Sin vergüenza

It’s amazing how having constant high-speed Internet and cable tv means that one no longer has to go out as much. I’ve been doing my best to get caught up on watching cartoons, reading comics, and generally lounging about in sybaritic fashion. For instance, I spent last Sunday afternoon eating grapes and watching the dvd boxed set of Season 1 of Carnivale.

It’s wonderful to waste free time. And yet, time is not wasted when one’s mind is productive. Even when I’m not thinking about my thesis, I’m thinking about my thesis, and connections spring up during my relaxation in many delightfully surprising ways.

In this case, I’m talking about Eden, another Japanese comic book series (also known as manga) that I’ve recently come to like (thank you MangaProject). It’s about a young man living in a world where a pandemic has brought the world to the brink of disaster, and where a new world order has sprung up as a result. I have to tell you, in the following discussion of Eden I’m going to dispense spoilers like crazy. So read on at your own risk. There’s too much stuff to cover in one post so I’ll revisit the series again later. If you want my thoughts on Eden in a nutshell: Cyberpunk, biopolitics, near-apocalypse — rock! Read it if you need something to flip through when you want to pretend to yourself that you’re working.
A recumbent android girl is opened up and examined by lab technicians.
Anyway, the new disease is called the Closure Virus, which has killed 15% of the world’s population decades before most of the story’s action takes place. Bear in mind that 15% may not sound like a lot, but that’s still hundreds of millions of people dead, not to mention the many more that are implied to have died from the chaos that erupted. Governments collapse and a new organization exploits the power vacuum to put itself in charge — the Propater.

In the book, Propater is a neoliberal theocracy of federated nation-states controlling what we would call the “West” plus most of the Americas. I know, “Propater” sounds made-up. The name actually comes from Gnosticism, a religious movement from the same era as early Christianity. In fact, if you’ve got some knowledge of the Gnostics and of early Christian theology then you’ll be able to appreciate better some of the references in the series. I feel embarrassed I hadn’t caught on to the Gnostic elements until I’d read the series glossary, where it was all spelled out. Gnosia and agnosia, the aeons, God as insane: these are all things that are mentioned in the book, and they’re all important in some way to the story and its themes. Actually, googling around reveals that the major characters are named after Gnostic deities and they all play similar roles in the story as in Gnosticism.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (take that Wikipedia) says this about Gnosticism:

The doctrine of salvation by knowledge. This definition, based on the etymology of the word (gnosis “knowledge”, gnostikos, “good at knowing”), is correct as far as it goes, but it gives only one, though perhaps the predominant, characteristic of Gnostic systems of thought . . . Gnostics were “people who knew”, and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know. A more complete and historical definition of Gnosticism would be:

A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying and pantheisticidealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour.

However unsatisfactory this definition may be, the obscurity, multiplicity, and wild confusion of Gnostic systems will hardly allow of another. Many scholars, moreover, would hold that every attempt to give a generic description of Gnostic sects is labour lost.

Oh, and apparently Christian Gnostics were responsible for early Christian fanfiction:

The Gnostics developed an astounding literary activity, which produced a quantity of writings far surpassing contemporary output of Catholic literature. They were most prolific in the sphere of fiction, as it is safe to say that three-fourths of the early Christians romances about Christ and His disciples emanated from Gnostic circles.

Setting aside the fact that this version of the Catholic Encyclopedia is rather old and it’s often amusing to read the snide jabs at other religions, it’s interesting that anyone would structure a manga around Gnosticism. However, Eden isn’t the only manga or anime to take its inspiration from Christianity and related religions. I’ve never read the manga or watched the anime, but I know Neon Genesis Evangelion also explicitly explored themes from Christianity and Kabbalistic Judaism, though its treatment of such was apparently problematic. I did watch two episodes of Ninja Resurrection, a godawful anime miniseries about rebellious Christians in feudal Japan and the rise of the Anti-Christ or something.

Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a widespread fascination with Christianity in Japan, perhaps analogous to the fascination with Buddhism in the reified West. Perhaps this fascination comes from a desire for authenticity, with that authenticity being searched for in the foreign. So foreign = Other, Other = authentic, and conversely, domestic = Same, Same = inauthentic. This BBC article on one manifestation of Christianity in Japan presents an interesting but somewhat exoticizing view on the topic.

