Category Archives: Articles

“Technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science”

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Paul Goodman’s article in the New York Review of Books from 1969 “Can Technology Be Humane?” contains the famous line which has stuck with me for years:

 

 

“Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science. It aims at prudent goods for the commonweal and to provide efficient means for these goods. At present, however, “scientific technology” occupies a bastard position in the universities, in funding, and in the public mind. It is half tied to the theoretical sciences and half treated as mere know-how for political and commercial purposes. It has no principles of its own.”

I would not say that I agree with Goodman’s rather harsh assessment., but I think he raises the most essential question of what exactly technology does.

Short note from Noam Chomsky

March 12, 2017

Emanuel Pastreich:

Many youth feel trapped. They feel that they live in a system that puts them at a disadvantage and does little to help them. They feel misunderstood and they feel that there is an absolute gap between themselves and those who seem to be deciding how things are done, how society is run. Why do they feel that way?

Noam Chomsky:

Contemporary neoliberalism has created what some call a “precariat” – people living a precarious existence, on their own, cast in a hostile market system with little solidarity, mutual support, stability and security.

 

“The day after the removal” (JoongAng Daily March 15, 2017)

JoongAng Daily

“The day after the removal”

March 15, 2017

Emanuel Pastreich

 

The protests on the day after President Park’s impeachment took the most disturbing form. A large crowd gathered in Gwanghwamun Square to celebrate the unanimous decision for impeachment of the constitutional court. The protest resembled a carnival of celebration, but there were those who actively promoting other issues like the release of the black list, the removal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system, the rejection of nuclear power and demands for more profound changes in Korean society. For them, impeachment is merely the first step in a more profound political transformation.

There was a line of police buses that blocked the boulevard. This time the police buses were not keeping protesters away from the Blue House, but rather separating the anti-Park protesters from a group of pro-Park protesters who gathered around city hall with their Korean flags (and some American flags) who were led on by rousing speeches in defense of President Park against what they perceive as a political vendetta by an irresponsible group who wish to lead the country astray.

The division of downtown Seoul into East and West reveals more profound fragmentation in Korean society, resulting in part from the growth of a superannuated society which produces a deep gulf in the basic assumptions about how the nation should be run. There are now unresolvable gaps in terms of what is assumed to be true concerning such incidents as the sinking of the Sewol Ferry, the actions of President Park and the imprisonment of the leftist politician Lee Seok-gi. Read more of this post

Digital Times “Because this year forms the close of a long-term cycle, we need political innovation and participatory politics”

The Digital Times

“Because this year forms the close of a long-term cycle, we need political innovation and participatory politics”

Ye Jeen Soo   

2017-03-02 10:29:49

■ 2017 Restart Korea

Insights into deep-rooted problems in the Korean economy by foreign experts

Interview with Emanuel Pastreich

professor at Kyunghee University’s International Graduate School

Emanuel Pastreich (Korean name, Lee Man-Yeol • 53) Professor at Kyunghee University’s College of International Studies is a scholar who knows Korea better than Koreans. When we asked about problems in Korean education, he spoke of the strengths of traditional Korean education, strengths found in the remarkable spirit of the ethical Korean scholar (seonbi) and the traditional spirit of community. Pastreich majored in classical Chinese literature at Yale University and received a master`s degree from University of Tokyo and a doctoral degree from Harvard University. Considered an outstanding scholar, he speaks Korean, Chinese and Japanese fluently. Little things like the kindness he demonstrated when to female employee who brought the coffee revealed that he has much internalized that traditional Korean tradition of courtesy.

We asked him about direction of Korea after the political disruption of the presidential impeachment trial when he visited the Digital Times on February 23.

Read more of this post

Labor and Slavery using Chinese (the case of the “coolies”)

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Emanuel Pastreich

February 25, 2017

We are increasingly seeing a return to cruel and inhuman approach to human labor that produced industrial slavery in the 19th century. In effect, humans were used as a complement to the coal-driven engine for their physical strength at that time.We are seeing such actions taken regarding humans now tied to the computer-driven global economy.

The exploitation of Africans then is well known. That of Chinese, less so. This passage from the book “American Involvement in the Coolie Trade” is most revealing. Of course American companies are still involved in similar exploitation of Chinese workers today–even at the same time that China is presented as an enemy.

People seeking profit were able to do the most terrible things to other humans using the thinnest of arguments about how some humans where less equal than others, and they did it for centuries. I wanted to believe that humans have a strand of goodness in them that can be awakened when confronted with truth, but it turns out that such a process only works on rare occasions.

If we look at the slave trade, the British captured people and sent them over piled in boats knowing that half would die on the trip.But the profits were sufficient to do it for three hundred years.The move against slavery only emerged slowly and was only successful because the industrial revolution made slavery less profitable.

The passage below describes the guano caves where Chinese slave labor was forced to work. Guano is the piles of excrement of seabirds, seals or bats and has a high concentration of nitrogen and phosphates that make it a perfect fertilizer for intense farming. So also were Chinese drafted into the whaling industry which slaughtered whales to the edge of extinction in the pursuit of their oil which was used for lighting. That whale oil trade was the forerunner of the petroleum industry which continues to dominate our economy.

