[FORUM]The place of ‘ties’ in societyTwo very contrasting societies appear in the works of American science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov. The main character of “The Naked Sun,” a detective, is dispatched to an outer world planet of the future called Solaria which has been colonized by the Earth. The detective witnesses a very interesting society on this planet. People live in detached houses and talk to the world outside with camera phones that are installed in each of their homes.
They do not meet directly with their friends, co-workers or anyone from the outside world, but they communicate through a tight and meticulous network that makes it seem as if they are meeting with one another.
The society depicted in his other novel “The Caves of Steel” is completely different from Solaria. The main character is again a detective, but this time he goes into the underground world to solve a murder case. The people underground live in caves made of steel and have solid and close relationships among themselves only. They do not contact anyone from the outside world and exclude strangers from their lives.
Of course, the society we live in is nothing like Solaria or the caves of steel. It is probably somewhere in between the two societies depicted in Asimov’s novels. The structure of Korea’s power elite group, as analyzed by the JoonAng Ilbo for its 40th anniversary special report, was in the same shape. Upon analyzing the social networks of school ties, blood ties and regional ties, the results were that they were neither open like Solaria nor closed like the caves of steel. However, there were definitely the tendencies of differentiation and dissolution in the social structure.
The elite society of the so-called “emergency measure generation” that spent its youth in the 1970s under the Yusin, or revitalizing reform, government of former President Park Chung Hee, and those older than this generation, used to be closely linked by solid caves-of-steel-like school ties of Seoul National University, Yonsei University, Korea University, Kyunggi High School and Seoul High School, for example.
Then some of the “386 generation” that went to college in the 1980s left the strong school ties to build “detached houses” and started to link themselves with others. After that, a significant proportion of the “post-386 generation” gave up the caves and ventured outside to live separately.
The tendency of differentiation and dissolution is also supported by various other analytical evidence. The school ties of society were shaken so much that 60 percent of the top-ranking 50 high schools that produced elites have changed since 1980. SKY (Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University) is still strong in the university society, but the advance of other universities has grown strikingly. The ratio of women in our elite society has increased four-fold in the past 40 years.
Although the population of large cities has increased, the influence of medium and small cities in the provinces and agricultural communities has not declined, and the regional gap between the Youngnam and Honam regions has been narrowed a lot. Analytical results also showed that good school and family ties can help in employment itself, but that they do not have much effect on success in a corporation or on personal success either.
There are bound to be elites at any time, in any society. The same goes for good connections like school ties, regional ties or blood ties. In fact, the advancement of the information society might even increase the number of ties and speed up the connection of the ties.
What we have to be aware of is not the number of ties or whether or not the ties exist, but the structure of these ties. If the structure of elite ties is closed like the caves of steel, not allowing outsiders in at all, it will pose a problem even if there are only a few ties.
However, if the structure is open and multifaceted, leaving various doors open for recruiting elites, dispersed ties will be a source of motivation for change and development. Fortunately, it seems that the energy from industrialization, democratization and development of information technology over the past decades has helped our society to move its coordinates from the caves of steel to Solaria a little bit more ― putting aside whether or not the breadth of movement is satisfactory.
Korea is a society that has especially strong hostility towards elites and ties. Perhaps the consciousness of competitiveness that comes from so many people living in such a small land area has made people extra-sensitive about these two words.
Or perhaps the memory of our hard, oppressed and closed past is somehow instilled in our systems, culture and genes. We have the tendency to agree too easily and become disappointed and discouraged, when people say “ties change everything.”
However, the elite recruiting structure of our society is not so closed as to make people thwarted by the mention of a society of ties even before taking action.
The results of the analysis of our power elites by the JoongAng Ilbo rather show that Korean society has advanced healthily up until now and the chances to do so in the future are very high.
* The writer is the investigative editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Kyu-youn