(Discloser: I am not following a strict chronological order with the numbering here). Of course, given all the coverage of protests by those who would likely be considered to have quite extreme views by Korean standards, the question arises if everyone who is engaged in protests share those views and it seems that is not necessarily the case. Along with the Gwanghamun protests I brought up previously, there was also a set of counterprotests and I managed to get into contact with a student who had participated there by the name of Na Geon Woo. He said that he supports the Democratic Party but that doesn’t mean he believes everything they say is perfect. He seemed to be far more of a moderate voice and therefore shared a lot of his views on motivations of those engaged in political activity from further right or left on the political spectrum.
As I’d spent all this time looking into opposing voices, I figured it was only fair to hear out the Democratic Party of Korea. The party currently in government. I had the perfect opportunity to do this through an interview with one of the secretaries to the current parliamentary head of the party, Jo Yo Han. Perhaps given his official status, he seemed somewhat reticent to answer questions fully but I had this opportunity to bounce off of him some of the things I’d been hearing in previous interviews. For example, when it came to relations with North Korea which seemed to be a major issue amongst right wing protestors he said that “I believe that the government is being patient and doing really well although more patience may be needed in the future”.
My second interview with the Korean left came in the form of an interview with a member of the 사회변혁노동자당: Yi Baek Yun (just to throw that in here: romanizations of names are my own as are, once again, all translations). Roughly translated as the social change worker’s party which he described as a party that believes that believes that “this capitalist system cannot be reformed part by part and requires fundamental change which is a very extreme progressive view in Korea”. This was quite interesting as firstly, socialism in Korea is pretty rare but also since he seemed to espouse the most radically left wing views of anyone I’d talked to and it was a chance to look at the social-economic issues the left sees in Korea today as well as to look at the way they express such views such as through labour movements.
My first contact with the Korean left after those protests was in the form of an interview with Gang Han Soo. A member of the now forcibly dissolved Unified Progressive Party. He discussed, among other things, the potential for social democracy in Korea stating for example that “although it’s impossible for everyone to be equal shouldn’t there at least be equality of opportunity or a framework for fair competition”although he also said that from the perspective of youth today it would be better to avoid looking at things from the perspective of ideologies but instead look at them from the perspective of how best to improve society.This interview would be most useful as my exposure to the progressive left in Korea.
My first engagement was at Guanghamun: the gates of the old palace where the Joseon dynasty royal family used to reside. Naturally, they weren’t there to protest a long fallen dynasty but simply because that seems to have become one of the established places to protest in South Korea. Simply being present at the event was perhaps the most insightful part of this all with posters being found saying “death to the traitors” calling (presumably) the governing party the “Satan group” (all of this naturally in Korean. These are just my translations). There were even photos of politicians the protest opposed on the ground for people to stamp on. As far as statements by the protestors themselves went, there seemed to be quite a variety of sentiments. A major component seemed to be fear about communists taking over the South. With one male protestor who looked to be in about his 20s said that if the country turns to the Commuist party there will be no freedom and that a lot of people died in the past. There also seemed to be a heavy Christian sentiment as the protest was led by a pastor and the same protestor just mentioned said that any statement about Rhee Seung Man founding the country based on Christian values is absolutely right. There were other concerns across the protestors however going from about the economy to about national security and not everyone seemed to buy into the hard right wing Christian narrative.
