I love to argue, I guess you could say it is a hobby, but there is a way of doing it and it must follow reasoned position, and most importantly really listening to a different opinion and learning from what is said to refine your own arguments. One should also always be open to changing their opinions if they can be proved wrong. I am used to debates in person, however, which is an entirely different matter than in writing. I am also used to debating with good people and therefore the discussion never get too heated and there is no name throwing or childishness.
In writing it is incredible what people will read into what you have wrote, you have to be crystal clear and even then people will misquote you, smear you, and even blatantly lie in order to give themselves the pleasure of winning an argument.
What was interesting was to experience this myself. This week I have been watching the comments roll in about an article I did on drunken Westerners and their sometimes bad behaviour in South Korea. It spread from one site to many and now it has received hundreds of comments and thousands have read it. Some argree with me, some don't, and there is a surprisingly large amount that do not seem to care about any reasoned argument at all and are hell-bent just on discrediting me with a mind-boggling array of misrepresentations, obvious lies, and it would seem a complete lack of reading of the actual article itself at all.
At first I was keen to read all comments and reply to some, particularly those that were obvious smears. I have since realised that it was a mistake to bother, no amount of logic or common sense is ever going to change these people's minds only fuel the fire.
I had heard of many writers, music artists, and film makers saying that they never read what any of the critics said about them but never understood why, surely this would just rob them of the opportunity to learn more about how to improve their work. I now understand completely.
You see, however thick skinned you are or truly understand how unbelievably stupid some people can be, it is almost impossible not to take comments about your character or personal attacks to heart. To give an example of this, I follow Ben Fogle, a British adventurer and TV presenter on Twitter. Recently his trusted companion for many years, his dog died, he always talked about his love for his dog and posted a RIP saying he was heartbroken. He received kind words from most people but there were a few who sent messages of abuse about his dead dog. These people have FOLLOWED HIM on Twitter and then made fun of the topic of his dog dying. How could that not be upsetting? Unbelievable. These are the sorts of people I have had to deal with this week. (Note: I would exclude any person who made a comment disagreeing with my point and giving a good reason, my attack is directed only towards those who chose to smear my character in order to discredit the article and avoid the true argument).
It has been a real eye-opener for me at just how ridiculous people can be, I think maybe it is time to stop looking at these comments if I want to continue writing. You can visit the comments page for my article on the threewisemonkeys website looking for "Drunk and stupid: How debauched foreigners fuel Korean prejudices" and see for yourself, some of the worst comments were on here.
I found a few comments especially amusing. I had one that described me as a typical foreigner who had lived in Korea too long and saw everything in Korea as pure and clean when compared to the West. I found that statement highly ironic considering how much Korean culture bashing I have done on my blog. It seems that as long as you are criticizing Korean culture you are merely telling the truth in the foreigner community here, but if you have any doubts about Western culture you are somehow a traitor whose opinion is fit for immediate ridicule. I thought it was the Koreans that were supposed to be the xenophobic ones? The paranoia and general reaction that my article received tells me that there is a fair bit of prejudice in our culture too, except ours is lurking around in dark corners hidden under facade of fairness and political correctness.
I was well aware of this fact before the article. Back in the UK, when I walked around with my wife during the day there was no visible prejudice, we seemed to fit in like any normal British couple. Nothing like a few drinks to reveal what some people really think, however, and when we walked around on a Friday or Saturday night it was a very different story. I was regularly shouted at by groups of people for having a 'Thai bride' and had a few comments about watching my wallet insinuating she was with me for my money (again how little these people know about me, my friends will understand this joke). There were also quite a number of 'Ching, Chong, Chang' comments and laughter coming from other morons who thought she was Chinese.
A few special little comments were aimed at suggesting the story of drunkenness I talked about never actually happened, that I dreamed it up out of some internet rumour and even that I had admitted that I didn't know when it took place (it was on on the 12th and 13th of May 2012 by the way). I was invited to it but declined to go, so I knew exactly when it was, I just didn't realise I was under an interrogation at the time, the exact date was not important to the article. In case you would like any other details 219 people were confirmed as going on the Facebook page and probably more did go. That is a hell of a lot of people drinking on a small town beach in Korea, the organisers were asking for trouble and they got it.
An official complaint was made about their behaviour to the Jeollanamdo office of education. The regional coordinator then forwarded what was said (translated obviously) to all of the public school teachers under his charge and was furious about it (note he was obviously not furious at all teachers as every teacher did not go and there were many responsible party-goers of course). There were one or two who apparently denied some of the accusations but the vast majority accepted responsibility and even admitted more bad behaviour than the original complaint. Some were upset with themselves and set up a facebook group with the intention of restoring some faith in the local community. They gave up quickly, however, as I think they were encouraged not to bother and just to let things simmer down a little (see 'Wando Reparations Committee' on facebook).
Maybe some of my critics would like to do some work of the own accord and take a trip to Wando (after all it is a very nice beach and it is summer) with a Korean speaking friend and find out for themselves. But I suspect the only real reason for bringing the story's authenticity up at all is so they don't have to answer or are uncomfortable with the main point of the article. Some also said that the Koreans most probably lied about it, again I find this highly ironic that these are the same people who say the way Koreans look at foreigners with suspicion is only because of xenophobia and has nothing to do with our own doing. People who say such things are guilty of the same prejudice they are accusing Koreans of.
Any regular readers of my blogs can surely see that I don't consider Korean people as blameless innocents in the debate I caused. In the disagreements between any groups of cultures there are always two sides to any story, however, I gave the other side in this debate and the reaction only confirms what I already know that some in our culture have exactly the same prejudices as some Koreans have. Perhaps Korean people's xenophobia is worn more on their sleeves with greater conviction (having an ugly colonisation of your country in quite recent history will do that), but we have it too. Western culture hasn't overcome prejudice and tribalism just yet and our behaviour in our own countries and especially other people's countries could do with some improvement regardless of how other cultures behave. We still have work to do and it is time to start admitting it.