Thursday, October 3, 2013

Korea’s Problem is NOT Modernity

On September 24th 2013, The Korean (TK) wrote in his blog, Ask a Korean, about his disagreement with Daniel Tudor’s hypothesis in his book,“Korea: The Impossible Country,” that many of Korea’s problems can be traced back to Confucianism.

It is true that Confucianism, or whatever modern version of Confucianism that still remains, has been turned into everyone’s favorite punching bag when analyzing Korea. Though Confucianism has many faults of its own (many of which can be found here), blaming Confucianism for many of modern-day Korea’s problems is akin to blaming Puritanism for many of modern-day America’s problems. Though it is true that much of Korean norms are still run according to Confucian ideals, albeit in increasingly diluted doses, Korean society has changed so much, especially since the 1950s, that blaming “Confucianism” for Korea’s societal ills just seems quaint.

If only Americans rejected the Puritan notion of moral and ecclesiastical purity, gun violence would become a thing of the past!

It was difficult to disagree with TK until this point. From that point on, however, TK’s position that Korea’s problems are caused by modernity is nothing short of asinine.

Although TK says that it is important not to idealize the past by bringing up the fact that Korea’s historical caste system and patriarchal values hardly made pre-modern Korea a Utopian society, it quickly becomes evident that this is nothing more than cheap lip service as he then immediately says:

But it is hard to deny that traditional Korea has certain charms that modern Korea lacks. There was no constant competition or striving that stressed people out – simply people efficiently doing what they had to do to produce more than what they needed, and enjoying their lives in the free time.”

It is a similar rationale, if it can be called such a thing, that I have heard from many Renaissance Fair-goers whose knowledge of the actual history of Renaissance-era Europe was either non-existent or rose-tinted.

Zounds!  A winged woman who is clearly unchaperoned by a male family member!  This wench must Satan's whore be!  Where are the torches?  Burn the witch!  Burn the witch!

But what is modernity? The dictionary definition of modernity is simply this: The state or quality of being modern. And just which aspect of modernity does TK disdain so much? It’s clearly not the automobile or the light bulb that he despises.

What TK despises is the over-competitiveness that modernity seems to have brought about in people because, as he says, “modernity – whose essential ingredients are industrialization and market economy – demands incessant competition” while on the other hand, “in the traditional economy, the one and only goal is sustenance.” He then goes on to say that “the essence of modernity is to turn humans into resources. Market economy and industrialization, operating together, dehumanize, commodify and objectify humans.”

Modernity, whose essence TK calls ‘toxic,’ supposedly turned people into commodities, whether we are talking about 1960s sweatshop workers or modern-day public educated white-collar workers or record-setting plastic surgery rates or equally record-setting declining birth rates; and that therefore “it is only a slight exaggeration to say that every social problem in Korea is ultimately reducible to commodification.”

In other words, TK doesn’t despise the wealth or the technological progress that have been brought about by modernization. What he despises are “industrialization and market economy,” otherwise known as capitalism.

An honest portrayal of what a capitalist actually looks like.

When TK says that Koreans have been commodified, what he is saying is that individuals, through various means of socialization, have been turned into easily replaceable unthinking automatons. But does capitalism really turn people into commodities?

Firstly, it has to be recognized that one of the fundamental philosophical ideas behind capitalism is voluntary action. In a capitalist society, based on the concept of mutual benefit, people are free to cooperate or not cooperate with one another as their own individual interests dictate; being coerced to cooperate or otherwise is the very antithesis of capitalism. Under such a system, in order for an individual to survive or thrive, the individual has to rely on intellectual thought. Whether an individual chooses to cooperate with others or not, the individual is acting upon his/her own rational judgment. As such, freedom and rational thought are necessary ingredients for capitalism to exist.

Is this what TK thinks is toxic?


Secondly, considering the voluntary nature that capitalism requires, capitalism, or modernity as TK calls it, demands the best of every individual and rewards individuals accordingly. Why does capitalism demand the best? That is because voluntary trade with others necessitates mutual benefit. What that means is that in order to trade with others, others must recognize that my work, whatever it may be, is objectively valuable and vice versa. It is this mutually beneficial trade, which forbids mediocrity, that allows a society’s standard of living to rise – even for those who do not take part in this act.

Is this what TK thinks is dehumanizing?

Raise the standard of living?  What an evil concept!

Thirdly, it would be supremely idiotic to claim that capitalism does not require competition. However, no one competes solely for the sake of competing. Competition has never been nor will it ever be the end goal of capitalism. Competition is nothing more than one of the by-products of productive work that is required to raise a society’s standard of living.