However, it’s debatable just how alien Christianity really is to Japan. It’s been in the country for 450 years, meaning that Christianity in Japan is almost as old as it is in South America. Christians have played major roles in Japanese history, perhaps most famously in the rebellion of Amakusa Shiro (depicted in Ninja Resurrection), not to mention the extensive meddling in feudal Japanese politics that Catholic missionaries engaged in. And as the BBC article shows, certain Christian sects are quite popular in modern Japan. So just how Other is Christianity really?

Oh whatever, I’m hungry and my rice just finished cooking. I’m definitely coming back to Eden, but see you some other time.

Parte segundo de la traducción

Remember when I tried to explain the meaning of Sarapen? Well, ice_of_dreams, who I encountered on LiveJournal through our mutual appreciation (or former appreciation) of Ranma 1/2 and fanfiction thereof, has offered a more complete translation. Following is the comment left on my LJ:

World keeps getting smaller. I am Filipino too. 🙂 And you’re fortunate I still live in the Philippines and can translate. (and let me tell you these words are deep and aren’t used in daily conversation so I have to ask my dad and helper who’re from the Tagalog region to make sense of some of the words)

I hope you’re ready for this, this is long Continue reading “Parte segundo de la traducción”

Stuff that is free

Free online access to SAGE journals until October 18
The announcement by SAGE Publishing:
“If your institution subscribes to one or more SAGE journals, free online access to ALL SAGE journals is available for you, your colleagues, and your students until October 18, 2006! No registration is required, so start accessing articles in your discipline on SAGE Journals Online today! Search leading SAGE journals covering a wide range of subjects in Business, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Science, Technology, and Medicine.

If your institution does not subscribe to any SAGE journals, click here to register for free online access to the trial today!”

They’ve got journals on ethnic studies, communication, history, sociology, and even one on video games (look under Media and Communication). I’ve mostly looked through the anthropology ones, I like Anthropological Theory and Critique of Anthropology.

Jiggety Jig

I just realized that I haven’t mentioned this before, so let me tell you all now that I’ve finished my research and data collection. I’ve looked at the blogs, I’ve interviewed people, I’ve sat around and done analysis. All that’s left is the writing. So that’s what I’ll be doing from now on. Anyway, this is the abstract that I have so far for the thesis I’m working on:

My research focuses on Filipino bloggers and their expression of Filipino identity on blogs. Following from the data I gathered from bloggers both in the Philippines and overseas in a content analysis of Filipino-written blogs and from several interviews, my thesis begins from Stuart Hall’s conceptualization of identity as contingent and arising from difference. I explore the complexities behind the expression of Filipino identity on blogs and the numerous factors that such expression is contingent upon. I answer three basic questions in my exploration of this contingent identity: Why is Filipino identity expressed on blogs? How is it expressed? And why is there no single Filipino blogging community?

It’s clumsy here and there, but bear in mind it’s a work in progress. It gets the job done, which is telling the reader what the whole thing is about. I’ve also got an outline and some notes specifying what goes where, plus two notebooks full of analytical scribblings I’ll have to pore over, not to mention the notes I’ve taken on the books and articles I’ve read.

So what does the data I’ve gathered tell me about Filpino bloggers? I can only offer tidbits, of course, since there’s so much information to convey. Anyway, I’ve noticed that there seems to be five major categories of Filipino bloggers: Cosmopolitans, the Philippine Elite, Im/migrants, Second Generation Diasporic Filipinos, and Younger Filipinos in the Philippines. These are not absolute categories; there is overlap, and besides which, this is not the ultimate typology of Filipino bloggers which can be constructed.

Cosmopolitans are those Filipino bloggers originally from the Philippines who readily discuss such things as trips to Hong Kong and favourite restaurants in New York. They don’t speak of these experiences as extraordinary, but instead discuss them as normal and common. They live all over the world, though quite a few live in the Philippines. They tend to be neutral towards Philippine politics, at least judging by the fact that they rarely discuss such matters.

The Philippine Elite are Filipino bloggers based in the Philippines who – from the way they present themselves on their blogs – are clearly part of the ruling class. I don’t mean that they’re necessarily amazingly wealthy, but they definitely have power in the Philippines. They can be doctors, lawyers, journalists, and so on. They often discuss Philippine politics and they frequently display their nationalism in some way on their blogs. Cosmopolitans and the Philippine Elite are quite clearly connected to each other, and there is much overlap between the two.

