Go to contents

[Opinion]a Country That Only Nurtures the People`s Critical Sensibilities

[Opinion]a Country That Only Nurtures the People`s Critical Sensibilities

Posted August. 20, 2001 08:53,   


Last month, some weekend TV program broadcast `007 The World Is Not Enough` which was thoroughly entertaining. Of course, it was a ridiculous spy flick with some actor named Pierce Brosnon who was no Sean Connery for sure, but the suspense still put me on the edge of my seat and the thrilling action momentarily cooled the summer heat. The thing I noticed about the film was that the plot involves a media giant who wants to raise the ratings for his show. So, he schemes to blow up a British battleship with a bomb made to appear like a Chinese attack, which the British intelligence discovers and dispatches James Bond.

I began to amuse myself by wondering whether the airing of the film was related to the recent media tax evasion scandal or request for media reform, subliminally communicating the message, `The media will do anything to make hot news`.

Of course, there is no evidence for this, but recalling how the 1987 TV showing of the `Killing Fields`, where the Communist government kills hundreds and thousands of people, just before the elections impacted the votes, I think to myself that my suspicions might have some basis in reality. Although I am the most clueless person around, after fifty years of being a citizen of Korea I am beginning to think that my critical awareness is unfortunately getting sharper.

Actually, whenever the government announces some new policy, I usually accept it without suspecting the professed intent and goal. In later conversations with others, however, I discover that such governmental proclamations don`t carry any credibility or weight to the majority of my acquaintances. When I hear their ruthless analyses of the `political` intentions behind such policies, I feel embarrassed and naive. So I had hitherto resigned myself to being a permanent oddball in Korean society until my reflections on the reasons for the broadcast gave me a flicker of hope that, perhaps, I too am starting to acquire some critical sensibility.

But my hopes were short-lived. Some time after the broadcast, there was the announcement that trial period restrictions on mobile phone use while driving would be postponed for three more months. I had thought that the restriction were already in effect, stopped answering calls when I drove, and despite the fact that I wondered why the trial period had to be so long, quietly continued to abide by what I thought was the law. When I later heard that the postponement was a ploy to appease the voters for the upcoming special elections by allowing mobile phone use during vacation time, I realized that I had been had once again.

I happened to be in Turkey couple of months ago and saw that the value of one U.S. dollar exceeded ten lira. The locals were very amused when I told them that this may be good for helping their kids sharpen their math skills but was really burdensome for tourists. Isn`t such inflation of currency units a sign of an unhealthy economy? The same goes for Korea. The ambiguities of Korean politics may help to develop the people`s critical sensibility and analytical powers, but doesn`t that mean that the trust between the government and the people has eroded?

Of course, it is not only in Korea that citizens are trying to decipher the government`s fishy motives. Foreigners also enjoy this kind of a thing. But for the most part, British and American people do it for entertainment, rarely producing the kind of rage and frustration frequently expressed by our own citizens.

Confucius chose three conditions for ruling a country, national security, economy, and the people`s confidence in the government, the third being the last bulwark. Our country has lasted for a long time by depending on national security and economy. Now that we have a government actually voted in by the people, we still cannot restore the confidence between government and people, and the administration survives with difficulty by showing off its material strength and things like `public capital funds`.

Both the majority and minority parties are only interested in `gaining power` or `regaining power`, and every policy is but a tool for control or lengthening the administration`s rule. The people become weary when they think about next year`s elections, and feel nauseous when they hear a formerly respected politician being referred to as `The Great Progressive` or `The Great Ruler`.

The country has fallen into the second-rate category for air safety and its foundations are falling apart, but the politicians think that the only thing that matters is winning the election. How long do we have to go on comforting ourselves with the delusion that we, at least, have elections and live in such freedom and happiness when compared to the people of North Korea?

Suh Ji Moon (Professor of English, Korea University. Donga Ilbo guest contributing writer)