Category Archives: Essays

The dawn of the age of “psychopathocracy”

I am not a political scientist, but I felt compelled to coin a new term to describe the new form of governance we see emerging around the world.

I refer to this model as “psychopathocracy” a term which describes the rule by psychopaths, those who are mentally unstable in a sense that strips them of their humanity and makes them incapable of determining what is in their own interests, or in the interests of others.


This state often features paranoid obsessions.

When Donald Trump’s National Paranoia Advisor John Bolton spoke with Martha Raddatz  of ABC News and stated that he was convinced that not only Russia, but Iran, China and North Korea would meddle in the Midterm Election, he was giving voice to precisely such paranoid views (granted their political value to him).

Bolton stated,

“I can say definitively that it’s a sufficient national security concern about [in addition to Russia] Chinese meddling, Iranian meddling and North Korean meddling [in the coming election] that we’re taking steps to try to prevent it, so it’s all four of those countries, really. I’m not going to get into the – what I’ve seen or haven’t seen, but I’m telling you, looking at the 2018 election, those are the four countries that we’re most concerned about.”

We have to wonder whether that election will ever take place.


I also want to mention Thomas Mann’s insight:

“The insipid is not synonymous with the harmless”

Mann suggests that many mistakenly assume that because the actions of certain people are foolish, dreary and banal they are therefore of little consequence. But as Mann learned in Germany of the 1930s, the banality of political discourse has nothing to do with its potency, or with its destructiveness.


Cognitive dissonance as comedy

I saw this haunting advertisement in the subway today (July 18, 2018). It was, of course, meant to be humorous, lighthearted and topical. But there was something deeply disturbing about the image.  The advertisement for a waterpark suggests that geopolitical catastrophe and the complete loss of institutional control we see in the United States, and in South Korea, can be an amusing theme for an advertisement for summer fun on the water slide. We see Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un racing down the flume at the water park towards complete chaos.

I think this advertisement suggests a pathological level of cognitive dissonance.


Discussion on North Korean Human rights on Alex Jensen’s TBS eFM show

I had the opportunity to speak about the Trump-Kim summit on TBS eFM’s “This Morning with the inimitable Alex Jensen on June 12 (just a few hours after the summit).

It was a great opportunity to discuss the summit with a variety of experts from around the world.

The discussion is available at

This Morning with Alex Jensen 

“US -North Korea Summit & the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”

The other guest on Alex Jensen’s show was Sarah Son, research director of the NGO Transnational Justice Working Group.

She spent most of her time talking about the abysmal human rights situation in North Korea. I did not disagree as I am certain that North Korea, like many other developing nations, suffers any number of human rights abuses. I also kept my mouth shut as she detailed the prison gulags in North Korea that are so offensive that they must be discussed at the summit.

But that is where it all fell apart. I was asked my opinion and I responded that not only does the United States have the largest prison population in the world, not only does it abuse prisoners as laborers, not only does it have for-profit prisons, but that it is now engaged in the explicitly illegal activity of separating children from parents among immigrants. Such actions are an act of intentional and unnecessary cruelty. It is also a blatant violation of international law—the sort of action the US has condemned other nations for.

Ms. Son was silent on this topic. When she was pressed, she responded that she dealt only with North Korea in her work. She refused to say a single negative word about the Trump administration.

But that was not all. When I suggested that Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un had much in common as the products of inherited dynasties of corruption and power, she was again silent.

The working assumption for Ms. Son was that North Korea was somehow horrible in a sense that no other country in the world is, a miserable universe unto itself.

This argument did not convince me.

Finally, she was not interested in engaging in the question of whether North Korean workers were entitled to protection from exploitation. This part I was not able to press her on—as I wanted to keep it polite. But you listen to yourself.

My impression from what she said is that North Koreans are entitled to “human rights” like advanced Western countries, but that they have no rights to protest against their exploitation by corporations and they have no rights to collective bargaining.




For sleepwalkers

All those of you who heard Donald Trump first declare that he had read the letter from Kim Jong-un and then later claimed he had not even looked at it, you are now aware of the extent of the institutional decay in that entity we once fondly called the United States of America. There is a saying about this sort of a state, by the way.



“In the land of the sleepwalkers


The blind man is king”




“This was a meeting where a letter was given to me by Kim Jong-un, and that letter was a very nice letter — oh would you like to see what was in that letter? How much? How much?”

“I purposely didn’t open the letter. I haven’t it opened it yet. I didn’t open it in front of the director. I said, ‘Would you want me to open it?’ He said, ‘You can read it later. I could be in for a big surprise, folks.”






