Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Soylent Korean?

Excuse the glib (and terribly insensitive) title, but when it comes to North Korea, I sometimes have to mock in order to deal with the horror of it all.

We are (again) getting reports out of North Korea that the situation up north is so dire that some parents have reportedly been eating their young. Or at least one dad.

From The Independent:
Reports from inside the secretive famine-hit pariah state, North Korea, claim a man has been executed after murdering his two children for food.

The grim suggestion that North Koreans are turning to cannibalism were reported by the Asia Press, and published in the Sunday Times.

They claim a 'hidden famine' in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae has killed 10,000 people, and there are fears that cannibalism is spreading throughout the country.

The reports come as sanctions are tightened against the backdrop of angry rhetoric over missile testing.

In one particularly disturbing report, a man was said to have dug up his grandchild's corpse. Other lurid reports included the suggestion that some men boiled their children before eating them.

Asia Press is a specialist news agency based in Osaka, Japan, which claims to have recruited a network of "citizen journalists" inside North Korea. The reports are considered credible.

Interviews have led Asia Press to conclude that more than 10,000 people have probably died in North and South Hwanghae provinces, south of Pyongyang, the capital.

North Korea has not confirmed or denied any reports of the deaths.
I've long been publicly skeptical of any reporting coming out of North Korea, not just the official North Korean version of stuff but also the citizen journalism that utilizes rogue informants and information, often by groups with an agenda (usually against the North, of course). The more outrageous or shocking the information, the more valuable it is, and people who have just escaped are often cued (inadvertently or deliberately) to provide the right type of news.

No, this guy's father isn't the one who ate his kids.

That's not to say that there is no cannibalism in North Korea. In fact, we've heard such reports before, when North Korea fell into terrible famine in the 1990s. Given that we may be seeing the ripples of the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009, it would not surprise me that there are many thousands of people who are starving and that some of them took such extreme measures. (Amidst such widespread deprivation as happened before, if it is again happening now, it would be surprising were there not any cannibalism.)

At the same time, though, we have to ask what this all means. Here we have a case where a man was publicly executed for murdering and then eating his children. What can we conclude from that? Is it responsible to draw broader conclusions based on that news story? Last year, in Florida, a naked man bit off and started eating another man's face, but would we have found it prudent to infer nation-level information based on that incident? Would we have imagined this was the beginning of an epidemic of bizarre drug-induced behavior, the beginnings of an imminent zombie apocalypse, or worse? (Well, I guess some people really did jump to such conclusions.)

In a nation of 25 million people, odds alone would mean there are many thousands of deviants, and maybe this guy is just one (the regime and their minions aren't the only homicidal people). This could be just that, or it could be much more, an indication that the nation is in the grips of crippling famine. If so, what does this mean? I've speculated that in a post-KJI world, we may have reached a tipping point where people do a calculus where they realize they are now more likely to die if they do nothing than if they do something. To an outside observer, it seems parts of North Korea have long since passed that point, yet the people do not rise up (much). Maybe allowing consumption of marijuana has really sapped the drive to do something, or maybe they are just too gripped with fear to act. I don't know, and nobody else really does.

In the end, this is just another sideshow news story on North Korea. And to be honest, this pisses me off. North Korea gets the attention of the global media only when something outrageous of weird happens, like a missile launch or a man eating his children, yet we ignore the day to day human misery that goes on there.

Not that there's much we can do about it anyway.

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