Full disclosure, even though I'm not a journalist. I'm just a blogger, bud:
Tony's a buddy of mine. I hung out with him on one of his Seoul trips, we had a good time, and have hung out from time to time since then. Now for some of you, that might mean you now believe you can ignore everything I'm about to say...but you'd be wrong.
You know that scene in The Dark Knight, where Batman throws the gang leader, Sal Maroni, off a low fire escape, and Maroni says, "No one's gonna tell you anything. They're wise to your act. You got rules. The Joker, he's got no rules. No one's gonna cross him for you."
See, basically, Batman has to follow rules, and The Joker doesn't... this has always bothered me about action movies. If I were an evil villain, I'd just keep endangering civilians, or get several of my henchmen to do it, and any evil plan I had would succeed, because good guys have to save innocents. In real life, every superhero's life would go like this scene (though not always in Italian): they wouldn't stand a chance against someone who had no scruples.
Well, Tony, Public Relations Officer for ATEK, mentioned to me, in a phone call, after I'd sent him a text message meant to crack him up, that the internet trolls and the folks at Dave's ESL Cafe were really going to town on his character. I asked him to send me the link: I never go to Dave's myself, for reasons which should become clear. He also connected me to the ATEK forming blog, where he deals with some of the issues that came up.
And the crazy thing is, the way that the Dave's ESL Cafe people have been going at him has actually reminded me of that scene in Spiderman.
See, Tony is representing an organization. That organization is getting itself set up, and it wants to make life better for English teachers in Korea. Because of his position, and what his organization wants to achieve, he has to watch, very carefully, every single word he says online, because he knows that every single word he says would, be thrown gleefully in his face at the worst possible moment, by any one of his detractors. This means, while the anonymous critics can pretty much say anything they want to about Tony, he has to follow a set of rules on how he can answer, and be mindful of everything he says in response, no matter how petty or nasty it gets. It's like watching someone fend off a mob with one arm tied behind his back, if you go and read what they're saying about him.
If you want to go
I'd start quoting, but that'd take over the entire post...
A while back, I wrote about why I think the internet, as it is now, will never reach its full potential for social good.
The lowest, ugliest, nastiest commenters set the parameters for the entire discussion. Repeat: it is the stupidest and worst, not the smartest and best comment, that sets the tone for the entire comment board.About those critics, then:
One of my favorite quotes is Benjamin Disraeli's "It is easier to be critical than correct" -- it's a worthwhile axiom to remember when spending time on the internet, because there are always a lot more people willing to comment, "You suck!" than to actually sit down and create their own, better blog, homepage, video, or whatever.
Well, a bit more than a year ago an expat died in a fire, and his school had set him up without health insurance, to save on taxes or somesuch.
A few other expats noticed that when Bill Kapoun's fire happened, there was nothing, nothing in place to help him, and they wanted to do something so that next time something like that happened, there WOULD be. The English teacher scapegoating continued in the Korean media. Even lawmakers bought into stereotypes that had no actual statistical grounding.
And so, ATEK made their first move, after putting pieces in place: the "Equal Checks For All" campaign, which included filing complaints with the Korean National Human Rights Commission, kind of a media blitz, and a few weeks later, the opening of ATEK to new members.
Some people didn't like a part of ATEK's strategy, because they thought it would make life difficult for F-series visa holders with teaching jobs. Fair enough. ATEK listened to that criticism, and adjusted their proposed chapter organization structure to incorporate F-series visa holders more significantly in the decision-making process. Tony thought it was important to get online and engage in these discussions, to hit up comment boards and explain the positions, get in up to his elbows and hear what people say. He, and ATEK, made a decision to engage on this level. He put his real name out there, he put work and money into trying to get this thing off the ground, and he waded into the fray to take every lump people could throw at him, knowing full well that he couldn't respond in kind when somebody got mean. That takes two big brass ones, and he deserves props for deciding to take it on.
