If you are going to call Trump Out… be right. (Or what Han, Yuan, Goguryeo, Joseon history may mean for silly headlines)

So The Hill misleadingly titled, South Korea to Trump: We’ve never been part of China. There is so much wrong with this headline and the things in it, I basically, to speak like someone ten years younger than me is supposedly going to speak like, “can’t even.”

The issue that both The Liberal Party, which it’s kind of amazing how factious Korean conservative parties are as they have split more than Trotskyists in recent years, and the Democratic Party both are worried more about Xi’s statement that would lead Trump to take about a prior claim of sovereignty over Korea. This is trickier than most people know and understand.

You see seriousness of claim of sovereignty can see this from the Chinese commenters flooding the article with half-truths such as

In 108 BCE Korea was conquered by the Han dynasty of China (206 BCE – 220 CE). The Han were interested in natural resources such as salt and iron and they divided northern Korea into four commanderies directly administered by their central government. Koreans spoke chinese up until the 14th century when their leader at the time “invented” the current S.Korean language.

Where to start with this claim: There was no unified Korea during that period for to a singular vassal state, and parts of Joseon that now in Andong or Yaniban Provinces were part of the China, and various different kingdoms emerging during decay of Gojoseon (ancient Joseon) Korea as we know it was Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla developed in the period claimed. Part of what would be Joseon, but not part of modern Liaodong Peninsula were the four Han commanderies which were claimed by Gojoseon but were Manchurian.

There was no singular “ancient Chinese” to be spoken. It’s hundreds of languages that shared common idiogrammatic writing system. Mandarin was literally the courtly dialect that later unified the Han. Many of the languages called “Chinese” barely share verb-order, and despite claims that they were somehow “similar in pronunciation to ancient Chinese.” There is no evidence for this and there is no standard ancient Chinese for it to be based on.

In fact, it’s hard for me to believe someone who spoke both Mandarin and Korean would say this: There are tons of lone words from Chinese, and an entire number system of which Korean has two, but Mandarin (what dialect are you referring to as “ancient Chinese”) and Korean (both Chosunguko [North Korean/Yanbian dialect] and Hanguko) have TOTALLY different language structures down to unrelated verb order, completely different tense structure (Chinese basically doesn’t have a tense structure), and completely different ways of denoting parts of speech. However, the Korean nobles and scholar classes did write in Chinese characters and the Han used the ideogrammatic characters to unite languages that had no linguistic relation. Korean may be strongly related to Manchu and Mongolian, but it is definitely NOT remotely in the Sino-Tibetan language family despite the use of Chinese characters, which were used until much later.

So we immediately realize that both countries are contesting history in ways that find modern nationalist narratives and Trump walked into it. Tensions between Korea and China have been downplayed by tensions between Koreans most recent occupiers, Japan. However, this seems to be changing and the implication is that China may try to claim a long standing imperial role there as a way to end the current conflict to their liking. Goguryeo, the largest of the early kingdoms after Gojoseon, does actually cover parts of what would not be considered outer Manchuria, Andong, and Jilin provinces. It was definitely a vassal state at various points both often played between China, Japan, and the Mongolian powers.

This gets more complicated by the fact the last clearly unified Korean state, Joseon, has a contested legacy in the reforms of the language and it the nature of relationship to China.  Koreans are taught that the Neo-Confucian sage-King, Sejong, unified Korea and enabled mass literacy by abandoning Hanja (the use of Chinese ideograms modified for Korea) with the highly simplified syllabary of Hangul.  I was taught this when I lived in Korea.  I have recently seen non-Korean scholarly indicating that Hangul was not actually so cleanly invented from scratch, this scholarship claims the Koreans didn’t invent Hangul , but derived the syllabary fro the alphabet of phagas Pa, first devised by the Khitans and later promulgated by the Yuan Dynasty for all subjects and clients, including the Koreans. However, this is obvious contested by most Koreans and does not seem to be standard narrative yet. I just bring it up because it related to the claims made by both China and Korea about the histories of the two nations.

