Go to contents

[Opinion]The West Is Breaking Up

Posted December. 05, 2003 23:07,   


Italian semiotics professor Umberto Eco, familiar to many Koreans for his novel “The Name of the Rose,” experienced the following in the U.S. 10 years ago. After Mr. Eco barely survived the subway smoking car full of vagabonds and absent minded monsters, he met a group of professors who were articulate speakers at a cafeteria for faculty. After having a meal, he asked, “Is there any place that I can smoke?” Breaking a short, uncomfortable silence and awkward smiles between them, one of them locked all the doors. Then, all the professors and Mr. Eco enjoyed “the sweet and thrilling violation” for ten minutes. This episode is described in his book “Ways to Get Angry at Fools While Smiling.”

Will it be possible for Mr. Eco to enjoy this thrill again if he visits New York now? The answer is absolutely not, as New York is a place that has outlawed putting ashtrays in non-smoking areas, although it allows loaded guns in the public sight. According to the new non-smoking law enacted last May, ashtrays for decoration or other secondary purposes must be put out of sight. On the other hand, Europe has more tolerance for smoking. For many European smokers like Umberto Eco, it is natural to think that America, long considered culturally inferior to them, is becoming weird.

The West has been used to indicate both Europe and America until now. However, a French scholar Dominique Moisi raised the following question in the recent issue of the Foreign Affairs, “Does the West still exist?” He answered his own question by saying that the two Europes and one West of the Cold War has given way to one Europe and two Wests. The deepening political and social rift between Europe and America dates back to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 11, 1989 and to the September 11 attacks in 2001. In a nutshell, the superpower U.S.’s Bismarck-style dominance has vexed Europe, making the rift deeper.

Canada, which shares much in common with the U.S., is not an exception to this world trend. It has legalized or is in the process of legalizing thorny issues such as same sex marriage and drugs, regardless of the disparaging attitude from the American mainstream. Also, it refused the U.S.’ request to send troops to Iraq.

If this atmosphere continues, the U.S. might be ostracized even from its allies. The more complicated and curious thing is the fact that the post-September 11 world order will exceed our expectations when the West as we have known it starts to break up. As the proverb says, “The problem should be solved by the problem’s creator.” I think the problem at hand should probably be taken care of by the U.S.

Song Moon-hong, Editorial Writer songmh@donga.com