[OUTLOOK]Mr. Roh’s place in history

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[OUTLOOK]Mr. Roh’s place in history

While visiting Cambridge University for a month recently, my mind dwelled on the two concepts of history and community. Cambridge University is nearly 800 years old. There are castle walls in England that are more than a thousand years old and cathedrals that are a few hundred years old. It was impressive to see that the country has maintained its community by repeating the cycle of dwelling in these buildings generation after generation.
Seeing these centuries-old historical sites, I couldn’t help feeling small as a journalist who chases daily happenings. I tried to comfort myself by thinking that even the big and serious things that our country is going through now would become nothing but little drops in the vast sea of history hundreds of years from now.
Reality is this present moment in history. That is, it is part of history. If so, is our reality in a healthy state seen from a historical point of view? My thought when I returned to Seoul was that no, it’s not. We are falling ill. Part of our disease is that our economy is in a difficult situation. If economic hardship is a disease that can be verified with the eye, an invisible but more serious disease from a historical perspective is the slow disintegration of our community.
For a community to continue, the members of that community need ties that bind them together. Territory, language and blood relations are some of the visible bonds, but solidarity among the members is an invisible one. For some time, this invisible bond has come undone.
We live in the same land, but since some time ago, we have been thinking completely different thoughts and fighting among ourselves. In any society, the members try to maximize their own individual gains. Individual self-interest is the driving force behind social development under the principles of the market. But society is not merely a place where everyone fights for themselves. If that were all, then that society could not continue to exist. There is a separate sphere in which individual and group interests are set aside for the good of the entire community.
How would it be if doctors only performed their medical feats for the maximization of their own self-interest? Medicine has a noble purpose in looking after the health of the members of society beyond any selfish motives. The same goes for teachers. It is not money that impels people to become teachers. It is the desire to work for the good of the community through education. It is the same with the media. Journalists do not work for their own interests or to protect their vested rights. They work to ensure communication in society and to watch over the authorities.
There is a sphere in a community that transcends all individual and group interests. Only when we preserve this sphere can our society stay healthy. Politics is the art of pursuing this common good for the well-being of the community. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening in our society these days.
Politics is intruding in the common sphere and making it disintegrate. It is leading the way to the division of our community with its logic of enemies and friends, establishment and anti-establishment. Take the proposed transfer of the capital city, for instance. The decision should be made based on whether this transfer is in the interest of the community. Instead, the president is presenting a logic that the establishment opposes the transfer to defend its vested interest. The floor leader of the government party also criticized opposition to the transfer as an attempt to protect the interests of the rich living in the Seoul area. What does being rich or poor have to do with moving the capital city? Why are they trying to aggravate strife in our community with such an issue? It seems that in their eyes, there is no community, only enemies and friends. To them, everything is a struggle, a conflict and an object to overthrow. They tear the community apart more aggressively to win these “struggles.” They constantly send out messages blaming failed reform measures on the conservatives, accusing business owners of taking advantage of everyone else and insisting that the poor are poor because the rich are exploiting them.
Community has long disappeared from this country and there are only stand-offs between the “have-more” and the “have-less,” the older generations and the younger generations, business and labor unions. We cannot talk about a common good in a place where there is no community. This is the disease of our society today.
In history, these five years will be remembered as the “Roh Moo-hyun era.” No one can lessen or take over these years. Only he will represent these years in full. President Roh should think about his responsibility to the community in historical perspective, instead of habitually threatening to resign. Does he want history to evaluate the Roh Moo-hyun years as having been ruled by strife and division? The economy is the easier problem of the two to fix. A failed community is harder to restore. President Roh, do you not want to be evaluated as a president who worked for the common good of the community instead of siding with specific social forces, classes and groups?

* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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