June 13, 2020 | by Kaori Kohyama
Social Media’s diffusibility makes it possible for groundless rumors to surpass the speed of fact-checks and debunking initiatives for so-called “fake news”.
In our last discussion on DIALOGUE4.0, we shared widespread rumors regarding Covid-19, and how each government and citizens in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines are coping with “Infodemic” every day.
With misinformation and disinformation becoming a new norm in the Internet-age, how do we find trustworthy sources and how should we react when receiving an agitating information?
To give some hints to this open question, we conducted an interview with Dr. Kim Kyungmook, a South Korean scholar of Peace and Conflict Studies, NGO specialist and a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo.
“For the process of peacebuilding, accuracy in data is not really sufficient.”
During the interview, he shared what to bear in mind when online platforms become much more prevalent in the post-corona times, things to consider when thinking about peace, and how to make choices in life.
Interpret The Data, Or You’ll Get Controled
“Numerical or quantitative data tends to mislead the audience as it requires deliberate interpretations. In other words, with this kind of [mis]information, a person could potentially deceive a mass.” Dr. Kim explains that even those supposedly-trustworthy authorities such as governments and international organizations, can exempt from their accountability behind the accuracy of numbers. This could, in theory, “manipulate people as desired.”
“Whether or not the information will be useful depends on one’s perceptiveness and judgement based on their own empirical knowledge.” According to Dr. Kim, cultivating the skill to intuitively detect what feels strange with an accumulation of experiences in the ‘analog’ (off-line) fields is the key. He says this is why he thinks the value of off-line scenes will continue to have its importance.
“Photographs, Journalism or general interpersonal communications are possible when off-line reality backs them up. 2 (online) can happen only on the basis of 1 (off-line). People might go try to generate “3” out of 2, but this 3 can never happen if 1 does not exist at all.”
（Presentation at a workshop held in New Zealand / pc: Kim Kyungmook）
“Calculating” Peace Didn’t Feel Right
Dr. Kim, now known as a leading scholar of Peace Studies focusing on the role and function of Non-Governmental Organizations in society, used to be a researcher of conventional International Relations Theory to a certain point of his life. What he was studying was an academic discipline of armed security that came to mainstream under the Cold War system, simulating actors to calculates the probability of conflicts. He now perceives it as “the realism of Peace,” as the large part of it is “about scrambling for seats on the zero-sum value.”
He thought somehow this could essentially be a study of “war management”. As a Phd candidate at Tokyo University, Dr. Kim felt a sense of discomfort, started questioning if one can measure peace with theories on paper and numerical analysis.
“Peace Studies is an applied discipline that originally began with the study of war and conflict, being independent from International Relations,” Dr. Kim explains, saying it is therefore indispensable to think about ‘How?’ and ‘What?’ questions as well as ‘Why?’ questions when building peace.
“Of course, scientific analysis and research have their own significance. But I wanted to be involved in a more ‘tangible’ approach to peace, which led me start working for an NGO.”
Real-life Experience Changed The Decision
While he was strenuously working for Japan International Volunteer Center instead of attending weekly seminars, the Kosovo conflict broke out in 1999. More than 800,000 refugees and tens of civilian casualties were generated as a result of NATO’s 78 days of airstrikes urged by the anti-Serb sentiment that was hyped in the Japanese and Western media.
At the time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan set the new scheme of NGO special researchers, in which Dr. Kim was selected as one of the first seven researchers.
“This NGO assumed there are still some people doing the right things, even in those countries and regions that are internationally considered rogue. We were sent to find voices in those regions and to protect citizens from being used as political tools.”
This first visit to the conflict field helped him well understand the fact that “there is a contradiction in international politics, which measures justice and evil weighing human lives in the balance.”
Consequently on his 30th birthday, Dr. Kim was on an another humanitarian aid mission in Afghanistan. Interacting with the local people, including a boy who began to process a chicken on the site to serve him, made him wonder about his way of living. “I do have ‘peace’ in my day-to-day life, but I can’t even procure my own food,” laughs Dr. Kim as he recalls back the experience. “I wasn’t sure anymore if my life was really sustainable and resilient.”
On the plane to return home, there was an emergency doctor call which eventually the UN expats including UNICEF’s doctors, raised their hands and took care of the patient. Dr. Kim remembers this so vividly as a decisive moment, because “although the Medical Doctor and my future PhD are both ‘doctors’ possessing the same doctorate degrees, my degree seemed much less useful to the world.” It brought him a perplexing feeling, resulted in a dramatic change in the content of his dissertation “Cross-border NGO Networks“.
