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[Opinion] Open Your Lips, Ye Intellectuals

Posted August. 10, 2001 08:21,   


The sheep are silent because they can no longer hear the shepherd’s whistle. When the shepherd stops whistling, the sheep have no way to know that they are in danger. It is easy for a silent flock of sheep on a dark field to fall to their deaths. That`s why the shepherd must stay awake day and night. He must listen for the sheeps’ cry.

Donga Ilbo’s August 9 report (A5) tells of President Kim Dae Jung’s reticence to speak out about the political situation during the presently turbulent political climate, so that even his close aids are beginning to get anxious about what the President’s inner thoughts might be. What could be the reason for this? During the purge drive led by Democratic Party’s petitioners, President Kim announced his intention to form a blue print for national reform. But the plan had to be delayed as the nation confronted drought and flood emergencies. Is it because he has little to say about the political situation? Yet, when we look at past presidents who passed through the seat of power, President Kim’s political silence appears less surprising. Former President Kim Yong Sam provides a similar example. From the beginning, the civil administration promised too much. Many of the promises were strategies for the polls, while others were designed to curry the public’s favor. What is redundantly criticized these days as populism was all the rage at the beginning of Kim Yong Sam’s civil administration. His administration celebrated Korea’s rushed entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as if that automatically meant that we had become an advanced industrial nation overnight. In the middle period of the administration, the rosy promises turned out to be too good to be true and they were dropped one by one. The administration had to talk a lot more to make up for those forgotten promises. Near the end of its term, the people began to turn their backs on the administration, and at the end no one believed in the administration anymore.

The new `People’s Administration` entered the fray with a banner of economic revival, but it also promised too much at the start. With 100 national issues to deal with, it took on more than it could handle at once. The administration piled on tasks of historical importance such as reform of the four government branches, education, health care management, and South-North Summit. It had to talk more to soothe the pain that accompanies reform. It boasted that we had overcome the aftereffects of IMF structural adjustment in a short period of time while Latin American nations could not for over ten years. It acted as if we were dreaming a sweet dream where we were standing at the threshold of the Promise Land. But rudely awakened, the people are slowly turning away.

When the shepherd stops whistling and the sheep fall silent, it is a sign that democratic society is suffering. The difficulties over reaching a common consensus are beginning to get serious. Censorship of particular viewpoints in the name of reform in the present situation forecasts an extended period of silence. The continuation of disharmony in government’s political consensus will gradually destroy the communal consciousness of the society and social unity will be swept up by an uncontrollable tide. That may be the necessary result of a monarchic administration.

When the shepherd falls asleep, the intellectuals who monitor power outside its realm have the responsibility to wake him up. Of course, there are many different kinds of intellectuals in political society. People who expect to benefit from the current political power will seek to maintain the status quo rather than seek just government. These people have no understanding of why they should wake up the shepherd. People with a divided moral vision who privately disregard justice but seek stability on the outside do not have the courage to blow the whistle on a power gone awry. Intellectuals, who want to escape into oblivion, because they are privately disgusted and publicly reject the rampage, are not much better than the deaf bourgeois.

Intellectuals cannot lounge around in silence like sheep. Rather, when the shepherd’s whistle gets quiet, intellectuals must, like Minerva’s owl, spread their wings even before the sun begins to set. That is, if the hope for individual freedom and original trust in humanity remains alive in their subconscious mind.

Kim Il Soo (Professor, Korea University)