The fact of the matter is that competition as it exists under capitalism is entirely different from the Hobbesian nature of competition found in the animal kingdom – bellum omnium contra omnes – which TK seems to equate as being one and the same thing. In the animal kingdom, competition means to eat or be eaten; mate or risk seeing the end to one’s genetic line. Under capitalism, competition is merely a process that is required for the creation of new and additional wealth. For example, the effect of the competition between farmers using horses and those using tractors was not that the former group died of starvation, but that everyone had more food. The creation of new and additional wealth, which was brought about by competition, is what allows even the farmers who ‘lost’ the competition to find employment elsewhere.

Is this what TK thinks is akin to commodifying people?

One out of six?  That's horrible!  Why not four out of six?  We must end competition!

Fourthly, of course the one and only goal of traditional economy was sustenance. Mere sustenance or subsistence was the one and only goal for the majority of pre-modern Koreans because both the law and cultural norms of the time forbade ambition.

Pre-modern Korea was a feudal society that was steeped in an inherently unjust caste system. It was a society that allowed the aristocratic Yangban class to thrive on indentured servitude and the slave labor of the lower classes while they enjoyed being “scholarly gentlemen.” It was a society that forced the vast majority of women to learn (if they got any kind of education at all to begin with) nothing else besides how to be an obedient wife and how to birth sons.

With the exception of the privileged few, whose privileges were the result of the pure accident of birth, pre-modern Korean laws, both written and unwritten, were designed specifically to eliminate ambition because a people with little to no ambition are much easier to rule over. When people are prevented from having ambitions beyond mere subsistence under the penalty of law, when the law does everything it can to suppress the mind, bare subsistence becomes the only goal worth achieving. In other words, the law forced individuals – people with rational minds, dreams, hopes, and ambitions – to lead lives that were no better than that of mindless cattle.

Capitalism, on the other hand, rewards merits and punishes mediocrity. It is a system that allows an intelligent and industrious poor man to reach heights that even the kings of old dared not dream while at the same time forcing the squandering rich to some day seek minimum-wage jobs.

What did pre-modern Korea reward? It rewarded those who were fortunate enough to be born as boys to a Yangban family. The sheer accident that was their birth allowed them to possess unearned wealth and political influence. As for everyone else, the sentence they received for the sole crime of being born as everyone else was a lifetime of subsistence farming and manual labor.

Is this what TK thinks is charming?

Everyone was soooo happy back then and nothing bad ever happened.  Look at how happy they are!

TK’s nostalgia for Korea’s pre-modern past, which he has clearly romanticized despite claiming otherwise, is comparable to some Americans’ idealized fancies of the Antebellum South. Just like the latter, it is equally ludicrous and obnoxious.

That Korean society has its problems is not in question. Its high suicide rate is a troubling indictment on how little Koreans value life. That there is such a wide income/political power gap between those who own or run the chaebol companies and everyone else speaks volumes about the corrupt nature of politics; how the Big Government/Big Business relationship is a symbiotic and parasitic one where a select few are protected from the marketplace at the expense of everyone else. Koreans’ record-setting penchant for going under the knife for plastic surgery shows that Koreans have very low self-esteem and that there are many Koreans who seem to gain their self-esteem through the approval (or disapproval) of others rather than from within themselves.

The many problems that plague Korean society can trace their roots to moral, psychological, ethical, cultural, political, and economic causes that were not non-existent in pre-modern Korean society. The fact that other countries that practice very different beliefs and cultural mores share the same problems that plague Korea goes to show that it is probable that people from other countries and other cultures face the same sets of moral, psychological  ethical, cultural, political, and economic problems that plague Koreans. By merely observing that those other countries also practice capitalism without bothering to go into detail the possible faults that lie within people’s values system, TK committed the logical fallacy that is known as post hoc ergo propter hoc.


As I said earlier, however, TK doesn’t despise the automobile or the light bulb. He recognizes that capitalism has helped to bring about “unprecedented wealth (albeit distributed unevenly), advanced medical science and greater knowledge about the world around us.” He’s no Luddite. As such, even if it were somehow possible, he does not agree that it would be desirable for people to go back to a pre-modern era.

TK accepts reality for what it is. He merely wishes that people could go back to a pre-modern era without having to give up all the “unprecedented wealth (albeit distributed unevenly), advanced medical science and greater knowledge about the world around us” that we have achieved through capitalism.

