Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You'll Never Guess the Top Five Things That Happened After K-blogs Got Too Self-Referential

Ouroboros. Source
This might be the worst K-blog list infection since that CNNgo troll article prompted a spat of countdowns (links to others at beginning of post)

Lists are the thing again. And posts about bloggers who make lists. And lists about bloggers who make posts about bloggers who make lists. And this is a post about a list about a post about lists. If others write similar posts, we could make a list of posts about bloggers who write posts about bloggers who make lists. And then the K-blogosphere will crawl up its own butt, die of auto-rhetorical asphyxiation, and probably not be mourned.


Image belongs to this guy. Buy one!

However, when even a scholar like Cedarbough, over at her blog Footnotes, has made a top 10 list of how to Korea correctly, I guess my memo must have just been lost in the mail. And so, in obligatory clickbait fashion, lest they take away my K-blogger card, here are the topics we've seen so far. In list form, of course.

1. Perhaps Paul Ajosshi got it started with his "6 Dangers That Await You at the Boryeong Mud Fest" - a cautionary listicle that totally neglects the looming threat of a zombie apocalypse. (By the way, don't you love the word listicle? It sounds just similar enough to the word "Testicle" that it not only conveys that something is an article that is a list, but makes people go "uh... kinda ew." As listicles do.

What I imagine when I hear the word "Listicle"

2. Following Paul, Charles Montgomery wrote "Top 10 Newbie Mistakes in Korea" the most useful of which is #2, that if you're an HBC expat hipster... you're not actually rebelling when you dress the way everybody else in HBC dresses, and hang out in the same dives. On the other hand... Charles is hardly breaking new ground in making fun of hipsters, which even Mike Myers did, way back when he was still really really funny.

(So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993): people have been making fun of hipsters since before the latest batch of hagwon teachers were born.)

I wish they would get off your lawn, too, Charles!

3. William George answered Charles with "Noobs, You're Doing Fine"

I don't think we'd realized listicular circlejerkititis was the thing infecting the K-blogs yet with Mr. George's "Don't listen to the grumpy guy" response. But then, the ball was just getting rolling.

4. Epidemic status was reached when Sweet Pickles and Corn published "10 Things In Korea that I'll Never Ever Do" including things like "I'll never go on a temple stay" (fair enough). Mostly, I think he must be doing well here, if the worst thing he can think of to do here is overpaying shitty foreign food (10th on the list). Somewhere out there, perhaps on one of those blogs that got cancelled, there's a person who could make a much more sordid list with a much better grasp of "How Expats Hit Bottom In Far-Off Lands".

5. Cedarbough weighed in with 10 things to do if you live in Korea -- one of the better lists I've read, and wish I'd written myself. I especially like 4, 5, and 6, and I can only hope she'll follow up #3 - "Read Real Books About Korea" with a second top ten (or 15, or 80) suggestions of places to start.

6. Burndog takes the piss out of everyone who writes a list, or grumbles about those writing lists, with "10 things I'll Never Write a List About in Korea Something Something Noob"

7. Finally, Dom and Hyo have, in cartoon form (squee) "9 Different Types of Expats You Will Come Across in Korea" -- a list I like, because it seems to be written neither to vent unhappy expat rage, nor to ingratiate themselves to an imagined Korean audience. However, they missed the "know-it-all" of whom I am one.

Now that I've done a list about lists, let's include it in a list of your favorite conglomerations of lists, like Cracked cannibalizing itself, until we have a list of the best lists about lists about collections of lists. And put each item of the list on a separate page, to squeeze out extra clicks. Ads in the sidebar, all hail google ads revenue!

Pertinent to all this listification is the fact that every week, I go on TBS radio and present a list myself, in a segment titled (by my predecessor in the spot) "The Lone Ranker" - I do little countdowns about whatever topic I like that week, ranging from heavy stuff like "6 ways Sports Mega Events Helped Create The World We Live In Today" to frippery such as "The Five Most Annoying Things About Spring" (both actual topics I've done). I may start turning more of my topics into posts for ze blog (especially given how sparse posting has been lately.

Stay cool my loyal readers.

And now, here is a video of Kim Jong-un dancing, that went viral in China.

Looking silly is the worst thing possible for North Korea (hence the report that a Seth Rogen movie will be considered an act of war) - no nation has ever screamed louder "Take me seriously" in all its policies and actions, than North Korea. I guess if you can't walk softly and carry a big stick, the next best thing is to wave your wet noodle as threateningly and loudly as you can in everyone's faces.

Put your list in the comments if I forgot yours!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Culturalism - You Keep Using That Word 2: Some Q and A on Culturalism

I'm just going to assume that readers have all read part 1 of this series: What is Actual Culturalism? I'm tackling the idea of "culturalism" - which The Korean discussed, but has also been discussed by others in social sciences and policy discussions for a while. This comment points out that it isn't really taught as a method or framework in anthropology. Which is good to know. Thanks, commenter Nora!