이만열 의 이야기

임마누엘 페스트라이쉬 의 경험


임마뉴엘 페스트라이쉬(Emanuel Pastreich) 교수는 한중일 비교문학 전공으로 일리노이대학 일본학과 교수로 재직하였다. 그는 드물게도 전공분야에서 아시아 학자들과 매우 긴밀하게 공동연구를 진행하여 왔다.

그는 2000년 5월 조교수로 재직하고 있던 일리노이대학(University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)에 아시아연구프로그램을 개선하는 방법으로 인터넷을 이용하는 계획안을 제출하였다.

페스트라이쉬 교수는 동료교수들과의 비공식적인 토론을 바탕으로 일리노이 대학이 북경대학과 동경대학 그리고 서울대학과의 인터넷을 통한 학문적 교류를 통해 일리노이대학이 좀더 높은 단계의 국제적 대학으로 발돋음 할 수 있는 계획안을 제안하였다.

그는 특히 인터넷을 통해 온라인으로 각 대학들의 수업을 공유하고 공동연구를 증진시킬 것을 제안하였다. 아울러 그는 서면으로 동아시아 국가들이 문화적으로나 사회적으로 좀더 긴밀히 통합될 수 있는 방법과 아울러 한반도의 통일문제에 대한 구체적인 제안을 첨부하였다. Read more of this post

Immigration Policy Committee at Ministry of Justice

Today I was appointed as a member of the Immigration Policy Committee at the Ministry of Justice and had a chance to meet the Minister of Justice, Professor Park Sang-ki.

Here is the certificate that I received today.

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But more interesting indeed was the odd gift I was presented with.


Here is the box.

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Wonder what might be inside?

A pen? A USB? A small electronic device?

But no… a bit of Korean humor about immigration policy.

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Much appreciated.




Can Vegans eat Venus Flytraps?

It is a very serious question. Can a vegan eat a Venus flytrap or other plants that eat animals? Kept myself up late yesterday pondering this question.


What happened to progressive media in Korea?

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I had the chance to pick up a copy of  Sisa-in시사인 yesterday at the train station and start ed reading it through. I must admit I was shocked.


When Sisa in was formed in 2007 by a group of journalists who could no longer take the commercialization of Korean media, it featured often extremely insightful articles on current affairs. This group of editors and reporters from Sisa Journal resigned in protest over the deletion of an article that was critical of Samsung and set out to pave the way to a new form of journalism in Korea.

Although I would not say that I agreed with all that Sisa in published ten years ago, and   I found some parts rather self-indulgent, as opposed to analytic, their writing offered a refreshing perspective on contemporary Korea, and often provided details not found elsewhere.

But when I picked up current issue and started reading it, I was immediately struck by how glossy and superficial the analysis has become. Particularly unimpressive was the repetition of positive interpretations of the engagement with North Korea of the Moon and Trump administrations without mention of the complete contempt for international law and diplomacy that has been shown by Trump Administration. Not a word about Trump’s contempt for the international community as shown in his actions on the Iran agreement or the Paris Summit.

Not sure what happened, but I offer some suggestions in my upcoming article on Korean journalism in Korea Times.

The American invention of Schrodinger’s cat governance

How do we describe the entirely incomprehensible politics of the United States today? In which Trump is both about to be impeached and about to make himself a dictator at the same time? I think the best term is “Schrodinger’s cat governance” –a term I just coined. That is to say that in quantum mechanics things are both true and untrue at the same time. We are both about to have a breakthrough meeting of the North and South at the Pyongchang Olympics and at the same time, we are on the edge of nuclear war with North Korea. In a non-quantum world, these cannot be true at the same time. And of course in a quantum universe as well, the wave must break down at certain instants. I will work on this concept further, but I want to throw out this new idea.

Automated kiosks as government?

Some people naively assume that when this government shutdown is over, the government will be up and running after some last minute political deal. But that is hopelessly naive.

This new generation of politicians is planning to destroy everything, like anarchists.

Many ask, why the Republicans would want to shut down the government if they control all three branches?

The answer is rather simple. The Republicans do not control all the bureaucrats. A lot of them are still thinking people, even Democrats. People who are educated and increasingly people who are more interested in governance than anyone in the Congress. So they need to destroy the government itself to achieve the absolute power they crave.

Maybe government officials can be replaced with automated kiosks? Don’t rule it out. There may not be much government left when we get back.blogger-image--2099157781