The issue is a lot of this history is contested and murky, but Yanbian Prefecture, which is an ethnic Korean autonomous zone, parts  Jilin and Andong provinces as a whole were parts of both Gojoseon, Goguryeo, and Joseon. Meaning China rules over parts of what would have been considered Korea now and has for hundreds of years, and that parts of the ancestor states of Korea had been vassals or partly ruled by the Han, Mongolians, Yuan, and Qing dynasties. The relationship however to EITHER the modern state of China or the modern state of South Korea is very unclear.

In short, the history here is complicated and contested, and Trump stepped into a row about national sovereignty very few people understand with contested nationalist versions of history on both the Chinese and Korean side and little continuity between these ancient states and the modern ones that house these cultures.

If you are going to attack Trump on this, you need to understand that he was a) just reporting what Xi said, b) what Xi said is controversial but c) the histories here are so complicated that the contention really does revolve about the way history is USED for the political precent.

The Hill would be advised not to make cheap political points in this because of both its complication and the implications for contemporary politics in East Asia.

(Note: I am amateur historian and lived in Korea, I have some grasp of Korean and some knowledge of Chinese, but the historiography is both contested and complicated, so if you feel like I misrepresented something, say so. I also know my tendency to refer to China(s) and Korea(s) because of the discontinuity of the states and the shifts in culture may bother some people. I really don’t know how to talk cultures that have nation-states now but nations and dynasties, etc., that represented those peoples has changed so completely so many times.)

The Spectre of Culture (Wars)

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That’s because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today’s reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn’t to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.

— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

This book was written before the economic down and the explicit shift on both the left, which had been heading this way explicitly since the late 1960s, and the right, which had had done it in coded language only since 1980s but became explicit about towards the end of the Bush administration, moved into one would, with the condescending vague hope, the “late” phase of the culture war.

Now, I don’t think we need to rebuild the “progressive” coalition like Nordhaus and Shellenberger, but I do essentially agree with them.  In lieu  of any thing like a mass movement, we are left with spectacle around campuses.  This has happened over and over again as people effected directly by economic and policing politics do not have the leisure to maintain mass protests, and the protests move to places where people do, campuses.  To talk in liberal terminology here, this moves from a site of lesser privilege to a site of more privileged, even if intersectional oppressions abound.

In the communist movement, the key point of the abolition of “value” is that value was generated by working class.  There ability to change society was not their status as victims, although they clearly were, peasants were also victims, but as Marx noted, all peasants revolts could generally achieve was just replacing the old ruling class with themselves.  They did not have the power to end what produced the need for feudal or even an agrarian capitalist society.  It was the proletariat’s power that had as the people who made the stuff that society ran on that made them the subject of change. Not their victimhood.

So why is identity victim so popular and why is there a race for even the objectively powerful to claim it?  Victimhood is a quicker proxy for group cohesion than symbolic kinship.  Symbolic kinship is what enabled tribal societies to expand blood bonds through rituals of inclusion, adoption, etc.  Marriage, replacing the labor of lost members of the tribe, or even suing for peace made this possible.  In fact, as Marshall Sahlins pointed out, while sociobiology and some branches of evolutionary psychology had assumed reproduction, sexuality, and tribal determined kinship,  the evidence is that its inverted even in hunter gather societies.  However, a quicker, albeit much less stable, was to generate a “political” body was victimization.  It generates the other to define the tribe.

IF you view culture as two things, the habits of a society to organize around its own reproduction as a whole (which is, in some ways, a codification of economic and familial relations) and as the means to govern conflicts within that unit without explicit or even implicit violence, you can see that culture develops from these two impulses.  Culture wars would naturally accord when patterns of life dissolve, which capitalism after the world wars has clearly done even in the most “developed” countries for both good and ill.

Furthermore, in moments without political clarity and where prior oppressions have made other forms of social life more distrusted, and there is no-to-little-mechanism to organize by class in terms, victimhood as a cultural politics would be innately appealing. Think about the shift from the Black Power movement to the Rainbow coalition to focus in social justice on structural oppression.  All three movements actually shared a view of structural racism beyond individual bigotry, and all three moments acknowledged the horrendous victimization of the African diaspora and other people termed “black” in the Americas and from European colonialism.  However, the focus from power to integration to justice moves the focus of agency.

