[NOTEBOOK]Ambidextrous arguments usefulIt is not clear when it started in our society, but there is a tendency for ambidextrous arguments, whether they be criticism or acknowledgement, to be rejected as intellectual naivete. Perhaps this has to do with the legacy of Korea's military dictatorship. Korean intellectuals, who would not dare to criticize the authoritarian regime but, at the same time, had qualms about remaining silent, ended up taking equivocally critical positions. Such an attitude has been regarded as a symbol of intellectual feebleness.
As a result, the logic that one should support whichever side is a little bit more right has dominated Korean society for a long time. This is true even for academia and the media, as well as for politicians. From the perspective of historical development, such a phenomenon is inevitable. Just as a spring will lose its function if it is no longer elastic, repulsion in proportion to a pressing force may be a necessary process for society to get back on the normal track.
The time has come when we can make ambidextrous arguments. There are signs everywhere. The term "progressivism" is not synonymous with "reform." In the same manner, "conservatism" does not mean "stability." Nevertheless, Korea's progressives have painted themselves as reform-minded, while conservatives have overemphasized their roles as social stabilizers.
The result of a recent survey by the JoongAng Ilbo on the ideological spectrum of lawmakers shows that such an era is coming to an end. In the survey, legislators did not try to hide their ideological stances. There is evidence that progressive politicians no longer have to hide under the umbrella of conservatism in their bids to survive in the political arena. Likewise, conservatives need not clumsily pretend to be progressive in order not to be labeled "anti-reform elements."
However, looking at the way the administration, the legislature and activist students reacted to U.S. President George W. Bush's recent speech that included North Korea in the "axis of evil," I still feel that Korean society has not yet matured.
Student activists, who overtly reveal their anti-U.S. sentiment, were not alone in being provoked by Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" comment. The remark was provocative not just because it could undermine the Kim Dae-jung administration's sunshine policy of engaging the North.
The remark was even more shocking because it displayed vividly the worldview of the leader of the earth's only superpower. It was nothing new that the United States defined its political, economic and cultural systems as the best, and added morality to impose them on other countries. Washington has also argued that its foreign policies are to realize the universal value of promoting democracy, freedom and human rights. One such example is Ronald Reagan's definition in the 1980s of the Soviet Union, an axis of the Cold War, as the "evil empire." Although we are well aware of such characteristics of the United States, it is unusual when U.S. presidents repeatedly blast other countries for being "evil."
There are good reasons to protest Mr. Bush's remark and Washington's forcing its world order. But that does not justify the leftist students' occupation and their trashing of the offices of the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, and some ruling-party lawmakers' denunciation of Mr. Bush as the "incarnation of evil."
The United States is the indisputable superpower of the world and our closest ally. Korea's stock prices are easily affected by Wall Street. In reality, the reunification of the Korean Peninsula is hard to achieve without assistance or agreement from the United States. Japan's and China's attitude toward Mr. Bush's visit is a clear showcase of realpolitik. China has been humiliated by a couple of incidents involving the United States, including the crash of a U.S. spy plane near the island of Hainandao, and the wiretapping of an airplane belonging to the Chinese leader, Ziang Zemin. We need to think about how China greeted the U.S. president despite those embarrassments.
Tactless displays of anti-American sentiment would only hurt our national interests. Although we shouldn't blindly side with the United States, it is necessary to hold ambidextrous opinions that can help overcome the lack of depth of the two extremes.
The writer is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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