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Reviewed by:
  • Think No Evil: Korean Values in the Age of Globalization
  • Byung-ok Kil (bio)
Think No Evil: Korean Values in the Age of Globalization, by C. Fred Alford. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1999. 218 pp. $33.50 cloth.

This is an excellent and intriguing book for those who "share hopes and fears" in everyday life. What is fascinating is Alford's treatment of the meaning of the absence of evil in Korean thought. In interrogating the meaning of the absence of evil, this book focuses on the meaning of the Korean self in chapters 2 and 3, the concept of evil in chapters 4 and 5, and globalization as evil and enlightenment in chapters 6 and 7. As the author specifically describes in the Research Appendix, his interviews with more than 250 Koreans (including 13 Korean Americans) yield a widespread absence of the meaning of evil. Interviews at "evil dinners" and discussions with the rank and file are designed to address meanings of the self, evil, and globalization, immediately before and after the economic collapse of December 1997. Alford's interpretation of Korean values is derived from talking to real people about real experiences, not from operationalizing concepts and theorizing about Koreans at a distance. What Alford describes is how Koreans map the self, evil, and globalization. In other words, it is a study of boundary- and space-making or "cultural mapping" practices (p. 11) that construct social values and beliefs.

Think No Evil: Korean Values in the Age of Globalization begins with a comparison between the biblical Solomon and a Korean Solomon who would build harmonious human relationships dealing with societal matters. In the Korean Solomon's virtue, Alford finds the absence of dualism that separates [End Page 128] what is good versus what is evil or what is one versus what is the other—that is to say, the absence of evil. Rather than the thing in itself, evil "is unrelated-ness, the dread of absolute alienation and unconnectedness, pure loneliness, [and] absolute difference" (p. 11). To Koreans, evil is the haunting of "becoming other to oneself" rather than a fear of the other. What Koreans fear most is isolation in an uri world, since they find themselves in a group-self or we-self, associated with such values as chŏng (affection), han (suffering), and kibun (mood) in the networked social webs.

According to Alford, the Korean self "is a conflict, not a continuum" (p. 29). Without social relationships, Koreans will have narcissistic personality disorder (hwabyŏng). However, psychological and social conflicts between "the group self and a strong [bourgeoisie] ego are not, it appears, contradictory, but complementary" (p. 60). It is not conflict that Koreans worry about most, but domination by individuals/groups that will lead to separation from harmonious human relationships—that is, that domination will lead to isolation from richly woven social webs built through chŏng. Introducing the concept of "the container and the contained" (p. 80), Alford maintains that Korean values of chŏng, han, and kibun in an uri world are constructed, held together, and maintained by and through social networks. What it means to be isolated for the Korean self in an uri world is "the state of being simultaneously crushed and dropped" (p. 84). As a result, the absence of evil is the result of cultural containment that holds parent–child, society and nation–group and individual, and firm–worker relationships.

Alford states that Korean socialization does not establish the other that is demonized and marginalized from society. Evil "cannot exist because Koreans have created a universe in which there is no place for it . . . [and] the Korean ak and choe are not really about evil at all" (p. 89). Following the Tao Te Ching, Koreans believe in "oneness" or "nothingness," full of completeness, as the highest value. They are not relativistic about evil, but rather the social relationship to Koreans "is itself the standpoint of judgment" (p. 94), since the great fashioner "does no splitting" (p. 124). In a similar fashion, evil "is not so much that Koreans need separation to know evil, but that separation is itself the evil they cannot know" (p...


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