|Me getting prepared to complain about the purpose of modern art, I believe.|
This is why multiculturalism is on shaky ground at the moment in many Western countries, we have the above principle and think the way to live together in perfect harmony is to just forget about all the stuff that people from other cultures do that we really think is awful and chalk it up to differences we can simply laugh-off as unimportant, or at least not as important as keeping them happy. We aren't honest with each other and we keep quiet when we want to say something, and by doing this we simply don't understand each other well enough to live together in harmony or truly respect each other.
I remember Christopher Hitchens once saying he considered himself a divider and not a unifier, but that if someone labeled themselves as a unifier they would get all the applause and all the plaudits. People love a unifier and why not, but unifiers are not always good and sometimes dividers can be underrated. His point was that if some people are evil or merely immoral or they exist in a culture which encourages abhorrent practices and will not listen and never change, he didn't think it was a good idea to live alongside them. The divider works to keep these people away, the unifier wants to bring them in.
So, what am I getting at exactly? As great as unifiers can be they can also have some strange priorities. In the quest for togetherness they can ignore or explain away some pretty horrible stuff. I could use many examples to illustrate this, but seeing as this is a blog about South Korea, let's take the example of complaining in a post from a new blog at sweetpicklesandcorn.wordpress.com.
The message is, stop complaining about Korea. It isn't that bad in Korea (true) and all the bad stuff is the same or at least there are equally bad things going on in our own countries (kinda true). I've gone true and pretty much true here, so what's the problem? I have a few, but I should acknowledge some more nuance to the argument that wasn't really in the original post, but appeared from TheKorean in the comments section. He is dead right that many complaints just aren't learned enough to be useful, the only problem I have with him generally is that he often paints every complaint involving Korea or Korean culture as unjustified and unlearned and every complainer as something akin to a racist or culturalist or just simply dumb. You don't always need to be a Korean, have a degree in Korean politics, or read 100 books about Korea to have a valid complaint while living there. Here are the problems I see with keeping too quiet about the things that upset you.
1. What if we are Discriminating by not Complaining?
Well, I'm a complainer, always have been, but I am an equal opportunities complainer in that I moan just as much when I am at home in England as I do in Korea, just usually about different subjects. And, funnily enough I moan about England more when I'm in England and Korea more when I'm in Korea (conversely, I also talk-up England more when I'm in Korea and Korea more when I'm in England). Why? Because you just don't think about complaining unless something has happened to you recently. Should I stop moaning when I live in another country? Surely this would involve not treating each place equally, not being honest, not considering Korean people my equals or of equal value to Brits, and not being true to myself. Do Korean people never moan about things in their own country? (I know for a fact that they do).
One should perhaps check yourself if you find that you are moaning more than normal or without good reason, however, and this could be a sign of basic culture shock or discrimination in the other direction.
2. The Moral Implications of not Complaining
Whether bad things happen everywhere is largely irrelevant. If people are doing something dangerous, immoral, rude, or out of order, I do feel like one should not be afraid of pointing it out. The unifier makes the mistake of trivialising some really seriously nasty stuff in their bid to make us all just get along and by trying to equal-up the cultures in all regards. In the post I mentioned, there were two classics; bad driving in Korea and the treatment of dogs.
"Bad driving exists everywhere I go and, from my experience, the difference between Korean drivers and the rest of the world is negligible."
This old chestnut. Even if this statement were true (which it isn't), why shouldn't we be upset about bad driving, wherever it occurs? It is no trivial matter, people die from bad driving and according to OECD statistics people die at a 1.7 times higher rate in Korea than average in the OECD on the roads. Yes, there are higher rates in third world countries, but Korea is not a third world country.
The people who will die in the future are potentially my friends, my family, my wife, and possibly even me (and actually we really should also care about those we don't know). So when reckless driving nearly puts me in hospital while I'm riding my bike - even on the pavement - I might be justified in having a little moan, because it happens more here than anywhere else in almost the entire developed world (and even if this were not the case, complaining is still valid if you feel there are safety issues that can be improved and even better if you can suggest how they could be improved). When you are a genuine part of the culture and have real Korean friends and family, who you care about, this kind of thing should move you to at least speak out about it. How would you feel if someone in my family really did die on the roads by reckless driving in Korea? Would you condemn me for complaining then? Until some changes actually occur and something is done about deaths on the roads in Korea, continued complaining is justified.
The treatment of dogs is another one. You are pushing at an open door with me if you say Western countries don't exactly have a sparkling record when it comes to animal welfare and we eat pigs and cows, and in raising them for slaughter, treat them badly too. But does this excuse the cruelty inflicted on dogs every day in Korea?
