[FORUM]Equality must not stifle progressThere is no better comparison than “the pen and the sword” that will help one understand Korea and Japan, “the near but far countries.” Kim Yong-un, an emeritus professor at Hanyang University, suggested in his book “The Structure of Consciousness of the Japanese and Koreans” that if Japan is a vertical society by the sword, Korea is a horizontal society by the pen.
“Koreans have strong consciousness of equality, which is directly linked to freedom and equality, the basic spirit of modernization in Europe,” he wrote in his book.
This is true. Certainly, our nation seems to have the equality gene in its DNA. After the end of the primitive communist community, social classes have appeared, but the spirit of equality has run continuously in our blood.
Many written records, including “The Story of Three Kingdoms,” “The History of Wui Kingdom”and “The History of East Barbarians,” show that the-then kings and their subjects enjoyed drinking and dancing together.
A TV drama, “The Times of Warriors,” which I sometimes watch, reveals such a consciousness of equality well. This drama, which deals with the warrior regimes of the Goryo Dynasty, goes beyond the spirit of equality. With the sword in hand, warriors make light of kings. Lee Ui-min, the son of a salt vendor, even kills King Uijong by breaking his back.
This was not limited to warriors. Even Manjuk, a slave of Choi Chung-hun who led the warrior regime, caused a disturbance by saying, “Are there any different seeds for kings and princes and ministers?” Lee E-hwa, a historian who published 22 volumes of “A Story on Korean History,” saw this disturbance as the prelude to the Korean version of the slave liberation movement.
This expression ―which is said to have been used for the first time by Lui Bang, the founding father of the Han Dynasty of China, who was from a peasant background ―became the talk of all the people. The expression always appears in every scene in a historical drama where the people speak ill of high-ranking officials.
This is not to say that our dynasties had an equal society. Of course, this holds true today too. Inequality and discrimination exist everywhere. To paraphrase the expression of Lee Eo-ryeong, the author of “Smallness-oriented Japanese,” our country can be called an “equality-oriented society.”
If we work hard, we could enhance our social status. Some of the examples are the state examination in the past and the current national examination for civil service.
Of course, there were side effects to such status-climbing, such as envying others who bought land. But there were more people who also worked harder to buy land. We worked hard, thinking we would never give our children a hard time, even if we had to perform dirty and difficult jobs.
We provided our children with an education by any means even if we were illiterate. Behind the diligence and educational enthusiasm, the engine for our present prosperity, lay such a positive equality-oriented spirit.
However, equality-orientation has changed into equality as a cure-all. Some even think that revising standards downward is a good thing, even if it pulls down competent people. The situation is that we can endure hunger but cannot stand others’ success.
A representative example is the failed efforts in educational standardization. A recently proposed measure would abolish Seoul National University. What is the alternative to abolishing Seoul National University and standardizing state-run universities? Think of why the German left-wing government, representing the standardization of colleges, has recently decided to establish first-class universities?
Now the axis of our society has moved to the left. In addition to the liberal left-leaning president, left-wingers command the National Assembly. Historically, the left-wing has valued equality more than freedom, and distribution more than growth. But no matter how important equality may be, downward standardization cannot be our aim. Becoming Latin America or North Korea should not be our goal.
Rather than dividing Samsung Electronics, the world’s first-class company, into similar small or medium-sized companies, our goal should be to make 10 Samsung Electronics.
If there are 10 companies like Samsung Electronics, Korea can automatically achieve its goal of $20,000 in per capita income. I hope President Roh Moo-hyun, who has resumed his office, will keep this in mind.
* The writer is a deputy managing editor in charge of culture news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Jae-sik