As middle class and working class “white” (read rural and suburban, which gets coded for white) life does decline as wealth becomes urban and even more highly centralized and uneven, the mantel of victimhood is claimed, and it is made to deliberately mirror that other identity movements.  Whiteness becomes defined as, instead of a lack of identity as it was seen in most of twentieth century, as a besieged but substantive identity, as you see pop up in the rhetoric around the alt-right.

In a different time, this does resemble fascists movements claim of victimhood.  Something that we forget about all three of the major European fascist movements and the Klan.  So it can be serious as death politically when a dominant social group does pick up the rhetoric of victimization. However, in the “first as tragedy, then farce” way, things degenerated quickly.

Berkeley, for reasons having to do with both the free speech movement and the birth of the new left, has taken on weird symbolism.  In a way, it has become a manifestation of our dreams of internet culture.  The shouting and burning away of Milo recently was a spectacle for both the so-called “alt-light” and antifa movement to appear to matter.  However, it did nothing but boast his book sells and maybe stop a doxing, which is a small victory. The neoconservative and religious right finding Milo’s complicated stance on teen-adult relationships between gay men, a stance that many of the radical left actually share with him, is what had is book deal ended and lost him a media outlet.  The prior Berkeley moment was a spectacle, but it was all light, no head.

So again, things move to Berkeley when the Alt-right decided to make it ground zero for a gay pride style protest.  Caitlin Johnstone says in her article, I Think We Can Safely Say The American Culture War Has Been Taken As Far As It Can Go,

Okay, that’s it. That’s as far as the American culture war can possibly be taken. When you’ve got people dressed as superheroes brawling with people dressed as ninjas over who’s got the better warmongering neocon politicians in Washington, you’ve taken this idiotic game to its most ridiculous possible extreme. These Berkeley demonstrations where right-wingers who think America is one COEXIST bumper sticker away from full-fledged Marxism gather to have fist fights with lefties who see Adolph Hitler’s face on every mammal without a Tumblr account have taken the artificial dichotomy created and promulgated by America’s ruling elites and made it so cartoonishly exaggerated that it’s lost all shape and meaning outside of “hey look at me!” social media vanity politics.

If you haven’t been following (and I would not blame you if you have not), there was yet another pro-Trump demonstration in the ultra-liberal city of Berkeley, California yesterday, which was once again met with counter protests from masked “antifascists”, and which once again turned violent. This happened because people who voted for Trump last year are tired of being painted as racist Nazis by the people who voted for Clinton, so some of them have been staging the conservative equivalent of a gay pride parade to let everyone know that they’re out and they’re not ashamed. The people who voted for Clinton, meanwhile, have been brainwashed by corporate media into believing that their nation is being taken over by fascist bigots, so when they saw what they were being told was a rally for white nationalists and neo-Nazis assembling in their neighborhood, they came itching for a fight. Tempers flared and fists flew.

I’m not calling for this behavior to stop, for the record; if a bunch of bored internet denizens want to get together and break their hand bones on each other’s skulls with poorly-thrown punches in order to feel something, that’s fine by me. I just think it’s worth drawing attention to how ridiculous this whole thing is getting. Because some rich people and their politicians figured out that rural Americans have different fears than urban Americans and that these fears can be used to keep voters fighting each other instead of demanding a just and equitable society, you’ve now got guys dressing up like Captain America running around breaking sticks over the heads of dreadlocked black bloc liberal arts majors in one of the most expensive parts of the wealthiest nation on earth.”

This in a moment where Trumps politics are shifting. He is going back to the normie neoconservative foreign policy hawking that has defined Republicans. Partly because it clears the charges of being a Russian stooge, in a new liberal quasi-McCarthyism, while not substanceless, does seem to be going to a paranoid style of politics liberals in the past avoided.  The fact that these manifestations of internet debates on radical political cultures have come to substitute for the work that needs to be done in the US.