What that means is that TK wishes that people could enjoy the bountiful fruits that they have earned through capitalism without the necessity of practicing capitalism. He wishes that people could enjoy “unprecedented wealth (albeit distributed unevenly), advanced medical science and greater knowledge about the world around us” without the freedom and rational thought that are necessary for them to exist.

It is a wish for the impossible. That is why TK needs to rely on moral and intellectual uncertainty – “Would Koreans really want to go back to the way things were, three centuries ago? They are also exceedingly difficult, and their scope is far greater than a single national culture or tradition.” – to give a false profundity to his irrational desire. It is the only way he can intellectually deceive others as well as himself.


All that being said, however, I recognize that I ought to be fair and give some consideration to the fact that I could be wrong.  Capitalism and modernity could possibly be as evil as TK says they are.  If they are as evil as TK claims, however, I will gladly march to hell while whistling a happy tune.


  1. Clearly capitalism isn't the only cause at work here, but it's a significant part of Korea's problem. A critique of capitalism and modernity does not mean that the author yearns to live in some prehistoric commune. Your last sentence (added for that extra oomph no doubt) doesn't exactly convince readers that you aren't grossly oversimplifying TK's argument.

    I think the more fruitful question to ask here is this: what causes the hypercompetition that drives the high suicide rates, rampant plastic surgery, marginalization of minority groups/the poor?

    1. In TK's post, he said, "It is only a slight exaggeration to say that every social problem in Korea is ultimately reducible to commodification." Commodification here, according to TK, being the result of 'modernity," whose essence he claims is toxic. I don't think I could possibly oversimplify TK's argument any more than he did himself.

      As for the other problems that plague Korea that you mentioned, I briefly mentioned that the causes are likely moral, psychological, ethical, cultural, political, and economic. I did not go deeper than that because I would need to be an expert to be able to explain in much greater detail all of those other causes, which I am not.

    2. But if you claim that TK's post is oversimplified why did you need to also oversimplify? Are you seriously saying that capitalism doesn't exacerbate some of Korea's social problems? What about the relationship between markets, commodification and free choice? You are really saying we are not somehow confined in our choices by capitalism? What is your definition of free?

      You say this:

      "As such, freedom and rational thought are necessary ingredients for capitalism to exist."

      Freedom for controllers of the means of production, but no one else. You do realise, don't you, that Nazi Germany was capitalist?

      I'm frankly disappointed to see such a lack of critical thought into what capitalism actually is.

    3. TK's post was oversimplified because his one position was that all of Korea's societal ills can be blamed on modernity. My critique was therefore limited to his one position. As I said briefly, there are a myriad of reasons that explain Korea's societal ills - moral, psychological, ethical, cultural, political, and economic causes. Explaining each one in detail in a single blog post in the time that I gave myself would have been impossible.

      You are insinuating that capitalism exacerbates Korea's social problems. As the one making the claim, the burden of proof lies with you. My position was that Korea's societal problems can trace their roots to the pre-modern Korean era. Let's take competition for example. Competition as it exists under capitalism, as I have explained, is a process that is required for the creation of new and additional wealth. Competition as it exists for rational individuals, on the other hand, (which I'm sure even Confucians would be inclined to agree) is about being motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others. When people's ideas about competition is reduced simply to beating others, a zero-sum game (which capitalism is not, contrary to misguided opinions), is capitalism at fault or is it the people's moral values that are at fault?

      Capitalism requires freedom of action and freedom of thought. If people use that freedom to pursue their misguided moral values, why is capitalism being blamed as opposed to the moral values themselves?

      And what do you mean when you ask "Are we are not somehow confined in our choices by capitalism?" Choice in what exactly? The jobs we can get? The things that we can buy? If that is what you mean, I think it is ridiculous to blame capitalism for our limited choices. Limitations exist because of scarcity. In other words, limitations is merely one of the built-in features of reality. Over the past two centuries, capitalism has allowed societies to expand that kinds of choices that people have had far more than the choices that people throughout most of human history. That being said, no one has ever pretended to suggest that capitalism is a replicator (Star Trek reference, in case you aren't a Trekkie).

      If you believe that capitalism gives freedom to "the controllers of the means of production, but no one else," you're going to have to objectively prove your claim.

      As for my definition of "free" in the context of the free market, it's simply this: A voluntary economic system where no one can initiate physical force or coercion against anyone else.

      Was Nazi Germany indeed capitalist? First, let's try to remember that the word "Nazi" was an abbreviation for "Der Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiters Partei" — in English: the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Many people claim that Nazi Germany adopted a capitalist economy but that could not have been further from the truth. One of the core tenets of Nazism was that the common good was more important than private gains and that the individual exists as a means to the ends of the State. What that means is that the State owned not just the property but the very lives of the people. That is hardly a capitalist model.

