Saturday, May 13, 2006

authority sucks

I don't have to go to school for an entire week
I just want to go down to Newport Beach
Mom and Dad want to tell me where to go
They wanna go to Club Med San Carlos
Club Med sucks
Authority sucks
I hate golf
I wanna play lacrosse
The people there, they are so stupid
They exploit the poor and the weak
I want no part of their death culture
I just wanna go to the beach

--Camper Van Beethoven
my sophomore-year roommate in college loved this group

On the way back from a chicken-terrorizing session at Outback Steakhouse, I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing an encounter between a youngish policeman and a 40-something drunk guy in a suit. Both men were standing; the policeman had the drunk guy by the wrists while the latter yelled imprecations.

This is the norm in Korea: I doubt the drunk was arrested. I don't think our police back home have the patience to take that sort of shit for more than a few seconds.

And yet, I'd say that Korean streets are generally safer. I've heard the pop-pop-pop of gunfire at night in DC before; hard to imagine something like that occurring in Seoul.

It's a question of what you value, though: strict Confucian mores, not deep respect for the rule of law, keep the citizens in line here, but they do so at the cost of individualism. What'll it be? Tonight, my buddy Tom remarked that the most successful Koreans tend to be those who break out of the Confucian mold. Departing from the Confucian trajectory is much harder for a Korean than breaking the law. Ask any Korean woman approaching the age of 30 about the pressure she's under to get married.

However, if the argument is that the successful are those who swim against the societal current, I'd say the same argument obtains in other cultures as well: the US, for example, has its own conformist ethos (cf. any fashion or musical or political trend). Those who succeed are those who rise above the sheep: they often lead the trends. Perhaps the only real difference between American and Korean conformism is whether we rail against it or not. Americans do, but not very hard. Koreans seem largely content to conform. Those Koreans who might take exception to this observation are probably nonconformists themselves, even if they don't want to admit it.

As I passed by the policeman and the drunk, I thought about what I would do in the policeman's place. I'd probably give in to my inner Nazi, truth be told, and have the guy in an armlock right quick-- not so much because the spectacle of a drunk person rouses my ire (years ago, that used to be true), but because I wouldn't want to waste my time arguing uselessly with an idiot who won't even remember the argument later on. As a nondrinker, I suppose I have little understanding of and compassion for drunks.


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