Im/migrants also often discuss Philippine politics and make nationalist statements, but they also discuss things that the previous two groups do not. For example, Im/migrants often blog about adjustment difficulties to their new countries. They also speak of the Philippines in nostalgic rhetoric that Cosmopolitans and the Philippine Elite do not use (“I remember when I used to be a kid in the Philippines that we used to do x”). Blogs written by Im/migrants many times end up discussing those Im/migrants’ children as well. Many Im/migrants, you see, are mothers. This is because of the particular way that migration from the Philippines is gendered. The Philippines is one of the world’s leading exporters of trained female nurses, and I’ve found a few blogs written by such. I’ve also seen a couple of blogs written by what I suspect are mail order brides, which are another export commodity of the Philippines. The country is also a leading exporter of female domestic workers (maids), but I’ve yet to find one blog written by one, probably because maids tend not to have the time to blog, and seldom the resources.

The children of those Im/migrants also constitute another category of Filipino bloggers, the Second Generation Diasporic Filipinos. I’m also including under this category 1.5 generation Filipinos and those Third Generation and later, but it’s simpler to have the one title. Second Generation Diasporic Filipinos rarely link to blogs written by the preceding groups nor leave comments. More than the other groups, these Filipino bloggers discuss race and ethnicity. Im/migrants also discuss such things, but these topics seem especially relevant to the Second Generation, judging by how much they blog about race and ethnicity. I’ve noticed the same in my interviews.

Finally come Younger Filipinos in the Philippines. Generally, they don’t link to blogs written by Second Generation Diasporic Filipinos, even though they’re the same age and often have similar interests. They’re far more likely to link to blogs written by the other groups. However, Younger Filipinos and Second Generation Diasporic Filipinos do link to each when their blogs are hosted on bloghosting services that attempt to foster community. In contrast to, say, Blogger, where the focus of the service is more on the individual blogger who attracts readers to their blog, services like LiveJournal or Xanga make it possible to make a group blog or to form a blogring. A group blog is a blog written by multiple bloggers, while a blogring is a group of blogs linked to each other; both are organized around a certain theme. The theme can be something like knitting, but the blogrings and the group blogs I’m interested in are ones organized around being Filipino. Bloghosting services don’t want their users to use competing bloghosting services, and one of the ways they do this is to make it difficult for their users to link to blogs hosted on other services, while at the same time making it easier to link to blogs hosted on the same bloghost. What effectively happens is that self-contained communities form that are centred around the fact that they all use the same bloghosting service. So when someone should create a new group blog or blogring for Filipino bloggers, what ends up happening is that both diasporic Filipinos and Filipinos in the Philippines end up joining. Second Generation Diasporic Filipinos and Younger Filipinos in the Philippines thus end up in the same blogging groups, unlike their fellows who use individual-oriented bloghosts or host their blogs on their own paid servers.

I have more stuff about racialization, exclusion, nationalism, internalized norms, print capitalism, and technologies of the self and regimes of truth and power, but all that stuff is really too big for a blog post. But stay tuned and I’ll probably get around to discussing them eventually.

Le mission civilatrice

Stages of sociocultural evolution

Finally, finally, I have cable tv and high-speed Internet at home. I have now passed from late savagery and skipped straight into middle barbarism. I don’t have a tv remote, so I’m still not civilized and bourgeois, but now I have a goal in my life. After a year of no tv, I can feel my brain rotting just from being in the same room as the infernal device.

UPDATE: Sweet Jesus, there’s nothing on. Bonanza? The Young and the Restless? I thought I got cable so I wouldn’t have to watch this. Oh look, it’s old episodes of The Weakest Link. My, it’s been a while since I’ve shouted at idiots on the tv, it feels so nostalgic. Lets see,

In Dante’s “Inferno,” which of these is not one of the three men being devoured in the lowest level of hell?’

A: Judas, B: Brutus, C:Nero, D:Cassius

Good thing I wasn’t playing, I thought it was Cassius. The answer was Nero by the way.

Art: What is it good for?

