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Thoughts on Yuri Kochiyama, The Pope, MLK, and... Genghis Khan?

Today Google chose to honor the late Yuri Kochiyama on what would have been her 95[SUP]th[/SUP] birthday. I must admit, though I am a student of history, I knew very little of her (which I will choose to blame on my disinterest in modern history as a whole). My knowledge could basically be summed up as “wasn’t she that human rights lady who also supported terrorists?” So when I saw her portrait on my front page this morning I was intrigued, and skimmed her Wikipedia article to make sure I had the right woman in mind. I did, and it rekindled a philosophical conflict I had previously mulled over to no conclusion.

A few months ago I was chatting with a couple people about the current Pope, Francis. While I am Christian, I am by no means Catholic, so the Pope is just a powerful man in a funny costume to me. Nevertheless, I found myself agreeing with one of my conversation partners (also not Catholic) about how much good Francis seems to be doing, particularly regarding his anti-death penalty stance. At this point the third guy jumped in and asserted in no uncertain terms that the Pope was not to be lauded in any way due to his alleged role in covering up child abuse within the Church. Now, I had and still have no idea whether or not these allegations are true, but this guy had raised an interesting point:

Should we look up to or revere people who have done great, positive things in the world, even if they have also been responsible for, or supported in some way, some terrible things?

I tried to probe the question with this guy, but he seemed totally uninterested in any meaningful engagement, so I was left to ponder it on my own until my interest fizzled and I forgot about it, and I haven’t thought about again until today.

I still have no answer, and I still don’t know what to make of Kochiyama or Google’s decision to honor her. The same questions still frustrate me. Is it truly possible to celebrate the great deeds of a person while condemning the terrible things they have done? In celebrating the individual, don’t you always inadvertently end up promoting the bad, unless you take the time to disavow every one of their misdeeds every time you praise them? Today I’ve seen a flood of people lauding Kochiyama as a great woman and a hero, perfectly content to ignore the fact that she called Bin Laden a hero after the September 11[SUP]th[/SUP] attacks, and repeatedly fought to free murderers and attempted murderers, considering them heroes as well. Surely ignoring these things is not the solution?

But at the same time she also fought for so much good. Surely I can’t ignore this fact and call her a monster. People are never that simple. So then do we honor her? Is there a line somewhere that says “past this point, a person is no longer to be revered”? If so, where is the line? MLK is known to have had an affair. Is he disqualified as well?

History is a goldmine of examples for this topic. A classic is Genghis Khan. One of the most evil men in recorded history, he also brought peace, prosperity, cultural exchange, and technological progress to millions of people (with the one minor caveat that they don't resist him). It has even been suggested his deeds paved the way for the modern world. What do we make of him? What do we say of him, or any of the other thousands of prominent historical figures who did great things but also some pretty awful things? One of the tenets of the modern field of history is that we should withhold our judgment. Be hospitable and meet these figures in their own time and place. And we should be, but when it comes to, say, choosing who to honor on the front page of Google, it isn’t much help.

Of course, the easy way out would be to go post-modern and say, “Why even try to label people in this way? It’s so simplistic and small-minded.” Well sure, but it’s also practical. The fact of the matter is we look up to, learn from, and are influenced by other human beings. It is entirely impractical to always point to deeds and events rather than people. We have heroes. It’s as simple as that. Heroes inspire people, which leads to change. So again, how do we decide who to look up to? It seems logical that there would be some sort of disqualification line, but where? Obviously everyone can draw their own lines, but that doesn’t really solve much either. What would Google do, then? Just not honor anyone? Quit the whole thing altogether? I personally think it would be rather sad to have no heroes honored in the public sphere, and probably destructive.

So Kochiyama. I still don’t know what to think. Knowing what she has said about Bin Laden, would I be able to look into the eyes of one of the three-thousand innocent families who lost fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons to that man, and call her a hero? I don’t think I could. How would it be any different to say it in other company then, or even just to think it in private? Sure, no one might get hurt, but what does that change other than someone’s emotional state, and only temporarily at that?

Well, that’s about all I have to say I guess. I still feel incredibly frustrated about the whole thing, but it helps to let it out at the very least. Google’s decision doesn’t sit right with me, but when I try to reason out why, I end up lost in that awkward philosophical fog where everything just looks grey.

Comments

There is no objective answer. It's all subjective. One man's hero is another man's villain.