This, however, was not enough for some. They continued attacking ATEK, demanding it disband, demanding an apology from these guys for their presumption (how dare they think English teachers ought to be organized, represented and defended: don't they know Hogwan owners do a good enough job of standing up for expat teachers' rights? Just ask Bill Kapoun!) As time went by, the attacks got more varied and personal, focusing more and more on Tony, as ATEK's PR Representative. From their safe place of anonymity, their spaghetti offensive (throw enough spaghetti at a wall and some of it's bound to stick) poked and prodded into the book ATEK wrote (and from which they have not profited at all, by the way), and the personal background of Tony in particular. You can follow the different angles of attack here (warning: this thread is long and poisonous).
And what have these critics suggested we do instead? Where do they think expat English teachers should go instead, if not to ATEK, when boss fires them two weeks before they collect their completion bonus? Hell if I know: they probably don't even care, anyway -- just as long as they can keep feeling righteous and attacking their new whipping boys. Suggest a way to improve the situation for E-series visas, while maintaining the status quo for F-visas? Can I just go after Tony's character instead?
And here we are, folks. Yeah, it's easier to criticize than to be correct. Sure. The vocal critics over at Dave's are really comfortable either totally or mostly anonymous at their computers, digging up nasty things to say about Tony and his boys.
But Tony's trying. He's sticking his neck out, he's sticking his name out. His real name. He's standing in front of cameras and standing FOR SOMETHING, and what the hell are they doing? Dick-all, that's what. Nothing but tearing down something that could do a lot of good for a lot of people, because they didn't like ATEK's first move.
Now that they've already made up their minds about ATEK, even though Tony and ATEK have finished their "Equal Checks For All" campaign and are working on getting ATEK organized into its decision-making chapters, after which the full group can get to the business of choosing strategies that represent its members (not just the ideas of a few guys). But trolls are still attacking, and getting more and more personal, too. They're not dealing with the ideas or principles of ATEK anymore at all (if they ever were): they're dealing with Tony's personal history, and trying to dig up any skeleton they can to discredit him.
I'm mad. Tony's a pal of mine, and he's been pushed to the line by some of the garbage that's been flung at him, and you know what? The people doing the flinging are cyphers: nothings. They're hiding in foxholes throwing rocks, and even so, ATEK tried to make sure their needs were also represented. And this helps English teachers in Korea how? Are these critics trying to establish some other kind of representation for English teachers, so that hogwan owners can't keep ripping us off, so that the Korean media stops stereotyping us as drug-using kiddie-fiddlers? Are they offering a viable alternative to ATEK, one that would make them more comfortable with its goals and strategies? No. That would take effort, administrative skill, risk, and hope. Instead, they're just going to keep ripping at those who ARE trying to do accomplish something.
And then, when they get what they want (breaking news: on the comment thread Tony says he's had it with the character assassination) here's what ChickenLover says
We will have won when you[Tony] leave this country broken, blacklisted and when your name is a symbol of deceit, lies and a perfect example of what NOT to be in Korea. Only when your name is ruined will I be satisfied.And what's your real name, ChickenLover? Hiding behind anonymity, are you? Straphanger (is that your first name or your last name?) adds, "One down, two to go." Classy, guys. Really classy.
I'm here, online. My name is Robert Ouwehand. I'm not an expert or a lawyer, but my name is attached to my words, and I know when I see somebody's good intentions get shat on, at this point, just for the sake of shitting on someone, and that's wrong, folks. It's wrong. There are people trying to build something, and these buzzards are trying to pull it apart before it has a chance to get on its feet and do some good FOR THEM, TOO.
Back when Mike Hurt called me up and suggested the idea of a community-focused metablog, I said, "Giddyap" for a reason: because there are enough of us out here that we can form a worthwhile community, and when push comes to shove, we need to have each-other's backs, and know someone's got our backs, 'cause the Hogwan owners aren't going to stick up for us, and if politicians can win votes by scapegoating us, they will, because we don't vote anyway, and we're an easy target: many of us look different, few of us have the language skills to defend ourselves in the Korean media where we're being slurred, and those of us who do have the language chops often don't stick their necks out, for whatever reason. There are some who have suggested that expats will never form a viable community, because there are too many different interests all at odds with each other. And when I see something like the train-wreck that is the Dave's ESL Cafe ATEK Thread, I sometimes despair that such cynics are right.
Frankly, these character assassins remind me of another group of noisy, self-righteous assholes:
Remember the beef protests?
