[VIEWPOINT]Sorry future if the young leaveScene One: In the Hongik University neighborhood, the emerging cultural haven for the young and trendy. Every night, this hot area is exploding with songs, dances and other expressions of passions. Scene Two: Young Koreans shrug after hearing the news that major conglomerates will restrain hiring as much as possible and that the youth unemployment rate is well over 10 percent. Scene Three: Koreans are inclined to marry later in life and many are averse to having children. Scene Four: The number of applicants for emigration surges. Even well-to-do professionals opt for going abroad because of insecurity about the future and educational concerns for their children. Opinion polls show that over half of the respondents in their thirties say they want to emigrate if the opportunity arises.
The four scenes reflect the contradictions and chaos in which the “2030” generation, young Koreans in their 20s and 30s, find themselves. The youngsters have never experienced the starvation that haunted their parents’ generation. They never had to tighten their belts and work hard just to survive. The 2030 generation has benefited from the economic development and democratization in modern Korean history, and grew up being loved by their parents’ generation. Young Koreans enjoy fully the flavor and passion of a new culture and the liberty that the Internet era has given them. The increased freedom, however, has become the fount of their suffering. The liberty appears to provide all the opportunities to perfect the inner self, but in reality it commands the youngsters to be responsible for their own lives. At first glance, it seems that the younger generation has started to lead increasingly independent lives while the group-oriented earlier generation was dependent on the family, organization or community. Youngsters find themselves amidst instability, and entering the new competitive world is ever more difficult. The 2030s are accustomed to expressing their desires and having them fulfilled, but they are asked to take responsibility for themselves while the path to success is narrower than ever. To the young Koreans, the paradoxical world is an unbearable source of stress. Try to forget the harsh reality with some entertainment and partying, and you will soon have bad credit. It is no longer news that most of the 3 million bad credit risks are the young. Most struggle to survive in the fierce competition, but only few seize the chances they see. This is the basis of the desire to leave the country.
To the young generation, their parents’ generation is no longer a symbol of gratitude and grace. Older people just don’t understand the desire and suffering of tormented youth. The older generation represents the authoritarianism and inflexibility that are far from the pleasure-oriented life that the youngsters pursue. The generation gap and severed communication channels are where the resistance of the 2030s began. The generation gap is more cultural than political. Not only does the 2030 generation reject the values and symbols of the older people, it has started to create its own cultural code in which the older generation cannot join. Whether it be a song, a new language or the Internet, the 2030s have constructed a cultural boundary that strictly excludes older people. As the country saw last year in the presidential election campaign, the boundary can always be converted into a political movement when given the chance.
It is pointless to persuade the 2030s of the importance of family support or generational harmony in preparation for an aging society. Even the voices that lament the foolishness of the youngsters or the collapse of the values are not addressing to the true underpinnings of the crisis. What is asked of the older people, especially politicians and social leaders, is an effort to understand the lives, circumstances and conditions of the young in depth. Seriously study what kind of insecure environment is created in the name of liberty. It is the older people’s duty to make the best use of the cultural potential from healthy individualism, the pursuit of an aesthetic life and active participation in society. For the new generation, which has a complex course of life ahead, elders must provide multilayered social opportunities in education, employment, welfare and culture. Offer more challenges and give the losers yet another chance to succeed. Most of all, the government and civil society should declare that their core agenda is the creation of a better life for future generations. There is no future for Korea if the young are determined to leave the country.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Dong-A University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Heong-joon