[OUTLOOK]Be diverse: Do things my wayRhyu Simin, a young National Assembly member, triggered an internal dispute over his casual attire at the Assembly. Some criticized him for being in contempt of the traditions of the National Assembly and common courtesy, others supported his fashion statement as a sign of diversity. In short, this appears to be a clash between tradition and diversity.
The legislator in question, of course, feels that he is contributing to diversity. “[I have taken] a first step in bringing a culture of respect for others and tolerance into the National Assembly,” he said. For those of us who have been taught that diversity is indispensable for social development and democracy, it is hard to find a rebuttal to Mr. Rhyu’s claim. You could end up sounding like an ultra-conservative and boring person if you talk about respecting tradition and minding your manners. “After all, why shouldn’t lawmakers be allowed to wear cotton pants and no ties to the Assembly? The older generation goes overboard with their conservatism. We should do away with some of that.”
Diversity is a good thing. The new culture minister also does not wear a tie to his news briefings and drives an SUV instead of a sedan to work. Blue House aides also have become far more diverse in their words and deeds. But do the members of the new government respect the diversity of others as much as they express their own?
A diverse outward appearance does not necessarily mean inner respect for diversity. Here’s a simple analogy. Back when we discarded school uniforms for a time in the 1980s, middle and high school students wore all kinds of clothes. That, however, hardly made our educational system a more diverse one. In fact, under the “standardized education” policy, the curriculum became even more uniform than the old uniforms themselves. Standardization and equality are opposite concepts when you talk about diversity. You can’t find diversity if you want everyone to be the same. You have to learn to live with those who are smarter or more skilled than you and those who are not as gifted. Diversity does not come from equality but from freedom. Between freedom and equality, which does the new government emphasize more?
If you emphasize ideology, you draw further away from diversity. Ideology tries to ignore the fact that society is formed of many elements. Ideology tries to push society to strive for the one big purpose it demands. The biggest problem with the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers Union is that it does not teach students to think independently, but instilled its own ideology of anti-war and anti-Americanism. In claiming to have exorcised the demons of the uniform anti-communism education of the past, it is offering another uniform education of its own. The same goes for the president’s decision to appoint as head of the National Intelligence Service a candidate that the National Assembly opposed. If only the president had the humility to accept diverse opinions, he would not have handled the appointment as he did. The Blue House attacked the National Assembly’s action as “a disruptive ideological attack.” Ideology or not, legislators of both the government party and the opposition party opposed the appointment and the president should have acknowledged this if he truly respected diversity.
Diversity comes from living together with others who hold different opinions from one’s own. Democracy starts from acknowledging that diversity. Because the anti-communist line of past governments stifled everything but anti-communism, the new government seems to brand anything that is not in line with its own thinking as being “Cold War logic” and “reactionary.” A society means that there are both conservative newspapers and progressive newspapers. Why does the president criticize the conservative newspapers only? Is this diversity?
Diversity can only come gradually. Society is too complex for diversity to be established with one flick of the wand, one slash of the sword. What has replacing the vice-president and seven senior officials of the state-owned television network KBS, an action called a “revolution” by the government-friendly chief director, got to do with diversity?
Seen this way, the government is walking in the opposite direction of diversity. Yet the people who are supposedly “in tune” with the government are portrayed both by themselves and others as pursuing diversity. We have experienced the uniformity of military dictatorships and have yearned for freedom and diversity. Perhaps that is why we find cotton pants and no tie a stunning statement of diversity. Mr. Rhyu and his supporters have achieved their purpose in grabbing our attention. But what is their true color? Is it true diversity when one is armed with ideology inside but wear cotton pants on the outside? The real focus of the question should not be on the clash between tradition and diversity but on whether there is indeed genuine diversity here.
* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk