[FOUNTAIN]Weathering the Political StormTrying to define people by racial or national characteristics is unwise in today's world. Clinging to pre-industrial notions of homogenous peoples is outdated.
But we still draw on notions of national characteristics quite often － for example, when we try to rally the public for some purpose or when we praise or criticize another country. Of course, racial characteristics or national characteristics, which have only superficial meaning, are stereotypes. Often, they originated from imperialist concepts that chauvinistic scholars developed to justify the "superiority" of their people or discriminate against others.
But a widely accepted notion is that racial characteristics were derived from the natural environment they developed in. As a human is also an animal, it is natural that mind and body evolved according to their surroundings. Charles de Montesquieu, the first of the great Enlightenment authors, said in his book "L'Esprit des Lois" ("The Spirit of Laws") that people in northerly regions are strong and brave because of the cold weather and that people in southerly regions were sensitive but less powerful and courageous. Montesquieu argued that such environmental conditions had an absolute influence on racial characteristics.
Along with these influences are social and historical factors. Arnold Toynbee said in his book, "A Study of History," that humanity's battle with the challenge of nature was the driving force of historical development. Samuel Huntington, in his book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order," also explored the relationship between civilizations and weather.
Few would deny that Koreans by nature are diligent and warm. Of course, because of their long history of being invaded and exploited, Koreans also possess han, a certain feeling of bitterness, but their national characteristics were originally mild, represented by courtesy and jeong or affection. It would be difficult to deny the influence of Korea's temperate climate on national characteristics.
But recently weather patterns have changed. The weather has been a series of extremes － heavy snowfall, drought, torrential rain, steaming hot summers. The mild weather has gone, and in its place we have a tropical climate. The weather during the spring was akin to that of a desert.
For some time, our national characteristics have come to be described by words such as "hot" "radical" and "black and white" － seemingly reflecting the change of climate. Or perhaps it's the other way round. In this political climate, even the weather has no middle ground.
The writer is Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Jae-sik