[OUTLOOK]A Society Rotting From the Inside Out

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[OUTLOOK]A Society Rotting From the Inside Out

Obsessed with politics, we are not seeing correctly what is happening in our society. We are undergoing a "social implosion," the likes of which we have never seen before and which has been increasing in seriousness for the past three years. Government statistics say that up to 15 percent of our people live under our government but have been deserted by the government; they live in our society but have been abandoned by our society. Because this number is from the government, the actual number might be as high as 20 percent.

These are well-known facts: there are more than 1 million people unemployed and more than 3 million people with bad credit records. There are more than 700,000 people without resident registration records and socially deserted, including homeless wanderers and children abandoned by their parents. More than 2 million people are either driving cars without proper insurance or not paying a penny for their medical insurance. In addition, several hundred thousand people are not contributing to their national pensions. These numbers add up to more than 7 million people who are living outside of the social safety net.

The crime rate, too, has been increasing rapidly. According to the statistics by the National Police Agency, last year there were more than 520,000 murders, robberies, rapes, assaults and thefts. The number of such crimes increased by 36 percent since 1999. Both the number of crimes and the rate of increase are the highest since we started keeping records. Theft, which has something to do with livelihood, amounts to nearly one third of total crimes. This year, the number of thefts were double those in 1999.

A good society is one where law and order are maintained and a social safety net is in place. A good country is a country that has a proper welfare system and manages it to keep its quality high. If this society and the government don't do something about law and order and a social safety net immediately, we will regress to the dismal situation of our underdeveloped days in the 1960s. There is not much difference between those North Koreans who are starving to death and the socially deserted in South Korea, in a sense; they are all abandoned by their respective national governments and societies.

What I am more appalled at is the rapid increase in the number of juvenile smokers. The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, a national research institute, recently announced that more than 500,000 middle and high school students are habitual smokers, and that they smoked 17 million packs of cigarettes last year alone. According to the study, 27.4 percent of all high school boys, 10.7 percent of all high school girls, 7.4 percent of all middle school boys, and 3.2 percent of all middle school girls are smokers. Furthermore, it said that the smoking rate of teenagers is the highest in the world.

Adults are not so different. Educators are screaming that they can not educate students if things don't change. Businessmen lament that they can not focus on business because of government interference. The press is complaining that its activities are hindered by the government. Teenagers and adults as well feel so frustrated that they say it is hard to find meaning in their lives as their wills dissipate and their desires are attenuated.

This is the so-called " phenomenon of social implosion." The inner harmony of of our daily lives is falling to pieces little by little as days go by. The biggest threat usually does not come from the outside but from the inside. All sorts of problems occur on the inside and because of them, the world of our ordinary lives that we have to live day by day is threatened with collapse.

Why are all these things happening? It is because of only one reason, the "immature reforms" by the government. Successful reform demands thorough preparation and vision before being embarked upon. Nevertheless, the current government has tried to implement its reforms only with slogans, without a long-term vision, without having prepared for it thoroughly.

The content of such reforms is usually self-evident. The government tried to reform the corporate sector by forcing uniform qualifications, to enforce its educational reform with downward standardization, and to reform the market with uniform standards set by bureaucrats. It is trying to reform the press with nominal principles of autonomy, and it has tried to reform politics and the National Assembly with a monarchal authoritarianism or the basis of superior numbers and power.

By now the center of values - in other words, the basis of behavior - seems to have fallen down. Ideology, the landmark that is supposed to show us the way to what the government is trying to achieve with its reform, seems to have already lost its legitimacy. The dignity of law enforcement authorities is almost completely dissipated. The government was unable to come up with measures to establish a social safety net even though we are producing so many socially deserted persons. And the worst part is that the government seems unable to see the reality.


The writer is a professor of political sociology at Yonsei University.

by Song Bok

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