Alex Massie Discovers the Most Offensive Newspaper Column of the Year

 

Slipping up to the deadline just in time to win the 2011 award, uncontested, Simon Winchester wins, hands down:

The State’s founder, Kim Il Sung, claimed that all he wanted for North Korea was to be socialist, and to be left alone. In that regard, the national philosophy of self-reliance known in North Korea as “Juche” is little different from India’s Gandhian version known as “swadeshi”. Just let us get on with it, they said, and without interference, please.

India’s attempt to go it alone failed. So, it seems, has Burma’s. Perhaps inevitably, North Korea’s attempt appears to be tottering. But seeing how South Korea has turned out — its Koreanness utterly submerged in neon, hip-hop and every imaginable American influence, a romantic can allow himself a small measure of melancholy: North Korea, for all its faults, is undeniably still Korea, a place uniquely representative of an ancient and rather remarkable Asian culture. And that, in a world otherwise rendered so bland, is perhaps no bad thing.

I need not comment, since Alex handles it ably. There is a CoC-violating word in his response, but if anyone can read that without violating the CoC, he’s a better man than I am. Or woman, as the case happens to be. 

There are 32 comments.

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  1. James Of England Moderator

    Say what you like about Hitler, the man preserved and revived many distinctive and charming aspects of German culture. In an ever more homogenized Europe….

    You know, when a reducto ad hitlerum is not actually a reduction, it’s very difficult to parody a text.

    • #1
    • December 23, 2011, at 7:24 AM PDT
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  2. Flagg Taylor Member

    Oh…my…God. I can’t believe what I just read.

    • #2
    • December 23, 2011, at 7:28 AM PDT
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  3. raycon and lindacon Inactive

    The feelings of nostalgia simply overwhelm me as I long for the days when millions of people in India starved to death, and the West “interfered” in their ancient culture to bring relief.

    Then there is the socialist mark of success, notably, razor wire and guard towers.

    Did the ancient and honorable North Korean culture contain these rather modern indicators of ancient socialism which prevailed over all of unified Korea since ancient times?

    • #3
    • December 23, 2011, at 7:30 AM PDT
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  4. Leslie Watkins Member

    This is the kind of stuff I edit all the time. The self-absorption, self-regard, the-world-is-flat analysis of culture by the luckiest among us is nauseating. Another reason why I don’t think it’s wise to be impressed by the ability of some esteemed intellectuals to abuse the content while using the language well.

    • #4
    • December 23, 2011, at 7:40 AM PDT
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  5. Mollie Hemingway Contributor
    Leslie Watkins: This is the kind of stuff I edit all the time. The self-absorption, self-regard, the-world-is-flat analysis of culture by the luckiest among us is nauseating. Another reason why I don’t think it’s wise to be impressed by the ability of some esteemed intellectuals to abuse the content while using the language well. · Dec 23 at 6:40am

    Oh wow, Leslie. That sounds awful! I can’t imagine. I hope you have a few manuscripts you edit that make it worthwhile!

    • #5
    • December 23, 2011, at 7:52 AM PDT
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  6. Colin B Lane Member

    I forgot that Ghandi had also championed starving his people while consuming millions of dollars worth of Cognac.

    • #6
    • December 23, 2011, at 7:59 AM PDT
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  7. James Poulos Contributor

    Yes, what could be more authentically Korean than a pickled Stalinist import?

    • #7
    • December 23, 2011, at 8:04 AM PDT
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  8. Leslie Watkins Member

    Thanks, Mollie! What I feel guilty about is making so many so-called scholars look so much better than they are (in terms of documentation; the writing is dreadful no matter what one does, that is, if you like points being precisely made, good transitions, the linking of ideas throughout). I’ve long expected this kind of work to dry up—and extended feelers for commercial work, which may soon be in at hand—but I think the process is being sped up by the education bubble bursting. Bad for me. Good for the country.

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.
    Leslie Watkins: This is the kind of stuff I edit all the time. The self-absorption, self-regard, the-world-is-flat analysis of culture by the luckiest among us is nauseating. Another reason why I don’t think it’s wise to be impressed by the ability of some esteemed intellectuals to abuse the content while using the language well. · Dec 23 at 6:40am
    Oh wow, Leslie. That sounds awful! I can’t imagine. I hope you have a few manuscripts you edit that make it worthwhile! · Dec 23 at 6:52am
    • #8
    • December 23, 2011, at 8:10 AM PDT
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  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:
    …But seeing how South Korea has turned out — its Koreanness utterly submerged in neon, hip-hop and every imaginable American influence, a romantic can allow himself a small measure of melancholy: North Korea, for all its faults, is undeniably still Korea, a place uniquely representative of an ancient and rather remarkable Asian culture.

