South Korea has been locked in a state of cold war for the better part of a century with its neighbor to the north. The reasons behind this conflict don’t concern us currently – what is more important is how bad governance can effect society for the worse, in more ways than one. Naturally, the problems in governance are more serious in the north – a subject we’ll touch on some other day. This story is about how bad governance can have repercussions that go further than its own jurisdiction.
One of the requirements that South Korea has of its young people is service to the military. By law, when a Korean man turns 18 years old, he is enlisted for "first citizen service," meaning he is liable for military duty, but is not yet required to serve. When he turns 19 years old (or, in some instances, 20 years old), he is required to undergo a physical exam to determine whether he is suitable for military service.
This is the background necessary to begin the story of Jiwoon Hwang, a citizen of South Korea and friend to some of us in SSF. Jiwoon was able-minded and able-bodied for service, but wouldn’t accept being forced into a system he disagreed with. Jiwoon was instead interested in writing philosophical treatises on the nature of life, ethics and suffering. His works revolved around the fact that one cannot consent to be born, and that life is forcefully inflicted upon people.
This philosophy is called anti-natalism, and it supports the idea that the best thing is to never be born: as one is never consulted on whether they want to be born, and life is imbued with no small amount of hardship – the ethically sound thing would seem to be not to have children. This was Jiwoon’s life philosophy which he never veered from.
South Korea’s educational space had consistently disappointed a curious and non-conformist Jiwoon, which he excelled at nevertheless. At age 20, Jiwoon received a letter inviting him to the physical examinations for the Korean Armed Forces. Being a proponent of voluntary association by this point in his life, Jiwoon refused to be pressed into service: He fled from South Korea.
Jiwoon moved to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, some 700 miles north of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Svalbard is an unincorporated region of Norway, and has a special arrangement with European authorities. Although Norway is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and the Schengen Agreement, Svalbard is not part of the Schengen Area or the EEA. Non-EU and non-Nordic Svalbard residents do not need Schengen visas, but are prohibited from reaching Svalbard from mainland Norway without one.
No person is required to have a visa or residence permit for Svalbard. Citizens of all nations or even stateless persons can live and work in Svalbard indefinitely regardless of citizenship. The Svalbard Treaty (1920) grants nationals included in the treaty equal right of abode as Norwegian nationals. So far, non-treaty nationals were admitted visa-free as well.
Jiwoon selected Svalbard not only on the Visa grounds, but also for another noticeable element in their governance: No person is allowed to be born on Svalbard, due to the obvious international law intricacies that may arise. This served Jiwoon’s interests perfectly, as not procreating is exactly what he supported in his philosophy – he was interested in a long-term colony of persons interested in anti-natalism and voluntary association. This project was called "Refugee Island"
The idea of this article began with examining the international zone that is Svalbard: how a region of the world can act as a place where people of all creeds and nations can leave behind their histories. As fascinating as the examination of something like that is, it hasn’t garnered much academic research in governance circles, and the economic activity of the island can be boiled down to mining, research, and tourism.
A proper examination of Svalbard’s political situation is still in the works, but at this time of the year we might want to slow down with the governance research and focus on those people that we care about most.
The philosophy that Jiwoon had subscribed to was that of minimizing suffering in the world, with the ultimate goal of having all sentient life (and possibly all life) cease through peaceful means. This would bring about a world of no suffering, as there would be nobody and nothing to experience it. Jiwoon even began to edit and publish the largest anti-natalist publication in the world, the Anti-natalism Magazine.
Jiwoon’s thoughts slowly veered from anti-natalism to what he penned “pro-mortalism” or a philosophy in which non-existence (in the form of death) is preferable to existing and suffering. As a result of this change in philosophy, Jiwoon’s actions changed as well.
In September of this year, Jiwoon chose to end his own life, and succeeded in the attempt. Our hearts and thoughts go out to his friends and family.
What Jiwoon chose to do is a tragedy that few who know him will ever forget – however, those who choose to can understand it. This story is one of choosing consistency with one’s beliefs, to the bitter end. As much as most may disagree with the philosophy he harbored and the steps he took, one must realize that Jiwoon was true to his values.
In the closing of this year, we want our subscribers to learn from a tragic story which will inspire them to do great things. Taking one’s life is an extreme step that never helps – if you or anybody you know is considering it, seek help immediately. However, what can be learned from this tragedy is that a true change in the world doesn’t come from philosophical treatises and heartfelt appeals to logic.
In the end, what changed people is somebody taking a step and doing something about their philosophy. Again, this is by no means a justification for the act of suicide, or a call for anything drastic to be done by anybody reading this. What can be learned from this tragedy is that true change doesn’t come from people arguing.
Those close to him never did change Jiwoon’s chosen trajectory because they kept arguing with him, choosing to appeal to a sense of logic and philosophy that was at odds with Jiwoon’s beliefs. They did not build a welcoming environment that would serve to show Jiwoon the joy in life, but tried to be right, instead of doing right. Those close to him are active in SSF, and we failed to follow through on our motto.
In this time of year when we are closest to those we love, live your values.
Don’t argue. Build.
In memoriam: Jiwoon Hwang (1995-2018)