What Should We Do About Kim-Jong-un?

Youth often times proves a torrent of wind and wild fire.  Like a geyser spouting unpredictable fits of brilliance, its strength and weakness no doubt lies in its reckless abandon.  Without mindfulness or fear of consequence, youth can manifest like a runaway freight train, consuming everything in its path.  If history is anything to go by, we know that youthful fervour has the potential to destroy as much as it does to inspire.  Caligula and Nero taught us that, paving the way for the likes of Alexander III of Macedon and King Henry VIII, who are just a few among a long list of despotic youths that blot the human saga.  Without want of another cliché, we reluctantly usher a new era of youth by the ascension of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader and the world’s youngest head of state.  Since assuming leadership, the 29-year son of the late Kim Jong-il has already threatened to attack Washington with nuclear weapons, declared a state of war with neighbouring South Korea and warned diplomats to evacuate the peninsula.  We ask, why? We say how?  After all, this isn’t Rome 40 AD.  Yet notwithstanding all 21st conveniences, technologies and rhetoric, our instincts seem to be the same as they were 2000 years ago - only now they are charged by nuclear power.

The belligerence of North Korea induces a clear take-home message: nuclear war remains a serious threat.  Despite decades of extensive humanitarianism, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism efforts on both sides of the hemisphere, it seems the Cold War never really thawed.  While North Korea’s antagonisms continue, a feverish Asian arms race has begun, which collectively, (for the first time), exceeds military spending in Europe.  However amidst all this jostling for power, a pageant of east-meets-west sees an unlikely alliance between the United States and China.  In tandem with the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the two superpowers have come together on strategy and deliberation, recognizing North Korea’s lack of experience with certain technologies, lack of nuclear and missile capacity, UN sanctions, and strained global diplomatic relations.  However, despite this, Kim Jong-un remains, an unshakable youth.

So who is this Kim Jong-un anyway?  Of all the political and military positions young Kim has assumed over the years, (which altogether seem quasi comedic), the latest title of Supreme Leader of North Korea is by far, the most disconcerting.  After all, the title assumes power over an ultra-nationalistic government that not only occupies a hot seat with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but also seeks to join the nuclear power club via fear and exhibition. The lack of biographical information available on Kim Jong-un however, provokes a greater unease within the international community.  What little we do know about the mysterious youth is a silhouetted profile that casts a much bigger shadow than the man himself.

Having attended a western education in Switzerland under the alias, Un Pak, Kim Jong-un went on to complete two degrees from both Kim Il-sung University and Kim Il-sung Military University, (albeit with reportedly poor attendance and grades).  Coveting a love for Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes, Johnnie Walker whiskey, and Eric Clapton’s music, the Mercedes-Benz-driving, twenty-something has been described by former classmates as being, “obsessed with basketball and computer games.” Recent reports testify to a rise in luxury goods creeping into North Korea, which reveal an expensive taste in French couture.  Of course, it is no secret that Kim Jong-un favors a luxurious lifestyle of heavy drinking and partying, attested by former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto.  Having disclosed certain details about their relationship, Fujimoto has been quoted saying, “he has superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat.”

Now you may think Johnnie Walker, Eric Clapton and Michael Jordan have little to do with nuclear threat, but in fact, they tell us a lot about the kind of person the world might be dealing with.  The excessive dualistic depiction of Kim Jong-un evokes a cruel irony. Much like a nymphomaniac sworn to celibacy, Kim Jong-un appears to be of two minds – a split personality, riven by his commitment to North Korea’s internal juche ideology and his love for external superfluities.  This hypocrisy sheds light on North Korea’s latest provocations.  They appear as Kim Jong-un – without substance, without mindfulness and without truth.  So the world should take care.  While Washington and Beijing attempt to engage Pyongyang in diplomatic talks, (engaging in critical thinking to get to the root of the problem), critics argue that it may not be enough.  The tricky thing about an eye for an eye is that both parties end up losing their eye and when it comes to nuclear power, that’s one big eye.

Despite the downplay of North Korea’s military grandiloquence in recent weeks, the country continues to stand strong on preconditions for resuming talks with the West, and has publicly refused to abandon its nuclear program.  Indeed if any diplomatic resolution is to be met, it appears it will have a great deal to do with the resolve of one such fiery and albeit unpredictable youth.  North Korea’s internal state structure allows for little upward flow when it comes to information and options, making a myopic gamut of Kim Jong-un’s decision-making process.  So while hope lingers for a nuclear-free world, it may very well be the Kim’s of today, concealed in all their western finery, who will determine what future we share tomorrow.  Whiskey, World of War Craft and a whole lot of Basketball.  Doesn’t sound too bad… Oh yeah and did we mention nuclear power?  Long range missiles?   We shouldn’t get too cozy while youth has its finger on the trigger.  After all, superior physical gifts, heavy drinking and an unwillingness to ever admit defeat might just the perfect formula for a global nuclear meltdown.


Is It Wise To Bring Back Extinct Species?