The irrational drive for profit at any cost, to the degree that it became obsessive, was the topic of Herman Meville’s novel Moby Dick. The captain of the boat Pequod in Moby Dick is the captain Ahab, who remarks,

“All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.”

The point of Ahab’s comment is that his drive to catch the whale, as part of an increasingly crazed consumer culture, is completely insane, but each and every step along the way seems quite logical, even coldly rational. No doubt the coolie trade was quite similar.

American Involvement in the Coolie Trade

by

Shih-shan H. Tsai

page 54

The treatment of the Chinese coolies on board ship was even more inhuman. The transport ships were usually badly equipped and overcrowded. Food was poor and sanitary facilities lacking. Brutal Treatment of the coolies was often reported. The American ship “Waverly” bound from Sawtow to Callao, Peru, with 450 coolies on board, was a good example. On October 27, 1855, while preparations were being made to buy the body of Mr. F.O. Wellman, the captain of the ship, at Carito, Philippines, the coolies believed that they had arrived at their destination. They wished to go on shore and attempted. to take possession of the boats in order to do so. The new captain, to prevent this, fired into them. The crew, fearing a revolt, armed themselves. The Chinese were, after a struggle, driven below and the hatches closed up, and “on opening them soem twelve or fourteen hours afterwards it was found that nearly three hundred of the unfortunate beings had perished by suffocation.”

Many coolies could not endure the treatment they recieved. Some of them committed suicide while the militant ones instigated mutinies. Many of the coolies stabbed themselves with pieces of wood, or hung themselves to the masts of guano ships, “while three hundred, in 1856, drowned themselves in the ocean during a single day off hte Guano Islands near the coast of Peru.” Mutinies frequently erupted when the coolies discovered they had been tricked into contract bondage.

Angry and desperate coolies butchered crew and officers, and often set fires aboard their ships in mid-passage. One case of mutiny that attracted the attention of the United States government occured aboard the American ship “Robert Brown,” sailing from Amoy in 1852. “Four hundred Chinese emigrants had been enticed aboard the vessel normally bound for San Francisco. When they discovered that they had been deceived and were being carried into contract service in another country, they mutinied and killed the officers.”: Afterwards, they testified in court that they had been promised four dollars a month as hired laborers and not as contract laborers.

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“Seoul should be unpredictable” Febuary 20, 2017)

JoongAng Daily

“Seoul should be unpredictable”

Febuary 20, 2017

Emanuel Pastreich

 

 

The recent meeting between Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump was a farce. Both men were clearly complete strangers with no common interests other than to push for their own domestic agendas. Anyone watching their forced actions could see that it was a marriage of convenience.

Both politicians make good use of “political unpredictability.” Abe has abandoned Japan’s long commitment to peace as a goal and is moving quickly away from its social welfare system that was so impressive to us in the 1980s. Trump has not only abandoned the free trade stance which was the core of U.S. policy since the Second World War — without even bothering to ask Congress to pass the laws necessary, he is taking steps domestically, such as personal attacks on judges, that undermine the rule of law.

Of course, North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and advanced missile technology is profoundly destabilizing and dangerous. Yet the odds of the North actually using nuclear weapons against the South or the United States is extremely low. Rather the risk is that continued development of nuclear weapons will set off an arms race in the region which will end up creating tensions not only with Pyongyang, but between all the nations of the region, and that process, unchecked, could end in nuclear war.

I would like to suggest that Seoul engage in its own version of “unpredictability” by doing something that no one ever guessed it would do: tell the truth.

Not only should Seoul state bluntly that the greatest danger of the North’s nuclear program is its risk of triggering an arms race. It should call on the United States to engage in serious negotiations with the North, China and Russia to create an environment in which we can reasonably expect that the North will first stop testing nuclear weapons and then take steps to eliminate those weapons. Read more of this post

Park Geun-hye’s role?

The scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, Choi Soon-sil and Chung Yoo-ra suggests the terrible consequences of a hidden bias towards women even in an age where women play a critical role in Korean society.In the case of Park Geunhye, if we can believe the reports, she spent an enormous amount of time on her appearances, trying to conform to demands that she be attractive. She could not formulate policy for herself, although obviously intelligent and well educated, and was reduced to a tool of older men who used her and then threw her away. I think that it is entirely appropriate to perceive Park Geun-hye at an irresponsible person who engaged in illegal actions for her narrow benefit but also, at the same time, as a women victimized by a culture that made her value conforming to a certain image of femininity more important than doing her job.

