An Idealist’s Apology

It’s not easy for me to admit this, but I saw a lot of myself in Mike Deri Smith’s story:

After I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about the prisoners Shin left behind in the gulag. I’d be standing at the meat counter at the supermarket choosing between the highest quality lamb, steak, pork, and chicken, and I would remember the rat meat that helped keep children alive in the camp, and the undigested corn kernels they pulled from cow dung. I felt an urge to act so strong that I couldn’t ignore it. Perhaps idealism is more than just a slur inflicted on the young and hopeful. Perhaps being idealistic is a principle worth standing up for.

And so I found myself, a few months later, ringing the doorbell at London’s North Korean embassy. I was prepared to demand justice, but my shaking hands betrayed my utter fear of what would happen when someone opened the door.

I hope Mike will find his own way to hang in there.  A few of us can do no more than fight a delaying action — a virtual guerrilla campaign against a few selected targets — but more of us could alter the global conversation.  

Some aspects of “activism” weren’t a fit for my type, and so I chose to put those things at a distance and focus on the things that I had the time and the inclination to sustain.  Another discovery was that cynicism makes a fine propellant for idealism, especially when outrage wanes, and makes a good restraint for one’s own idealism.  It’s also conducive to satire, which is what keeps this from becoming unsustainably dreary for me (and maybe for some of you).


  1. Although confronting abusers like this who cannot be linked back to American power is a step-up from the normal activism of least resistance, I wonder how much good it will do.

    Also, book now, book early!




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