Spot the Theme – The "Open-Minded" Edition

See if you can spy the common thread that runs through the following articles:

  • Educational programme brings foreigners to North Korea
    Matt Danzico @ BBC News

    The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

    “The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

  • Philosopher Quarterback Emerges in the Desert
    The Associated Press

    Szakacsy is, as the title of his new CD suggests, someone who has spent his life chasing truth.”

    “I’m just really interested in everything,” he said. “You can find God in everything, truth in everything, so everything is cool at the end of the day. I try to just really see myself in everything. It’s all connected in some way.”

If you guessed “misguided idealism in our youth,” you are absolutely correct.

Regarding the first example: Our dispute with the DPRK is not – and never has been – based on a mistrust of the latter’s ordinary citizens. Indeed, the exact opposite is the case. Our relationship with the DPRK is hostile because, as Americans, we are universalists and therefore assume that the North Korean people also yearn to be free of the Kim family. Indeed, it doesn’t surprise us in the slightest that some North Koreans who’ve managed to escape what my (South Korean) boss calls “the worst country in the world” are currently clamoring to join the South Korean army. That’s exactly what we would do in their place, by God!

Abe Greenwald of Commentary put it well in a recent blog post:

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

In sum, Reichel and Young and other folks of their ilk completely miss the point when they urge us to “get to know” the citizens of enemy nations. Chatting it up with the locals is not going to improve relations with North Korea, for instance, because it is not those locals who are causing the problem. The only thing that will improve relations with North Korea is, dare I say it, the reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic government — a regime change most North Koreans would welcome, I’m sure.

Regarding the second example: It is certainly not the case that all religions teach the same things; therefore, it is not the case that all religions are equally true. A demonstration: Buddhism calls for us to renounce the self entirely; in other words, it teaches the denial of personality. Christianity, on the other hand, calls for us to renounce our sinful selves so that we may put on our godly selves; it teaches that the personality is one of God’s great masterworks and encourages each of its followers to contribute to the Body of Christ according to his or her unique vocation. Are we obligated to respect the deep traditions of these two ancient faiths? Certainly. But they can’t both be right; their positions are contradictory.

It’s good to explore different faiths when you’re young. Eventually, however, you’re going to have to settle on something. It is not a sign of philosophical depth if you just accept everything as “cool at the end of the day.”

At this point, I think I shall conclude with another relevant quote:

“An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.” – G.K. Chesterton, 1908

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