Global ignorance and paving the path for peace
North Korean citizens do not have freedom of speech like the people I interviewed, like everyone you know. They know not of the luxuries of the West, or even anything outside of their country itself. Rice is a luxury in a country still reeling from the famine of the 1990s. To speak openly in North Korea and in other countries dealing with oppressive regimes would likely cost the citizens a great deal. It can be hard for people here to accept their own ignorance. I wanted to emphasise the events that happen elsewhere that others may not be aware of, through the process of showing them how beautiful life can be, subsequently yet soberly reminding us that there are others out there whose lives aren’t as positive, through no fault of their own. I began with the question, ‘what’s the worst thing about the world?’, and finished on some of our favourite aspects to hone in on the fact that there will always be positives and negatives in life, and that it is down to us to try and improve the quality of life for others as well as ourselves. It is intriguing to see different answers from different people, and it reminded me as an artist that if everyone put their heads together and started loving each other, we can achieve anything we want.
Institutional media promoting a specific political agenda infiltrates the lives of millions worldwide whether or not it is noticed, accepted or encouraged. People tend to believe almost everything they hear, read and watch on the news and this propagandising is everywhere with little alternative. Every magazine or newspaper, radio, news channel and commercial will contain some element of propaganda and it could even be argued that the mainstream media is the real purveyor of ‘fake news’, in order to generate more views, more confusion and control our thoughts by creating false narratives; we see and hear both true and false stories which make us fear each other and ourselves. While the media regularly reports on disastrous events around the world that the wider population should be made aware of like terrorism, the Syrian refugee crisis or the Yemen famine, scaremongering and making the majority believe that the world is beyond salvation keeps them under control. In fact, the world is definitely salvageable, with there being enough food in the world for every person to be full; the world produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago. It begs the question why those with significant platforms do not raise this into question and demand that something be done for those who are living in poverty or starving all across the globe.
Humanity is so preoccupied by and obsessed with the media that has such a huge impact on us and that projects such negativity into the world that we do fear each other, when in reality as stated in the film, “if we treated each other with kindness […] the chain reaction would be huge and the whole world would change.” The media in the US for example is so negativity-dominated that it’s no wonder gun control is such a controversial issue, with around half of the total number of households in the country owning a firearm. Of course, national disarmament is particularly difficult to achieve; it would be an incredibly arduous process, trying to make just under 63 million households dispose of all their firearms. Not only this, but amending the Constitution is also a considerable challenge, needing two thirds of Congress and three quarters of all states to agree to ratify the 2nd Amendment. But arguably it is the media that drives American citizens to believe they need to own a gun to protect themselves in the first place. Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries. In a 1999 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 26% of respondents specified protection as being the primary reason for owning a gun and by 2013 that percentage had increased to 48%. More recently, the 2015 National Firearms Survey (NFS) saw 63% of respondents indicating “protection against people” as a primary reason for owning a firearm. More than two thirds of killings in the United States are firearm homicides and the constant reporting of these in the media is perhaps what prompts more people to own a gun for protection purposes.
It can appear that the only stories reported in the media are the awful events and that the media rarely concentrates on the good news, inevitably having a drastic impact on its audience who consumes many forms of online media daily. According to a new report by ZenithOptimedia, “on average, people spend more than 490 minutes of their day with some sort of media”, so naturally it is going to affect them at least slightly, often leading to thoughts of hopelessness that the world has any chance of thriving on a global level. While a lot of what the media reports on the news is in fact true, informing the western world of disasters on the other side such as the Yemen famine, the six-plus year conflict in Syria or the atrocities of North Korea, people rarely feel as though they can do anything about it, because perhaps they feel their voice is insignificant, or perhaps because surely it is too far away for it to have any real effect on them? But change starts with the individual. If one lives their whole life in fear of change, in fear of the people around them and in fear of what other people think of them, the world will get little to nowhere with improving, and humanity will remain the same. But if there is something you care about, fight for it. America has been at war 92% of its history and in reality, what has that achieved?
