Hello; I’ve been listening to the Waking Up Podcast for a few weeks now and decided to take the plunge to donate.
I heard Sam Harris takes guest requests, but I looked around the site and forums and couldn’t find if there was a specific thread or page for that. I hope I’m not out of line posting here.
I want to suggest BR Myers as a guest for the Waking Up Podcast.
BR Myers is, in my opinion, the most brilliant English-speaking North Korea analyst around.
His theories on how totalitarian regimes are STILL (in the 21st century, despite our technology and knowledge of the past) able to use militarism, racism, xenophobia, ethnic nationalism and religion to propagate themselves, are worthy of an interview as their own subjects; even without any mention of North Korea.
He has been making really powerful and convincing arguments the past decade (ever since his book on North Korean political ideology called “The Cleanest Race” came out) that North Korea should not be considered an old-school Communist holdover from the Cold War.
Rather, he argues that North Korea is a Far Right/Fascist state that is held together by racism, xenophobia, ethnic nationalism, and quasi-religious mythology and blood-legend that are more ideologically in line with the Axis Powers of World War 2 rather than the East Bloc.
He bases this on the fact that Korea was a colony of Imperial Japan up until the end of World War 2, that the North Korean government (despite its anti-Japanese vitriol) was staffed and welcoming of Imperial Japanese war criminals and collaborators from the start, that the propaganda they use strikingly resembles (and is even sometimes directly copied from) old Japanese WW2 propaganda, and the North Korean State has inculcated its people to see their race as having a mythological and miraculous past, and to worship the Kims as quasi-religious deities much like the Japanese did with the Emperor.*
*Here’s the late Christopher Hitchens glowing review of the book published on Slate in 2010
*Here’s Myers about his thesis in 2010, but it’s been greatly expanded upon in other articles and interviews since.
Myers’ mastery of the Korean language and history allows him to deconstruct North Korean propaganda to a degree I’ve seen no were else, as well as to explain the cultural, social and political difficulties both South Korea and Japan face when it comes to dealing with them.**
For example; here he explains how, what might be described as, a sort of “Political Correctness” holds South Koreans back from resisting the North too strongly (out of fear that they’ll domestically be smeared as apologists and admirers of the radical right-wing, anti-communist military dictatorships who ruled South Korea in the past), how it’s politically impossible to involve Japan in any dealings with North Korea (as both the North AND South Koreans STILL hate the Japanese because of the crimes of their great grandfathers during WW2),*** and why we should be worried over the rapidly increasing frequency in which the North Koreans talk about “The Final Victory” (as “Final Victory” has always been North Korean “Newspeak” and euphemism for the conquest of South Korea, the abolition of its government and subjugation of its people).
**I’m sure his experience as a literary critic helps him break down North Korean propaganda as well; he was an editor for The Atlantic Monthly for a few years and became (in)famous in literary circles for his scathing and merciless critiques of needlessly obscurantist and grandiose post-modern “Great Works”; I’d even suggest that Harris do a three way interview/debate between him, Myers and Jordan Peterson on “PoMo LitCrit” one day.
***And also, it is SO REFRESHING for an English speaker to explain the social/political climate in South Korea; it’s absolutely infuriating that so much Western press ignores it, despite the fact that South Korea is literally at the front lines of this conflict and what happens there is absolutely crucial to any course of action taken against the DPRK.
I’m certain that BR Myers can provide an analysis of the North Korean situation like no one else in the English Speaking world can. People tend to think of North Korea as a goofy and clownish pariah state that is desperate for attention and acceptance, but Myers expertly shows that this flamboyant and bombastic performance is just that; a ruse.
Myers NEVER resorts to alarmist hyperbole or paranoid sensationalism (and is the harshest critic of the “Kim Jong Un is Gonna Nuke Guam OMFG!!!” crowd). Still, he manages to turn most American readers’ perceptions of North Korea on their heads, while still proving we should take this deadly-seriously.
And like I said; even without any mention of North Korea, his theories on racism, nationalism, quasi-religious ethnocentricism, patriotism, “civic duty” and the follies of overly-PC sensibilities when dealing with fanatically hostile enemies are vastly relevant far beyond the Korean Peninsula, and are worth an interview on their own.
EDIT : Incase this inquiry takes off and gets traction, here are some things I’d like Sam Harris to ask BR Myers that I haven’t heard anyone address anywhere else.