      There was socialism as it was practiced by the Bolsheviks and then there was socialism as it was practiced by the Nazis. They were merely different sides of the same coin.

    4. It really isn't hard to conceive of a situation where money and power within a capitalist system constrains freedom - do you really need examples? Do you really need examples of how socialisation moulds our perceptions and wants and desires through the market?

      Also, fascism was capitalist, not socialist. I don't have time now to go into this but I think you have a very simplistic view of political ideologies and in fact free will. I will come back if and when I have the time.

      I think many other people have already shown up your argument for what it is, however. I still hope to continue this later. Not ducking this as I am looking forward to having a sit down with some time to go through it. Frankly, disappointed in your logic. But that is rich considering I haven't defended my position yet. Apologies.

    5. It would really help if you could provide concrete examples, yes.

      Merely insisting Nazi Germany followed a capitalist model does not make it true. You will have to provide evidence for your claim.

  2. "Competition is nothing more than one of the by-products of productive work"

    Isn't it more the driver of productive work in capitalism?

    1. Now THAT is a difficult to question to answer and I am not sure if I can do it justice, but I shall try.

      When people say that competition drives capitalism, I think the mistake that is being made is the assumption that people compete for the sake of competition and that the competition is somehow planned in advance.

      Allow me to explain. It is only when two or more people who find themselves in a similar trade who find themselves seeking the same, if not similar, goals that competition occurs. In other words, there have to be different people who independently engage in productive work of a similar kind for competition to arise.

      Saying that competition drives productive work, which in turn leads to capitalism, seems to assume that the competition was planned.

  3. When TK says that Koreans have been commodified, what he is saying is that individuals, through various means of socialization, have been turned into easily replaceable unthinking automatons.

    Never said that.

    He merely wishes that people could go back to a pre-modern era without having to give up all the “unprecedented wealth (albeit distributed unevenly), advanced medical science and greater knowledge about the world around us” that we have achieved through capitalism.

    Never said this.

    Capitalism and modernity could possibly be as evil as TK says they are.

    Never said this either.

    1. My goodness. The Korean has taken the time to read my blog and has written a comment. Before I reply, I'd like to tell you that I am a big fan of your work. As you can see, I don't always agree with you and when I do disagree with you, I disagree quite strongly. But I am a fan nonetheless. After all, it's your work as a blogger that has inspired me to start my own blog.

      But onto your objections. As for the first objection that you chose to bring up, no, you did not say those words exactly. But it is the logical conclusion that one derives. When you say such things like "The essence of modernity is to turn humans into resources. Market economy and industrialization, operating together, dehumanize, commodify and objectify humans," and when you use phrases such as "employable cog" it becomes difficult to interpret that as anything else besides claiming that modernity has turned people into easily replaceable unthinking automatons.

      For your second objection, again, I readily admit that you did not use those precise words. However, you did say "Above all, in this inhuman modern society, Koreans are stressed out and unhappy" and "In fact, much of Korea's tradition would counsel against the afflictions of modernity" and you also said "That Korea's problems are universal to modern nations leads to a disconcerting realization: solving these problems would require a complete redirection of human civilization from the path that it has taken for the last 250 years."

      A redirection of human civilization to what? After all of your condemnations of modernity and capitalism all the while wistfully looking back to an idealized past all the while never condemning the fruits of modernity, it again becomes difficult to interpret your unstated desire as being anything else.

      And as for your third objection, again, no, you did not specifically say that capitalism and modernity are evil. However, here are some of the words that you have used to describe capitalism and modernity: dehumanize, commodify, objectify, toxic, and inhuman. Hardly compliments, no? Again, it becomes difficult to interpret that as anything else.

    2. Frankly John, having read your response, you are the one being idealized. You conflation of capitalism with freedom is frankly misguided, naive, or at worst conceited.

    3. Then we shall simply agree to disagree.

  4. WARNING: This is going to be a tl;dr post. Sorry.

    Talk about rose-tinted. I'll state my bias as socialist-leaning (with analysis through a Marxist framework) up-front, but a lot of this is just off.

