Friday, February 15, 2013

Looking to North Korea


For John, BLUFThe odds are, we are somewhat clueless about North Korea and China.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

Mr Michael J Totten, who has been a free lance reporter from the Near and Middle East, now works for World Affairs Magazine, where he wrote this piece:  The Grand Universal Illusion.

He starts of (and ends up) talking about New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof.  Mr Totten thinks that Mr Kristof's idea, constructive engagement, is as much a waste as isolation and sanctions.  The first problem with this approach is that North Korea has isolated itself.  It is Japan before Commodore Matthew Perry.

But, that isn't Mr Totten's main point.  The main point has to do with "cognitive egocentrism".  We assume that because we would reaction a certain way, others would also.

This is what Professor Richard Landes calls cognitive egocentrism.  “The act of empathy,” Landes explains, “can often become an act of projecting onto another ‘what I would feel if I were in their shoes,’ rather than an attempt to understand how the person with whom one is empathizing has reacted to their situation, how they read and interpret events.”

People do this sort of thing all the time. We do it to our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.  It’s hard not to.  We also do it to foreign people, and they do it to us.

The Soviets did it to us, and we do it to the Chinese, who are doing it to us.

We need cultural context to help us navigate in the world.  When we lack this we can misjudge what other nations may and will do.  Mr Totten uses Russia as an example.  As likely is Japan, who we misjudged in 1941, and who misjudged us in 1941.  Thus, war.

This is a reason the departure of Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M Campbell from the Department of State during the transition of the President's National Security Team and the period when the "Pivot to Asia" are taking place is unfortunate.

Regards  —  Cliff

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