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[Opinion] Following Someone

Posted August. 20, 2005 03:04,   


The phrase “to follow somebody” is “mi haeng” in Korean. What the Chinese character “mi” shows is a person’s buttocks with hairs. “Haeng” is a hieroglyph describing a crossroad, which means “walk around” or “go after.” Therefore, “mi haeng” means “go after the tail.” The meaning of tail later expanded to “behind” and “end” and “mi haeng” came to mean “to follow somebody in a secret manner.”

Whatever the Chinese characters of following someone mean, “going after hairs of the buttocks” is not something sensible humans should do. However, in the past, such behavior was common. Under the military regime, the police who acted as tentacles of the administration undertook demeaning roles at times. It would be safe to say that shadowing suspects is not that bad of a behavior that humans should avoid. Yet following independent citizens who were supposed to enjoy free private lives, especially just because they opposed the government, can surely be called undignified.

As torturers suffer trauma just as those who were subjected to torture do, psychoanalysts say those who were ordered to follow others may have suffered as much stress and sufferings as those who were followed. Dictatorship is demeaning not only to those who take an active role in supporting the regime in the front line but also to firebrands who are against the regime. In this regard, democratization is a process of humanizing an inhumane society.

It is deplorable to hear that even the democratic government of “the participatory government” commanded the police to shadow people. Reportedly, the government had the police follow members of conservative organizations closely during events marking Korea’s August 15th Independence Day. A leader of a conservative group said, “When I was going to my hometown because my mother was in critical condition, the police even gave me a ride in a police car.” The police made up an excuse by saying, “It was a gesture of cooperation for the successful Independence Day event.” In that same line of thinking then, the current government has no legitimate argument to criticize the former governments who claim that they shadowed people in the interest of the nation. As long as the argument holds that some types of following are allowed and others are not, either democracy or the participatory government is nonsense, like “hairs of the buttocks.”

Jeong Jin-woo, Editorial Writer, youngji@donga.com