Perhaps the most interesting thing however is the small, police guarded, left wing protest within the midst of the large protest which would be something I’d look into more later
On some level, “commitment” in CAS is somewhat of a misnomer. You are “committed” because you have to be. You have to show up. You have to be there the entire time. That’s kind of how it is. And arguably, that COULD be seen as showing a degree of commitment in the sense that you are showing up every week. It isn’t always easy after all. Or well… that depends on how you define easy. I am sure say a Navy SEAL would laugh in your face if you told them it was difficult to show up for Service on Monday afternoon when you are tired and sleepy and have Math tuition immediately after. In fact, in that context, the very idea of this being remotely challenging seems absurd if not completely nonsensical. Still, arguably there is an element of challenge given how tired everyone is and therefore if commitment is seen as doing something despite the challenge, then there is an element of commitment in showing up to a mandatory service. In fact, in the wider world, commitment happens precisely when things are mandatory or semi mandatory. The construction worker who goes out in the blazing heat to work every day for instance. However, If we want to look at commitment on a level other than going through the motions though that may very well be a different matter. Perhaps commitment here then should be seen not as the act of mere attendance but of participation. To take the example of my kenjutsu lessons. I could of course show up every week and drone through every lesson. It would definitely fulfil CAS commitments. I would still get my diploma. However, the point remains that I remain actually invested in trying to get better. Droning through classes certainly won’t make that happen. And that I suppose is the other way of looking at commitment. Not as perseverance but as motivation. I want to improve my skills with a sword, I want to get better, I want to refine my skills and that’s what drives me to invest myself in classes. And in a way, when attendance is mandatory that may be the better way of viewing commitment. Not whether you show up at all but the degree to which you put yourself into what you show up to. In that sense certainly, it’s possible to show commitment even while knowing that CAS is mandatory.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe, we haven’t been able to engage in any direct service for quite some time now. However, we did spend some time in school using our usual sessions of Service to try and plan activities we would do once the coronavirus restrictions lifted. Perhaps the most interesting part of this was how we were planning for something in a changing situation where we didn’t know when we would be able to actually go back and do our activities. Maybe it was just me, but this seems to be markedly less motivating than when we knew that we would be going to the lodge in a few weeks time. Something less of a sense of purpose I suppose. Furthermore, it was somewhat disconcerting to see how quickly plans got derailed. For example, we had some sort of joint presentation organised with the other Apex Harmony Lodge group on Friday but that got essentially derailed when the school got outright cancelled and we ended up not coming back. And it was quite disconcerting really when you are planning for something and it just doesn’t happen. And yet… that IS how so many things work in the real world. There are many many startup businesses that don’t make it or crowdfunded campaigns that never amount to much after all. Our experience of Service then is more often than not shaped by the school infrastructure so that the vast majority of the time if we plan something it actually does happen. When other factors get involved though it seems that is not always the case.
On a worldwide level, looking at the coronavirus as a global issue it is interesting to see the degree to which it is able to affect issues on a degree of detail we perhaps never even thought about. There’s the obvious examples of course, us not being able to go to service at Apex Harmony Lodge due to the virus for example but even more so, although we weren’t able to go there for project week, it was quite surprising to hear how Blue Dragon did have to suspend many of their rescue operations until after the virus due to tighter border controls and it being harder to bring over people from China. The interesting consideration here though is what might happen if we AREN’T a rare generation. If there’s a virus outbreak every year like this will the world resume doing what the world does at some point? On one hand of course, we would start having to normalise eventually under such a scenario. But at the same time, if the virus is bad enough to close down schools and so on now, it would still be bad enough to close down schools even if there were 10 more such outbreaks in the next 10 years. Ethically speaking that’s quite interesting because if that were to happen, the fatality rate might stay the same but people’s perceptions might change. There are plenty of conditions after all (natural aging for starters) that most of society has come to accept after all due to how prevalent it is. It isn’t quite considered a global emergency that the biggest killer of humans is natural aging because there’s so much of it and if the outbreaks don’t end and we have corona 2, then corona 3, on to corona x… we will likely see a situation in which even though the facts of the situation might remain roughly similar, the response to it could drastically shift. I doubt that society as a whole is ready to adjust their schedule to such a degree that we would have permanent social distancing and online school. At the same time however, in some higher risk cases: elderly homes for instance, we might see drastic changes. Under such a scenario where there’s always a virus it may very well be that some of our service with the elderly may have to permanently end as we would likely be doing more harm than good. In the more generic sense though, it’s interesting to think that the virus isn’t actually so bad that if the situation were to continue indefinitely we would fundamentally change our way of life. Though that being said, the situation we are in with mandated social distancing and all has given free reign to governments around the world to exercise a degree of power that they might not have been able to get away with otherwise… if the virus doesn’t end, it would be too easy to perpetually excuse an expansion of executive power even in so called western democracies and we would likely all be worse off for it.
General (Class) Feedback:
- Mentioning writers
- Genre-specific terms
- Cohesion – a developing line of argument
- Technical terms: Foil
- You maintain an insightful comparative approach here
- Focus on craft: Shamsie characterises Isma as…
- So, maintain focus on writers to ensure your analysing their craft AND technical terms – these will be helpful prompts for your 10
Target: Maintain focus on writer to analyse craft and technical terms