Ridding Society of Malice and Distrust

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Ridding Society of Malice and Distrust

Ruth Benedict, anthropologist and author of "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," cited the people of the Dobu Islands in the western Pacific as the archetype of a society filled with malice and paranoia. Happiness and laughter are taboo to this tribe. Heaven forbid any wife dares to ask her husband how much he is worth. Ruth Benedict deplored the fact that while most societies try to minimize malice and distrust through systems of respect, the Dobu tribe base their society on malice and antagonism.

The anthropologist could have been lamenting the state of Korean society, which is currently oppressed by a dark cloud of malice and suspicion. Filled with distrust and paranoia, no one has faith in anyone else's good intentions, but instead is constantly on the look out for hidden treachery. The leaders of the two Koreas made a dramatic declaration of reconciliation and cooperation in Pyongyang, and most Koreans were deeply impressed. Just three months later, however, an increasing number of people are eyeing inter-Korean negotiations with suspicion. Spiteful rumors abound that the president and chief negotiators are making every possible concession to the North because the president has his eyes on a Nobel Peace Prize and the negotiators have parents living in the North.

The public has long ago made up its mind that all the influential government positions are occupied by people from one particular province. The president even came up with statistics to dispel these suspicions, but few people believe his explanations.

The dark cloud of suspicion is more heavily concentrated near those in positions of power. Following the former justice minister, who resigned after being implicated in a corruption scandal, another influential minister recently resigned over suspicions of influence-peddling, but the cloud of suspicions persists.

How did such a climate of malice and distrust come about? I believe the key cause is a "lack of frankness." One might well laugh at the very notion of government figures being frank, but we do have systemic and legal mechanisms in place to secure transparency and fairness. These systems are not working properly, however, and this is what gives rise to the climate of suspicion and distrust, and results in an atmosphere of malice.

The president has urged his own party executives to properly gauge public feeling. In some ways, public feeling resembles a nondescript cloud. When a suspicion is not cleared, this cloud rapidly turns into a towering mass of clouds which has a strange tendency to obscure the truth, turn goodwill into malice, and trust into distrust. I am not calling for total frankness or crystal-clear transparency, just for "some degree" of transparency and fairness.

The cloud of suspicion hanging over our society today can be divided into three separate concerns: North Korea policies, inequitable government appointments, and influence-peddling. Distrust is spreading because of the government's failure to discuss North Korea polices with the National Assembly. Past governments were also guilty of making appointments in a biased manner, but they neither admitted to nor denied these unfair practices. The current administration, on the other hand, is adamantly denying that such practices exist, which is leading to further distrust. Can't the government just say frankly, "We have struggled in opposition for 30 years and have many people to look after. Isn't it natural for us to put our own people into key positions?"

As for the suspicions that government officials are engaging in influence-peddling, the administration should deal with these cases as strictly and as much by the book as possible. If it tries to cover up these suspicions it should be prepared for the collapse of the entire administration.

Suspicions over government policies, government appointments, and influence-peddling could change this society into one that ultimately resembles the Dobu tribe. Let's get rid of the distrust and suspicion, and create a more frank and open society.

by Kwon Young-bin

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