Friday, June 27, 2008

Much ado about moo and Tzu

Sometimes the things you like best about people are the same things you hate the most. I am often turned on by a simple, even simple-minded, uneducated girl who is blissfully unaware of things like politics or world events. I think it might be envy. These girls are usually very happy. And it's hard to keep that happiness from rubbing off. Whatever it is I find it really cute and even sexy. I'm NOT the only one.

But then you become more intimate with a girl like this and you find that the innocence you found attractive has become a stumbling block in your relationship. You find that after doing what she's been told her entire life, she is utterly incapable of making a decision for herself and you begin to feel more like her father than her boyfriend. You start noticing her trying to bait you into arguments with the purpose of causing you to physically harm her and leave bruises as evidence to her friends and family that you are "passionate" about her. Then when you don't take the bait she slips into an alcohol fueled depression her friends and family blame you for. You can almost read the dirty looks they give you as meaning, "Just slap her around a bit, you heartless bastard! Then you can buy her an expensive apology gift, have make-up sex and everything will be fine." Or you discover that she is, for example, oh I don't know, huffing window caulking with no concept of the damage she is inflicting upon herself.

As you may have guessed, I'm not just making these examples up. And, yes, there are two sides to the story. I suppose the difference between charming innocence and enfuriating stupidity is the amount of patience in the beholder. But sometimes it's so hard to be patient!

The same can be said on a national scale. Depending on how you measure such things, Korea has the 13th, 11th, 10th or whatever, highest economy in the world. Yet in international trade relations it is still viewed as the charmingly innocent trade partner due to its developing culture. As Korea's international trading partners become more intimate with her, the perception may be edging toward the enfuriatingly stupid. And with billions of dollars involved, patience is an expensive virtue.

I read in the Korea Herald recently that a March OECD, (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), report defined the relationship as follows: "Koreans need to grow their understanding of international economics to relieve deeply instilled xenophobia, and specifically, their negative sentiment against foreign capital."

There's a huge problem with this. The people in Korea who are educated are aware of this situation and I believe they are trying to improve and catch up with the rest of the world. But the vast majority of the people in Korea, local diplomas and degrees notwithstanding, aren't educated. There still remains that blissful ignorance and the general happiness that comes with it. Sometimes cute and charming, sometimes irritating.

The recent mad cow protests where shouts of "No violence!" are followed by fights and vandalism are a seemingly endless source of local and now even international entertainment. Like many issues that put Korea in the international eye, most Koreans don't realize that these news stories don't show Koreans in a positive light. The Korean people's single-mindedness in the face of all that is reasonable is a modern illustration of a very old, Sun Tzu military tactic. Keep the soldiers well trained, (not educated), and they will think and behave in one accord. It is translated as "moral unity" in The Art of War in English. I think this is a misleading translation because a lot of deceit falls into the category of morality.

The Art of War is often used as a basis for economic tactics as well. It is more often than not MISused in this fashion. For example Sun Tzu advocates deception in a situation where a soldier's life would be saved by it. In business, (and I'm only MOSTLY talking about Asian business here), deception is a favourite tactic but it's used to save money or face, not lives. This "moral unity" is something Korean people excel at. Ask any military person who has served with Koreans, they all agree that they make excellent soldiers. Especially officers will agree. For the exact same reason they make excellent consumers. That reason is because they do as they're told.

Military and economic tactics can be very similar. The commanding officers in the military are the CEO's and business owners in business. Here they need to be legitimately, (not locally), educated so that they can make the tough decisions. The rest of the soldiers are the consumers. All they do is follow orders. As Tennyson put it, "(their's) is not to reason why, (their's) is but to do and die." That's from The Charge of the Light Brigade. It's seen as the poetic description of some of the best soldiers ever. And when Forrest Gump's sergeant asked him what his purpose in the U.S. military was he said, "To do whatever you tell me to, Sergeant?" The sergeant replied, "Goddammit, Gump that is the finest answer I've ever heard!"

For a long time Korea's economy has thrived due to this Utopic situation. They have a huge, obedient market that will buy whatever, whenever and how often they are told to. This has made them the economic powerhouse that they are. But for a long time Korea has also been trying to globalize. The only way I see this as being possible is through proper education. But will the leaders of industry in this country be willing to mess with this beautiful situation they have now? It's hard to say. But their window might be closing.

In an atmosphere of insufficient, or improper education, "Hooray for us" and "Boo for everyone else" are virtually identical. There are still those who are truly afraid of getting mad cow disease from American beef but that's just a product of improper education. Many believe the mad cow protests have degenerated into protests against America. Also bad education. Remember, that's what I do here. I'm teaching at a national university where I had to grade students on a curve designed to create bloated marks. Then two days ago I was told my grades were STILL too low so 5% is being added to every student's final score. It's not just the English teachers who are doing this. The way I see it, Koreans should be marching in the streets protesting their abysmal education system. Overhauling their education system in Korea may make Koreans unhappy in their wisdom, but with a better chunk of the global economy, they could sop up their tears with wads of money. It'll be interesting to see what the people choose.

Anyway, when you see stories on CNN about Korean protests and candlelight marches against foreign products, don't blame the citizens. They are just following orders.

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