Thuggish tactics? Refusing to acknowledge the reasonable concessions made (canceling the canal, renegotiating the beef deal/new F visa representation in ATEK's administrative structure) and insisting on unreasonable concessions regardless of attempts at engagement? Never offering the benefit of the doubt? Making increasingly vicious personal attacks on someone, rather than engaging in ideas in the manner of solution-oriented and productive discourse? Jumping on someone before they've even had a chance to show more than the barest smidgen of what they're about? All check. The lynching Tony and ATEK are experiencing at Dave's remind me of those left-wing thugs, attacking police in order to try and provoke a response and win more propaganda video of police brutality. It's mean, it's unscrupulous, and there's a total refusal to engage on the level where something might actually get accomplished...one begins to suspect it's because they know that on THAT level, they've got nothing, so all they can do is get dirty.
So here's what I say.
Hey guys. If you're so against what ATEK wants to do, then join it, enter the decision making process, help ATEK come up with its long-term strategy, and help them in trying to make life better for English teachers. Instead of undermining an attempt to form a more cohesive community, and then complaining that it doesn't represent you, how about joining it, to make sure it DOES represent you? Or form your own organization, put your own real names out there, stand in front of the cameras yourselves, and actually stand for something, instead of just hunkering in foxholes, throwing rocks at those who are trying. How about that? If you know what's best for English teachers, if you know better than ATEK, then get on board and make sure that's the direction they go, or provide a better option! Build something yourselves, instead of just tearing at what others are trying to build.
Or are you all talk? If you know better, then back it up, because right now, somebody's trying to make Korea a better place for English teachers, but it's not you. If you think they're misguided, CORRECT them. I bet they'd listen if you weren't busy trying to defame them all!
And until you put your money where your mouth is, the way Tony and ATEK have, I have nothing but disdain for you and your methods, anonymous cowards. And come on: I'm Roboseyo. I never talk like this. I'm the I love everything guy.
But there's the gauntlet. Do what you like with it.
For me, hell, I'm going to be a builder, not a wrecker of things. The Hub of Sparkle is meant to be a place where people can connect. I organize get-togethers and try to make a community available. I write a regular column in the Korea Herald about ways expats can get connected with each other, and with communities in Korea. Belonging to a community adds value, adds enjoyment, adds meaning to a place and an experience, whether you're in Korea for one year or twelve, and if I can help create a forum that facilitates that kind of community, groovy.
Sure, it's a work in progress, but I'm trying to build something, so that maybe the expat population will eventually add up to more than the sum of its parts. That's a worthy and worthwhile pursuit, even if it takes up a lot of my time, even if only two people show up at the coffee shop for the next meetup, because those two people might have found something they were looking for.
To the people who are at home, digging up another character attack on Tony and the other ATEK members, hey, maybe you should come to my next group get-together. It might remind you what it's like to be part of something, instead of being stuck tearing things apart. Who knows. You might even have a good time. And if you don't come out, fine. But think about this. Are you going to be a builder, or a wrecker? Because in Korea's expat population, and in the thousands of English teachers, the parts are there to build something worthwhile, and from where I stand, it looks like you'd prefer us to remain isolated, hung out to dry, and vulnerable to scapegoating and exploitation, repeating the mistakes of our predecessors and unsure where to go when things go wrong. Prove me wrong, either by supporting the people who are trying to improve things, or pulling together your own attempt to do what ATEK is (according to you) failing to do (before you've even given them the time to allow their members to set their new agenda), or by getting out of the fucking way.
Put up or shut up, or, to let Woody Allen have the last word:
"Be fruitful and multiply, but not in those words."
[update]: after finally catching some actual heat from the outside for being a poisonous miasma of trolls and haters, Dave's Esl Cafe has taken down the ATEK thread that got so badly out of hand. Their excuse? "We're busy with construction."
from their "
As you all know (or maybe you don't), we are having a lot of construction going on..... So, we moderators are busy and don't have time to deal with the ad-hominems of ad-hominems on the ATEK thread. The site is slow.Convenient, guys. Convenient. For the sake of Tony, I hope it stays down. For the sake of Dave's ESL Cafe's credibility, I hope it's restored, so everybody gets to see and remember how worthless it is to go there to talk about anything.
We may or not bring that thread back. We are just busy as we said dealing with many matters and things are slow on the site.