When I get referrals from Twitter I use to search a bit to see how my posts are being talked about. Recently I saw Nick Land calling me a North Korea sympathizer of sorts. Now, I had been wanting to make a post about North Korea since a while ago, so this is as good a chance as any to write what I think about that country.
North Korea is a nasty place. I define "nasty" by the way the people live, not by the way its political system conflicts with the political positions I’ve signaled over the years. I don't give a crap about it being "totalitarian" or "communist" or "antidemocratic". I’m not married to any particular political structure. I haven’t spent years signaling my commitment to this or that form of government. I probably should have, as everybody I know has been busy loudly proclaiming their allegiance to western democracy, and my silence on the topic hasn't gained me any status. Fortunately, I get my status from other sources, and my heartfelt fear that joining the game of public political signaling would get me purged by more adept agitators sooner rather than later made me confident that my outsider strategy is the best over the long term. This is I think the mental calculation that most "conservative" people do.
Anyway, as I was saying, I don't care about totalitarianism or whatever. If a totalitarian regime produces a wealthy, pleasant and interesting country, God bless it. If a communist country does so; I’ll sing its praises. If a democracy does so, great for them. I’ll go visit often.
North Korea does nothing of the sort. It's a nasty, wretched place, where commoners starve, and people must constantly fawn over the powerful to avoid being killed or enslaved on trumped up charges. I wouldn't like it there. North Korea is as bad as everybody says it is, most particularly the people who have managed to get out of there, and have written books on it. Chinese people are generally more nonchalant about it. Many Chinese can remember the Mao days; and they'll tell you North Korea is mostly the same thing; even slightly better, now that cheap electronics are available by smuggling. The Mao era was bad, of course, but it wasn't living hell. People lived through it. Most people are glad they got out of it, but others do miss that era of simple poverty. Some people are of course better at loudly proclaiming their love to the Great Leader than they are at making money in a capitalist marketplace. So of course some people miss Mao. When North Korea falls, some people will miss the Kims. I hear some North Korean refugees eventually go back.
Most criticisms of North Korea from abroad blame communism or totalitarianism for the poverty and lack of freedom. Even Moldbug when arguing for monarchy, was pointed out that North Korea is a monarchy too, and it's not looking so hot. Moldbug answered that North Korea isn't an actual monarchy, and the totalitarian system there is due to the lack of formal recognition of the Kim's sovereignty. He stressed that North Korea is communist, and that's why it's so bad.
I think that's wrong. North Korea is of course communist by any definition of the word. But North Korea is also, well, Korea. And the situation in North Korea is by all accounts very similar to what it was during the Joseon dynasty. There you had a king, with absolute power. You had a ruling elite, the yangban, who manned the court and the state administration. You had the commoners half starving and constantly fawning over their leaders in order to get by in life. And you even had slaves, large amounts of native population with no legal status and who could be traded as property.
The Joseon dynasty was as bad, if not worse, as north Korea today, and it wasn't communist. It was a monarchy run on a traditional Chinese state template. And yet it managed to be one of the poorest countries on earth, containing one of the smartest population of humans. Again, no communism. I guess you could call it totalitarian, but the resources of social control available to the Joseon dynasty were pitiful compared to what any modern state can do. The Joseon dynasty was what it was, and north Korea today is a very similar thing. Communism has little to do with it. China is communist too, and it's flourishing. Vietnam is communist too, and it's doing ok.
Of course most people would pull a no true Scotsman here, and say that North Korea is real communist, while china is fake communist, because china allows (effectively) private property, while north Korea doesn't, and that explains the difference. Well, did the Joseon dynasty allow private property? Surely it did. Until it didn't. If you were a yangban of status with good connections with the present ruling faction, your property was not secure, it was most likely soaring. If you were a yangban of status with good connections with a falling faction, you could lose your property and life at the whim of a bureaucrat. Is that very different from what happens in North Korea? surely some people own stuff. Land, housing, even factories. Even if its nominally owned by a state department, some man effectively controls that department, and will continue to do so as long as he's friends with somebody close to Kim the Fat III (as the Chinese call him). Actually that's not different from how things work in china today. You can hold on your property as long as you are allowed to hold on your property. You can ask the "corrupt officials" that Xi Jinping has been cracking down on recently. How's your private property?
North Korea also has no issues with feminism; most men can and do get married, and women are, as peasants everywhere, not pretty flowers, but generally pleasant enough to run a household. For all the poverty and oppression, they manage to breed more than we do. Now this is not to say North Korea is a paradise of traditional sexual mores; I’m sure Kim the Fat gets dozens of 13 year old girls sent to him to abuse sexually. And surely there's some homosexual official in some province who enjoys raping little boys and does so with impunity. That again happened all the time in premodern monarchies, it is nothing new.
As a reader of history I know enough of the past not to worship the good ol' days, the golden age of peace and prosperity that we've lost. There was no such thing; the past was a nasty, brutal place to be. Poverty is nasty business, and peasants in a poor country are the most selfish and immoral people you can find. Talleyrand was right as saying that only aristocrats before the revolution really got to know about the true douceur de vivre. But the real douceur wasn't living standards; it was the guarantee of high status for live. That was very, very sweet, but by definition only available to a few, and it created resentment of the same intensity in the opposite direction.
And yet people do still look back at the past with nostalgia, and it's not only about pretty buildings. It's about SP, both real and potential. There is no status for white men today in the West, and all we can see in the horizon is even worse prospects. If the basic programming of the social brain is to prevent loss of status by any means; well then the North Korean solution, the medieval solution, doesn't look so bad. Blood, iron and hellfire don't look so bad. Even Islam doesn't look so bad. Anything, no matter how crazy and poorly thought, is better to the status quo, because uncertain high status beats certain low status, and absolutely anything beats certain lower status in the future.