 

Tatsuhiro Satou surrounded by his contemporaries (calling them friends would be too much).

Recently, I’ve been reading a Japanese comic book series called NHK ni Youkoso, or Welcome to the NHK (thank you Evil_Genius). The main character, Tatsuhiro Satou, is what is called in Japan a hikikomori, which is essentially a person who has withdrawn from the rest of society. The term can be glossed as “social withdrawal.” Hikikomori are shut-ins who not only refuse to venture out of their houses, they also refuse to leave their rooms. Most live with their parents or other family, who support their recalcitrant sons (and hikikomori are mostly young men, often the eldest son). “Hikikoomori” is not an absolute category, but rather a catch-all term encompassing many young men who are socially withdrawn to varying degrees. In fact, it seems to be a culture-bound syndrome unique to Japan, in the same way that anorexia is mostly confined to “Western” societies. For more on this, see this article from The New York Times.

The existence of hikikomori has been treated as a crisis in Japan, but no one seems to be entirely sure what it is a crisis of. Are hikikomori men who have lost faith in Japan Inc.? Are they “social parasites” leeching off their suffering parents? In the comic book itself, the reason given for Satou’s social withdrawal is unsatisfactory, and in fact the psychological motivations behind becoming hikokomori are inadequately explained. There are many commentators who are willing to give their own opinions on the appearance of hikokomori. Ryu Murakami (no relation to Haruki Murakami), for example, discusses some of the emic or insider views of the hikikomori phenomenon from a certain Japanese perspective.

It’s all very well and good to say that Japanese culture contains within it the potential for social withdrawal, but I think the hikikomori phenomenon is a historically contingent one. I don’t think the hikikomori could have appeared at any time other than now. Certainly, anomie has long been recognized as one of the effects of modern industrialized life. Hikomori are like Grigor Samsa, the gray everyman who ate, slept, and worked every gray day of his gray life, and who eventually turned into a twisted version of himself, or rather became the person he really was, and was supported by his family until his death, “And thank God for that!” as his father said.

But hikikomori and Grigor Samsa are different in several ways. Hikikomori obviously don’t turn into vermin, though they’re certainly spoken of that way by a lot of people. More to the point, Grigor Samsa turned into a bug because that was what he already was — living to work, eating, sleeping, and sacrificing just to work some more. Doesn’t that sound more like a worker ant’s life than a human being’s? Industrialism and the wage labour system transform people into insects, reducing them to brute labour and ignoring the many ways that they are unique. However, hikomori, unlike Grigor Samsa, refuse to participate in this system in the first place, or perhaps it is better to say that they are unable to participate.

Hikikomori could have only appeared now because it is only now that Japan has slowed its industrial growth. Industrial growth is not infinite, cannot be infinite, but that is not how it is presented in the rhetoric of capitalism. Onwards! Upwards! To the stars! The increasing penetration of the popular media and the greater sophistication of its mesmerizing consumerist promises are the propaganda for this ideology. But where is this golden land of plenty to be found? Not in Japan today. Faced with a world where the dazzling promises of consumerist capitalism can never be realized, where people are taught to desire what can never exist, is it any wonder when so many refuse to become the bugs they were destined to be? “I never signed up for this” might be the motto of the hikikomori, could they but articulate the malaise they feel.

I think it’s telling that hikomori are mostly young men, because for men, in many ways a loss of power is also a loss of masculinity. Men are supposed to be powerful, but how can one accept a world where one has no power and therefore one is not a man? Japanese women, on the other hand, already live in a world where power belongs to other people. Furthermore, while Japanese parents might gladly support a son they see as suffering through a phase in their development, would they accept as easily a daughter who did nothing all day but eat, sleep, and watch tv?

There is an incident in Welcome to the NHK which I find rather interesting. Satou, the main character, meets by chance a former high school classmate on the street. She invites him to join what is apparently some kind of motivational group, but which turns out to be a pyramid scheme. Not having been born yesterday, Satou tells her that he’s seen through her plan to recruit the idiot classmate she met on the street just to meet her quota. She snaps and tells him that yes, she was planning to squeeze him for money. She had been working for tuition money since graduating from high school, but had it all squeezed out of her by people above her. She asks Satou,

How do you feel about being socially withdrawn for the rest of your life? I know you understand . . . in the end this world boils down to those who take and those who are taken, a zero-sum game! You’re being used by everyone. Your unemployment and withdrawal from society is a result of the demands of society! It’s because society needs people to look down on. You’re smart . . . you should have noticed the ridicule of the people around you. Society’s gears are greased by the existence of slaves . . . But you’re different! You want to take such corrupt relationships and turn them into money! This time, we will be on the squeezing side!!