    "Firstly, it has to be recognized that one of the fundamental philosophical ideas behind capitalism is voluntary action. In a capitalist society, based on the concept of mutual benefit, people are free to cooperate or not cooperate with one another as their own individual interests dictate;"

    This REALLY hinges upon what you mean when you say "their individual interests". If you mean "what a person desires", then the rest of what you say is perfectly consistent (even if I still disagree with it). But how many people do you know who work exclusively, or even primarily, to satisfy their wants? Conversely, how many people do you know who work because they have to for their own physical well-being? The ultimate driver of the statistical majority economic activity on the planet, even if only subconsciously, is and always has been the mental urge to self-preserve and -propigate, primal urges that would be present even centuries after we entered some sci-fi, immortal, post-scarcity economy.

    "being coerced to cooperate or otherwise is the very antithesis of capitalism. Under such a system, in order for an individual to survive or thrive, the individual has to rely on intellectual thought. Whether an individual chooses to cooperate with others or not, the individual is acting upon his/her own rational judgment. As such, freedom and rational thought are necessary ingredients for capitalism to exist."

    Let's take this position to its logical conclusion: that people are "free" to choose to literally do nothing and die (i.e., not cooperate or interact with any system), should they deem that a better state to be in. Would you honestly consider this a "choice"? Further, would you consider someone faced with the choice of living or dying, and chooses death, to be "rational"? If you say "yes" to these, I'll understand that you're a true-blue libertarian, and we can simply agree to disagree. But if you're like most people, who'd you say "no, a person making that choice needs psychological help", then you've got a logical inconsistency in your ontology you need to work out. Even if you were a compatibalist on free will, my point on this post would remain.

    It should be abundantly clear that people do not operate wholly rationally; how anyone can say this after suffering the consequences of a decade of irrational exhuberance I don't know. It should also be immediately apparent that intellectual thought is but one of many mechanisms which can be used to survive; we have many, less-esteemed mental activities that can be and are exploited to help others survive. It's also obvious at this point the market system, through which we operate capitalism in most parts of the world, is NOT working to the mutual benefit of everyone. Truly equal exchanges of value require symmetrical information about the world amongst all parties involved, and we know that this simply doesn't happen.

    1. pt.2

      People need to stop fooling themselves about capitalism. Yes, it has worked marvels, but not because it is marvelous; communism did the same thing for the first few decades of the USSR. When there's a wealth of unutilized resources, any method of systemic socioeconomic organization can work wonders. (And markets and capitalism are not the same thing! You can have one without the other.)

      The point I'm trying to make here (post-rant), which I think jives with yours overall, is that it's not a "system" which matters, whether it be capitalism, communism, socialism, Confucianism, feudalism, imperialism, etc.; that's all tangential. Just as you say, it's the underlying values which are important. How you could make this point and then proceed to go on and on about the wonders of a particular system is beyond me. Every system has its issues, and in Korea, it's very clear that the negative aspects of both Confucianism and capitalism are just as active as the positive; this sort of superstructural activity is no different from anywhere else. Both you and TK are correct; neither capitalism nor Confucianism are completely good or evil; why we can't give the equal credit to both for the apparent social stress South Korea is something I don't know.

    2. "Individual interests" is not limited to simply "what a person desires." Every individual has wants and needs and those wants and needs can be personal or familial or anything else. Regardless of the motivating cause(s), the desire to fulfill those wants and needs (be they self-preservation, propagation, or the pursuit of hedonism) is what makes up "individual interests."

      As for your second point, I think you're making the mistake of conflating "rational" and "rationale." If an individual's rationale dictates that death is preferable to living and he takes the appropriate actions to fulfill his goal, then his actions, as dictated by his rationale, would indeed be rational.

      Now is that a rationale that I agree with? Personally, no. My rationale dictates that my goal is to enjoy life and that I have to use my mind to guide my actions to reach that goal. Therefore, from my perspective, a man who chooses death over life is so far beyond my realm of morality that I cannot judge his actions as being moral or rational.

      But in this extreme example, if he chooses death over life, and his actions do not cause harm to anyone else, I am in no way obligated to stop him from seeing through his choice.

      And I am in complete agreement with you when you say that people do not operate wholly rationally. Though rational thought is one of the ingredients that is needed for capitalism to exist, not everyone does so. Whether it is because of a moral/ethical/metaphysical choice that they made, consciously or subconsciously, or a biological defect, Reality is cold, heartless bitch. Freedom allows us to ignore reality, but, unfortunately, we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

      As for your point about "truly equal exchanges of value," no one has ever claimed that a free market guarantees such a thing. No one can guarantee it. Period. What capitalism guarantees is the freedom to trade, to allow each individual to constantly explore how best to maximize gains and minimize losses.

