[VIEWPOINT]Time for a new set of rulesThe incident in which Korean students at an international school in Indonesia stole copies of a school test brought international dishonor to the Korean community there. The philosophy that if you receive a high grade, any means are all right seems to be coming up again. But we cannot blame just the bird that fouls its own nest.
Isn’t it an open secret at Korea’s high schools that tests that appear on school records are taken after the questions are handed out? The purpose is to raise the rate of university admissions at the school.
The strategy that once a goal is set, use any means to accomplish it was the basic method for development of this country not a long ago. Crying “Dash forward,” we achieved the goal of a $1,000 and then $10,000 per-capita income. And we thought that if we pushed ahead with the same strategy, we could achieve the goal of $20,000 in a minute.
But these tactics are effective no more. The Asian financial crisis was a valuable opportunity to wake up; entering the ranks of advanced nations cannot be accomplished just by pouring more input factors into the quest. But we have not been able to learn that lesson. The moral foundation of economic prosperity is trust in social mores and public norms.
The “dash” strategy that has now begun to fail us in our quest for national development is causing absurd side effects in this “democratized era.” The collision between political groups made elections an internal war where smear campaigns, collusion, and guerrilla tactics were rampant, and pushing ahead to take a bigger share of the pie drove labor and management relations to extremes of strikes and confrontation. And there is a group of people who, like moths, use their money for bribery and try to use what they think is great lobbying skill, but they only glimmer around the fringes of political power.
We believe that to win justifies everything but in fact, in a society centered on winners, the lack of justice in means and manners appears to trap us all. The losers who fell over because their arms were twisted and their legs were caught became madly desperate, and rules and norms were transformed into petty tricks and devices for cunning political games.
Therefore, those people who do not expect transparency and justice see their philosophy confirmed ― even if they have to play dirty tricks, they have to win in order to survive. In this philosophy, only upright fools are losers.
In a reality in which most politicians and businessman “take the risk of going to jail,” prosecutors cannot help being political in their every move. Even in this “participatory government,” the public officials and power politicians who took bribes and explain to their accusers that they were just unlucky still clearly show that they feel like victims.
There are also sullen voices that say to punish accountants and businessmen by exposing past accounting fraud is as unfair as punishing the newborn child instead of the mother who conceived it. That is because the real culprit is the practices of the “dash forward” era.
In any society, the basic point of maintaining order is morals, and the minimum standards of morality are contracts and rules. But we do not have contracts in the Western meaning, and personality ethics called the virtues of tradition have broken down. Amid the maelstrom of bald group selfishness, the foundation of society as a public body has collapsed and moral self-purification in conflicts between groups has dried up.
So now we have a president who insists that all political parties must open their campaign fund books and an opposition party that says that’s just a tactic to dodge criticism. But the present situation calls for basic changes, not generational or ideological. We must build a just legislature and court system that make and executes the rules of a united country. The source of justice is authority. There is no way to overcome this crisis without making social contracts sacred.
I would like to make a proposal. Let’s stop these games. Let’s confess all our bad practices up to this point and wash them away. Let the players and referees gather to make an agreement that beginning now, the game should be played on the basis of principles. But from now on, a red card means you leave the field, with no exceptions.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Jae-yeol