Certainly it’s a bleak philosophy, but what stands out for me is that this statement is a rejection of the ideology of modernity. Progress? Development? Sentimental hooey. Society cannot be improved, it can only be exploited. Though she reject’s the propaganda of capitalist modernism, Satou’s classmate has learned its ultimate lesson: what is valuable is what is profitable, and to hell with everyone who gets in the way.

The above is not an isolated incident. Welcome to the NHK‘s characters are very aware of their exact role in Japanese society. They even state it explicitly: confronting Satou for his unproductivity and petty theft of food, his business partner tells him, “In a capitalist country, money is the ultimate value! You’re not going to end this with a simple ‘I’m broke’. On the other hand, when you turn a profit, anything is permitted! What a wonderful world!!” This is telling when one considers that neither Satou nor his business partner actually have money. If money indexes value in a capitalist society, then those who don’t have it are worthless.

It is, in fact, their marginality that the comic’s characters are always conscious of. Welcome to the NHK is about the people who reject mainstream Japanese society. The main character, Satou, has isolated himself entirely from other people. His former classmate, Iincho, is the one who has given herself over to the pursuit of profit. His other schoolmate, who he calls Senpai (upperclassman), is depressed, harbours suicidal thoughts, and medicates herself constantly to allay the effects of the sexism, jealousy, and utter grinding work she experiences at her job. His stalker/female friend, Misaki, apparently dropped out of high school because of bullying. Finally, his business partner, Yamazaki, has given himself over to the pursuit of representations of underage pornography (see Sharon Kinsella’s analysis of Japanese “cute” as a rejection of adulthood and Japanese society in general).

So is Welcome to the NHK is a critique of Japanese society? Not as such. It’s not really a drama per se, it’s actually more of a zany comedy: Look at the antics Satou gets into this week! Humour, of course, can give biting critiques of the society it (p)resents. However, being humour, what it shows can just be waved off as a joke. Further, look at the picture above. Satou is the guy in the centre wearing the “H”, but notice that he’s surrounded by other people. This is mirrored by the comic’s plots, where Satou is always getting into trouble with some person or another. For a shut-in, Satou seems to have a lot of friends.

That is perhaps my greatest criticism of the comic. While it explores different rejections of Japanese modernity, it doesn’t go far enough in examining them. The pain that the characters feel is masked behind the hijinks they get into. Too much happens for anyone to stop and think about what exactly is going on. Even suicide attempts are presented comically and actually manage not to seem grim and depressing. Being a hikokomori actually looks like fun, judging from Satou’s experience at any rate.

However, Welcome to the NHK is a fascinating peek into how some Japanese see themselves and their own native Others. What is it to be young and Japanese today? More importantly, what is it to be young and Japanese, and yet not Japanese at the same time? How does it feel to be on the outside looking in? Welcome to the NHK‘s answer, though unsatisfactory, at least confronts these questions.

Working in a coal mine

Well, actually I’m working at home. I hadn’t realized how not having an office, not living close to campus, and not having Internet access at home can change the way you work. No, scratch that, I knew the way I worked was going to change, I just hadn’t realized how much. I’ve never done too well working at home, I just find it too isolating. I can’t even check my email now unless I stand by my window with my laptop hoping to get some of my neighbour’s wireless (though I’m getting Internet soon). It’s not so bad, I do good work in cafes, but there’s only one decent cafe within 10 minutes’ walk from me (Tim Horton’s does not count as a cafe). I need a certain level of noise and activity around me: not too much, not too little, and not too many people I know to distract me. I was made for cafe work. If only I could afford to do all my work at a cafe, but buying a coffee everyday is bad for my body (I’m trying to avoid getting addicted to caffeine) and the coffees I like are the costly kind. Try tea, you say? I suppose, but even those add up.