      And you're absolutely right that the market and capitalism are not the same thing. The market is just a fancy way of saying "us." Capitalism, however, makes the market free. It allows us the freedom to trade with one another, seek mutual benefit, make immediate decisions, make long term decisions - all of it based on our individual interests. And the market is indeed based on resources but resources are not limited to natural resources or merely human labor. Ideas are also valuable resources. So long as any improvement can be made to our lives, and so long as there are incentives to reward ideas that will make improvements to our lives, there will always be a market. It will continue to morph as people's demands morph. The question is: Will you allow the market to be free to adapt to people's individual interests? The answer, at least to me, is obvious.

    3. On the other hand, the socialist experiment that was the USSR failed miserably because a handful of people in the Politburo believed that they could somehow coerce millions of people to sacrifice their individual interests for the gain of the People. They learned the hard way that that was not possible; or at least not indefinitely.

      And so the underlying values are important. But the system is also important because the system is an extension of the underlying values. Freedom and rational thought are the values; capitalism is the system that allows freedom and rational thought to exist.

      Now TK was defending Confucianism. If he had merely defended Confucianism, I wouldn't have cared much. Firstly, I agree with TK that Confucianism as it exists today is not the same as it has existed historically. Secondly, no matter how much he defended it, it's a thing of the past; never to return. But instead of merely defending Confucianism, he also damned capitalism, which, as I have explained in detail, is something that I believe is the system that has raised Korea's standard of living.

      It is the other values - the moral, psychological, ethical, cultural, political, and economic causes - that have most likely led to many of Korea's societal ills. Blaming capitalism for exacerbating a pre-existing problem merely because it gave the people the freedom to act out their morality and their prejudices is like blaming the bathroom scale for telling you that you're overweight.

  5. I don't see how desires for things like family safety or success are ultimately not desires just because they don't directly involve the person holding those desires. I may desire world peace without doing a thing about it myself; it's a desire I have regardless of how involved or active it I am in trying to fulfill it (though we could argue about the degree to which you can really say you want something you do nothing to try and attain).

    And I don't think it's conflation, and frankly, unless I'm misreading, neither do you. It is because what is "rational" is determined by one's rationale that you are able to simultaneously agree that a man has a right to determine whether or not death is preferable to life, AND disagree that that is the conclusion you'd come to.

    Certainly there are other ways to determine and construct one's ontology, but the idea that there are some beliefs a person has in life which cannot be subjected to the test of verisimilitude--axioms--is appealing for precisely the reasons you describe. You may understand how a person can rationalize his decision by learning his rationale, but you disagree with the rationale behind his rationalization for reasons you (or I) cannot rationalize beyond speaking tautologically, and therefore come to a different conclusion. It's quite depressing to come down to the metaphysical relativist position (consider it a version of philosophical quietism), but in fact that does seem to be what we have both done, deliberately or not. Again, please correct me if you think I've misunderstood.

    I know that my argument against freedom is kind of a moonjump argument. "You are free to jump to the moon; that doesn't mean you can". But, and of course this is just my particular perspective, I'm not terribly interested in maximizing a quality which purports to have, as its essence, liberty, and then stops just short of when it could be metaphysically interesting. Perhaps I'm just taking my practial-freedom filled American existence for granted, but that still seems like paying for a chicken and getting an egg.

    If we don't have truly equal exchanges of value, then it cannot be said that the market is working to the benefit of everyone. The benefit goes to he/she who has the most information; any other benefit is secondary and just a pleasant unintended consequence for the other guy. I tend to think that the argument that capitalism guarantees freedoms of exchange as analgous to arguments that abolition made African Americans free to work and live as they could afford to--yes, in theory, but no, not really. Too many other things have to happen to give the bulk of the credit solely to the identified system/social organization.

    And if you agree that system is merely an extension of values, then doesn't it become obvious which has to come first, which is primary?

    I think it's a foolish and misguided thing to say Confucianism is a thing of the past. Value systems don't simply go quietly into the night; they poke and pester their successors until their replacements know how to ease their forebearers' concerns; it seems to me as though this hasn't happened in Korea, and considering how capitalism and Confucianism have gone together in other countries (if at all), I'd say they're fundamentally incompatible.

    And the real problem with your argument in this area seems to be, what's the alternative? I don't mean to setup a strawman here, but if capitalism isn't to blame, and Confucianism no longer affects (aflicts?) Korea in a way that resembles how it did previously, what is the actual cause of Korea's current social stress? Is it merely a coincidence that a large percentage of a mass of 50 million people in close geographical proximity with a shared sociocultural environment appear to be undergoing a radical change, with neither past nor present sociocultural history responsible? I'm just confused on this point.

