North Korea

Let me begin with this: the Interview is not a radical movie. It uses the same superficial rhetoric against North Korea without addressing some of the deeper issues as to why it is the way it is. It is a vapid and stupid movie by Seth Rogen.

North Korea is bizarre. I admit that. But its strangeness isn’t always inexplicable. Suppose that you were living in a country cut-off from the rest of the world, and that you were brain-washed to believe that your leader is a God who defends you from a wretched imperialist power –the US. The US did do terrible things so it makes it much easier to believe: military operations a month before the 1953 armistice carried out an attack in the major irrigation dam, causing a flash flood that scooped clear 27 miles of valley below. Along with other attacks on dams, this devastated 75% of the controlled water supply for North Korea’s rice production. Plus, religion has shown that if you brain-wash people the right way, they will believe in all sorts of things: 72 virgins, the virgin birth, resurrection, and walking on water. This explains the divine myths surrounding the leaders and the people’s undying devotion to them.

Take a look at North Korea’s socio-political position and you will understand why it cannot hold back on its military budget. Is there not a superpower that had virtually leveled its country carrying out simulated nuclear attacks on its borders by the most advanced and sophisticated bombers in the world, stealth B-2s and B-52s ? Did they not see what happened to Iraq by the man who called them the “Axis of Evil?”

It sickens me to see people make fun of North Korea, sanctimoniously criticizing them, speaking of the authoritarian regime of North Korea as the only entity obstructing the people’s way to “freedom.” They usually criticize North Korea for its human rights violations, and its posession and selling of nuclear weapons. But what about the US’s contributions to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the Korean people’s suffering? Did the US not pressure Israel to reject North Korea’s offer to end missile exports to the Middle East in return for diplomatic recognition in 1993? Didn’t the US freeze North Korea’s hard currency accounts, including proceeds from legitimate foreign trade?   

It does not help the people of North Korea to make fun of them, while the US isolates them culturally, politically, and economically. Movies like the Interview will do nothing but isolate this tragic country even more. If the US is truly interested in the unification of the two Korea’s and the reducing of suffering, they need to let them legitimately compete in the global market. This paves way for the South Koreans to pursue unification because South Korea is afraid of pouring in billions like Germany did. A more vibrant economy will cost the South less. This reduces suffering because less will starve. This reduces nuclear weapons, because as we have seen in 1993 and 1994 (Framework Agreement), North Korea will agree to stop selling weapons and dismantle reactors for economic reasons. We need to stop laughing at this tragic country and instead do something about it. We can. We live in the one country that can make this happen.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the original manga Fullmetal Alchemist is one hell of a series. It has always been and continues to be my favorite animation, manga, and story. Today I re-watched the movie that followed the end of the Brotherhood series, Fullmetal Alchemist: the Sacred Star of Milos.

The movie tackles the usual themes of Fullmetal Alchemist: the value of truth, imperialism, death, and hints of feminism. I believe this movie, especially after having seen the Brotherhood series multiple times, concisely captures these themes. It shows us the dangers of blindly pursuing the truth, and how it can be corrupted by power and greed. It shows us the devastating impacts of imperialism through the plight of Ishvalans, alluding to the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. The movie goes a step further and shows us the abominable condition of the people of Milos –commenting on the humanitarian crisis in Palestine.

I believe one of the most important themes –and whose importance I had just realized – is Death. Fullmetal Alchemist bids us to think of our lives as finite. This is the reason why we were introduced to the Philosopher’s stone and human transmutation in the original series; and it continues to persuade us to think of it as so in this movie. What does it mean to have a finite life? Well, it means that this is the only life that matters. It means that we have a limited amount of time. Instead of thinking about what lies beyond, we come to focus on the precious and small amount of time we have left. This is something Heidegger tried to teach us in Being and Time, and he would agree with Hiromu Arakawa –the author of the manga– that it is mistaken and inauthentic to ignore our finiteness.

Another astounding fact about this series is that Hiromu Arakawa is possibly the most successful and critically acclaimed female mangaka in an industry dominated by men. I believe her awareness of such a fact allows her to write compelling female characters that are unseen in other Shonen works. This is probably one of the reasons why Fullmetal Alchemist is appealing to so many. We have a female general like Olivia Armstrong who is ambitious, commanding, politically savvy, selfless, and caring. No wonder she trains and leads the strongest army in her country. We also have Izumi Curtis who is probably the strongest human being in the series and a brilliant alchemist who guided the main characters as a teacher and a mother. She isn’t merely just a strong person though. She is a sympathetic character who failed to have a child with her husband and tried to bring it back by performing a human transmutation –causing the loss of her organs and the pain of seeing her child die again. This kind of complex and compelling characterization of women can be seen in this movie as well. Julia is a rebel who fights to take back her country. She is troubled by the implications of using a Philosopher’s stone. She is troubled by the egregious deeds of her ancestors and family members. Yet, she musters up the courage to not only keep fighting but to use her life and the Philosopher’s stone as a means to protect her people. This is not something you see in mainstream Shonen manga.