It is certainly easy in Western culture to turn a blind eye to things that happen in countries far away from us, but it is imperative that we try not to do so. The issues in North and South Korea resonate strongly with me personally, largely from reading the memoir Escape from Camp 14 and it was this book and further research into the Korean societies that makes me aspire to a career in human rights. It is unfathomable to me that humanity is willing to treat others in the way they do to this day. Korea is a country where no citizen can truly be themselves; whether that is in the North where they are heavily oppressed or in the South where they are living in an almost brutally extreme capitalist society. Today, North Korea run complete control districts within their regime: no-exit prison labour camps (visible on Google Maps) in which three generations of a family are sent if one member steps ‘out of line’. The true story of Escape from Camp 14 describes the life of Shin, the only person to ever escape and survive one of these camps and his struggles as a prisoner, not to mention his continuous struggles adapting to life as a free man in the South. Within only the first couple of chapters a harrowing story of a 6 year old girl is relayed; a 6 year old girl was clubbed to death by her school teacher for pocketing a few grains of corn. Still reeling from the 1990s famine that killed over 3 million North Koreans (around 13% of the total population), children in these camps eat bark they’ve picked off trees. One of Shin’s personal favourite pastimes was catching and roasting rats. Rice is a luxury that is almost unheard of. And despite neighbouring a next-door dictatorship, only 3% of South Korean voters deemed North Korea a primary concern during the 2007 presidential election. The book describes South Korea as a “success-obsessed, status-conscious, education-crazed culture” that “even South Koreans themselves struggle mightily to fit into” (B. Harden, 2012, p201) and it was revealed that their primary interest was in making higher salaries, just one indicator that South Korean citizens are desperate to climb higher and desperate not to fall behind in such a merciless society, with the highest rates of suicides in developed countries (p201). With even South Korea seemingly unbothered by the atrocities committed by their neighbour, it is apparent that the rest of the world is simply willing to let the ‘problem’ of North Korea lie. In order to combat a problem there must be widespread awareness and quite frankly not enough people are aware of the situation in North Korea to the extent that they should be. Even having discussed media-obsession, the oppression of North Korean citizens is not something that is actively talked about and therefore does not resonate with those from the West. For a country that is on the news regularly, North Korea remains a mystery to much of the rest of the world. When you think of North Korea, what do you think of? Kim Jong-un and nuclear warfare? There is so much more going on than that. I suppose it could be argued that it is the threat of a nuclear deterrent that prevents action against the human rights violations in the North, however, instead of scaremongering us into believing that we are going to be nuked in the near distant future because, as it stands it remains pretty unlikely, educating about their civilian life and trying to find solutions should be higher on the media’s agenda since so much of it is consumed on a daily basis. It is difficult to find out so much about the ins and outs of North Korean society unless you talk to a defector yourself, because entry is kept so tight and those who are allowed in are followed by “minders”, who give them ‘tours’ and show them only what the government wants them to see and if one tries to overstep this boundary they will likely be imprisoned or detained.
It can be argued that South Korea acts as a microcosm for the rest of the world, full of people whose survival is based on climbing higher. Are we ignorant to moral principles because we live in a society that accepts excessive greed as a normal condition of human nature? Or do we just not feel educated or informed enough to take action against atrocities happening just out of our reach?
The truth is, the idea that governments can legally involve themselves in the ways in which other countries or states treat their own citizens is a relatively recent novelty when it comes to international relations, only really developing over the course of the 20th century and after the second war. It is stated in the preface to The Lawful Rights of Mankind, “down to the end of the second world war, it was a matter of universally accepted doctrine in international affairs that how a state treated its own citizens was a matter entirely for its own sovereign determination, and not the legitimate concern of anyone outside its own frontiers.” (P. Sieghart, 1985) This then almost justifies the reason for global ignorance (but not quite); it has been indoctrinated into human nature that the affairs of a country different to our own is not our concern, it has never been particularly natural to the individual to worry for someone they have never met. However, this is beginning to change, and people are beginning to take more of an interest in global affairs. People in over 60 countries have protested Trump with the Women’s March, fighting for women’s rights in a country that is not their own. Of course, this is not going to necessarily lead to world peace, but it is a step in the right direction.
But there is still a long way to go.
In the meantime, we are so obsessed with the aforementioned media and our phones that we forget to focus on the good things we do have in our lives, when we are constantly being bombarded with the negative. As stated before, we spend over 8 hours on some form of media in a day, and with a figure like that it’s no wonder we have forgotten how beautiful the world can be. People have stopped noticing the little things that perhaps used to bring them joy. Personally for me, it makes me really happy when I’m on the bus and I see the driver wave to other bus drivers upon passing. There are little bits of goodness everywhere but it is just noticing them that appear to be difficult in recent years, as we are constantly longing to be somewhere else. One must learn to appreciate what they have, because you don’t realise what a good thing you had until it’s gone. Laugh with friends; breathe in the fresh air from the trees. Swim in the freezing sea and watch the sunset. Try and take it in without taking a photograph.
Oxfam Canada “There is enough food to feed the world” Available here: https://www.oxfam.ca/there-enough-food-feed-world
Preidt, R. “How U.S. gun deaths compare to other countries” CBS News (February 2016). Available here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-u-s-gun-deaths-compare-to-other-countries/
Harden, B. (2012) Escape from Camp 14
Clapham, A. (2015) Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction
Sieghart, P. (1985) the Lawful Rights of Mankind: Introduction to the International Legal Code of Human Rights