Mad about bulgogi

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this mad cow issue between Korea and the US, mostly because I don’t know enough about it. But I had a conversation about it recently, and it made me think a little differently about, not just beef, but Korean-American relations.

A little background, as much as I understand it anyway: About a month ago South Korea relaxed its barriers on the importation of US beef. Around the same time, some Korean doctor or academic released a study that determined that Koreans are more susceptible to mad cow disease because of their “unique” genetic makeup. Well, people went apeshit. There were massive protests. It became the new reason for Koreans to be angry at Americans (as if they need one).

The United States government response, with media in tow, is falling back on United States logic and common sense. This mostly involves reassurances that the beef is safe, that mad cow is extremely rare, and that steps will be taken to ensure that there are no problems. Foreigners here cite the bird flu epidemic in Korea and therefore call the anger over safety issues hypocritical.

I met a really smart girl this weekend and I asked her about this issue. She put it to me this way: It has nothing to do with beef. What Americans don’t understand is that anytime something like this happens, it’s yet another example of how Koreans aren’t in control of their own destiny. They feel as if the United States is continually strong-arming them into doing something in the US interest and not in the interest of Koreans. US beef will not help their lives, it’s strictly an issue of economics. The politicians go along with it because they know that they’re under the protection of the US militarily and economically, at least in part.

So to her it feels like another manifestation of US colonization. Koreans want to live their own lives and make their own decisions. But the politicians always seem to fall back on US decisions. So people get angry. It’s not about beef, it’s about self-respect and self-determination.

Now… yes, Koreans are nationalistic and ethnocentric. But this argument made sense to me, and it helped explain a lot. The Unites States is always seeing things through its own often arrogant code of logic and common sense. It’s reflected in politics, in economics, in the media, and in public opinion. If a good argument is made, the action is justified. It’s Occam’s razor in action: disregard nuance and you can make tangible policy. You simply need to make the other side to see things more clearly.

This, incidentally, is also why the United States is failing to stifle terrorism. It’s a mistake to believe that if everyone could simply come around to our view of things, they would see the benefits. There are many places in the world that do not have the same worldview. And these people are not stupid.

Sorry, I’ve jumped into something I know very little about. But I had to get that out of my system, because it goes directly to the heart of a lot of the inter-cultural problems I experience here.

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4 Responses to “Mad about bulgogi”

  1. “The United States is always seeing things through its own often arrogant code of logic and common sense.”

    You think? Bush goes to Saudi Arabia to solve
    our problems with oil and doesn’t call the US
    oil companies into his office to say we’re all
    in this together and how about giving up a few
    of their billions in profit?

  2. Yep. Thomas Friedman wrote about that very thing recently:

  3. Yes, you bring a more sane approach to this whole issue. You will, therefore, be marginalized by your rabid bretheren.

  4. Evidently. :)

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