Few people think of North Korea as an inspiring place to visit, but for us it led to a flowering of thought and feeling that resulted weirdly later in muteness and a difficulty finding the right ways and means of expressing the impact the DPRK had on us.
We visited in September of 2018, and it is now January and I am just getting around to a blog post.
When we first got back, Josh and I considered writing our first book together, so abundant were our ideas, and so different our ideas were from one another’s.
For me, North Korea gave rise to meditations on areas of human life that normally remain in the preserve of sociologists. It was less about the political system or its history as much as it was about morality, freedom, and social contracts. My thoughts were philosophical reflections and critique.
All judgment flew out the window. For a while it seemed that we had been given some of the Kool Aid, our impressions veered towards the positive.
It seemed neither as oppressive as we expected nor as bleak, but as an alternate reality. North Korea is a different type of human society, one that meets with harsh disapproval from those steeped in the ways of democracy, freedom, and Enlightenment.
I then began to wonder if Ancient Egypt was like North Korea in some way. The rulers are deified, through and through. The population is awed or cowered into submission, compliance, obedience, given just enough to eat to avoid impetus for rebellion but more importantly, brainwashed to the point where the actual processes of critical thought were either never learned or throughly beaten out.
And it got me thinking:
Why are we so willing to make allowances for religion and all the idiocy it creates, but not for political systems? I think we are too permissive of traditional ways of life and traditional cultures, making excuses based on romantic ideals of societies we have labeled as “exotic.”
Even though arguably the same level of brainwashing takes place in traditional societies as takes place in North Korea, we find those societies quaint and romantic but not North Korea.
North Korea is not at all a romantic place, but can be a real paradigm shifter. It feels like another planet. Surreal, mind-boggling. This type of society exists nowhere else. Everything is structured, nothing flows organically. People have strict schedules and more rigidity in their lives than you can imagine.
It got me to thinking about a whole lot more, too, comparing North Korea to the United States, considering the ways Americans turn their political heroes into icons and even mythic figures. It’s not the same, I know, but I like playing cognitive games.
If travel isn’t a catalyst, if it doesn’t get you to see yourself and the world in a new light, then you’re just going on vacation to relax. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to go somewhere like North Korea, where there is zero relaxation but a whole lotta opportunities for personal growth and development.
I’ll be writing more about North Korea but that’s all for now.