[OUTLOOK]The butcher blames the blade

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[OUTLOOK]The butcher blames the blade

In the book “Chuang Tse,” there is a story about an ancient Chinese butcher who had marvelous skill when it came to killing cattle and separating the flesh from the bone. From this story, the expression “a master butcher’s skill in killing cattle” came to be used to characterize first-rate ability.
Of course, even this butcher couldn’t do the job properly when he first started. He couldn’t see the texture of the meat below the skin. But after three years, he had developed an eye for how the skin, the flesh and the bones were layered, and for the texture of the flesh itself. Once he had developed this sense, he could finally butcher cattle properly.
Moreover, even though the butcher had killed thousands of cattle over a 19-year period, his knife was always as sharp as if it had just been sharpened on the whetstone. That was because he didn’t hack away at the animal. Rather, he knew how to cut with the texture of the flesh. Other butchers had to change knives every month because they didn’t know how to handle their blades. They cut into the bone improperly. Some butchers were more skilled then that, but even so, had to change knives every year because they cut against the texture of the flesh.
The lesson is that a skilled butcher takes the properties of the meat into account. If he does otherwise, not only might he fail to kill the cattle at all, but he will ruin his knife. And in the process, the cattle will run even wilder. Politically, we now seem to be in a comparable situation.
President Roh Moo-hyun unsheathed his knife to kill a cow called real estate. But he scratched the cow’s bones and went against the texture of the flesh, so that he could not even flay it properly. Instead of killing the cow, he was busy changing his knives. In the meantime, the cow called real estate went crazy ― becoming a mad cow, one might say.
The president also thrust his knife in the direction of Seoul National University. He characterized the university’s proposed admission policy, which had yet to be finalized, as “the worst news.” Adhering to the Roh “code,” his aides made inappropriate remarks, such as, “The university should be punished for its cowardice.” As a consequence, Seoul National University suddenly became a cow to be led to the slaughter.
Professors at the university began to ask why this “participatory government,” which advocates “decentralization and autonomy” above all, was being so stingy about the rights and autonomy of the university. It wasn’t unreasonable that their complaints should have come like the cries of a cow just before it is killed.
In the midst of this turmoil, the president began to blame his knife. He asked for a sharper blade ― a political structure based on a large governing party and a small opposition bloc, as opposed to a blunt instrument, an outnumbered governing party. The letters to the public that the president began writing on a daily basis were just the beginning. The president said that the present situation left him unable to deal with real estate, education or the economy. But in putting the blame on defects in the power structure, he seemed to be glossing over his own policy failures.
Having held the keen-edged blade of the dominant governing party structure for a year, there is no telling what he wants to say now. The president says that the present legislative makeup, in which the governing party is only four seats shy of a majority, leaves him unable to do anything. It is as though he were saying that he would like to swim while touching the ground, unlike a swimmer who relishes a challenge. His cries of hardship make us wonder whether he has some other intention.
Cleverly, he even brought up again his ambigious proposal to share power with the opposition if they support breaking up the regionalism in the legislature. To the Grand National Party ― which he used to denounce as a party that accepted truckloads of campaign contributions ― he is now whispering the offer to form a coalition government, promising them the right to nominate the prime minister. No one with common sense could understand such behavior. Moreover, the president’s unique authority, including the right to nominate the prime minister, is ensured by the constitution and entrusted to him by the people. It is not something to give away as he pleases. His carelessness in bringing up such an idea gives the impression that he thinks little of the constitution, or the people.
Reportedly, the president said that even officials in his own government listen more closely to the Grand National Party than to him. But at meetings hosted by the president, the questions are invariably short, and the lectures are invariably long.
The lecturer, of course, is the president; the others are busy taking notes. Moreover, there have been more than a few occasions in which all of the lawmakers in the governing party have changed their position on an issue after a word from the president, a mere member of the party.
The president is not without power; he just doesn’t know how to use it properly. He has a perfectly sharp blade, but he handles it recklessly.
Killing a cow is easy, but doing it properly ― separating the flesh from the bone, and getting undamaged leather ― never is. It requires a knowledge of the texture of the flesh, a willingness to go along with its nature instead of opposing it. I hope the president will bear this in mind.

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


by Chung Jin-hong
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