    1. Hi. Sorry I’m a few days late. I was busy with work and writing another blog post. If you’re still interested, I would like to answer some of your critiques.

      Firstly, you said, “I don't see how desires for things like family safety or success are ultimately not desires just because they don't directly involve the person holding those desires.”

      I never said that non-personal desires were not desires. As I said, "Individual interests" are not limited to simply "what a person desires." Individual interests are made up of personal desires AND non-personal desires.

      As for ‘rational’ and ‘rationale,’ unless I’m misreading you, it would seem that we have no disagreement there.

      In regards to your point about philosophical quietism, I’m not sure if it is entirely depressing. In my case, I strongly stand by my philosophy and ideas, but contrary to people like Evangelical Christians, I do not feel the need to forcefully proselytize others. If others disagree, I am perfectly all right with letting them disagree and letting them live their own lives, so long as they do not interfere in mine. Perhaps you can explain to me why YOU think it is depressing.

      When you say that accepting the freedom “seems like paying for a chicken and getting an egg,” I cannot help but feel pity; and I say this with all due respect. Freedom does not guarantee the impossible. No one ever says otherwise. But freedom allows people to try to reach the impossible, and maybe, just maybe succeed. Forgoing freedom because freedom does not guarantee the accomplishment of seemingly impossible tasks because it “stops just short of when it could be metaphysically interesting” is far too nihilistic for my liking.

      When you say that exchanges of value that are not truly equal do not benefit everyone, what are you implying is perfectly equal mutual benefits. But again, capitalism never guarantees equal mutual benefits. NOTHING guarantees such a thing. What capitalism does is that, ideally, it divorces the market from the politically powerful, to minimize unequal mutual benefits. Even when the market is not divorced from the politically powerful, capitalism still does a superior job of minimizing unequal benefits than other economic systems. Not THAT speaks volumes about the inherent honesty that makes up the capitalist system.

      In regards to your question, “And if you agree that system is merely an extension of values, then doesn't it become obvious which has to come first, which is primary,” of course, I agree that the values must come first. The values that I champion are freedom and rational thought. They must come first. But their continued existence depends on the system that follows and the system that allows them to continue to exist is capitalism.

      When I said that Confucianism was a thing of the past, I was talking about the strict definition of Confucianism that TK and I agreed on – the Confucianism that existed in pre-modern Korea. Of course, some remnants of Confucianism still very much exists in Korea to this day. Some people call it neo-Confucianism. Its existence is not in question.

      And finally, as to the alternative answer, as I said, the likely causes are moral, psychological, ethical, cultural, political, and economic.

    2. I don't know if you'll see this response, but I just remembered that we were having this conversation, and it was interesting.

      Could you define for me the distinction between personal and non-personal desires? I'm having trouble figuring that one out.

      My problem with quietism, insofar as I'd call it a problem, has absolutely nothing to due with my inability to find a rational reason force my viewpoint on others; that's a total misunderstanding. The problem isn't that I think I'm right and I don't know why everyone else doesn't realize it; it's that, at least from a philosophically realist base, no one can ever be more or less right than I am. Quietism essentially states that there are no truths, no ontologies to construct that have real objects of reference--they're arbitrary, and thus non-real.

      Therefore, it tells you that there is no meaning to existence beyond what you ascribe to it; this may sound childish and egoistic, but I dislike the idea that the existence of my particular conception of the world is dependent on my actual existence in it. I want there to be more to the world than what I make of it, because each consciousness is only one person. Think of how few people matter after they die, and how even they only matter to those who know about them; it's as if most people may as well have never even existed in the first place.

      "But freedom allows people to try to reach the impossible, and maybe, just maybe, succeed". There's an excellent scene, from one of my favorite movies, Gattaca, which addresses this quite well. Paraphrasing, a man asks what happens when a person exceeds his or her estimated potential, to which another says that simply means that the person's potential was underestimated. To say that someone succeeded in doing the impossible just means that whatever he or she did wasn't actually impossible, but only seemed that way. I'm not trying to shoot down pioneers, but again, it seems tautalogous to say that they couldn't have done what they did (whatever it was) if they couldn't have done it...right?

      That's why freedom is, at best, boring to me: it's like leaving a 3-year old child to his own devices because maybe he'll do something incredible (and it could be a good or bad thing) for a person of any age. Yeah, sure...but as we're generally able to estimate his potential, the odds are against him, and even if he does something amazing, it means he's more mature/intelligent/developed than we thought-- nothing more. And what he does could be amazingly bad (not that, as an instrumental good [freedom is always to or from something; the word is meaningless on its own], emphasizing freedom can do anything to tell us what constitutes a good or bad thing).

