Like so many countries, nations, people and individuals around the world the pursuit of consumer good and intangible status are at the forefront of their minds. The desire to have what they do not have; the desire to possess what they are told they can not pushes people to insanity. People become consumed with the physical and imagined so much that they forget that they are mortal. The idea of delayed gratification to the fullest extent. This idea is a virus of the mind while also truly being bound to our DNA. Since I have been in South Korea I have noticed they push all in to win this futile race. The South Korean workforce is fully addicted to consumerism and false achievement. Their addiction is causing massive and ever-increasing problems within their society ranging from suicide and depression of adults to unimaginable stress and pressure on children.
South Korea has grown at an incredible rate leaving their former self in the dust. They have rose from having a per capita GDP of 854$ in 1950 to 22,400$ in 2013. For all developing and developed nations around the world this outstanding. But, even though they have produced mega-conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai there is a very true darkness that has not have a significant amount of light shed upon it. South Koreans have very little freedom. In many ways they are slaves to their work and society. They are stuck in a very rigid society that allows very little room for “alternative” lifestyles. The older generations, their Baby-Boomers and Greatest Generationers, have accepted this lifestyle and, in all honesty, know nothing else. On the other hand, the youth of South Korea want to change their culturally mandated serfdom. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that they will be alienated from their family and loved ones if they rebel against the status quo.
In Korean society status is everything. How your neighbors, friends, family and even strangers view you is of extreme importance. South Korea is easily one of the most competitive counties and societies in the world. When it is not only acceptable but very much encouraged to push your children to study seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. without consideration for physical health, mental stability, sociability and personal growth I believe some self-reflection is in order. The stress that these children have cause physical symptoms and mental breakdowns from extreme sleep deprivation and grey hair to extreme emotional outbursts and suicide. They are constantly being bombarded to be thinner, score higher, be prettier, work harder without concern. Even the most important support system of all, ones family, is encourage to alienate, harass and demonize their children in order for them to push harder and elevate status. This societal push has caused an extreme discrepancy between the poor and the rich, one of the most depressed nations in the world, and the nation with the highest suicide rate in the world.
To objectively look at another’s culture and make judgements is incredibility difficult and maybe even futile. How can I, or anyone for that matter, know what it is like to be Korean, but also for that matter Black, Latino or an Arab. There is no definitive way and one must always put culture into context. The only true way is to discuss these situations with Koreans that have left South Korea. South Koreans who have left the Hermit Kingdom, talk about having their eyes opened and their brains awakened in a way that is kind of religious in feeling. So, when you are able to speak the same metaphorical language the equation is more balanced and objective. I have had many discussions with many Koreans that have left South Korea to live abroad or who have traveled extensively and their resounding opinion of the South Korean rat race is one of disdain and oppression. They equate it to highly sophisticated servitude. Now without a doubt, their have been benefits for their nation but at the cost of individual’s lives. In truth, we all live as if we are immortal, grinding through the days hoping and imaging for a better future, high status, a prettier wife, a fancier watch, a reason to hold our heads up a little higher than the man or woman next to you, but in the end this is all an Elysium. True emancipation is self-emancipation.