Asian Hell: Palin, Summers, Amy Chua, etc. in Korea

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 10/11/2011 02:16:00 PM
Today, I wish not to engage in epistemological debates about what constitutes knowledge. Rather, I wish to question whether self-styled opinion leaders warrant such a role in spreading knowledge. While watching Bloomberg TV, I came across an advertisement for the ongoing World Knowledge Forum 2011 in Seoul, South Korea that is running its main event from today till Thursday. So far so unremarkable: in many ways it's a spin-off of the World Economic Forum idea. What's more, I don't necessarily begrudge the organizers who probably will make money running the show since this is not just the first iteration of the event.

Reading the speaker list, however, I became far more suspicious. Certainly some Davos regulars have decamped here. There are fine public speakers such as LSE IDEAS' very own Niall Ferguson. But there are far dafter selections. I am particularly struck by the odious, unpresidentiable Sarah Palin giving "a US leadership perspective on how to lead the world out of the latest crisis" [!] Having resigned from being the guv'nor of Alaska and not running for nationwide office, I wonder what she'd talk about aside from certain...credibility problems. If you haven't had your fill of disposable public figures yet, then by all means go over and listen to Larry "Wooden Racquets" Summers--failed National Economic Council director who's succeeded only in sinking the Obama administration further into the current US morass. Topping them all, perhaps, is another character with some notoriety in Amy Chua. Thankfully not speaking about anything related to economics, she rehashes her "Tiger Mom" shtick in relation to (smart, diligent) Korean kids--no matter how problematic this idea is (not to mention how Korean authorities are now actually cracking down on excessive studying).

Sharing in the shame, Britain is also represented by former PM Gordon Brown--a guy in such bad odour that the current government wouldn't even consider him to head the (faraway) IMF. Like Larry Summers, Brown was also very much a financial services industry toady prior to the crisis, famously uttering that line about there being no return to old patterns of boom and bust. When he speaks about global solutions being needed for global problems, perhaps he'd have fared a lot better had he come up with a UK solution for the UK's problems. Which he didn't; hence his current gig on the lecture circuit.

Outrage aside, there's a serious negative implication here. I truly don't understand this continuing obsession many Asians have with Western figures somehow being endowed with knowledge we don't have. Call it an inferiority complex, but why should us Asians be listening to washed-up and misguided Westerners give us advice on how to escape global crises they themselves helped create and can't get out of? To add insult to injury, I am sure we are paying top dollar (a contemporary oxymoron if there ever was one) for the "privilege" of hearing these folks.

To paraphrase Rick Perry, I dunno what y'all would do to these characters in Seoul but [I hope] we would treat them pretty ugly down in Southeast Asia.