[OUTLOOK]The right stuff in the right place“There is no carp in a carp-shaped cookie.” It is a trite joke and not very funny. But it has a fresh meaning these days in satirizing our social situation where there are not enough critical goods in the right places.
We can laugh it off if there is no carp in a carp-shaped cookie. But if an important pillar that supports our society is missing, it’s a totally different matter from carp. If there is no credit in credit cards, if there is no education in schools, if authorities don’t have any authority, if law and order is disregarded ― we cannot laugh it off.
Credit cards are the symbol of a credit society. It is common sense to examine individual credit thoroughly before issuing a credit card. But in Korea, a part-time sales force issues credit cards on the streets without checking individual credit. It is difficult to expect “credit” in this kind of credit cards. The overissue of credit cards mass-produced credit delinquents. Crimes caused by credit card debts became a new social insecurity. High overdue payment rates on card bills are undermining credit card firms’ finances and are one of the factors rattling the Korean economy. Credit cards without credit turn out to be obstacles on the way to a credit society.
Education was expelled a long time ago from the schools, where education should exist. Few people believe schools teach humanism, though people put an emphasis on a humanistic education. People say that an academic-oriented education ruined education, but I doubt whether schools teach knowledge to students. While students attend commercial cram courses tuned for their learning level, schools insist on equality. Half our parents dream of emigration to give a better education chance to their children: That’s our education reality. But the government, teachers and parents all have abandoned the schools, confronting and fighting each other instead of coming together to cope with the problems. When teachers and students who should have stayed in schools left the schools, it became difficult for us to expect a humanistic education or an academic education in schools any more.
In a democratic and pluralistic society, it is inevitable that diverse interests will come into collision and create conflicts. Those collisions are not the problem. The key is whether a society has that ability to manage and control the conflict or not. Such a capability can be mobilized when necessary authority and leadership exist in necessary places. Authority forms its capacity based on trust. Trust can be built up by consistency and predictability. Authority based on trust is different from authoritarianism, because authority can muster voluntary obedience. But authoritarianism flexes its muscles to make people submissive and therefore instigates resistance. Authority depends not on how to do something but on how to induce people to follow. True democratic leadership can be attained only when there is authority based on trust. Trust, authority and democratic leadership are not separate; they go together. Many people wonder whether trust, authority and democratic leadership exist in the right places where they are needed.
These days the government has amplified conflicts because it could not maintain policy consistency in dealing with interest groups in major government issues. The government made many concessions to vociferous groups; it caved in, to put it bluntly. The government paid the price in standoffs with interest groups and saw nothing gained from its work. The repeated trials and errors made people distrust the government’s policies. Collective actions of interest groups made the state’s authority powerless while they were fighting for what they wanted, while the government lost its leadership role. President Roh complained that he was feeling a sense of crisis, but the real crisis is when indispensable stuff does not exist in the places where it should exist. Fortunately, Mr. Roh and the people sensed a crisis at the same time, and at least Mr. Roh and the people have the same recognition of the current situation.
Francis Fukuyama, the author of “Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity,” said that trust plays much bigger role than any contract, law or selfishness in making a community run. That concept is worth reviewing when we try to diagnose the chaos and crisis we face now and prescribe a medicine to cure our society.
* The writer is a professor of mass communications at Kyung Hee University.
by Lee Kyung-ja