Until I finally get settled down, I thought I might discuss you, my readers, whoever you are. I installed Google Analytics at the end of last month and it’s kind of fascinating looking at where exactly you’re all accessing my blog from: 43 visits from the US, 19 from Canada (most of those are probably me accessing the blog from different computers), 13 from the Philippines, 7 from Australia, 6 from the UK, 2 from Sweden, 2 from Germany, 2 from Belgium, and 1 each from France, Poland, Guam, Bulgaria, Austria, and Vietnam.

This is pretty cool, actually. Apparently Sarapen was accessed 5 times each from Las Vegas, from Portland, Oregon, and from Coburg in the state of Victoria in Australia. No one from Canberra? Come on, I’m considering applying to ANU for the Phd and I could use some insider information. I’m pretty sure the German visits are probably by orange and I think I know who the person from Poland is, if it’s just one person. A, is that you?

Almost a quarter (24.51%) of visitors to Sarapen access it directly, probably from bookmarks, while 11.76% come from s0metim3s’ blog, 10.78% find Sarapen through Google, 8.92% from a comment I left on the blog of one of my participants, 4.90% are directed from Aries’ blog, 3.92% from antropologi.info, and a very large number of one-time visits coming from the blog of someone who found me on LiveJournal, specifically this post.

Yup, that’s me writing a whole mess about the Japanese comic book Death Note. It’s actually rather interesting how you’d have no idea I was into this kind of stuff until and unless I tell you. Blogs are fascinating for how they give the appearance of intimacy and yet manage to hide quite a lot about the bloggers writing them.
Actually, I’m considering eventually expanding Sarapen’s purview: instead of focusing entirely on stuff that’s directly related to my research, I thought that every now and then I’d post an analysis of something just for the hell of it. I’ve already kind of promised to eventually blog about the new season of Battlestar Galactica, anyway. I don’t know, this might seem to take away from my research, but lots of times I end up making all kinds of weird connections across all kinds of stuff. I think the last time this happened was when I was reading Asia Times Online and suddenly got a reference to follow up and a new theoretical position to consider about a paper I was writing on terrorism.

Anyway, the purpose of this rambling post was mostly to let people know I was still alive. I’m not feeling too analytical right now, but keep on keepin’ on, peeps.

PS
Ibalik, thanks for offering to host Sarapen but I think I’ll have to decline for the moment. It’s just simpler to stay here at edublogs.org right now since this is where my participants know where to find me. Maybe after I’m done my research and writing. I think I may stick with blogging after all.

Post-postscript
Jose Rizality at s0metim3s. Rizal-age? Rizal-ness? Whatever, stuff about Rizal and Benedict Anderson, of Imagined Communities fame.

O brave new world, a whole new fantastic point of view

I’m still living out of boxes here. It’s charming how the first sight I see upon waking up are bottles of hair gel and vitamin C tablets, plus the dead bugs I haven’t swept up yet. (Update: bugs are gone, vitamin C and hair gel remain ready for use in vitamin and hair-related emergencies).

In case it’s not clear, I’m talking about the new place I moved into. It’s not so bad now that I’ve got an air mattress, I actually had some really good sleep last night. Lots better than when I had to sleep in my office chair because I didn’t have any other furniture (it felt like I was at an airport).

But I didn’t pick the title of this post just because it amuses me to discuss my new place under a title that combines lines from 1984 and the Disney movie Aladdin. I thought I would discuss these two articles: More Koreans Look to Retire in Philippines and Living, Doing Business the Philippine Way

Briefly, the articles talk about (South) Korean emigration to the Philippines. I’ve long been aware that more and more Koreans are moving to the Philippines, but I’ve never known exactly why. Now it’s clear what’s happening: middlingly-wealthy Koreans are retiring and living in the Philippines because they get more value for their retirement fund and pension money.

It’s not just that, though. Those retired Koreans need people that can cater to their needs, which is something that has occurred to a lot of other Koreans. It’s also well-known in migration studies that once a certain group has established itself in a particular country, it becomes easier for other members of that group to migrate to that country, as in the case of children joining their parents or sisters sponsoring their siblings. So you get a secondary wave of Korean migration that comes to the Philippines to make money off their fellow Koreans. I’m willing to bet a lot of these businesses were established in the early days by retirees who were rushing to fill this economic niche.