Some may say that these themes were already explored in Brotherhood. My answer: so what? These are timeless questions that we need to keep asking ourselves. If you do not see them as such, I would be tempted to say that you wasted your time watching the series.

Last but not least, let’s talk about the animation. The animation of Brotherhood was superb, and the same studio animated the movie as well. It showcased a slew of different styles, beautiful landscapes, and even some 3D animation. The colors were vivid and it really helped hit home the exotic nature of this adventure film. I greatly enjoyed this film and I recommend it alongside Brotherhood and the manga.

Are Trump supporters morally inferior? Are Asians savages?

What does it mean to be morally superior? I think people usually mean that they hold good moral beliefs – for leftists, it could be supporting gay marriage, universal healthcare, the wrongness of islamophobia, and so on. Now if these were truly moral, then that would mean the leftist possess certain moral beliefs that Trump supporter do not.

Okay. Let’s suppose this is true. How does it make the leftist more moral? Holding certain moral beliefs doesn’t necessarily make one a more moral person, because it doesn’t guarantee the practice of moral actions based on those beliefs. A Trump supporter could hold certain truly good moral beliefs that the leftist doesn’t – for example, the leftist could be a terrible friend and the Trump supporter could possess the belief that one ought to be kind to her friends and acts according to that belief.

Now, let’s not only suppose that the leftist holds certain moral beliefs that Trump supporters do not, but also that the leftist holds more good beliefs and practices ethical actions more often than Trump supporters. That would surely make one a more ethical person, but how does that make one morally superior? It would make one a good person, because the leftist would practice moral actions more often. But, how does being a good person or performing good actions more frequently put someone in a different status or rank?

There is a moral theory that fits this kind of reasoning and it’s called the theory of Desert –one deserves more well-being if he or she is a virtuous person. This mode of thought isn’t very counter-intuitive, since we already judge others based on their virtue. For instance, if one could save Hitler or Gandhi, the answer is pretty clear. Gandhi is more virtuous; thus, he deserves more well-being. So, it isn’t controversial or strange for people to use this reasoning to condemn Trump supporters.

What bothers me is that many leftists are moral relativists – or at least they claim to be so. If one were truly a moral relativist, how can one rank a person’s virtue? How can you say that the culture of Trump supporters is inferior to that of left-wing millennial’s? If one truly believes that Trump supporters are morally inferior, then one has to subscribe to a kind of ethical framework that allows such a system of ranking. Moral relativism cannot say which culture is morally superior to another. If one truly wishes to hold onto the belief that Trump supporters are morally inferior, then one must be prepared to abandon moral relativism. This would mean opening up for discussion whether Islamic culture or Asian culture is morally inferior to Western culture. This would mean opening up for discussion the objectivity of ethics, and many things millennials hate.

I’m not a moral relativist, yet I detest discussions like, “Is Western culture superior to Islamic culture or Asian culture?” I think this kind of discussion very often carves up space for racism and bigotry. Nevertheless, I cannot see how being a moral relativist makes it any better. It just makes one avoid the discussion and hold onto an incoherent ethical framework. Gandhi is clearly more virtuous than Hitler, and I have to be able to ask the same of cultures.

I tried to appease my conscience by gazing at these cultures from an impersonal standpoint. Then, I saw that all cultures have had their periods of fortune – they all had their Golden Ages when the arts, the sciences, and philosophy proliferated. Some cultures are not able to live up to their potential due to misfortune, imperialism, and other complications. The impersonal gaze allows me to see that affluent cultures – the West – commit such horrible crimes that gay marriage and women’s suffrage appear as meager improvements. The impersonal gaze shows me how difficult it is to say which is better than the other as a whole. How can you quantify goods and atrocities?

I am glad that I cannot deem Islamic or Asian culture as inferior, but I did not get to this conclusion merrilly. By giving up moral relativism, I had to reason with the assumption that it is possible for a culture to be morally inferior. Ethics is hard, and critical thinking is unsettling. However, if one wishes to include truths or logical coherence in their ethical or epistemological frameworks, then one must bite the bullet. As Immanuel Kant once said, one must be afflicted by the restlessness of reason.