Monday, June 24, 2013

State Sanctioned Sexual Suppression (Part I: North Korea)

When it comes to North Korea, there is no one that I trust more than Andrei Lankov. His unique experience of having lived for a time in North Korea when he attended the Kim Il-sung University and his erudite analyses of the North Korean government and society offer the rest of the world an insightful look into the North Korea that we seldom ever get to see.

However, his latest essay about sex in North Korea in The Three Wise Monkeys seemed somewhat like a fluff piece, a kind of analysis that anyone could have made with an educated guess. After having read Lankov’s essay, the sexual mores that exist in North Korea, as titillating as it may be, does not appear to bear much difference from other tyrannical nations; be it Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Muammar Gaddafi's Libya.

Unlike other animals that engage in sexual behavior solely for the purpose of producing offspring, people choose to have sex for another reason – pleasure. The things that people pronounce to like are the things that people perceive to be good. As such, what people are sexually attracted to are what people perceive to be good; and in people’s case, what is perceived to be good is the reflection of one’s own sense of values, one’s own self-esteem.

As such, because sex, one of the most personal and private acts that an individual chooses to take part in, is a conscious or subconscious expression of one’s own self-esteem and self-worth, it is, therefore, unsurprising that a tyrannical state that wishes to control every aspect of its subjects’ lives would want to control sex as well. The tyrants themselves wish to be the source of people’s self-esteem. They cannot allow individuals to find their own self-esteem and later to express it through sex.

No tyrannical state government can allow its subjects to have this thought

By extolling ‘family values’ and indoctrinating the idea that sex is something that can be consummated only within a marriage, the North Korean government is trying to indoctrinate the idea that there exists such a thing as a pure Platonic love that is devoid of sexual desire; that sex is nothing more than a biological function, albeit a necessary one, that is needed to produce future revolutionaries and workers. In other words, as far as the North Korean government is concerned, sex is not a personal act between consenting adults who choose to consummate their love, but a state apparatus.

That early communism, while it was still primarily the fancies of nineteenth-century urban intellectuals, placed great importance on gender equality is no secret. However, communism was always the goal that those intellectuals sought. The vehicle that was used to reach that utopia was socialism. The very name of the first ‘communist’ nation of the world was the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.


Due to the overuse and misuse of the word ‘socialism,’ socialism has come to mean different things to different people. Especially in the United States and in Europe, when people speak of ‘socialism,’ what they usually mean is ‘welfarism.’ They are not synonymous. Traditionally, socialism is defined as the social and economic doctrine that champions government ownership and control of all property and natural resources.

In other words, a socialist system operates on the premise that a person’s life and his work do not belong to him, but belong to society; that the only justification of his existence is his service to society. As such, society can dispose of him in any way it pleases for the sake of whatever is deemed to be the collective good. Even in a socialist system, however, somebody has to make those ultimate decisions. The very nature of socialism thus gives that individual or individuals who have the right to make those decisions ultimate political power, the power over life and death.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that despite the good intentions of the early urban intellectuals who championed socialism and communism, socialism, when put in practice, attracted some of the worst power-lusters in the history of the world – Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, et al.

(Some might argue that Hitler was not a socialist, but a fascist. However, Friedrich August Hayek, the author of The Road to Serfdom, dedicated a whole chapter in his book giving a compelling and intellectual argument that Nazism, indeed, had socialist roots.)


That these power-lusters would put on an air of Christ-like virtue for public consumption but engage in all manners of sexual debauchery in the privacy of their lairs, “just as the first meeting between Kim Il-sung and his future political partners took place in an elite club somewhat similar to the ‘room salons’ of today,” is also unsurprising. After all, as Henry Kissinger once said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

Power-lusters who hold the power to determine when people die act on the premise that this power gives them purpose, glory, and happiness. Similarly, they act on the premise that their sexual conquests of high-end prostitutes give them self-worth. They have upended cause and effect. Instead of the logical outcome of sex being the result, the effect, of their self-worth, they operate on the premise that sex is the cause of their self-worth. They seek to gain value from sex, not to express their value through it.

That they pretend to be above sexual needs when presenting themselves to the public is the logical result of a morality that attempts to disintegrate people – the belief that people are composed of two antagonistic elements: his body, which seeks the sinful depravity of sex, and his soul, which is pure and clean.

As the morality and philosophy that are used to prop up North Korea are based on similar principles that have been used to prop up other tyrannical regimes in the world, explaining the schizophrenic nature of the manner that sex is treated in North Korea comes as no surprise. As such, Andrei Lankov’s essay seems somewhat redundant.

The more interesting aspect of state sanctioned sexual suppression can be found in South Korea. However, that is a story for another time.

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