True significance

In August of 2018, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (in Korean, “한국보건사회연구원“) had published a report stating that the Korean population will be halved by 2115. That’s about 100 years from now — like 3 or 4 generations of people by that time — but considering, comparatively speaking, the dismal number of Koreans in the world, that is rather sad state of affairs as a part Korean myself. As an expert demographist (his primary profession is as a medical doctor, btw), Hans Rosling, recently pointed out there will be many more Africans as the number of people living on the continent of Asia will decrease. (White, Europeans will remain nearly same over the same time period.) There is a little doubt that the Asian population decrease is being heavily contributed by Koreans themselves. It’s no surprise considering the fact that Koreans have achieved a reversal in the population growth rate at a pace much faster than that of Japan. The growth rate started to slow in early 1980s, so, as of 2019, it’s been 39 years — 9 years beyond a generational maturation age — a significant event that happened in a generation of time, albeit silently.

This has come to fruition in an epoch of time that is distinctly marked by the ascent of sleeping dragon, China. Back in December of 1996, the Koreans celebrated as a new member of OECD, and immediately after, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 slammed down on them hard. What they had gained as a type of worldly credence to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s economic powerhouses, they had to pay it by yielding their own control of financial infrastructure over to foreign hands. It was not pretty, and most of Koreans seem to be blissfully unaware of the true significance of the event. In spite of their desperate gold donations, it was as if it were happening to a third-world country that is not theirs. It was an empty significance bought with a cheap sell-off of a country, and there’s still nothing to show, except a magnified mediocrity of life that Koreans themselves have to carry on their shoulders. Adam Smith might have been proud for finally opening up Korea for his market principle, but that came at the cost of skipping too many steps, at an eager, profit-driven hands of international monkey fund. You’d think the sapient Santayanan call on the city gates would be loud enough to be heard, but irony has had a long history in human affairs, especially in Korea, with exquisite twists. You think 1905 Eulsa treaty was bad? Clearly, it was a leadership failure pronounced over a background of over-reaching for a corporate significance — even Ye Wan-yong (the last Prime Minister of the Korean Empire) considered himself a high patriot — and it was no different in 1997. You could practically transpose the same characters out of the history books and place them anachronistically and still have the same, boring narrative, although it verges on an Oedipal tragedy many times over for a Korean who hasn’t been zombified through a silent, hysteric lobotomy. It’s a profound mystery of a human soul considering why those responsible haven’t gouged out their eyes out yet. Maybe, it’s a post-generational front-loading of guilty they were after. How convenient, and so effective!

The vanity of vanities whispered through the mouth of a serpent was, “you will be like G-d.” But מייקל (who is like God)! The desire for self-significance comes at the very reflection of who השם (the Name) is. The matchless, the incomparable, the one and only, the perfect, the eternal, and the attributes goes on. Plato’s abstract form is a sheer blasphemy, but the immutable attributes can, in an adjectival way, be described as such for our little minds. Isn’t it enough to be an imago dei? What more significance can he possibly achieve beyond that? That was the very reason for the fall — what may have truly inspired Milton, though he seems to obsess over the demonic fall more. We were created for other-significance, and that other being the creator himself, rather than self-significance. What is the chief end of a man? One needs not even touch a codified, catechistic words before coming to experience the sheer joy of helping others, which is a mere, experiential hint. It’s also mind-boggling the complexities through which our hearts are prone to grab the fruit while framing it as other-significance. Let’s not forget that Adam was also an accomplice. Noahic description of human heart was very telling. Nothing has changed. In the context of Korean history and the state of affairs today, it is an eulogy.

It was a hammer crashing down on an anvil of history. I personally hope to be disproved by time itself, however, as things stand right now, it seems to be another end to a short-lived dynasty. Yi dynasty at least has the bragging rights, but this dynasty without a monarch will go down in history as a mere blip, probably titled below as a footnote in a textbook on economy: “The Miracle of Han River.” Despite all of the marketing and PR efforts by the Korean government and affiliates, most of world’s attention is now on the awakened, giant dragon. The dragon swooped down on whatever was left of the Saemaeul Undong (New Village movement) on the small cheek of its butt, and farted. The light show going on under the banner of k-pop and other things prefixed by k was once enjoyed by Japan for a short time. The keyword here is “short.” Just as quickly as the speed of disappearing Danish pastries in a company breakroom, the consumers consume and they will just move on. It was personally a heart-wrenching experience to hear the significance of Korea come to fore with a blast of Psy’s Gangnam Style from the FM radio in the U.S. Lyrics are embarrassing to say the least. Sure, many of my Korean friends had enjoyed American music without knowing the lyrics, but I’m not sure if they’ll nominate Michael Jackson’s Beat It for a national Intangible Cultural Asset, or whether such things have a lasting value to withstand the weight of centuries. We have a gamut of personalities stating that Psy was a patriot. Did I mention that Greek actors were mostly philosophers? Sure, Psy can be a pop philosopher in the school of New Sophists — the school of self-significance. He’s successful, all right, for himself — and he’s a hero for it. Latest glitzy act from him was a song filled with thinly disguised profanities. Last I heard of what Korean elementary school children want to be when they grow up, they all wrote, “Rich” — not one dissident was found in that anecdotal example. The latest batch of over-educated kids from Korea have been full of disdain, echoing the sentiment of Hell Joseon, and the importance of their identity as Korean is as far removed as sinking Micronesian Islands are from the consciousness of the dazed teens playing PUBG.

