What we are getting is Marxist Feudalism played out in snowy Pyongyang, the sight of thousands of Korean citizens turning on the economic waterworks as prominently as possible for the cameras of the authorities to pick up their lamentations. What we are not getting is anything remotely spontaneous.
It is unlikely that they are dancing in the streets as dancing in the streets, even at the best of times, probably carries a 20 year stay in the local gulag. However, we get to hear so little about the everyday lives of the North Koreans that anything would surprise me (nothing being the status quo).
The reason that the anthropologist in me is getting excited is that I wonder if what is going on there isn’t just how things naturally should be. This is my first question.
Perhaps the western democracy that we inhabit is just a product of political weakness by those in charge in Europe in the 114th and 15th centuries who allowed social mobility just because there was so much room to be social following the Black Death. Put another way, if we hadn’t embarked upon democracy and retained a feudal society, if we hadn’t allowed the modern system of banking to spread through Genoa and Venice, if we hadn’t allowed mass-education and ultimately the internet but instead stayed in the penumbra that North Korea inhabits-would we consider North Korea so strange.
I’m sure there are many potential despots hanging around Europe who look to the Kim’s cosy little arrangement with a degree of envy. The divine right of Kims or kings or the rather attractive notion (to Seigneurs) of the droit du seigneur clearly work so long as you can keep subjects in a state of imbecility.
My second question is whether the subjected masses of North Korea are as dumb as they look. Either they are living in a state of communal dumbness that allows them to believe the stopped falling when Kim died, that Kim hit 11 holes in one in one round, that the escalator on which he as last seen now has sacred powers and that the North Korean swimming team are about to clean up in London 2012, or they are smarter than they look.
My guess is that they are smarter than they look and either they enjoy having no independent thought (cos it’s easy to be dumb) or they are so terrified of the consequence of independent thinking that they have turned off the “scepticism” button in their brain.
Which prompts my third question, would I be happier if I was not asking silly questions but just accepted how things should be? I’m quite sure that if the thing that made me saddest was the death of my dear leader, I would be living a much more stable life than I do today. If all outcomes were certain and I could turn on the television in the certainty that my team would be winning would I not be happier? Maybe the absence of volatility is a good thing and I should enjoy life like a with-profits fund- getting 80% of the reward I might have got elsewhere but getting 80% less grief.
I have no more idea whether the grass would be greener in North Korea land than is here in blighty but in a strangely Korean way –
I think I should be told. If some anthropologist has the answers to my three questions, I’d like to hear them. I suspect however that the tale of the Garden of Eden applies here and that once we have bitten from the forbidden apple of knowledge there is no way back.