      Not to mention that thought depends on the existence of nothing else; this is basic Descartes. (And if we are in agreement with what makes a thought rational, you ought to be more careful with how you use the word.)

    3. (sorry; another pt. 2)

      As to your views of capitalism, you mean to tell me that, like Fukuyama, you think we've reached "the end of history"? Nothing which is logically-possible could be better than capitalism at fostering mutually beneficial economic processes given the state of the world as it is? That suggests to me a lack of imagination, and almost a bit of cynicism, unless you really and truly think that this is the best of all logically-possible worlds.

      Reading one of your earlier posts, you seem to have a curious misunderstanding of what the market system is. It's not simply "us". It's a system of economic organization which operates according to supply and demand as determined by a mass aglomeration of information from all parties involved in the exchanges it coordinates (hence why our capitalist system is becoming more efficient and, fundamentally, equitable as the amount of information it has increases); it contrasts with command economy wherein supply and demand are decided by a small portion of the total number of people involved in the exchanges it coordinates, working with limited information . As you mentioned, it's the emancipation of the forces of supply and demand from the control of political forces (the small number of people working with limited information that normally operate a command economy) that brings about a market economy, and thus, the freedom you hold dear; in principle, capitalism has nothing to do with it.

  6. What is your opinion on IQ?
    Sorry being offtopic , but its related to capitalism..if its hereditary .
    Than low iq person like a retards for ex ..will never succeed in freemarket capitalism .
    Its survaval of fitest . natural selection.
    ..sorry for poor english ...its not my native tongue. !!!
    I enjoy ur blog! !!

    Cheers sir .

    1. Hello. Firstly, thank you for your compliment. Though I admit that I don't update my blog as often as I would like, I am currently in the middle of writing my next post. So, please, keep coming back for more.

      Secondly, do not apologize for your proficiency, or the lack thereof, in English. An apology is only required when a wrong has been committed. This is not a wrong.

      To answer your question, whether high IQ is required for capitalism depends on how you define IQ. If you define IQ as the score that people receive through some sort of standardized test, then no, it is not important. Many people who are much more well versed on the subject of standardized IQ exams have already spoken about its inherent unfairness and inefficiencies.

      However, if you define IQ as the ability to reason intelligently, then, yes, IQ is very important - not just for a properly functioning capitalist economy, but also for a healthy and rational individual. Capitalism is the economic system that allows for individualism. Individualism, in turn, is the proper manifestation of reason. Without reason, we would be no different from mindless cattle.

      Is intelligence hereditary? Biologically, I cannot say. I do not know the answer. However, as a non-biological inheritance, intelligence is definitely hereditary. If a man is rich, the man's child may inherit that wealth through the parent. Similarly, if a man is intelligent, the man's child may inherit a good education through the parent or good schooling through the parent's decision on how to educate the child.

      As for those individuals who are mentally handicapped, unfortunately, they cannot be successful in a free market economy. They have no choice but to rely on the charity and the good will of others for their survival.

      If your question is whether we should "level the playing field" for those who are mentally handicapped, then the answer is "Never." To sacrifice the intelligent for the sake of the mentally handicapped is immoral.

      However, capitalism is NOT about the survival of the fittest. "Survival of the fittest" implies a Darwinian race for survival that requires the extermination of the weak for the benefit of the strong. That is not a definition that applies to capitalism.

      For example, the wealth and technology that capitalism creates (such as the medical and other electronic technology that routinely save those who were not able to find such treatment in the past, rich or poor) demonstrate that capitalism's benefits are not restricted to the richest.

      Furthermore, in the free market, an individual gains only through mutual benefit. It is precisely through the peaceful cooperation of the market that all men gain through the development of the division of labor and capital investment. Competition and cooperation are NOT incompatible alternatives. This peaceful cooperation is the very antithesis of "survival of the fittest."

      And finally, "survival-of-the-fittest" rhetoric ignores the difference between absolute advantage and comparative advantage. Anyone who has ever taken a single economic class will tell you that even when one party is absolutely better at everything than another, they can both gain by specialization in what each is relatively good at and then exchanging via markets.

      That capitalism is an economic system that is about "the survival of the fittest" is nothing more than an emotional and irrational narrative put fort by anti-capitalists, and must be rejected as baseless nonsense.