So what are some other concepts related to culturalism?

Last post, we talked about Culturalism and Multiculturalism as it plays into policy discussions - particularly in Europe. Here in Kblogland, most people talking about culturalism are going on The Korean's definition, which mostly resembles the one used in Europe, but applying it to the area of cultural engagement rather than public policy. He defines it these two ways:
Culturalism is the unwarranted impulse to explain people's behavior with a "cultural difference", whether real or imagined. Because the culturalist impulse always attempts to explain more with culture than warranted, the "cultural difference" used in a cultural explanation is more often imagined than real. (source)
and as
...the impulse to explain minority people's behavior with a "cultural difference", real or imagined. (source)
Along those lines, here are some other rhetorical and philosophical concepts that The Korean and others might find useful in discussing "Culturalism". Rather than long descriptions here, I strongly encourage you to read the explanations I link. I also glossed over this in my previous post, "problems with citing culture"

  • Fundamental Attribution Error - we tend to over-emphasize internal causes, and under-emphasize external (systemic or sometimes even random) causes of a phenomenon.
  • Cultural Determinism - we tend to believe that culture determines our behavior...probably more than it actually does.
  • Essentialism - we tend to think that there are certain traits that are fixed and unchangeable for certain groups - "Women are all like this" "Koreans are all this way" "White men all do this"
  • Orientalism - a type of essentialism that focuses on other groups and cultures. When we look at certain cultures, we tend to make them out to be so different from us that we could never understand them (implied: so we may as well not try) - they will always be exotic, strange, and inscrutable to "us." Any time somebody uses the word "exotic," watch for this attitude.

Culturalism as The Korean defines it is bits of the four above in one, intellectually sloppy modge-podge, with a little ecological fallacy thrown in for flavor. And I say "intellectually sloppy" because people over-using culture to explain things are being sloppy, not because The Korean has been sloppy in describing it.

Meanwhile, commenter Dylan suggests we read more about Communitarianism -- which is another concept used by human rights scholars in discussing the ways people organize into communities.

So, is culturalism racism?

Not necessarily.

For one, racism has been discredited - the variety within members of each racial group is so great, that the variety from one racial group to another fades to insignificance. And we've all heard racism deniers tell us that "race is a social construct, therefore it doesn't exist"... As if social constructs don't exist. But society is also a social construct, so as people living in societies, we still have to talk about race sometimes.

Abstraction confuses me.
Culture has the benefit of being recognized by everyone as a social construct from the get-go, so at least we don't have deniers herp-derping that it does not exist because humans made it up (unlike all the other things humans made up, that DO exist, like the language they're using to make that argument). Anyone who's agreed to talk about culture has already agreed to talk about social constructs, so that's at least nice.

And race is hardware -- your pigment and bone structure are in your dna, and unchangeable, but culture is software - programmed patterns of behavior which can be changed. Culture is changing all the time. That's a crucial difference.

Strictly speaking then, culturalism isn't the same as racism.

Lemme tell you 'bout race, butthead...
However, if you take a person in the habit of lazy or sloppy thinking, and give them a phenomenon they don't understand, the same sloppiness that might have caused their 1955 self to explain it with race, might today cause them to explain it with culture.

It's all about culture, butthead!
Racism has been discredited, but while intellectual laziness is still in style, even most bigots generally realize you're not "supposed" to be openly racist anymore. So culturalism isn't the same as racism, but they are used in the same way by lazy thinkers and bigots. They are born of the same desire to generalize about those who are different, both are worsened by the same lack of curiosity and unwillingness to admit the variety and humanity of others, and both lead to the same kinds of sweeping and ignorant statements. And those are ample grounds for The Korean to call culturalism "racism of the 21st century"

So is culture off the table entirely?

No. Because it's human made, and learned, culture is changeable, and changing all the time. This means that, as long as we discuss it in terms that don't overestimate its usefulness as an analytical tool (which is easy to do), yeah, it's fair game for discussion, but even kept in perspective, it's still easy to get it wrong when talking about culture, because when talking about culture, you're also talking about the way a bunch of people live, and those people deserve to be approached with respect, and in a way that recognizes their humanity, intelligence, free will, and so forth. And there are lots of ways to talk about culture that does not do those things. Be respectful, and don't be a dick.

Beep boop beep boop! Why am I not surprised the politically correct police have shown up to stop me from expressing my free speech?

OK. I'm going to write a whole extra unplanned post in this series to talk about this, because the more I think about it, the weirder it is to me that somehow political correctness has been framed as a bad thing... so if you're champing at the bit to start arguing about that, kindly hold your horses and save it for the comments under a future post.

Coming up next at Roboseyo: some ways to talk about culture without coming across as a shit. Stay tuned!