This whole situation is only possible because of globalization, which I take here to mean “the intensification of global interconnectedness . . . [combined with] the the speeding up of economic and social processes” (Rosaldo & Inda 2002:2-6). This intensification has happened due to several factors. First is the development of new technologies that make it easier to transfer money overseas as well as communicate with distant relatives and friends. However, just as important, if not more so, is the development of new regulations and the signing of new agreements between governments which make the bureaucratic processes involved in international money transfer and immigration easier. After all, to take one example, the technologies involved in jet travel haven’t really changed that much in the last few decades, but the deregulation of the airline industry and the resulting competition between the different carriers have driven ticket prices down.

Because international migration is much easier to achieve, South Koreans have been engaged in what Anna Tsing refers to as a “scale-making project” (Tsing 2002:473). Retiring to the Philippines may have been inconceivable to previous generations of Koreans, but it’s increasingly possible to imagine such a thing today. The sense of scale for South Koreans has been expanded. While the distance between South Korea and the Philippines seemed vast in former times, today the Philippines doesn’t really seem too far to Koreans. This is thanks to the larger scale-making project behind globalization (“It’s one world,” “We’re all connected,” etc.) which is presenting the world as being more interconnected. This is also thanks to the smaller scale-making project in South Korea which is trying to construct the Philippines and Southeast Asia in general as part of the natural sphere of South Korean migration. These scale-making projects are training South Koreans to think of the Philippines as a natural destination for business and retirement.

However, as David Harvey points out, the compression of time and space in globalization is not a neutral process, but has moral implications: a revolution “in temporal and spatial relations often entails . . . not only the destruction of ways of life and social practices built around preceding time-space systems, but the ‘creative destruction’ of a wide range of physical assets embedded in the landscape” (Harvey 1996:241). In theory, capitalism is not a zero-sum game, but in practice, for someone to win at the game of capitalism, someone else has to lose. This is especially true in an age of global capitalism, where companies go all over the world looking for places where they can make the most money while spending the least.

What are the moral implications of intensified global interconnectedness? Consider who it is that participates in international migration. Relatively wealthy people are not the only ones that migrate internationally, there are also millions of the relatively poor who migrate under dangerous conditions to work at dangerous, exploitative, and underpaid jobs. Consider also that making it easier for corporations to move money around means that it’s also easier for corporations to shop around internationally. Don’t like the fact that your workers in Virginia are entitled to bathroom breaks and a living wage? Sell your assets and set up shop in Shenzhen where such things are entirely optional.

Beyond that, also consider who it is that is able to migrate: relatively wealthy South Koreans. Why is it that citizens of South Korea are able to retire overseas, while citizens of the Philippines generally aren’t? The answer is contingent on the different histories of the two countries. The Philippines was a colony of the United States, and after independence the country was still controlled by neocolonial practices that meant the Philippines was still dependent on its “former” colonial master. However, South Korea was vitally important to the United States in its Cold War against the Soviet Union as a bulwark against communist North Korea. It would not have been wise for the US to have South Korea end up like the Philippines, since it would not be able to put up much of a resistance against the North. Therefore, no neocolonial and neoimperial policies were enacted against South Korea and plenty of aid in building infrastructure and such was offered by the US. Simply put, then, it served American interests to have a weak Philippines dependent on the US while at the same time having a strong South Korea to defend against the North. Which brings us to today, where — economically speaking — we have a mini-US in South Korea acting towards the Philippines like the US acts towards Mexico: like a personal playground for its citizens.

And on that note, Happy Labour Day and enjoy the long weekend to those of you that have it.

References:

Inda, Jonathan Xavier; and Renato Rosaldo. 2002. “Introduction: A World in Motion”. In Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo (eds.), The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Pp. 1-34.

Harvey, David. 1996. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Tsing, Anna. 2002. “Conclusion: The Global Situation”. In Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo (eds.), The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Pp. 453-485.

August 25, 2006

Dear diary,

Today I changed something on my blog. I’m not sure if anyone will notice. Oh diary, will boys ever start paying attention to me? Or girls? Or genderqueers?

If it wasn’t for you, diary, I wouldn’t be able to get through my days. I know you’ll always be there for me.

XOXOX

Sarapen

PS

Metallica rules.