This farce may be an indication that things are actually darker than anyone realizes, but what looms is not mass radical movements. This is not Rome in 1931.  IF fascism was defined by total mobilization, then this is inverse.  It’s demobilization, depoliticization, and the decline of the energy of the politics around victimhood.  There is such a thing as a tragifarce.

The Koreas

So there are some predictable developments in regards to 대한민국 (ROK), my old temporary home, and this goes into why I don’t freak out every time anyone does anything stupid in regards to 조선민주주의인민공화국 (DPRK). I prefer the Korean names because there are actually implications and differences in the use of names, you will notice that if you transliterated the names, you notice North Korea claims to be a continuation of a different state than the South. Anyway, I am going to talk about recent events.

The test, predictably, failed, and this is probably why China was not as worried as they could be. Getting rid of Kim Jong Un is not a particularly high priority as a rabid buffer state is still a buffer state unless those claws get too sharp. A friend of mine sees this as another sign of US decline, but while the US power projection is declining, it also remains true that a rival hegemonic power doesn’t emerge because the candidates aren’t there. China is powerful, but has a severely slowed economy (although still faster than the developed ones, but people who know anything about growth patterns in economics shouldn’t be surprised by that), Russia has a GDP of Italy and while it does have some serious ordinance, its ambitions seem to be purely regional to Eastern Europe despite a lot of the bluster. It hits harder militarily than its economy lets on, make no mistake, but Putin’s concerns are limited to limiting NATO and keeping a Sunni block developing towards his Southern border. Europe leaders is a major power but still sees its bread buttered mostly in sync with the US even if individual countries oppose specific military action. BRICS never could correlate around united interests because honestly they don’t clearly have united interests.

Always, but particularly now, the basics of political life and geo-political life are practical.

That said, these would be intractable wars with no chance of actual success for the US even if the US narrowly “won” them.   While a lot of the apocalypse mongering is overdone,  this could still be nasty if handled in a bellicose manner.

So, like the Roman Empire after the 3rd century, that decline may go awhile without anything really emerging to rival it. Furthermore, my normal response applies: capitalism does loom and it is clearly shifting modes.  Trump’s return to neoconservative brands of “realpolitik” as opposed to other, even conservative, forms is likely good for no one.

So South Koreans aren’t freak out just like I learned not to while I was there, but there are concerns. The likelihood of cyberwar being the reason for failure is really low. In event of a war, Russian and DPRK both use those older methods because they are less hackable. They would, however, still almost instantly lose in such a missal war but only after doing massive damage Japan or Hawai. This is a bargaining table and there is very little the US can do unless it wants to use an ICBM itself. This puts South Korea and Japan in a shit situation, but Japan wants to re-militarize and has the technology now.

So while these developments aren’t good, and could be of the apocalyptic variety; honestly, they aren’t likely to be.The idea that any individual actor is that irrational in the prisoner’s dilemma is low, and there is an explicit method to DPRK’s madness. Bellicose rhetoric for their nationalist interior which, honestly, has moved from communism proper to a kind of racial mythology since the end of the Soviet Union in particular (read the Cleanest Race on this and also learn about the LACK of de-Nazification of Asia. Blood race came into Korea from Japan which got it from Germany and mixed with clan tendencies and political isolation in a fairly unique way, and this was specifically used to build DPRK’s self-understanding from probably the 1970s forward).

A lot of the future of the ROK depends on the the upcoming election, now that daughter of the former dictator and really weirdly scandal ridden Park administration is over, it’s time for a change. A change that is willing to do some complicated negotiations between China, Japan, and the US. Moon Jae-in make be able to return Korea’s Democratic party to same status after the Roh Moo-hyun’s suicide and the collapse of the Sunshine policy. Conservatives in Korea have been split between Protestants, represented by Lee Myung-bak and the Grand National Party and Buddhists represented by Park Geun-hye and Liberty Korea (which split from Lee’s Grand National Party), although it’s important to know that Park was completely secular with cultural ties to Buddhists and Catholics (like Roh Moo-hyun actually). Lee was seen as Korea’s slightly more moderate George Bush whereas there is little US analogue to Park (although maybe Trump in time).

Given that Japan is scrambling jets now to deal with China, not the DPRK, things are about to get complicated.