[OUTLOOK]When the euphoria starts to fade

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[OUTLOOK]When the euphoria starts to fade

David Riesman, the author of "The Lonely Crowd," a book that made him an instantly famous sociologist half a century ago, died recently.

Mr. Riesman wrote that modern consumer society would drive people into uniformity and people would try to establish their identities by further absorbing themselves in this uniformity. The end result of such a society, the author wrote, would be nothing but a "lonely crowd." Mr. Riesman warned that this mass tendency would threaten people's individual autonomy and social freedom.

We have recently seen an amazing sight in the course of the World Cup competition. Every time the Korean team stepped out onto the field to play, we forgot everything else as we cheered. The media reported "masses of ten thousands ?no, millions" and "the greatest show of unity since the founding of the country" in utter delight over our newly found solidarity.

Even in the remote parts of Mount Bukhan, where I went hiking the day after the Korean team won its ticket to the round of 16, I saw people in red T-shirts clapping and shouting, "Dae! Han! Min! Kuk!"

All this joy, however, is bound to end. I'm not talking about which level of the soccer competition we make it to. The World Cup, like all events, will come to an end and then we will all go about our own business as we have done before.

The ironic truth is that we've always been indifferent to soccer until now. We have our own professional soccer league -- but no spectators in the stands for the games. Compared to our neighbor and World Cup co-host Japan, we have done poorly in building a foundation for soccer to develop as a national sport. There is even a joke that the three things young women like to hear the least from men are stories about their time in the army, stories about playing soccer and stories about their time playing soccer while serving in the army.

But that was pre-World Cup. Now you see these same young ladies wearing red T-shirts and marching down the streets all night long roaring chants. Memories of experiences become all the more precious when you have actually participated in them. I, as a member of the older generation, feel remorse that we have never provided our young people with such a chance to exult in their youth like this before. In my remorse, I also feel grateful and proud that they have such passion to celebrate and enjoy.

We hear about how we should use this newly gained solidarity to drive our nation to further prosperity. Quite right, of course. With this passion and "I-can-do-it" spirit forever, what have we got to fear?

Alas, at the risk of sounding like a party-pooper, I predict that all this will disappear all too soon like a mirage. Why? Because this is the way of the crowd. A crowd is emotional, rather than coolly rational. A crowd is impulsive, rather than methodical: more of a passing fad than a self-governed phenomenon.

We should be wary of how this oneness and uniformity of the crowd, albeit wearing the skin of patriotism, can be manipulated and controlled by unseen forces. The declarations that the spirit of the June 10 democracy movement has revived because of the World Cup games or the explanation that the red T-shirts and the cheering of the "Red Devils" (and I do not agree with this name, by the way) has done away with the "red complex" left by the Korean War needs sounder logic to support it.

Then there are those who puzzle me with their claim that investigating the corruption allegations of the president's son in such a harmonious moment of national solidarity is a sacrilege. Why? Soccer is just soccer and the spectators are just spectators.

We are going back to our everyday lives soon -- sooner than we might like. Shout, cheer, sing or roar all you like; the reality doesn't change.

As long as we live in this reality, we'll be nothing but a lonely crowd. But we must not be afraid of the loneliness that will come over us once again.

We must wade through this fog of loneliness to find our real identities, and those self-discoveries will be what set us free in diversity.

We can bring creativity from our diversity and pluralism and champion democracy instead of absolutism.

This is what Mr. Riesman wrote in his book: "The other-directed people should discover that they can no more assuage their loneliness in a crowd of peers than one can assuage one's thirst by drinking sea water.

"The idea that men are created free and equal is both true and misleading. Men are created different. They lose their social freedom and individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other."


The writer is a strategic planning executive of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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