Usually I try to withhold judgment. But in cases like these it is a matter of opinion. Apparently there was a consensus of opinion at Google that this woman did more good than harm (or perhaps they agreed to celebrate her for *certain* actions during a *certain* time of the year pertaining to said actions). It isn't their responsibility how people will react to it; they reasoned that the general reaction would be a positive or neutral one, and if there are people who are offended by it, that's on those people. So long as Google doesn't do something blatantly flagrant, they don't owe anybody an apology.

Perhaps the biggest misconception many people have is that heroes are flawless. What makes a hero? Why? Those are entirely different rabbit holes. Regardless, we don't even have to go down those rabbit holes to know that a good hero is flawed (just refer to Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Artyom from Metro 2033, etc). That's just human nature. The only way to perfection is to accept the imperfections. And where do you draw that line? Another good question that can't be answered objectively, besides in a hive-mind.

This debacle could sort of be related to democracy. Sure, "insert taxes" are good for these 65%, but 35% don't want them, and would be hurt by them. That 35% could be millions of people! Again though, in general more good would be done than harm, and so the sacrifice is made.

Every Jew views Hitler as the spawn of Satan. Every skinhead thinks he's a martyr. And I'm sitting coolly to the side, sipping tea, viewing Hitler as a failed painter; great speaker; poor military commander; leader of a technologically and culturally advanced nation; somebody who thought they had good intentions and went about them in the most horrific way imaginable, possibly due to mental illness.

I guess I just prefer to look at things the way they are, and not let bias skew my perspective, or give-in to lazy simplicity.
 
Smith;bt6272 said:
There is no objective answer. It's all subjective. One man's hero is another man's villain.

So long as Google doesn't do something blatantly flagrant, they don't owe anybody an apology.

Aha, but here is the problem. I think without realizing it you are trying to have it both ways. "Blatantly flagrant" has to be defined, and if it is subjective then honoring Kochiyama may very well be considered blatantly flagrant by some people. You say it is on those people if they are offended, yet if they find Google's actions blatantly flagrant, then Google owes them an apology.

I'm not arguing against the subjectivity of it all. I do believe there is an objective standard on all things, but that we humans really have no way of being certain of those standards, and therefore usually have to behave under the assumption of subjectivity (or rather an acknowledgment that our standards may be incorrect). However, my frustrations stem from how to deal with the subjectivity.

Take your Hitler example. I am happy to acknowledge the nuances and complexities of his character. Yet if Google decided to honor him on his birthday, I would have a serious problem with that. But where is the line between him and Kochiyama? Obviously I am not saying she is comparable to Hitler, but rather that I draw the line somewhere--and think we all should--while having no idea where exactly it should be drawn. I can look at Hitler and say "we shouldn't honor him because of all these awful things he did," but with someone like Kochiyama, I just don't know. There seems to be no way to apply that reasoning consistently. It might sound easy to just weigh whether they did more harm than good, but first off that is nearly impossible to measure and falls to more subjectivity, but I'm also not sure it really works. If there were some hypothetical leader who spent his life doing great things for the world, but also raped and murdered a little girl with no remorse, would I be able to say to her mother that he was a great man who should be honored on Google as such? No, I don't think I could.

So if we go back to the beginning, with figures like Kochiyama, Google is always going to be left in a position where they need to apologize to someone for being "blatantly flagrant" because someone will see it as just that, and not without reason. And if they recognize the need to apologize for it, what does that say about doing it in the first place? Hence, my frustration at the situation.

Thanks for your time Smith. You gave me a lot to think about and an opportunity to better understand and articulate my own thoughts. Most people aren't willing to engage in these sorts of discussions. Not that I don't understand why. It'd probably drive me insane if I let it. :-k
 
I think then, it will always be subjective. I don't think you can set a standard that would fit every unique individual. There are too many variables (dare I say infinite).

Or perhaps it is incorrect to think that good and bad options "cancel out" each other because the actions in themselves don't have an objective value.

What I mean, is I bet you could find somebody in the world who thinks Hitler was a great artist, and that he made such great improvements in the "painting realm" that that makes up for the Holocaust.

Sounds, of course, crazy to you and I. But so long as people have opinions on things, I don't think you can have an objective measuring stick for being a hero.

The best way I've found is to go about it democratically. An imperfect system, sure. But if the general population would celebrate "said figure" as a hero, there's probably a grain of truth to it.
 

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