[VIEWPOINT]Determining the share of blameThe term “causal relations” is a very difficult concept. When it is difficult to find cause and effect relationships in nature, how much more difficult would it be in social and political phenomena? It is not just a matter of difficulty but also that the establishment of sure causal relationships that all people can agree on may be fundamentally impossible. Social and political phenomena exist only subjectively in each person’s perception. Therefore, discussion on causal relations should be made with a very careful attitude, and assertion should be avoided.
This difficult concept appeared in the “statement to the people” by President Roh Moo-hyun. Explaining the reason he does not dismiss Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung in the aftermath of the slaying of soldiers by a fellow soldier, President Roh emphasized that there was no causal relation between military discipline and Minister Yoon. Mr. Roh not only mentioned the matter of the defense minister, but also criticized the questioning of the responsibilities of his aides and cabinet members al- together. He even went on to say that disciplinary personnel actions derive from a dynastic way of thinking that ignores scientific causal relations.
The president’s assertion, that the innocent minister should not be disciplined by examining scientific causal relations, is quite right in principle. When a certain problem occurs, we tend to lay the blame on a particular person or group too easily without contemplating the causal relations between them. By blaming others, we may feel psychological satisfaction and promote the unity of “us,” as the opposite of “them” for the short term. But blaming others is not ethically right, and it also brings about the vicious circle of blaming each other in politics and deepens divisions, eventually making all people losers. These incorrect practices of blaming others are well illustrated in the history of Korean politics.
The great significance of the president’s statement is that he proclaimed again the principle that in discussing political matters, causal relations, especially scientific relations, should be examined and a hapless scapegoat should not be picked.
So far so good. But in further explaining the principle, there were many parts that made us skeptical about whether the president himself inquired into scientific causal relations or whether he was preoccupied with blaming others unconditionally.
For example, calling into question the National Assembly’s right to propose the dismissal of cabinet members as prescribed in the constitution, he contended that this right results in a distortion of the meaning of the state’s responsibility and is abused for political purposes. If this argument is to be based on scientific causal relations, not on an expedient assignment of blame to others, the meaning of the state’s responsibility should be corrected and political controversy over the government and the governing party should be lessened when the right to dismiss cabinet members is removed. Would this actually be so?
His appeal that the legislature controlled by the opposition parties makes the stable operation of state affairs impossible strikes me as even more blaming of others. He says that in this political situation, the government and the governing party cannot do anything when the opposition parties oppose it. If so, would the operation of state affairs become smooth if the governing party took a majority of seats in the Assembly? Many other complicated factors affect the administration, including public opinion, pressure from society, the president’s leadership style, thought and behavior of politicians from the governing party and the degree of institutionalization in the operation of state affairs. In this situation, is it really based on scientific causal relations if the president focuses on whether the legislature is controlled by the opposition parties or by the governing party as the single factor that determines the operation of state affairs? Isn’t it shifting the blame on the opposition parties, in essence saying, “we are doing well, but they held us back”?
The distinction between clarification of responsibilities based on causal reasoning and attribution of blame to others cannot help but be ambiguous. Depending on which viewpoint is valid, the case could be entirely turned upside down. Therefore, the cause and effect relationship should be prudently discussed. Of course, politicians cannot speak the same way as scholars, and to approach the public, they may need to make a clear assertion. But this is a matter of degree, and it is regrettable that today’s politicians are too easily blaming others according to their own point of view.
The president’s “statement to the people” is one of the numerous cases that have prompted me to have these thoughts.
* The writer is a professor of political science and international relations at Kyung Hee University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lim Sung-ho