[OUTLOOK]A society approaching collapse

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[OUTLOOK]A society approaching collapse

Though people in other countries are raising alarms about North Korea and its nuclear weapons capability, South Koreans seem strangely nonchalant. There is no telling whether the public has no interest in the problem whatsoever or whether they are deliberately turning their thoughts elsewhere. Privately, however, the people contemplate a wide spectrum of thoughts, from doubts that a war could ever happen to the thought that if it did, it would be for the best. There are also those who ask themselves, “Why all the fuss, when life is already a war?”
This is true. Life is already a war. Seeing the battlefield that is in front of our eyes every day, we cannot be expected to turn our attention to the invisible North Korean issue. Still, there is always concern lurking in the back of our minds. Even at midday, in the middle of a brilliant, beautiful May, there is no light in the hearts of the people. Even in the streets, it is hard to find people whose hearts shine. Most people look rigid, neither smiling nor laughing.
Perhaps because of this, laughter seems to exist only on television. People cannot seem to laugh in their daily lives until they watch comedy programs like “Gag Concert” or “People Seeking Laughter.” To watch these programs is to seek laughter as comfort.
With the arrival of May, the festive season, all sorts of festivals big and small have already been held here and there in Seoul, and will continue to be. But they are like passing winds, and the sunlight they bring to people’s hearts never seems to remain. When the roots of the tree called life are rotten, can it be kept alive just by sprinkling water on its leaves?
In the midst of all this, there is a widespread mindset in our society that if we cannot improve our lot, at least we can make things worse for someone else. People throw tantrums, saying, in effect, “I hate competition ― but let me live as well as that person over there. I hate to see him doing well, when he doesn’t seem to be any better qualified than I am.” What’s worse, this distorted mindset becomes public policy. The recent real estate taxation measures, in particular, have that smell about them.
President Roh Moo-hyun said, “All gains from the housing market should be shared by the people.” Let’s put aside the lofty explanation that his remarks reflect the idea of an economist called Henry George. Simply speaking, isn’t this idea similar to socialism, or communism?
When this policy idea meshes with the perverse public attitude that seeks the suffering of others ―or the attitude of wanting to live as well as the next person, but without having to embrace competition ―then society is as good as ruined. Not because of weapons in the North, but because of the collapse of our own society, in and of itself. It is hard to shake off the apprehension that we are moving in that direction. Under these circumstances, is it really important whether North Korea has nuclear weapons or not?
Just as North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland made the overstatement that South Korea benefits from the North’s “nuclear umbrella,” our government has overshot the mark in its real estate tax policies. Even the working-level officials who formulate those policies seem to feel the same way. But aware of what the president wants, they seem to push blindly forward with these policies. They act as if the problems they cause can be dealt with later. So many people think real estate prices will go out of control again, two years from now. They suppose that when the next president takes office, tax policies will change too. Their reasoning is that even if the opposition party does not take power, it would be too burdensome for anyone to go on suppressing real estate prices this way.
In the meantime, in the political arena, where the recent by-elections were conducted, there are controversies over the scandal involving the Korea National Railroad’s Russian oil deal, and the bribery scandal in connection with the Cheonggyecheon restoration project.
Where the oil scandal is concerned, the Blue House tries to give the impression that Uri Party lawmaker Lee Kwang-jae is the firewall that prevents the flames from spreading to the administration itself. The Blue House explains that the Russian oil deal was privately reported to a mere civil servant at the Blue House, but that the information did not make it to the highest level. This explanation can be nothing but a lame excuse, considering the organizational nature of the Blue House, where such practices are not accepted, nor should they be.
The scandal over the Cheonggyecheon project, strictly speaking, involves the Samgak-dong redevelopment. But it has somehow been assumed that the problem is with the Cheonggyecheon project as a whole. Of course, irregularities, if any, should be thoroughly investigated and exposed, but talking as though the stream restoration project itself were a hotbed of corruption seems to be yet another political tantrum.

* The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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