Things I Learned About North Korea From Reading The Comments Section

North Korea is one of those topics that grips my attention with morbid fascination. It boggles my mind to imagine a world so removed, so disconnected, and so absolutely alien to my own human experience. My interest goes far beyond “this is a crazy dictatorship with nuclear technology,” which seems to be as far as the rabbit hole goes for most people. For me, it’s the idea of what life is like in such a place. It seems like something out of a novel and it’s chilling to know that all the books I’ve read, like Barbara Demick’s poignant Nothing to Envy are filed in the non-fiction section.

I saw a great article about a tourist’s experiences in North Korea. The author’s own reactions are the highlight of the post: a combination of empathy and shocked amusement wrapped in a witty shell. I think shocked amusement is a normal human reaction to something so strange and unsettling; humor is one of the brain’s ways of dealing with stress, after all.

I don’t think this is cruel, superficial, or insensitive. Joking about how bizarre and weird such an experience is doesn’t mean insensitivity to the very real and very horrible human rights violations (only Eritrea has a worse record of human rights violations than North Korea). When you’re faced with something like that, the mind really has only a few options: try to laugh, try to forget, or shatter.

The reason why I’m writing about this article is not because of the article itself (although it’s very good and I think you should read it), but because of the comments the article has spawned. The author wryly notes early in the post:

Before I talk about what I learned, I’d like to quickly say hi to whomever from the North Korean government is reading this. Only the highest-level officials have access to the internet in North Korea, and I learned that the job of one of them is to scour the internet for anything written about North Korea and keep tabs on what the foreign press is saying. So hi, and haha you can’t get me cause I’m back home now and I can say all the things I wasn’t allowed to say when I was in your country.

The comments section unequivocally proves this to be true. Here are a collection of some of the best gems. Most of them are posted anonymously, although a few do have rather dubious sounding “Western” names attached. I won’t be offering any commentary as I think the rebuttals are fairly self-evident.

From “Anonymous”:

Actually, it was a rather contrived article full of swearing that was meant to make Americans feel good about their own massive police state. Enjoy feeling smug about yourself and your “free” country? Get a kick out of feeling “pity” for those poor North Koreans. Pull your head out and try fixing your own broken country, namely the USA.

From “Anonymous”:

Yes, it does sound a lot like the USA since 911. Of course, its easier to see the speck in the other guy’s eye, ya know? Not that N. Korea isn’t much worse and very sad because it is. But do take heed because they are working on making the US into the same kind of place. Current attack is against free speech under the guise of protecting “real journalists” – warning, warning, warning. We all must have the same protections.

From “Anonymous”:

Funny post, but some of it sounds pretty similar to the place where I live:
1. The leaders are a really big deal…
Like the POTUS (Mr. Peace Prize Terror Tuesday, and all the others before him), and the Fed chairman?
2. Everyone lies about everything all the time…
Like saying “the recession is over!”, or “unemployment is going down!”, or “inflation is low!”, or “the FED knows what it’s doing!”, or “college is a good investment”, or “we stand for Freedom! Yeah!”, or “marijuana is bad for you! booo!”, or “the Terrorists are going to get us!”, or “our military is killing people over there so they won’t kill us over here!”, or “the government cares for your safety!”, or “fluoride is not bad for you!”, or “the Healthcare Act was written to benefit the people, not the insurance companies who wrote it!”, or “Syria bombed its own people with chemicals, so now we need to go over there and bomb their people with even more killing metals!”, or “Iraq has WMD’s”, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.
4. Propaganda is absolutely everywhere…
Like chanting “allegiance” and singing songs about how great the country is and how the country is God’s favorite, to start every school day, and at church, and before every collegiate and professional sporting event? And parading soldiers out in front of everyone all the time to be admired? Like that?
7. The details of the leader’s birth (and college career, professional career, criminal history, etc.) is not a subject you should try to gather information on…
Hmm, too much to list on this one, about every leader this country has ever had.
8. The same physical place can be fancy and shitty at the same time…
Washington D.C., New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, etc.
9. Still talk about the Wars… all the ones we had no business starting or participating in?
12. Lacking a sense of humor about the places that hold the bodies of dead leaders… See #1…

From “Kacuncica Davidovic”:

Well in many bulletpoints North Korea is not much different than modern USA.

From “Anonymous”:

True. This piece of slanted propaganda is only meant to titillate those Americans that are already brainwashed. The biggest police state in the world is the USA. Only in the US would you be informed that you are being totally spied on and everything recorded and then not to worry about it! Mindless American bootlickers unite!

Okay. I’m going to break my earlier statement about not commenting. Let’s clear something up, just in case there was any doubts.

If you are able to complain about the “lack of freedom of speech” in a public forum, you still have freedom of speech. You’ll know when free speech is gone, because nobody will be able to say anything about it. (Complaining about the erosion of free speech is still vital, however, as it safeguards against that erosion.)

The day I know we’ve slid into an actual authoritarian police state will be the day when I do not see numerous books on the shelf in a public library accusing the current President of destroying the country, being an idiot, or just being evil in general. We won’t have a news networks that are pathologically dedicated to mocking everything the government does. Those things don’t exist in a police state. You don’t get to be a talking head on a popular news network, you get to be shot in the head.

Thus, it’s paradoxical, but I actually take comfort in seeing Fox News continue to be ridiculously anti-President (or CNN during times of Republican dominance; they like to change things up like that). As long as they’re around, I can be certain that the First Amendment is alive and well.

Yeah, there’s a lot that’s going wrong. The PRISM thing comes to mind as an example of a larger problem (although for most people, the idea of privacy is completely ridiculous considering our level of social media narcissism.) This whole “let’s play chicken with the debt ceiling” is somewhat troubling, especially since the Teabag core seems hellbent on nihilistic immolation at this point.

Still. All things considered, we’ve got it pretty good. South Koreans have it pretty good. Most of us in the industrialized world have it pretty good, admittedly to varying degrees of good.

Hopefully, someday North Koreans will have it pretty good, too.