January 7, 2018
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A common quest for true intellectual commitment
Interview with Emanuel Pastreich
January 5, 2018
Emanuel Pastreich, a professor at Kyung Hee University, is the author of numerous books and articles about culture, history, politics, technology, and international relations that have been published in English, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. Originally an expert on classical Asian literature, he has become a major public intellectual in Korea, and in the region, over the last ten years. His book “A Different Republic of Korea of which Koreans are Ignorant” was the most successful of three best sellers. It was officially recognized by the Korean government as a major achievement.
Pastreich recently announced that he intends to leave Kyung Hee University to launch University Of Brain Education (UBE) and a brand-new think tank entitled “The Earth Management Institute.”
We had a chance to catch up with Pastreich and we asked him about the reasons for this decision, and about his plans for the future.
You are a famous scholar of Asian studies educated at Harvard, Yale and University of Tokyo who has taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Campaign, George Washington University and Kyung Hee University for almost 20 years. You are established at a well-known university.
Why would you leave to be the director of this brand-new Earth Management Institute?
Being a professor, or being affiliated with a famous university, should not be the goal for an intellectual. An affiliation with a major institution can help one to realize one’s goals, but being at a major institution is only a means.
I have had the good fortune to receive an excellent education and to learn multiple foreign languages. That education and those skills are not my possessions, they are not a special right that I possess for which I must be rewarded with an exalted position at a famous university.
I was able to focus on my studies for these years because so many people helped me, whether I knew it or not. I am talking about the men who cleaned my elementary school, the women who cooked my meals in college (and today), the many efforts of drivers, librarians, secretaries, to maintain an environment in which we can work. I have a tremendous responsibility to all of them, and to even more people, to return that debt to society.
I have a duty to share what I have received with as many people as possible, and to do that as we struggle to respond to a rapidly changing and dangerous world.
Let us first face the truth: the institutional decay of educational institutions in Korea, and around the world, is making the goal of responding to the needs of young people, and of our precious Earth, more and more difficult.
In a normal age, I might have spent my life as a committed teacher helping his students to understand the world. But I believe that there are extraordinary moments in history, such as come every few hundred years, which offer overwhelming risks and also some substantial opportunities.
This is such a moment and action is demanded of me. I cannot simply teach my classes and publish the academic papers.
The rapid evolution of technology has overwhelmed our society and the institutions of local, national and global governance. Artistic and literary expression, which should provide inspiration for a better society to all citizens, has degenerated into an ode to consumption and to immediate satisfaction.
We know many facts and we have many skills but we are completely paralyzed and incapable coming together as a community and taking action.
This is a very dangerous time. We must alter our priorities and change our habits.
What have you seen at the university that has changed your thinking?
I am profoundly aware of the crisis in education from my teaching at the Kyung Hee University, and elsewhere. Our students are forced to study topics that do not interest them in order to get jobs that do not inspire them, jobs that have little to do with creating a better society or with helping their neighbors.
Sadly, education has been reduced to a diploma, a document that allows you to get a job. If students could secretly buy one of these documents and get a good job, I think many would be tempted to do so as the classes themselves, and the wisdom and knowledge contained in them, are not important in our society anymore.
Education is not about understanding the world, or about considering one’s ethical role in it. It has become increasingly difficult for me to teach in such an environment.
The university in specific, and education in general, has become a place for competition, and not for cooperation. Students who should be making life-long friendships with professors,
and with each other, are increasingly alienated from each other and are drawn into the deceptive world presented in their smart phones.
And the professors also are forced to compete with each other, rather than forming an intellectual community. The only thing that matters is that professors publish articles in SSCI journals. But what are SSCI (Social Science Citation Index) Journals? They dull magazines, chock full of jargon, that are edited by a few scholars. These journal articles, the only important contribution of the professor, have literally no impact on our society.
I feel I have an ethical obligation to talk to ordinary citizens, to truly engage my students, and all young people, in a serious debate on the risks of our age: climate change, the disparity of wealth, the threat of nuclear war, the decay of values in our society and the importance of understanding history and culture in order to create a future that is solid, not illusionary.
Was there some specific event that changed your mind about working at Kyung Hee University?
I have given numerous lectures for the public on serious issues in our society. I have written hundreds of articles for the people in newspapers and magazines read by ordinary people. But as far as the university is concerned, that was not important. I am still not a full professor and the last time my university renewed my contract was with hesitation because I lacked the qualifications demanded. But I felt that I should do what is demanded by these dangerous times, not what the Ministry of Education requires for promotion as a professor.
This semester I taught a class on climate change for the first time. I made tremendous efforts to design a course that would appeal to young people and that would teach them about the severity of the dangers that we face. I wanted to work with them to come up with a plan to transform our society, and above all to change our thinking.
But when I showed up for the first day of classes, there were only five students in the classroom. Until that time I had never taught a class in Korea that was not full from the beginning. I was shocked.
The department informed me that if I did not have ten students in the course, it would be cancelled and that my salary would be reduced as a result.
I learned later that many of the economics classes in the university had been made into required courses and that my course was designated as just an elective. That change in the rules meant that students who wanted to take my course (and there were plenty) were not able to do so.
The Climate Change course was not cancelled, ultimately. But I learned that the nature of the university has been fundamentally changed while we were asleep.
Our role is not to prepare our students for the future, or to give them ethical guidance. Our purpose as a professor is to grade papers, write letters of recommendation and write specialized journal articles that almost no one reads.
Personally, I think economics classes that teach students how to use mathematics to calculate inflation and interest rates without any consideration of the ethical and cultural aspects of economic exchange are far less valuable than my course on climate change. I told my department head I wanted an open discussion about whether climate change is less important than economics. But no such discussion was even possible.
Young people, intellectuals, everyone, should be focused on the critical issues of our times and we should do things directly to help solve problems. We need to stop be passive consumers, manipulated by the media and distracted by video games, and we should be active citizens, thinkers, who decide for ourselves what is an ethical life and who take brave and creative steps to realize that world every day.
January 7, 2018
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My friend Jiun just posed one of the most amazing suggestions to me today that I have ever heard. I was completely floored and had to sit down and catch my breath.
He suggested that the fruit offered to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the so-called apple (although that designation seems to be fake news–we still do not know exactly what fruit it was) on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was planted there by God as a set up for humans. It was the first false flag operation made to snare humanity into joining the fallen world. Something like luring the Japanese into bombing Pearl Harbor, perhaps?
I admit it is a bit far fetched, even disrespectful to the Almighty, but what a conspiracy theory!
“Had Adam not eaten from the “Tree of Knowledge”, he wouldn’t be discerning to be able to separate right & wrong.
Thus, he did not listen to God, and ate the “Forbidden fruit”.
Didn’t God basically set him, a trap, from which he could never escape?”
December 31, 2017
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I remember when I watched the United States launched spacecraft to the Moon on television as a child. The process of preparation was shown for hours with occasional commentary by scientists and experts. There was no thrilling gossip by overpaid TV personalities or attempts to spice up the story with exclusive interviews “behind the scenes.” The entire point of the reporting was to present the facts in an accessible manner to the public. People had the patience to listen to the complex narrative because the systematic pursuit of facts, and science had value. Now all that tradition has been washed away by an obsession with the self, and by an appeal to immediate satisfaction.