Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I'm trying to integrate disqus comments into my blog. I have yet figured out how to do this well. Please ignore any strange formatting while I learn to use disqus's platform. Thanks for your patience.

dagNotes: On The Perverted Foreigner in Capitalist Culture (Korean Edition)

Gusts of Popular Feelings blogger, Matt, recently posted about a story in the Gyeongin Ilbo newspaper. I quickly commented on his blog. My notes here are a slightly different version of those comments.

Matt keeps a good blog. It's worth visiting. To understand some of my points in this post, you should read his post first.

Matt often posts about the grotesquely anti-foreigner popular press on Gusts. This form of journalism directed towards immigrants and immigrant labor/laborers is similar to much of what you find in Europe and the United States--the article's headline addresses the laborers rather than the institutions and business owners. Considering Matt's analysis of the Gyeongin Ilbo article, it's clear that foreigner teachers are used as a warrant for the claim that reform from business owners is necessary.

I'd like to see a study of journalism that examines the use of foreign labor corrupting local culture as a warrant for calls to increase national security. In addition, the research could illustrate how national security in capitalist culture is equivalent to the well-being of consumers.

As Matt notes, the Korean government is exploring means to improve the standards and practices of hagwon owners. Why does the popular media focus on the employees of hagwons? To some extent, it would make no difference if foreigners were prohibited from teaching at hagwons altogether. The media, I'd predict, would shift its focus from perverted foreign teachers to unqualified and inexperienced Korean teachers. My claim is that the popular media shelters business owners from criticism in spite of the government's acknowledgement that the business owners' practices are, in fact, the problem.

I'm confident the global study of popular journalism I have proposed would find similarities in the culture(s) of readership in spite of different ideological attitudes/directions of nations, governments and markets. The critique of foreign employees, like the critique of Native Speaking English Teachers, is not distinctly Korean, rather a global capitalist construct that elite culture permits and cultivates in bargain with popular discourse to shield its unethical and illegal behavior. The wild stories about perverted foreigners is market derived and nurtured and directly related to what capitalist politicians and theoreticians like to call the liberal social order of the market. It's part of the mess that prevents market action from being transparent. (See Hayek and Mises on market transparency for classical capitalist discussion regarding the opaque nature of the market.)

There's something to profit from the exploitation of immigrants and their labor. Such exploitation permits regulation of the market in useless ways that can satiate the desire for reform from the public discourse, from voters, from consumers, while sheltering the capitalist from the effects of reform. We might want to consider, once again, we're being presented with a strong critique of the usefulness of capitalism itself because this demonization and perversion of the foreigner directly contradicts a keystone claim about the catallactic economic activity in a free capitalist market--that business between strangers creates friends rather than enemies. The business in capitalist markets clearly has trouble creating friends, in spite of trade agreements and opening borders. I'd argue it's best at creating arguments for enforced homogeneous nations that, as they grow more prosperous, grow more authoritarian and xenophobic.

It's not too difficult to understand that the claim all foreigners will become perverts suits a narrative that supports the consumer economy as well as the government that regulates it. What does this mean in Korea? Nobody wants education reform because education reform would require fundamentally altering hagwon culture, which would represent a national cultural transformation, likely a radical alteration.

We see this daily in North America where the right wing resurgence in recent elections in the US and Canada, the movement to the right of liberal politics, as well as the wholesale acceptance without much struggle of neoliberal and American libertarian principles, can be understood as an attempt to maintain a concrete idea of what it means to be American or Canadian. The regression for North America involves the fantasy of white, Christian, masculine identity. In Korea, it's an identification with fantastic Korean identity that, like the American identity, has never actually existed. Consumers want to buy their identification. Studying at hagwons is compulsory for most Koreans. Well, so now is the presence of perverted foreign teachers who want to corrupt the national purity.

As I argued above, this is not a Korean characteristic. It is the result of capitalism.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cornel West & The Neoliberal Response to Race

(cross-posted on dagSeoul's Tumblr)

I just finished listening to Sam Seder's interview with Eddie Glaude, chair of the Center for African-American Studies and the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton University. They spoke specifically about Cornel West's provocative criticism of President Obama in his recent interview with Chris Hedges. I think Seder and Glaude handle the controversy the way I've been thinking about it and succinctly discuss the issues I'd write about here. In fact, it's what I was planning to write about today.

I've been steaming mad ever since Ed Schultz tried to scold West after which he brought on Melissa Harris-Perry to list Obama's achievements as President and say that because 85% of black Americans support Obama maybe we should shut up and trust their judgement.

