[OUTLOOK]Unbridled freedom breeds chaosOne of the most prominent aspects of this year's presidential election was the online activity. On the afternoon of the election day, the stories go, young people were called to the polls by online war cries. They say the World Cup street cheering, the candlelight rallies and Roh Moo-hyun's upsurge in popularity were all due to the Internet.
They say the reason that older Koreans lost this election was that it was a political war being fought in an arena older voters knew nothing about.
But in fact, both the Grand National Party and the Millennium Democratic Party realized the importance of the Internet and put a considerable amount of effort into online campaigning. So why did the Internet act to the benefit of President-elect Roh Moo-hyun? The Internet is a neutral tool that delivered messages. It was not the Internet itself that was significant, but the messages that it contained.
Mr. Roh's message was "change." He wanted to change this world in which only the wealthy, the high in society, the elders and the well-educated elites took center stage. The hardships of Mr. Roh's own life were symbols of such change. The Internet was only the channel through which that message was delivered.
There are thousands of messages on the Internet, but only Mr. Roh's message translated into action because the soil where the message was planted was already sufficiently fertile. Looking at the voting results, over half the votes were given to left-leaning candidates, including Roh Moo-hyun and the Democratic Social Party. The number of votes cast for the left exceeded the number for the right.
In Seoul, only the two highest-income districts of Gangnam and Seocho voted more for the Grand National Party's Lee Hoi-chang than for Roh Moo-hyun. These two districts seemed like two isolated islands in the middle of Seoul. What does that tell us? Is this not a symbol of the isolation of Korea's affluent class? Why have we come to such a situation?
The fact that parents in their 50s and 60s couldn't persuade their children to their way of thinking means that the thinking and logic of the older generation is no longer acceptable to the younger generations. In the eyes of the young, their parents' generation is the "wrong" generation and they no longer submit to their parents' wishes. This trend is in marked contrast to the ethics of conservatism that has upheld our society until now.
Let's take an easy example. When real estate prices in Gangnam rose sharply this year, the people that were the happiest were the rich people who had properties there. The Gangnam people were smiling, but how did the residents of the other neighborhoods feel? Moreover, what did people without their own homes, more than half the population, think about what was happening? The rising prices were failures of the Kim Dae-jung administration's housing policies, but it also stirred hatred for the haves in the hearts of the have-nots. The thought of changing the world takes over the minds of common people when it seems like those with much are trying to take even more, and when it appears that those who enjoy the privileges of society are not doing their duty to society. Rumors of draft-dodging by the sons of influential people come to mind.
We live in a framework of a free democracy and a market economy. Between the contrasting values of freedom and equality and individual and society, we have chosen freedom and individual. But in this election, sentiment shifted towards equality and the voices in support of society were louder. A change has come over the ruling ideology 50 years after liberation. The reason is not the Internet but the arrogance of those with vested interests and the conservatives in Korea. In their greed to enjoy the benefits of their victory in competition through several generations, they lacked tears for the deprived.
History teaches us that the values of freedom and individual are the most important. Communism testifies to what can happen to a society when it pursues equality and society. Those values are two sides of the same coin, and in order to uphold one, you must pay careful attention to the other.
When the maximization of individual interests is pursued in the name of democracy and only victory in competitions is praised in the name of the market economy, freedom and individuality will fall before equality and society. Korea's conservatism has come to a turning point with this election.
Conservatism without tears and a sense of responsibility for society will no longer be able to stand. This is the lesson of this election.
* The writer is a strategic planning executive of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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