But the more disturbing part of the story is the fairy tale aspect of the denouement  . The story told in the media, liberal and conservative, is one of three women, Park Geunhye, Choi Soon-sil and Jung Yoo-ra who engage in terrible corruption that puts the nation at risk. They three of them, and their actions, are described in far greater detail than anyone else. But this story line sounds like it came out of a Confucian history book. The standard approach from ancient times was to try to blame the corruption of men on women. Yang Guifei of China’s Tang Dynasty  is the best example, the woman who was blamed for the corruption of the Yang family which led to a popular uprising—even though she herself did not have much to do with the corruption. And yet the most progressive people buy into this story. And this story keeps us from investigating more deeply into who actually got the money and how it was distributed. It also keeps us from thinking more deeply about what it is in the system and its organization that encourages such corruption.

A Modern Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The great three-way battle after the end of the Han Dynasty for control of the realm under heaven in ancient China forms a  perfect parallel for the current geopolitical rivalry between the United States, Russia and China.

Back in the second century A.D. the states of  Wei, Shu and Wu competed with each other in an effort to unify China and establish their political authority.

In a previous age, there was some resistance to this analogy because the United States considered itself to be in a special class, but with the rise of Donald Trump, and the cultural degradation of the United States, the analogy is rather apt.

Here is my own analogy for the three states of ancient China. Tell me what you think.

Sun Quan (孫權) the King of the State of Wu (吴)

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Is the equivalent of Donald Trump, Emperor of the United States

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Liu Bei (劉備) King of the State of Shu ( 蜀)

liu-bei

Is the equivalent of Xi Jinping, Emperor of China

xi152way

Cao Cao (曹操) King of the State of Wei 魏

cao-cao

Is the equivalent of Vladimir Putin, Emperor  of Russia

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End of the Republic and the beginning of the empire

The time has come for people to start to get over their shock and assess the United States as what it has become, not what we want it to be.

You may have noticed that despite all the noise in the media, not a single a politician has drafted articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, despite multiple illegal actions.

They are not doing anything at all. Congress is just a show. No action. The congress has become an institution like the Queen of England, an elegant historical relic.

And the State Department, which once played such an important role, now has been permanently stripped of ambassadors, and lies there like a castrated gazelle.

What has happened? Well, the great scholar Chalmers Johnson predicted all this a long time ago. He said it was the end of the Republic and the beginning of the empire.  He predicted exactly this.

 

The problem is not really about Trump at all:

 

 

Chalmers Johnson wrote:

 

 

The collapse of the Roman republic in 27 BC has significance today for the United States, which took many of its key political principles from its ancient predecessor. Separation of powers, checks and balances, government in accordance with constitutional law, a toleration of slavery, fixed terms in office, all these ideas were influenced by Roman precedents. John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams often read the great Roman political philosopher Cicero and spoke of him as an inspiration to them. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, authors of the Federalist Papers, writing in favor of ratification of the Constitution signed their articles with the name Publius Valerius Publicola, the first consul of the Roman republic.

The Roman republic, however, failed to adjust to the unintended consequences of its imperialism, leading to a drastic alteration in its form of government. The militarism that inescapably accompanied Rome’s imperial projects slowly undermined its constitution as well as the very considerable political and human rights its citizens enjoyed. The American republic, of course, has not yet collapsed; it is just under considerable strain as the imperial presidency — and its supporting military legions — undermine Congress and the courts. However, the Roman outcome — turning over power to an autocracy backed by military force and welcomed by ordinary citizens because it seemed to bring stability — suggests what might happen in the years after Bush and his neoconservatives are thrown out of office. Read more of this post

“Letter to Ban Ki-Moon from the midst of the gathering darkness” (Kyunghyang Shinmun January 26, 2017)

 Kyunghyang Shinmun

“Letter to Ban Ki-Moon from the midst of the gathering darkness”

January 26, 2017

 

Emanuel Pastreich

I know that many have approached you about the possibility of your serving as president of Korea after the anticipated impeachment of President Park. You have a unique set of skills and a broad range of friends in the international community that would serve you well. Today, you are surrounded by people asking for your help in this moment of tremendous uncertainty in Korea. But I hope that you have a moment to step back from the crowd and contemplate your role in history now that you have become such a critical figure.

There are several people out there who are entirely capable of serving as the president of the Republic of Korea. But there is an even more critical job, and you are the only one who is qualified to play that role as the former Secretary General of the United Nations.

Last week Donald Trump was sworn in as the president of the United States, someone who has openly opposed a commitment to universal standards on human rights and who has taken as a central advisor John Bolton, a man who is committed to taking the entire United Nations system apart. In addition, President Trump has nominated for secretary of state Rex Tillerton,  the former CEO of EXXON, , a man who has no interest in the response to climate change and who has advocated that the United States move to stop all Chinese actions in the South China Seas—an act that many experts think could lead to nuclear war.

The scale of the geopolitical crisis today cannot be overstated and Korea, located at the center of Northeast Asia, with close ties to both the United States and to China, will be one of the first victims of such a new cold war, or hot war. Korea needs you, and your network, to start an entirely original and powerful initiative that will offer an alternative to military conflict, get the focus back to climate change, and set the foundations for long term solution to address this crisis head using a coalition of the committed throughout the region.

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