Some of you will understand the neoliberalism when you see it.  If not, you should spend an afternoon reading the ample literature on neoliberalism and race. Articles are very easy to find via a google search, though you have to watch out for weird right wing crap that litters the search.  Harris-Perry's response and call to support Obama is an entirely uncritical, unwarranted, populist, knee-jerk, pointless, and powerless response to power. (I'm really mad at her. Can you tell?) The US has catered to neoliberal discourse about race (ie, reverse racism) for many years now, maybe most vociferously since the early 90s. According to Harris-Perry, I gather we're suppose to continue to cater to that shallow understanding and manipulation of racialized politics. In her words, only black people can understand and sympathize Obama.

William Faulkner has a line that I think explains much of the racist culture in the US about mules and the way whites and blacks handle them. I can't find which novel it's in.  He developed the conceit in many stories and novels, though, so maybe you'll recognize it if you're familiar with his work. The image is based in the white gaze and involves white folks wondering why black folks are so talented at handling mules. The scene I'm thinking of involves white folks wondering why black folks talk to mules--they're struck that black men and mules can hold meaningful conversations. Only black folks can truly understand a mule. It's one of many moments of casual, Southern bigotry in his works that so accurately betray how racism is integral to the power structure in society. It's what we like to call crystal clear.

Harris-Perry's assertion to Schultz--maybe we should trust black people and their understanding and support of Obama--is the same sort of stupid bigotry. Not that Harris-Perry is a bigot. She casually uses the white power structure to illustrate Cornel West as the Obama workhorse who stubbornly stepped out of line with his criticism of the POTUS. West should know better because he's black. Schultz's scold is patronizing: don't you know what you're doing to Obama? Harris-Perry is used as his warrant.

I don't expect anything different from Ed Schultz. He's an ass. And he consistently implements neoliberal tropes in his populist rhetoric. I expect more from Harris-Perry. I think she took advantage of a situation where she was asked by Ed to offer a solid counterpoint to West's provocative opinions. Instead of discussing the subtlety of West's argument contra Obama, she took advantage of the stupid white framework of Ed Schultz's show and conflated West's personal opinion of Obama's snub (which exists) and his precise, accurate, powerful rebuke of Obama's failure to help poor and powerless brothers and sisters.

I don't think it's worthwhile to shame her because she knows what she did. I think it's important to point out that neoliberal responses to race permitted her response. A smart host would have asked her why she wasn't willing to take West's personal statements and political statements as two separate things. Why wasn't she willing to accept that the Obama administration has consistently taken the progressive left to task for not falling in line behind him, to support without criticisms his policies.  Moreover, why should we ignore that Obama has rejected his progressive agenda?

Harris-Perry's response is good for ratings because it wallows in good old American bigotry. If you want a nuanced discussion that is both honest and well-intended, check out Sam Seder's discussion with Eddie Glaude. You won't be let down. I promise. If I wasn't already a member of his show, this episode would have made me become one.

1. Neoliberalism and race. Research it; read about it. It's relevant. Basically, the problem with claims of reverse racism; how white power turns (versifies) discussions of itself on you (the person--any person--speaking to white power,) back to you, and then blames you for it.

2. My William Faulkner reference. On his use of the mule in his fiction. You have to have read Faulkners novels to get a good sense of my point, but I think I clearly made my point.

3. Ed Schultz and Melissa Harris-Perry. Ed Schultz is a moron. I think the longer his show continues, he becomes more clearly moronic. I imagine he has viewers because he follows Rachel Maddow. (Not that Maddow hasn't descended into performance over substance, but that Schultz is all blowhard.) First, he has the audacity to bring on West to scold him as if he's some uppity black man. That was demeaning, patronizing and, for me, almost impossible to watch. I don't know why West tolerated it. Schultz wasn't listening to a thing he said. (Schultz never listens to anybody.) Second, he used Harris-Perry as the black person who'd justify his white, neoliberal logic. Harris-Perry has an editorial out there that you can read, or you can watch her discussion with Schultz. It's awful stuff, in my opinion. I offer my critique of her opinion above.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

4. Sam Seder and Eddie Glaude discuss the controversy on The Majority Report. Please support The Majority Report. It's a great show in search of membership. We need to support good left wing media. Seder's program is independent and looking to stay that way.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Privilege and Complaint

I know I can sound difficult, mean even, when addressing issues I care deeply about. In my defense, I do believe I live in a community--the expat community in Korea--that takes its privileges for granted, that believes it has earned its status on its own, that wants freedoms and liberties it doesn't necessarily care that other communities have, that feels its free will expressed in written and verbal discourse is the sine qua non of public discourse.

All of that is complex. The simple fact of the matter is that nobody can expect much change to occur without first coming to terms with our status quo. That many of my peers--native speaking English teachers, in this case--are unable to discuss this basic problem of organizing to promote useful change is all too clear. Look at the public writing about teaching in Korea, subtract from the list the useful practical teaching blogs, and you're left with two kinds of discourse: tourism and complaint.

I'm not very optimistic about these authors being able to organize much more than a web site that lists information already available nor to organize much more than a group of their close friends to meet from time to time to complain about problems, to publish lists of demands.