Missing the Point

I’ve had this on my list of bloggables for a while now, but I’m finally in a feisty enough mood to put down Becker’s CPA Review and bang this out.

In an October 27 article in the Korea Herald (naturally not linkable through their site, so that link will take you to Daum’s mirror of it), I was fascinated to find the following quote:

Since 2003, Korea has suffered the dishonor of having the highest suicide rate among OECD countries.

And I thought to myself “that’s the point, isn’t it?”

Now clearly those who commit suicide aren’t trying to dishonor Korea, but is there any doubt that that’s what they’ve done?  How can Korea hold its head up high when its suicide rate is 10 times that of Greece?  It’s embarrassing.

The article sites “social, political and economic instability” as the main reason for suicide-induced dishonor to Korea.  “The Korean government has changed times five times since 1987[!!!!!!]” says thanatology (I kid you not) professor Oh Jin-tak.  The good professor goes on to site rapid economic growth followed by the Asian economic crisis as the real root cause of suicide-induced dishonor to Korea.

The internet is also singled out as one of the root causes of suicide-induced dishonor to Korea.  “Groundless rumors and real time replies to online gossip” are cited as other possible root causes of celebrity suicide-induced dishonor to Korea in particular.

The professor also points out in his book “Suicide [that induces dishonor to Korea], the Most Unfortunate Death” that as teenagers spend more time in computer game environments in which they may be led to “think of death like the reset button on computers” they may confuse the real world with the virtual world, leading to more suicides which, if not properly covered up, may cause further dishonor to Korea.  The article takes for granted the reader’s familiarity with the the waves of reset button/death analogy-based suicides that have rocked every country in the world since the invention of that button by Japanese video game maker Nintendo in the early eighties.

Finally the professor digs deeper in the past for an even deeper, rootier root cause to national dishonor.  “The experience of hunger and poverty during Japanese colonization and the Korean war.”

“Koreans pursue goals such as living a long life, entering first-class schools or companies and marrying a family of good standing,” says Jung.

The problem is that many Koreans choose to give up their lives easily when they fail to achieve these goals.

It is estimated, Oh continues, that nearly 100% of those who fail to achieve the goal of living a long life die.

The article goes on to explain that the lack of a social safety net may lead to more suicides.  Korean counselling techniques, such as repeatedly asking “바보야? 응? 응?” and telling those considering suicide that they look tired have a lower success rate than their practitioners have hoped.

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~ by Joe on November 14, 2008.

4 Responses to “Missing the Point”

  1. This is tangentially related, but I’ve always disliked the idea of parents blaming video games or music for the violent actions of their own children. Why do people ignore the universal data that disproves the claim? Has it not occurred to them (parents, Korea, Japan, etc.) that there could be inner-group problems (family, society, etc.)?

  2. “The experience of hunger and poverty during Japanese colonization and the Korean war.”

    I guess it would be dishonorable to admit that hunger and poverty existed here before the Japanese took over the country.

  3. Bulgasari – But whatever common problems existed before the Japanese annexed the country were exacerbated by a rearranged economy that was wholly dependent on rice exports. When the Great Depression found its influence in Asia, it hit Korea hard with dramatically low rice prices insufficient enough to support whole communities.

    Japanese imperialism essentially destroyed Korean agrarian society, and despite the efforts of a few groups promoting it, agrarianism could not be brought back to life.

    I’m not saying that Japanese intentionally set out to impoverish Korea, but that’s what their decisions did.

  4. I guess it would be dishonorable to admit that hunger and poverty existed here before the Japanese took over the country.

    Let alone, say, hereditary slavery, or the caste system, both of which would have likely consigned most of those worrying about national honor to brief lives of misery.

    Not that I disagree with Alex, but I am leery of drawing a line between the systematic oppression of Japan and the systematic oppression of the Joseon just on the grounds of race. I’m not an expert on the Donghak rebellion but peasant revolts usually have to do with leadership seen by the common folk as oppressive, exploitative, or unwithstandably brutal.

    It’s undeniable that the Japanese reorganized the economy in such a way as to benefit Japan… but at the same time, I wonder how many other systems were imaginable to people in that time and place, Korean and Japanese alike. I could be wrong, but from what I know of Korea, it was basically an agrarian nation with very little recent experience or awareness of trading with outsiders. I’d be very curious to see what other models were pitched around, either by the Japanese colonial government, or by their Korean opponents among the intelligentsia.

    But Korean companies (and the government) are happily deepening dependence on markets that aren’t really going to be sustainable long term, while ignoring all kinds of tech markets that will be booming soon. Heck, they still haven’t figured out how to bash the education system out of the habit of bashing the imagination out of students, and imagination is THE big money-maker in a technocratic world. Which is to say people persist in ways of going about keeping a country afloat long after the light is on the horizon that it’s unsustainable. Long after, without being forced to, and without being forcibly restrained from longer-term alternatives.

    (Back home it’s like this too, by the way. SUVs, anyone?.)

    I’m not defending Japanese colonialism. I’m attacking the notion that it’s the root of everything negative about/in Korea. All I’m saying is that when it comes to impoverishing Koreans, non-Koreans don’t hold a monopoly. When almost half of Koreans were enslaved (deep in the Joseon Era), they were enslaved by fellow Koreans. Most of the historical time they’ve spent under psychopathic rulers, they were Korean rulers.

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