[FOUNTAIN]We must avoid a ‘spiral of silence’

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[FOUNTAIN]We must avoid a ‘spiral of silence’

We are all afraid of being isolated from others. So we carefully watch to see whether we have differences of opinion with other people on social issues or incidents. If our conviction or thinking coincides with the prevailing opinion, then we freely express our views. On the other hand, when we cannot find supporters, we often keep our mouths shut. We have decided that it is wiser to remain silent than to make a slip of the tongue and be ostracized or disadvantaged.
German communications researcher Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann explained the behavior with the theory of the “spiral of silence.” People have a tendency to raise their voices if their opinion belongs to the dominant side but remain silent when their opinion is not a majority one. Like a spiral vortex, minority opinions will fall into the bog of silence. In other words, individuals have a strong desire to belong to the majority mainstream and are pressured to create a uniform public opinion.
It is generally believed that the “spiral of silence” is more likely to occur in a group-oriented society than an individualistic society. Koreans, who have endured many trials of history, are highly sensitive to what other people think. The tendency to want to be a part of the majority is especially strong in the Korean culture, which does not easily embrace diverse opinions.
The Aug. 15 Liberation Day festivities, which created quite a sensation with the North Korean delegates’ visit to the national cemetery and the friendly soccer match between the two Koreas, reminds us of the spiral of silence. These days, you won’t be considered an intellectual if you don’t mention “national cooperation” and “unification” in a conversation. In the whirlwind of public opinion in support of unification, people with different opinions keep silent.
Regarding the festival, the Chosun Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan, wrote, “In the past, students demonstrating for democracy and unification were arrested by the police, but today, those opposing unification are the targets of the police.” The paper finds it strange that conservatives are checked by the police, while waving the Korean national flag, Taegukgi, and shouting the slogan “Daehan Minguk,” meaning the Republic of Korea, were banned during the festival period.
There is a rule called “80 vs. 20.” As 20 percent of the criminals commit 80 percent of the crimes and 80 percent of all car accidents are caused by 20 percent of the drivers, 20 percent of the non-mainstreamers can lead social changes, overwhelming the 80 percent majority. I wonder whether the spiral of silence is leading people who are afraid of being stigmatized as anti-unification to fall into a unification illusion.

by Ko Dae-hoon

The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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