[FORUM]Common sense and nonsenseThe Korean word for the term “common sense” has two meanings in everyday use. “Being full of common sense” has a different meaning from the meaning when we say, “Common sense works.” The former means having lots of miscellaneous knowledge, but the latter means having the sound discernment that human beings should have. The two meanings can be confused occasionally in Korean, but there is a difference. There are some people who know a lot but are full of prejudice and self-righteousness with little in the way of sound discernment. On the contrary, there are people who have little learning but may have a great deal of wisdom gathered from their experience in life. This shows that common sense is not necessarily in direct proportion to one’s level of education. Nevertheless, we make efforts to increase our store of common sense by learning about the experiences of others; that is one of the educational ideals.
What is common sense? Georg Jellinek, a German legal and political philosopher, defined the law as an ethical minimum. Here, ethics can be paraphrased as a minimum of common sense. Ethics is an unwritten law which human beings should observe, but one which carries no legal penalty if violated. In short, common sense is all that follows the course of nature like flowing water. Thomas Read, a British philosopher, searched for the ultimate grounds of truth in the universality of common sense. Goethe called common sense “the guardian god of mankind.”
But common sense is given cold reception in our society these days. Further, our society even seems to be one where common sense does not work at all. Senseless things are happening frequently and imperturbably. Although prices seem to have slowed down a bit because of the government’s strong measures, the price of some 132-square-meter (1,320-square-foot) apartments in southern Seoul skyrocketed to more than a million dollars, jumping $100,000 a month. This phenomenon cannot be explained with common sense in the international community. With a million dollars in the United States, people can buy a huge mansion with a swimming pool. Far from common sense is the fact that the tax on these apartment buildings is lower than the tax on a car costing a few thousands dollars.
This is not all. We have heard absurd news almost every day this week. Full-time union workers who have nothing to do with overtime have openly received overtime pay. Their company even paid their gasoline expenses, to say nothing of providing them with expensive cars. The report that getting married in Korea costs an average of about $75,500 or that the annual salary of some instructors at private institutes reached about $2.5 million also proves that our society is nonsensical. The most lamentable news is that anglers reeled in the fish washed away from fish farms destroyed by the typhoon right beside the anguished fish farmers lamenting their losses. This is a case where people seem to have no common sense at all.
Above all, the political arena is where cases of nonsense are triumphant. A representative case is the ruling party, which quarrels every day with members divided into new and old factions regardless of the suffering of the people. However hateful the president is, calling him a street thug is the height of senselessness. The opposition party is no better because it is busy championing the cause of one of its members who is charged with corruption without paying attention to the livelihood of the people. It is also far from common sense to appoint people who share a common ideology for the majority of positions of cultural affairs even though we neither need nor want a cultural revolution.
In this world of widespread absurdity, the people cannot have hope. Isn’t that why an infomercial on emigration at a home shopping channel was so popular and companies continue to rush out of the country? This is a revolt of common sense against nonsense. A society where common sense works is nothing special. It is the norm of society for the law and rules to be kept; those are societies where the future is predictable and where everyone who works hard can prosper.
I want to live in a society where common sense flows like a river.
* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Jae-sik