Last month, National Geographic sponsored a TEDx conference in Washington DC centered on the possibility and implications of reviving extinct species.  The platform transcended principle and theory, submerging its panel into the murky waters of morality.  Capable of resurrecting something that no longer exists back into existence seems like a charlatan parlor trick, and yet it is far from quackery.  Plucked straight from realm of the incredible, new age technologies now make it possible to pursue ideas of “de-extinction.”  In light of this recent development in genetic science, appositions and contradictions emerge.  Rethinking the covenants between God and man, the relevance of nature and evolution, and the rights, responsibilities and considerations of humanity, a worthy idiom comes to mind – if you play with fire, you get burned.

Of course, human hubris has been the principle cause for many species extinctions since the Neolithic conception of civilization.  Some such species include the Carolina parakeet, the moa, the quagga, the dodo, the thylacine, the passenger pigeon, the Pyrenean ibex, the baiji river dolphin and the huia.  Annihilated by over hunting and disruption of natural habitats, with the latest extinction on the list, (the baiji river dolphin) having occurred as recently as 2006.  However, some of the other species on the hot seat, up for de-extinction consideration are the wooly mammoth, the wooly rhinoceros, the saber-toothed cat, the ground sloth and the Irish elk.  Unlike their short-term extinct counterparts, these prehistoric animals vanished 4 -11,000 years ago during the Quaternary extinction event of the Mesolithic epoch.  It was at this time, that the eradication of many ice age megafauna across Eurasia and North America took place.

Naturally, the practical criteria for “de-extinction” directly depends on access to tissue with good quality DNA samples and/or germ cells in order to reproduce the species.  However, other deliberations over species reintegration focus on speculation over successful therapy and rehabilitation programs, as well as considerations over ecological function.  From this, certain fundamental questions arise.  What are the ramifications of reviving an extinct species?  Are we testing fate by playing God’s hand with the state of nature?  Is it our responsibility to revive and restore a certain species regardless if we had a hand in their demise?  Proponents argue that while extinct species and those endangered are both a part of the same continuum, studying them will therefore help preservation efforts in biodiversity, restoring diminished ecosystems and advancing the science of preventing further extinctions.  Moreover, by reintroducing the wooly mammoth and rhinoceros, the European auroch, and the passenger pigeon for example, carbon-fixing grass, as well as reducing greenhouse-gas-releasing tundra and bio-diverse meadows may be reintroduced.  Others argue that reviving extinct species has the potential to create a less complacent and more compassionate outlook on the global ecosystem, inspiring the protection of whole regions.
However, as noble as these intentions may appear, intuitively something just doesn’t feel right.  Maybe it’s the uncanny images conjured by Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, or the provocative Jurassic Park franchise, or the metaphorical understandings of Mary Shelly’s, Frankenstein that evoke a visceral apprehension.  After all, they connote a common principal: actions have consequences.   Firstly, one must consider the long list of endangered species that are currently occupying our rapidly disappearing natural habitats - habitats that are in desperate need of vast monetary contribution and support for conservation and sustainability.  Why bring back the wooly mammoth when we can’t even support the dwindling demographic of our African elephants?  Furthermore, it may very well be that de-extinction serves to create more complacency rather compassion for the critical state of our global ecosystem by trivializing the impact of extinction.  Why should we care if the polar bear goes extinct when we can simply revive the species in the future?  While resurrecting those species that have only recently become extinct may, in some ways, prove to be beneficial to our current global ecosystem, bringing back prehistoric extinctions however would not be so practical or advantageous.  The cyclic nature of our planet has bore whiteness to the rise and fall of millions of species throughout the ages as the world has shifted, shuddered and shed its skin again and again and again.  Reviving a species that no longer has a place or meaning in the world today would only create confusion, distortion and misplacement, disrupting that natural cycle upon which all things depend.

Apart from the fact that reviving extinct species will be a costly, difficult enterprise that will take decades to complete, questions of ethics and morality dominate the think tank.  An extension of our expedient culture, de-extinction should, in all realness, be perceived as a manifestation of our social conscience.  As we play the Modern Prometheus, de-extinction sees humankind flexing the muscles of our relentless curiosity in an audacious display of, look-what-I-can-do-simply-because-I-can.  In this sense, we, the human, assume autocracy and god-like superiority over all things, living and dead, without a care for the inevitable consequences. Considering humankind’s nature, it seems likely some of these extinct species might soon be seeing the glowing effervescence of a stark, impassive 21st century medical laboratory.  However there is some sense to be found amidst all this senselessness.  At the end of the day, human beings are simply animals ourselves - the homo sapien sapien, struggling within our own orbit of existence that is apart of a greater whole.  Regardless of how disruptive and albeit, unnatural our thoughts and actions may appear at times, the truth holds: collectively, everything that defines us is an expression of naturalism itself.  Paper or plastic. Buildings or mountains.  Mammoth or elephant.  So we ask ourselves, why?  And the answer may very well be, why the heck not?  Does it really truly matter, when in the course of time, we all end up in the same place anyway.

-Elizabeth Cucnik