    Wow. My friend who’s an English teacher and stand-up comic in South Korea would respectfully (or disrespectfully, as the case may be) disagree. Anyone who thinks South Korean culture isn’t quite different from ours has made only the most superficial of observations.

    And what’s so authentically Korean about kindergarteners being forced to practice parade formations hour after hour for their Dear Leader? Why would anyone assume that the collectivist culture North Korea has now must be a more authentic specimen of Korean tradition? Isn’t smashing traditional culture usually part of imposing collectivism?

    • #9
    • December 23, 2011, at 8:21 AM PDT
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  10. Mothership_Greg Inactive

    Wow. More offensive than Paul Krugman on 9/11. Impressive.

    • #10
    • December 23, 2011, at 8:25 AM PDT
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  11. Peter Christofferson Inactive

    Proof, if any were needed, that there is literally nothing that bien-pensant liberal internationalists will not excuse, as long as it strikes a blow against the “Americanization” of other cultures. How revolting.

    • #11
    • December 23, 2011, at 8:26 AM PDT
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  12. Publius Inactive
    “Perhaps inevitably, North Korea’s attempt appears to be tottering.”

    Appears to be tottering? My first clue would have been the history of massive famine, but I’m not particularly smart. Did I miss something?

    • #12
    • December 23, 2011, at 8:55 AM PDT
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  13. outstripp Inactive

    ever notice that liberals who are constantly pleading for CHANGE in their own society suddenly become conservatives, opposing all change, when dealing with some foreign place?

    • #13
    • December 23, 2011, at 9:07 AM PDT
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  14. HVTs Inactive
    outstripp: ever notice that liberals who are constantly pleading for CHANGE in their own society suddenly become conservatives, opposing all change, when dealing with some foreign place? · Dec 23 at 8:07am

    … when the “foreign place” is socialist and implacably anti-US.

    • #14
    • December 23, 2011, at 9:37 AM PDT
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  15. Publius Inactive
    HVTs
    outstripp: ever notice that liberals who are constantly pleading for CHANGE in their own society suddenly become conservatives, opposing all change, when dealing with some foreign place? · Dec 23 at 8:07am
    … when the “foreign place” is socialist and implacably anti-US. · Dec 23 at 8:37am

    Cuba being the classic example. This was the first time I saw it done with North Korea.

    • #15
    • December 23, 2011, at 9:39 AM PDT
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  16. HVTs Inactive

    By Winchester’s logic, when reduced to hunter-gather status, we’ll all be authentically Homo Sapiens again.

    • #16
    • December 23, 2011, at 9:42 AM PDT
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  17. jetstream Inactive
    James Of England: Say what you like about Hitler, the man preserved and revived many distinctive and charming aspects of German culture. In an ever more homogenized Europe….

    You know, when a reducto ad hitlerum is not actually a reduction, it’s very difficult to parody a text. · Dec 23 at 6:24am

    Read somewhere – can’t remember the source – that Hitler actually had great admiration for British culture. That’s why in the initial bombing attacks on England only military sites were targeted. It was only after British bombers began attacking German civilian centers that Germany began targeting British cities.

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    • December 23, 2011, at 9:52 AM PDT
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  18. Jeff Y Inactive

    Fool or tool? Both.

    • #18
    • December 23, 2011, at 10:05 AM PDT
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  19. kesbar Inactive

    The strange fascination with cultural “authenticity” is a nostalgic urge that, for some, can override their sense of simple human compassion.

    • #19
    • December 23, 2011, at 11:03 AM PDT
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  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Publius

    HVTs

    outstripp: ever notice that liberals who are constantly pleading for CHANGE in their own society suddenly become conservatives, opposing all change, when dealing with some foreign place?
    … when the “foreign place” is socialist and implacably anti-US.
    Cuba being the classic example.

    Well, only with Cuba once the Revolution was a done deal — a revolution incidentally, that managed to wreck much of Cuba’s cultural inheritance along the way, Havana’s architecture being just one example.

    • #20
    • December 23, 2011, at 11:12 AM PDT
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  21. Leslie Watkins Member

    But donchaknow, Midge. History didn’t begin until 1963. … Also, I bet your English teacher in Korea friend who’s also a standup comic is as amazing as you!