1) The North Koreans display an extreme hatred towards the Japanese, even though (as Myers points out) the North Korean government tries to emulate Imperial Japan in cultivating a quasi-religious admiration for the Kim Dynasty and a fanatical “Kamikaze Ideology” (as Christopher Hitchens put it) amongst its citizens.
Could they being doing the same thing with Christianity? They are outwardly hostile to Christianity, but Pyongyang was once known as the “Jerusalem Of The East”.
Many people have made comparisons between Christianity and the Kim Cult; is it possible that the North Korean government is trying to repackage and emulate the Christianity that was denied to their citizens in the Kim Cult (in the same manner as they have Imperial Japanese Fascism/Emperor-Worship, as BR Myers points out)?
2) During the Cold War, many Communist states embarked on campaigns of extreme nationalism and violent militarism. What makes North Korea’s so different that it should be characterized as Far Right rather than Communist (which is Far Left)?
3) It has been in-vogue for satirists to make comparisons between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in the past year; for their immaturity, to their bombast and even to their big hair.
Are there any REAL and SERIOUS comparisons to be made?
(In terms of the experience they had when assuming office, the role cabinet members and “Party Establishment” seniors have in shaping their policymaking, their individual style of discourse and so on?)
4) BR Myers has written a lot about how Political Correctness in South Korea has been detrimental to their ability to resist Northern bullying and intimidation for years; demands for strong countermeasures against the North often earn you widespread condemnation, defamation and retaliation for allegedly being an admirer and apologist for the right-wing dictators who ruled South Korea in the 60s, 70s and 80s (even “New Right” / “Neocon” politicians who protested WITH the leftwing opposition in the “bad old days” aren’t immune to this defamation).
Not to mention the whole issue of “War Guilt” in Japan.
How bad is Western/American Political Correctness compared to South Korean/Eastern Political Correctness?
At what point does it become impossible to take reasonable measures to resist a foreign aggressor before domestic opposition politically deadlocks you with accusations of “fascism” and “right-wing extremism,” etc.
5) BR Myers frequently asserts that the North Koreans ACTUALLY KNOW that the South Koreans are freer, wealthier and better off than them, but have been brainwashed into putting up with their poverty and oppression for the common project of protecting Korean racial and cultural purity.
Is there any comparison to be made with the Republican Party?
It’s a common talking point amongst liberals that Republican voters (especially those from the South) will vote for people who will keep them poor and sick if only to maintain their racial and cultural homogeneity and nothing else (whether it be Christianity, “White-ness”, “Family Values” and so on).
But is it possible that this is really what is happening in the United States?
(Since, as Myers points out, that is precisely what has happened in North Korea)?
6) Myers actually grew up in Apartheid South Africa and frequently says he knows North Korea is a Far Right Racist state by comparing it’s ideology to Apartheid South Africa.
One of the reasons South Africa desegregated, democratized and normalized was partly because the Apartheid Regime’s “Race Enemy” (as BR Myers puts it in the North Korean context) was internal and domestic…
... the “subversive” and “Communist” blacks were inside the state’s borders and just a short walk away from the whites, so they knew they had to make concessions (and eventually step down) in order to maintain peace.
North Korea is entirely homogeneous; their “Race Enemies” are all external, so they face no threat of being overthrown by a marginalized, disproportionately oppressed ethnic/racial ‘Other’ (all people are “equally oppressed” in North Korea).
Plus, whites in South Africa trace their lineage only as far back as 200 years, and even then were divided between the Dutch-speaking Boer whites, and the colonial British “Anglo” whites who displaced the previous round of Boer whites.
(Apartheid claimed to favor all whites, but was primarily ruled by Dutch-speaking Boers, but English-speaking Anglo whites were mostly apolitical or integrationalist).
Koreans trace their lineage to a mythological pre-history thousands upon thousands of years.
How valid/valuable are South Africa comparisons, in this context, to an analysis of the North Korea conflict?
7) In his interview with the “Notebook On Cities And Cultures” Podcast, BR Myers describes how South Korea was able to overcome the bitter internal political divisions of the 1980s (when a militant and sometimes-violent opposition movement overthrew a corrupt and sometimes-violent government) and somehow normalized to create a moderate, level-headed society and government.****
What could America today (given our obvious political, social and civil strife) learn from the democratization and pacification of South Korea in the 1980s?
Yes, I, too, would love to hear a conversation with Myers on the podcast. You might want to post your request in the AMA section as it’s more likely that Sam will get the message there than in the forum.