[VIEWPOINT]Remember - or Pay the Price of Error

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[VIEWPOINT]Remember - or Pay the Price of Error

Among animals with brains, fish are known to have inferior perceptions. Observations show that even right after seeing a fellow fish getting caught on a hook, they dart at the bait. Of course, those who go fishing would welcome this fault. For fish, by contrast, such a short memory span should drive them crazy.

We can imagine that watching its friends being hauled on the hook, a fish makes a firm resolution not to bite. And then one look at the enticing bait has the fish going for it. How frustrating this forgetfulness!

Such amnesia is not limited to underwater animals; it is a serious reality in our society. In particular, the repeated lack of memory during the process of reforms seems to have taken root as a social habit. Although a series of reforms that have been implemented since the launch of the current administration has gone off- track, we are failing to learn from our mistakes and are repeating them. Let's take a close look at each problem.

In the economy, for instance, issues involving Daewoo Motor, which cropped up in the early years of the current administration, and those of Hynix Semiconductor, which broke out recently, are similar problems. But the way the government handles these problems has not improved. In both cases, the government flip-flopped between market principles and political considerations, missing an opportunity to solve the problems.

The basic principle for its economic policy since 2000, when the country was no longer under direct influence of the International Monetary Fund, has been oscillating between boosting the economy and restructuring it, as the government tried to catch both hares.

In politics, the people are fed up with the changing alignments in the coalition government. The progressive Millennium Democratic Party and the conservative United Liberal Democrats wrangled constantly during the presidential elections in 1997. Out of the clear blue sky and just several days before the polls, the two parties announced they would form a coalition government.

Although they managed to launch an awkward alliance, they became each other's enemy during the general elections last year. Again, right after the elections were over, they chose to join hands.

They separated again recently under the pretext of their differences over the government's policy of engaging North Korea. Most experts have said the separation was part of their vote-winning strategies for the next presidential elections.

Nearly four years have passed since the current administration proclaimed to lead a political reform drive, but the reform drive produced no change. And factions led by some boss-like politicians still dominate the nation's political arena, regardless of the people's desire.

A series of social reforms are plagued with the same problems. The controversial overhaul of the country's education and medical systems and the press were carried out after some pro-government groups or civic activists agitated for the reforms.

The government initiated the overhauls, saying it had no choice but to implement them because the people wanted them. As a result, there has been no improvement in those areas. Such ways of reform have only been a recipe for disaster because the government has repeatedly resorted to populism without expertise in carrying out the reforms. Phrases such as "education exodus," "medical fiasco," and "oppression of the press" speak of the failures.

Behind all the chaos, civic groups are repeatedly seen as playing the controversial role of "Red Guards," which raised suspicions of their being puppets of the government.

If humans, with their ability to remember, are really different from fish, they should not repeat mistakes. What can people expect in the current circumstances when the government's memory in its last years in power is less than that of a fish? And what kind of hope can we harbor if people are the same as fish, biting the bait without thinking?

If people let those in power take advantage of them over and over again in spite of their firm resolution to be careful, it will only help those fishing for power.


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The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University.

by Lew Seok-choon

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