody sword beside him.  The ferocity of such a spectacle left those people satisfied and amazed at the same time.”

— Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Continue reading “The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 5”

The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 4

Part 4 of 5 (10 min read time)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]


CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME (CREAM), DOLLAR DOLLAR BILLS Y’ALL

The same year that Pinochet and his Chicago gang were pulling off their miraculous heist in Chile, the world was hit by an oil crisis⁸¹.  Or rather, the imperialist nations were hit by an oil crisis.  In October of 1973, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries slapped an oil embargo on the U.S., UK, Canada (three of the Five Eyes), the Netherlands (colonizers), Portugal (slavers), Rhodesia and South Africa (colonies), and Japan (wannabes).  This was punishment for their involvement in the Yom Kippur War⁸² and their backing of Israel against a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria.  The war had been launched in order to recover the territories, including the Gaza Strip and West Bank, that Israel had stolen during the Six-Day War⁸³ in 1967 — the War of Criminal Imperialist Aggression against the Arab Race, backed once again by the imperialist U.S. and UK.  The consequences of our intervention and meddling had profoundly catastrophic repercussions for America domestically. Continue reading “The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 4”

The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 3

Part 3 of 5 (7 min read time)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]

THE END OF THE GOLDEN AGE

In 1973, the CIA helped General Augusto Pinochet violently overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende⁵⁶.  With the IMF, that loan shark pillar of the Anglo-American Order, they piloted a policy program known as “neoliberalism” for the first time⁵⁷.  This was part of a plot that had been germinating for over two decades between the rightist Mont Pelerin Society — home of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Ayn Rand, and white supremacist, anti-government industrialist and Republican puppeteer Charles Koch — and official U.S. military defense outlets like the RAND Institute⁵⁸, as well as their philanthropic front and revolving door for the CIA, the Ford Foundation⁵⁹.  This policy program, as well as the attendant specific terms and conditions for international loans from the IMF and World Bank, would go on to further impoverish and devastate the poor populations of the developed and developing world for almost four decades afterwards, including America herself.  This was done in order to reduce them to vassal tributary states, extract resources from them, peddle them Western goods, and re-enslave the Black, Brown, and Yellow races that had revolted against the domination of the white supremacist colonizers and imperialists.⁶⁰ Continue reading “The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 3”

The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 2

Part 2 of 5 (8 min read time)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]

THEN THEY CAME FOR EVERYONE ELSE…

Immediately following World War 2, our Vietnamese brethren kicked out the French imperialists and their British collaborators in the First Indochina War²¹ (1946-1954), with the aid of Chinese forces sent by Mao.  In 1955, just two years after the end of the Korean War, Eisenhower initiated criminal U.S. involvement in the second Indochina War²², also known as the Vietnam War.  The pretext? “Domino Theory”²³, a white supremacist imperialist fig leaf first constructed by George F. Kennan, who once openly professed to believe in the “extermination of the lower races”²⁴. “Extermination” was right. Continue reading “The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 2”

The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 1

Part 1 of 5 (6 min read time)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]

“What, fundamentally, is colonization?  …The decisive actors here are the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic economies.”

— Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism


MY HISTORY IS WORLD HISTORY

In 1969, a radical woman¹ in New York penned an essay with the title “The Personal is Political”.  A rallying cry of bra burners everywhere, the slogan referred to the fact that under a patriarchal system of domination, there are two spheres: the public sphere and private sphere.  The public sphere is where public affairs take place, where public works are celebrated and recognized, and where one receives public recognition and remuneration in the form of praise, honors, or simply, cold hard cash.  Then there is the private sphere, the domestic sphere, where work goes unrecognized and unpaid, where the subject is treated as a mere object, and where one is systematically dehumanized and devalued. Continue reading “The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 1”

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