"I also harbor no bias in my disregard for people that dress up their dogs, dye their fur or carry them around in the streets—regardless of what street they are on, in whatever country it may be, and whether they plan to eat them or not."
I know the writer doesn't like bad driving or the poor treatment of dogs, so why not complain about it? I think he should because we all hate the mistreatment of dogs, but if you are being honest, all of the above in the quote occurs far more often in Korea than in most other countries.
Dogs can't speak, but if they could, I am pretty sure they might disagree with the concept of having their tails dyed pink and their ears luminous green. Also, they might just say that they want to have a walk, have a sniff, and enjoy the outdoors rather than being carried about for fear of getting their paws dirty (bad for dust in the apartment I hear). It is all a failure of care on the owners part and the treatment of the dog as an accessory. Whether I see this - admittedly fairly minor mistreatment - in England or Korea (never seen it in England as it happens), it matters not, it's wrong, period. I will complain about it. So if the writer harbours the same disregard for such behaviour, again, what is wrong with complaining about it?
When it comes to eating dogs, I have some sympathy to the argument that we eat pigs, chickens, and cows, so who are we to comment. However, there are some troubling aspects to dog meat. It is technically illegal in Korea, so it is unregulated and severe cruelty can result, both in the care for the animals and in the slaughter. The practice of beating or strangling the dogs slowly to death is still something that occurs in the daft and sinister belief that it makes the animal taste better or conveys a sexual boost for the person that eats the meat.
So when people say stop complaining about the driving or the treatment of dogs, I have to wonder whether they are just ignorant or simply have a callous disregard for human life or the treatment of other living beings.
3. Complaining Works
A couple of years back, you wouldn't believe how much crap my country of birth put me through to get properly settled in the UK with my wife and what the government and many companies tried to get away with making me pay for. I was constantly moaning at them, and what did I get for it? Money back, stress relief, personal satisfaction, some justice, and an easier life. So I'd say complaining was pretty successful.
Just a couple of months ago, a Korean airline tried to change my flight home to a day later on New Years Eve, so that I'd arrive late in the evening that night - as you can imagine, most inconvenient, as well as knocking a day off my trip back home. They offered nothing in response to this inconvenience, not even an apology, so what did I do? That's right, I had a good complain, twice by phone and twice by e-mail. And where did it get me, you ask? I got a seat on a more expensive date a couple of days earlier, a heartfelt apology from Mr Moon at customer services, and lounge service at Heathrow and Incheon airports.
Complaining gets things done, especially in this day and age, as long as it is done in the right way. Surely, complaining is the first step to change in almost every negative situation. But how does complaining specifically stop Koreans driving badly and treating their dogs cruelly? Shaming people can go a long way*, particularly if you shame a country with a sometimes nationalistic mindset, as well as raising consciousness to issues that some people may know nothing about. And it should work the other way too. When a Korean complains that we are hypocrites for criticising them for eating dogs and treating them cruelly, when we eat pigs for example and treat them poorly too, this should be cause for self-reflection, shame, and change. As an Englishman, the more complaints about the UK from people of other countries, the better, because I'd really like to learn their perspective and I find it interesting. If they are nonsense complaints, I can ignore them or argue against them, but I am sure many can be used to help build a better society or at the very least educate me a little.
4. And Finally...
If my complaining combined with many others, spares some people dying on the roads and a few dogs suffering, I've done something good, but even if it doesn't do anything at least it has made me feel better. I have hurt no one by doing it because if you don't want to hear me complain, don't listen and don't read my negative blog posts, it really is a simple as that. Same goes for any other moaning expat; stay away from them if you don't like it. Why must we all be so damn sensitive to any little thing some expat says on some forum on the internet, on facebook, or drunk in some bar. Feel free to complain about this post though, but please realise that you are not on some higher plane of moral consciousness and that you are doing exactly the same thing you are complaining about.
* One should acknowledge that you have to be careful with 'shaming', this is because it has partly backfired when it comes to dogs. After the 1988 Olympics and the 2002 World Cup, the issue of embarrassment about eating dog lured the government into making dog meat illegal. This would have been great if the laws were enforced, but as they haven't, the effect has been to deregulate the rearing and slaughter of dog meat, making cruel treatment easier to get away with (although I bet it when on before). However, it is still possible the net effect of the feeling of shame has reduced the consumption and therefore the suffering of dogs overall in Korea. There is still a long way to go though.
As I have written before, however, the cruel treatment of the dog for the purpose of food - and generally - in Korea should give us all pause for thought about our own practices in rearing animals for food.