[VIEWPOINT]Easier the second time aroundFor some time, Korean society seems to have lost its ability to reach a consensus through discussion and compromise, unable to solve differences of opinions and conflicts of interests, because of the persistent philosophy of near-sighted politics.
From the construction of refuse and radioactive waste disposal sites to the recent labor-management dispute at Doosan Heavy Industries and the decision to dispatch troops to Iraq, we have paid unnecessary social costs for resorting to hard-line measures instead of trying to solve the problems through conversation and compromise.
Differences of opinion and a clash of interests among members of society have existed in every time and every country, but we have seen many examples in history of how a country’s fate depended on its ability to wisely sublimate such conflicts and develop them into a national strategy.
Looking back in history, we see that the leadership class in the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty was preoccupied with its partisan struggles even when the country lay precariously at the feet of foreign powers. Even after liberation, we fought a war that separated our people into North and South. More recently, we endured the 1997 financial crisis because we knew what was wrong with our economy but did nothing about it for fear of pain and conflict.
In order for our country to become a truly developed one, we must reform the structure of our national decision-making. The more backward a country is, the greater the social tension and conflict it experiences in the process of solving problems. In the worst case, a country just gives up efforts to solve problems and fails to break the cycle of poverty and confusion.
A mature society is a society that can make decisions that look beyond immediate pain for the sake of the future. A society that delays and neglects what it can out of fear of near-term conflict and pain is not a mature society.
Like an individual, a country must be able to make mature decisions in order to be successful.
The passing of the bill to dispatch troops to Iraq by the National Assembly was an opportunity to test the maturity of our society and the soundness of our decision-making process. Watching how differing opinions were taken into account and how the national decision was made according to the correct procedures, I feel assured that our society has evolved into a mature, pluralistic and democratic society. Still, there were heightened emotional conflicts leading to serious social fissures during the course of that national debate, showing that our society still has a weak culture of conversation and compromise and that the national decision-making system is still not functioning completely smoothly.
Democracy is a system in which compromise is a principle and not a system in which principles should be compromised. People with different principles and values should be able to coexist while maintaining their respective principles. No matter how much you might feel like killing a person for his or her opinions, you should not kill his or her right to state them. This is freedom of speech in a democracy.
Yet, there are people in our society who refuse to co-exist with others and who try to block the freedom of speech of others with different opinions. This is cause for deep concern. Inherently, while the benefits of reform are shared by many people in the long run, the burdens of reform are usually concentrated on certain people. Political reform, education reform, government reform, market reform, and the stability of labor-management relation are among the national tasks that our society must tackle. The results of these reforms will only appear in the long run and our society will have to overcome conflict and resistance in the process of pursuing them.
Our country will see no genuine development if we delay or avoid our duties for fear of belligerent interest groups and pressure groups or because we are wary of conflict.
A civic movement member might state his or her cause and feelings. Interest groups may put their own interest ahead of the national interest. But when the government allows itself to be swept up by such popular sentiment and demands from interest groups, the country could be in jeopardy.
The labor pains in the decision to dispatch troops to Iraq have, I hope, provided an opportunity for the new government to realize the difference between the heavy responsibility of administrating the country and just following the sentiments of the public. There will be still more labor pains in the reforms in other areas as well.
I hope the government keeps the courage and determination it took to make an agonizing decision for the future of the country and the national interest. Also, I hope the Roh Moo-hyun government sees this decision as an opportunity to free itself from the shackles of online opinion polls, the logic of anti-establishment movements and biased ideology to pursue the greatest happiness of the greatest number of the people and becomes a practical government in charge of the country’s future.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Hongik University.
by Kim Jong-seok