What’s really going on here? How did we get to this place? TL;DR answer is the pursuit of self-significance at a fundamental level, but one of the more important symptoms is the way of the very fabric of any society. The new value system intently and silently imposed on the Korean people was not a Biblical one for sure. But, utterly, worldly. I’m not sure if G-d in mind the GDP, the cost of living, and the educational cost when he said, “be fruitful and multiply.” Did he have cheap imitation of equality in mind when he created woman as a divine helper for man? Maybe Adam should have thought long and deep before he exclaimed, “Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,” but he couldn’t have known all the divorces that his sons and daughters would commit. The same drive that drove Eve to “be like God” and pick the forbidden fruit is the drive that is driving so many to waste their lives on pursuit of empty self-significance. Educators’ mantra, of course, is “education will improve people’s lives,” and what Confucianism has taught Korea for millennia wasn’t lost. Sure, the kids from Korea compete at the world-class level, but they are without chests. More a Korean family invests in kids’ education, the less they teach these kids at home. Kids learn nothing, and these kids trail right behind me in age. I usually have more fun talking to a grandpa reciting from his memory the Korean War and events related to that, than an over-educated, post-doc Korean kid who’s lived in a closed world of academia, and online games. He knows just enough social etiquette to get by, but again, I barely sense a heart that’s withered down to a nub. I once expected to connect with an adult, not aroused with a sympathy over a dwindling weight of a barely-human without a chest. So many Korean American families I’ve seen aren’t much of a family, but a machinery fit for a modern factory. Kids are expected to study and go to a good college and put their two feet on the ground as a financially successful member of the family. Parents toil day in and day out trying to make ends meet while enjoying social pleasantries at a local church or with golf buddies. Individuals living out their lives to achieve some means of self-significance, all with the banner of humble, normal family. There’s nothing normal about this modern snapshot of a Korean American family. White American families at least still share in some family tradition that may have trickled down from the days when everyone attended church, so, unbeknownst to themselves, the family culture still has a thick milieu of Christianity rubbed in many of its walls. Koreans, on the other hand, were passed down with a cultural milieu so robust and hermetic that it pervades in every word they speak. It actually goes much deeper than just labeling it Confucianism, and he wasn’t even Korean. The utter, this-worldly mindset that has pervaded most of Asia for millennia is still evident in Lexus-filled parking lot of so many Korean American churches. They aren’t teaching kids Christian values for sure. What little sense of Korean identity they have, they make it up by bringing kids to a Korean church bubble. I don’t think they do that anymore nowadays, but at least that’s what they used to, believing that somehow getting English-speaking Korean kids together helps to develop their Korean-ness — all that without teaching neither the language nor the history. Or maybe they believed that their kids wouldn’t have sex and have kids in high school like white kids do if they were churched this way. Whatever the reason, one thing became clear to me in my three decades of dealing with Korean American kids — Korean families don’t teach kids anything while they invest heavily in their education. It’s probably an exaggeration, but I think I still stand by it. I have heard enough lip service about Korean communities valuing the education of their children. It’s all a lie. It’s about valuing the significance of their organization, church, or whatever. If Josh Kim goes to Harvard, more kudos to the church, or the family, or whatever tickles their face. Don’t misunderstand. I have many friends who are worldly successful–even a Harvard professor at that — and are great human beings at the same time, but sadly, I have seen one too many families where it’s all about worldly success while claiming to be Christians. Eve was, after all, perfect, when she reached out for her self-significance, but Koreans have no time for that. Even Christian shepherds give undeserved encouragement by telling them they have to shine in the world by becoming the head and not the tail — without enough warning about this vicious pursuit for self-significance, the very tempting words of Satan himself. They have damaged themselves enough. Wake up to the fact that worldly significance is for those in the gutters, or risk the true insignificance before the Creator himself.