A Fundamental Lack

I have just realized what Korea, and general society, is sincerely lacking. What seems to be lost  in this, and many overstimulated societies is an awareness of feeling, or emotional intelligence. Feeling seems to be  intensely avoided at any cost it. If we pause and take a moment to focus on the  primary modes of  interpreting reality, we can divide these interpretations into three broad categories. They are the visual,  auditory, and emotional or using feelings as a mode to interpret reality. These ways can further be categorized into motivation towards constructing a comprehensive understanding of one’s self, and a destructive avarice towards one’s place in the world.

Korea is consumed with visual stimulation. One only needs to look around to notice the zombie like bumbling of people on their cell phones, or people glued to oversized plasma shadows to notice the invasive visual stimulation. Auditorily this is the case as well. Ipod’s, loudspeakers, and a general lack of silence marks the intensity of drowning in audio. Both of these modes construct an avoidance of reality. What about feeling? I have lost count of the lone children I have seen crying, the businessman stumbling drunk and complaining about the should’ves. It all seems like escapism on the grand scale from any sort of feeling. This is aided by the general tools of avoidance that manipulate the audio and visual ways of understanding. This isn’t a Korean issue alone. It is an issue in North America as well.

How are we to combat this smothering feeling of overstimulation with an amplified lack of emotion and feeling? This becomes more problematic when it is coupled with the manufactured and commodified emotion which audio and visual modes recreate, as if to satisfy our emotional lack. While the question may arrive at: What should we do? The better question is: Can we cope?

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Published in: Uncategorized on October 23, 2010 at 4:57 am  Comments (7)  

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  1. This needs a continuation. I recently have noticed the different effects that familial and a group think mentality has had on Korean culture as compared to a more Westernized liberalism. This feeds into my original argument, but in a new way.

  2. How bizarre… I was checking the quote “One must imagine Sisyphus happy” as I wanted to mention it in terms of working as a university professor in Korea, trying to help students develop their critical thinking skills and creativity in the wake of years and years of education that disregards all of that… and I find your post on the flight from feeling in Korea.

    I agree, and I think probably this all begins with education. High school, specifically, for the older folks and hakwon for the younger. (And in the West, and for non-hakwoned kids here I’d say middle school or earlier.) Then again, there’s also the military experience: I can attest to how shut-down young men often are when they get back from two years of that hell.

    Anyway… transhumanism? Robotics? Wow… I’m an SF author living in Korea, which practically makes us cousins or something. Ha!

    • Sometimes I am still taken aback by how small the world seems at times. Thank you, first for reading my blog, second for being one of the few that I’ve met in S. Korea who even know who Sisyphus is! You are right, there are a myriad of reasons as to why many Koreans shut down. Since writing that post, I have spoken to several of my Korean co-workers and friends and see that it is actually an ingrained notion. This type of humility is evident in myth and historical stories that are used to reinforce that ‘shutting down’ is a humility that many find as an endearing quality. What makes me curious is how this will cope in the light of a rapid westernization of Korean ideals while also being mixed with a strong generation gap. Most younger people identify with an American cultural / World identity, and it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

      May I ask, what are you teaching in University, and where?
      Thanks again for reading,
      Casey Sutherland

      p.s. Add me to Facebook if you would like to continue correspondence

      • Casey,

        Yeah, small world… and sadly too few people in this world read much. Camus, Sisyphus… great stuff.

        And you’re right there’s more reasons than just education; I also happen to think depression is just widespread here. Indeed, I’ve read about research claiming a higher rate of genetic predisposition to depression in Northeast Asian gene pools… and lower rates of reportage. One scientist claimed it’s collectivism that fends off depression, but I suspect it’s just underreported and otherwise ignored. Lots of reasons…

        And of course, I think this tendency to normalize shutting down is advantageous to companies (who want workers who don’t get pissed off or frustrated at all the unpaid overtime or pointless busy work or horrible disorganization) and governments (who don’t want to be pushed around by people too much). I think the breaking point for young people who refuse this kind of shit may be two generations away, though. The brightest people in the current generation is starting to get it; their kids will likely rebel into conservativism, along with the less bright people who react; and their kids will push things into the next phase of liberalization. But I could be wrong…

        I indeed am teaching at a University, in Bucheon (near Seoul) at the moment…

        For whatever reason, I can’t find you on Facebook, but if you add me, I’ll accept it. My name should come up if you search Gord Sellar Korea.

  3. Ooops, commenting again so I can get the notification if you reply. 🙂

  4. […] Then again, I’d also say depression is widespread enough that maybe most people are just too downcast and distracted to care about the sufferings of others. Yes, I said it, and I’m not the only one who has observed an empathy deficit. What others haven’t observed is that empathy deficit is also a symptom of depression: when you’re depressed, you don’t have the energy or imagination to worry about the way someone else feels or hurts. Your own pain is all there is. And that, it seems to me, describes the way a lot of people I encounter on a daily basis seem to live. Maybe that explains all the flight from emotion–into drunkenness, into violence, into extremes of religion or distraction–that one blogger recently observed as prevalent in Korea. […]

  5. I can upon this entry randomly and found it rather irksome.
    1. Korea is one of the societies in which emotional turmoil and struggle is of the utmost concern. You contend that emotional avoidance is characteristic of Korean culture. Just because Koreans use technology and external stimuli does not mean that they are lacking in emotional reality. There is no logical nor consequential reasoning that support the conclusion that tech = emotional departure. If there is, you left it out of your claims. You need to provide evidence.
    2. Expanding on the Korean emotional realities mentioned above, they have a long history of intense cultural concepts. “Han” embodies this, and was and still is a huge part of their cultural identity. People who observe other cultures simply through cities tend to gloss over those of the country side and those less willing to present themselves to strangers. Perhaps they are the people you ought to observe.


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