Newspapers thrive on human interest stories about interesting or unusual people. The story of one person’s experience makes something real. People who have shared the same experience will feel close; people who don’t have the same experience will feel distant; our feeling of proximity or distance to others has consequences.
In Chapter 4 of Cialdini’s 1984 book Influence, he describes an experiment in New York. The experiment looked at whether people would return a wallet with a note inside. The experiment found that if the finder of the wallet thought the person who had written the note was similar, then 70% of wallets were returned. If the note-writer was seen as dissimilar, only 33%. We respond better to people we see as similar to ourselves.
In literature and movies, we are attracted to people like us or people we aspire to be like. We feel a distance from those who are not like us, or who we do not wish to be like. An example of this is perhaps the women murdered by Jack the Ripper. Over the years, they have been summed up by a simple narrative: prostitute. Interest focused on the murderer and the crimes, but not these undesirable women. Hallie Rubenhold in The five has the amazing idea of putting Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly—the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper—back into the centre of their story. The stories behind these women are fascinating. The simple ‘prostitute’ narrative spun by the media is incorrect; the truth is complex. To learn about their lives, I would recommend reading this book.
The problem, however, was that Rubenhold tends to project her feelings onto the characters, ‘the sense of shame and isolation must have been acute’ (Chapter 4). The reader was told: this character felt x or y at z. For me, it is very hard to believe that a modern author (who grew up in LA) could be so sure about the feelings of a cross-section of people from 19th century England, especially when people in London now have such difficulty understanding and empathising with people they dislike—northerners, white people, Brexit voters, conservatives, fox hunters etc. At an online book club, the author said that she had read a lot of documentation, which made her sure about the feelings. However, documents—like caricatures of people—can be twisted.
Perhaps interestingly, in the “Conclusion”, Rubenhold says that the attitudes commonly held by men about prostitutes at the time were wrong. Maybe in 100 years, people will consider popular narratives today as being incorrect. To continue with the subject of prostitution and narratives, but moving to Korea, there is another issue from history that has come up recently.
A civic group representing ‘comfort women’ became the focus of criticism after Lee Yong-soo, one of the women it purported to protect, accused it of using her to make money ‘like a bear doing tricks’ for 30 years. Moon Jae-in himself continues to use ‘comfort women’ to inflame racial tensions and to cover up more insane behaviour from his pure-blooded ‘brothers’ in the north. This president isn’t interested in the truth. Any deviation from the government narrative, lands professors in court and jail. The truth is secondary to grouping ‘pure-blooded Korean’ victims against the Japanese.
The ‘civic’ organisation Moon is defending is accused of giving jobs to family members, making dubious ‘investments’, taking money from school children and indoctrinating them with hatred, and trying to stoke hatred against Japanese people all around the world.
Sadly, while Korea and Moon are happy to teach young girls about how evil Japan is at school, Moon continues to protect pure-blooded Korean paedophiles from prosecution, if they paid off victims or said they were drunk. And let’s be clear, Moon Jae-in, a former human rights lawyer, has rejected petitions calling for paedophiles to be punished more harshly, indeed he sees drunk driving as worse than drunk rape, of course, unless the aggressor is Japanese or foreign.
Recent progress in protecting minors in Korea from trafficking and horrific sexual abuse was only because foreign governments forced Korea to act.
The idea of protecting foreign women trafficked to work in the modern ‘comfort women’ industry run by Koreans for the American army is unheard of (https://www.politico.eu/article/my-body-was-not-mine-but-the-u-s-militarys/). Now, foreign women are being tricked to come to Korea to work as kpop stars, then being forced into prostitution.
I doubt this will make the New Yorker, unlike a story about the ‘positive’ actions of a Kpop army who overwhelmed police apps they disagreed with. What is essentially bullying is okay, if you agree with the people. However, online criticism in Korea is a huge problem, as is pressure to conform to narrowly defined stereotypes. The Kpop industry is extremely exploitative; violence against women is common. Online bullying is so horrific, stars are driven to suicide.
What would happen if the media perhaps tried to consider both sides of a story instead of taking an angle, or focusing on a single person? What would happen if Moon stopped focusing on hatred of Japan and instead tried to end the sexual exploitation of women in Korea generally? What would happen if Moon stopped making excuses for drunken paedophiles and changed the law to give heavy sentences for sex crimes? Would the lives of all our daughters look brighter in Korea, irrespective of pure-blood? If the media painted a more measured picture of both what they agree with, and more importantly what they disagree with, many people throughout the world would also benefit.
Another popular liberal campaign is tearing down statues of people they dislike. They may support statues being torn down in America and Britain but do they support Maoists and Red Guards guards destroying statues of Confucius? If you visit the birthplace of Confucius now, you can see that people have carefully tried to piece these statues back together fragment by fragment. They can be faked; they can never be fixed.
The only perfect people are those manufactured in Kpop factories or created by Communist propaganda machines in societies without a free press, where the narrative can be 'adapted' to suit the message and anything negative suppressed. We don’t need to agree with Confucius—I certainly don’t—to say that destruction isn’t the answer. Educating yourself about what Confucius said and how his theories have been used to control people and populations over the years is a better response. Education—not about the version of history you agree with—but solid foundations for all students in science, maths, English, and sports is the answer to inequality and injustice.
Silence, we are told, is violence. Yet, you are not solving the problem if you don’t fight against the injustice itself and instead focus on people and skin colours. When you only fight for those people to whom you think you are similar, or for those people with the same skin colour, or for those who you have been taught have the same ‘pure-blood’, what you are doing is perpetuating and exacerbating racism and hatred.
Yes, we respond better to people we see as similar to ourselves. This is true of psychological experiments, literature, and real life. However, just as the men in the 19th century thought they were right in their classification of women, or the Red Guards thought they were leading the world when they tried to destroy class enemies, our opinions about other people can be wrong. Rather than basing decisions on people, it would be better to identify problems and solutions.
No one is perfect unless they are manufactured by a Kpop factory or a propaganda machine. Statues need preserving; schools have to be opened. We need solutions that make life better for all.