This experience has also an immense impact on his life choices, which used to be “only concerning about ‘miserable things’ such as not making progress on my doctoral dissertation.”
“For the first time in my life, I was able to make a choice based on what message I want to send out to society, or how much contribution I want to make to the society.”
The Synergy of Career And Imagination To Change The World
Dr. Kim thinks what’s important for career-making is to have a “synergy between the image of career and the change you want to make in society.”
“I had considered a career path as either a researcher, a diplomat, or an international civil servant. But after immersing myself in NGOs, I realized how interesting it was and I gradually started to want to become a ‘field-oriented pacifist’ myself, too.”
For his “field”, he chose the path of an university professor to convey messages to the society while enjoying the high level of academic freedom and interactively getting feedbacks.
As a university professor, he has been feeling that more and more young people are overemphasizing the importance of secured, foreseeable future. “I see many talented students these days focusing a bit too much on making money out of their initiatives such as starting a social business and so on.”
He concedes that “in terms of the mechanism of neo-liberal capitalism, the attitude to prioritize efficiency is understandable and perhaps correct.” However, he thinks the ability to deliberate deeply and verbalize thoughts could and should be valued more in the society, warning the potential danger of single-linear way of thinking.
“Peace is also not a given state or outcome; it’s a process. When a society is created by those who assume there is always an answer to a question, it potentially leads to generate unheard voices.”
Overcoming Different Concepts of ‘Peace’ In Asia
According to Dr. Kim, there are a couple of things to consider in the process of peacebuilding in Asian context with countries geographically close yet so diverse in political contexts, histories, cultures, and societies.
“First, when somebody is talking about peace, you need to carefully examine the context of time and place that the person is in, as the concept of ‘peace’ differs largely depending on this context. For example, people in Israel and Palestine have different perceptions of peace. Even when people come together from countries that are geographically close to each other in Asia, this has to be considered. Also, considerations for positionality is a must, too. We all trust and judge things based on our experiences. So we need to consider on whose experiences the ‘peace’ is based.”
Although peace can never be a monolithic concept, he adds, “I assertively say that a process of peace that is built on someone else’s misery, is definitely not a peace. ”
More Dialogues For “Cultivating Empathy”
Then the question is, how could we construct a peace together with different contexts and positionalities?
Dr. Kim suggests we need an open dialogue in what’s called the Public Sphere.
Dr. Kim shares his feeling of familiarity about what’s currently happening in the world, when considering the context of 1968.
This situation can be “both an opportunity and a crisis,” depending on how we face it. “Even though it may seem different in each country’s context, there might actually be a potential problem that’s common to all of them.”
As the fear being a primal instinct of human being, by highlighting the imaginable “common threat” and agitate collective fear would make people united as one in fighting against the threat. However, despite the common threat in the form of an incurable virus, some people are back at nationalism and emphasize rivalry with other nations rather than cooperation.
Dr. Kim thinks this is due to the lack of ability to empathize with each other, “not knowing how to communicate with those in different communities from yours.” In order to build a peaceful cooperation beyond obstacles, he says there is only one way; more dialogues.
“However, language barrier in one thing,” Dr. Kim points out some difficulties. “Even if English could function as the Lingua Franca to communicate, there always remains different historical, sociocultural contexts and backgrounds that others do not wholly comprehend. No matter how much information can be exchanged, it is important to keep in mind that people cannot immediately ‘empathize’ with the culture, rules and values that are hidden behind the translated words.”
How much “empathy” we could jointly create beyond languages, cultures, ages and borders remains the significant task for our generation. In this age of post-digital where one can choose who they want to talk to, many are “mumbling” alone on Social Media. Rather, we should seek for a process of getting out of comfortable zones to share, talk and empathize beyond all the differences.
At the end of the interview, he sent out his aspiration for THE LEADS ASIA.
“I’m genuinely excited to see you guys building up the system for ‘empathy’ around the world through this open dialogue.”
PhD in Advanced and International Studies: The University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Kim was researcher at the Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC) from 1999 to 2002, and a member of the board for several years. Before taking his current position at Waseda University, he was professor at Chukyo University. Major publications include “International Cooperation NGOs” (2007) , “Cross-border NGO Network” (2008), “Re-examining Peace Studies: Borders, Coexistence and Reconciliation in Asia (2019)” among others.