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Publius
    HVTs
    outstripp: ever notice that liberals who are constantly pleading for CHANGE in their own society suddenly become conservatives, opposing all change, when dealing with some foreign place?
    … when the “foreign place” is socialist and implacably anti-US.
    Cuba being the classic example.
    Well, only with Cuba once the Revolution was a done deal — a revolution incidentally, that managed to wreck much of Cuba’s cultural inheritance along the way, Havana’s architecture being just one example. · Dec 23 at 10:12am
    • #21
    • December 23, 2011, at 11:22 AM PDT
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  22. :thinking: no superfluity of n… Member
    HVTs
    outstripp: ever notice that liberals who are constantly pleading for CHANGE in their own society suddenly become conservatives, opposing all change, when dealing with some foreign place?
    … when the “foreign place” is socialist and implacably anti-US.

    I wouldn’t limit it to just anti-US; it’s anti-Western Civilization. One sees very similar things with regards to the jungle-dwellers, and other primitives, of the world.

    Certain aboriginal groups have wised up to this and taken it to their own advantage – North American Indians play the game very well, and from what I read the Australian Aborigines are learning it too. All this, while enjoying the luxuries that those White Folk have come up with, like indoor plumbing and modern medicine.

    • #22
    • December 24, 2011, at 3:27 AM PDT
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  23. Gaby Charing Inactive
    Mothership_Greg: Wow. More offensive than Paul Krugman on 9/11. Impressive. · Dec 23 at 7:25am

    I have just read Paul Krugman’s blogpost, and the three extremely dignified replies to it that were published by the NYT as letters. Indeed, his post is offensive. It is also plain wrong.

    It is the kind of thing we see a lot in the UK, notably in the columns of the Guardian newspaper. It is horrible, and I am not the only British person who is utterly repelled by it.

    • #23
    • December 24, 2011, at 3:31 AM PDT
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  24. David John Inactive

    “North Korea, for all its faults, is undeniably still Korea… And that, in a world otherwise rendered so bland, is perhaps no bad thing.”

    South Korea is bland?! The modern world is bland?! Obviously this guy has never lived in North Korea! Such an idiot.

    • #24
    • December 24, 2011, at 4:49 AM PDT
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  25. Michael Kubat Inactive

    Thirty years hence, Winchester will discover that he may have been wrong and feel sorry for it (or mainly for himself), as Gunnar Bergstrom did for his worship of Pol Pot. That, of course, will make it all right.

    • #25
    • December 24, 2011, at 6:22 AM PDT
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  26. outstripp Inactive

    Incidentally, the North Korean ideology of “juche” (self-reliance) is not even etymologically Korean. It is derived from Chinese (rendered 主体 in modern characters) and means something like “grammatical subject” in Japanese. In other words, the idea of cultural purity is chimerical, even at its core.

    • #26
    • December 24, 2011, at 6:50 AM PDT
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  27. Damian Penny Inactive

    Congratulations, Mr. Winchester. You’ve out-Guardianed the Guardian.

    • #27
    • December 24, 2011, at 6:57 AM PDT
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  28. Douglas Inactive

    Really curious how the same guy that recognizes the Americanization of South Korean culture somehow completely missed the Sovietization of North Korean culture. True, there’s no Sejong the Great in South Korea today, but there certainly isn’t one in the North, either.

    • #28
    • December 24, 2011, at 7:15 AM PDT
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  29. Palaeologus Inactive

    But seeing how South Korea has turned out —

    Which is full of citizens who eat routinely, bathe routinely, drink clean water routinely, access electricity routinely… the horror of the ennui is palpable.

    I considered ditching my Ricochet subscription as a means of protest in solidarity with the Norks… but then I’d just sign up again, and be expected to fill out all that stuff, again.

    Man, it’s tough to win life’s lottery. Poor Sorks.

    • #29
    • December 24, 2011, at 7:21 AM PDT
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  30. Grendel Member
    David Cheney: re outstripp

    ” liberals ……. suddenly become conservatives…….”

    It is almost shocking when one first notices. Anything considered western/American-style must change to fit under the statist thumb while all activities practiced by indigenes or non-western foreigners is sacred. Even if it is the same action. · Dec 23 at 11:28am

    It’s baked in the Progressivist cake. They are all reactionaries.

    It shows up all the time in their nostalgia for some Golden Age, supposedly uncorrupted by whatever it is they are complaining about at the moment. Marx was nostalgic for the pre-modern craftsman (no word about the serfs or the drudge); today liberals regret the passing the ’50s when “America made things”. Usually, as in Winchester’s case, they are comparing a myth of the past with a misinformed unreal impression of the present.

    The environmental movement is shot through with Golden Age nostalgia. Bruce Thornton deals with the Golden Age myth in Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge.

    • #30
    • December 24, 2011, at 7:52 AM PDT
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