Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jeju-do

Married and with a green laurel wreath in my luggage, I have now returned to Korea for the spring finale. Sweden was everything I ever wished for and now it feels strange to suddenly be alone again with dozens of e-mails to answer, theses to grade and articles to revise. Despite the urgency of it all, I decided to take a moment and post this picture from Jeju. The picture was taken a couple of weeks ago when Anna and I decided to leave Seoul for a few days. Jeju is a beautiful island south of the Korean peninsula, known for its orange trees, volcanic mountains and black pig BBQ. While popular in the region and often referred to as "Korea's Hawaii", Jeju definitely deserves to be discovered by a wider audience.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Long haul

“No sugar, no cream, just black please”. Again, filter coffee and a dark night with only 65 meters of metallic wingspan separating the living from the dead. Despite all my accumulated hours in the air, it happens that I am struck by my own mortality up here, especially when I think about all the happiness that I have come to feel, the marvelousness of what is about to happen before the summer is over.

Yet for many hours still, I will remain in this placeless limbo of winding thoughts. As much as the satellite map knows my exact position, I play with images of what the morning will be like when it eventually comes: the sharp bright desert light as I walk naked across a lonely hotel room in North Las Vegas, the green café garden after the rain at Kurfürstenstraße in Berlin, or a simple morning with Danish yoghurt and Special-K cereals in Seoul. Cheap aesthetics of the frequent flyer one may say but it is a playfulness that I am willing to defend. I want the world to be at once boundless and familiar, the journey to be continuous rather than a temporary escape from everyday boredom. Instead of paying for a house, a car and a wide-screen TV, I have chosen this and for every day I realize more and more how important it was for me to be able to make that choice.

I travel to Sweden to marry the woman I love, to have my doctorate conferment ceremony and to see a bit of Skåne in May. I think much travel happens for worse reasons.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Nostalgianomics

On a fundamental level, I believe in pluralism and the need to constantly question our own beliefs and hidden assumptions. By listening to the best arguments of our opponents we can learn new things and together we can work to make liberal democracy possible. At the same time, just a minute or two of internet discourse is often sufficient to make one feel profoundly misanthropic and disillusioned about the prospects of democracy. It is sad, because more than ever we need people who genuinely believe in democracy and its institutions. It is also sad because, instead of fuelling further class-conflict or “agonism”, we need new visions of shared prosperity and growing global equality.

Yet, sometimes, you come across well-written texts that hint at the deep underlying differences. Like this one, in The Atlantic written by Megan McArdle in January after Obama gave his State of the Union speech:

“I think the speech made it even clearer than other speeches have that the president's vision of the world is a lightly updated 1950s technocracy without the social conservatism, and with solar panels instead of rocket ships.  Government and labor and business working in tightly controlled concert, with nice people like Obama at the reins--all the inventions coming out of massive government or corporate labs, and all the resulting products built by a heavily unionized workforce that knows no worry about the future”

As readers of this weblog know, I may not have much nostalgia for either the 1950’s or technocracy but I definitely have strong feelings of nostalgia for the 1980’s in Sweden and for the idea of progress through social investments. Having experienced first-hand the benefits of this system, and also seen where the conservative alternative leads (read Italy or Japan), it is not difficult to fall victim to “nostalgianomics”. At the same time, we shall never forget that the circumstances we face today are new, that the kind of moderate structural change that we saw in the 80’s is a thing of the past (and even then, it ultimately failed as the rate of social investments became lower than the rate of wage inflation). In the future, there will be difficult trade-offs, stark choices and the need for radical new ideas. But that should all be a case in favour of liberal democracy, not against it.

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