[VIEWPOINT]South Korea is acting like a petulant childWhen National Assemblymen were asked recently what books they read this summer, many mentioned “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” written by George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.
Some governing party lawmakers are said to have conducted workshops on the topics raised in the book. Park Geun-hye, former chairwoman of the Grand National Party, counted the book as one of the most useful books she’s read recently. “Don’t Think of an Elephant” is at the top of the bestseller list at Kyobo Bookstore in the fields of political and social science.
There must be a reason that the book, a hot conversation topic in the United States two years ago, has suddenly become a must-read for Korean politicians.
I tried to sum up the points raised by Mr. Lakoff’s definitive handbook for understanding what happened in the 2004 U.S. presidential elections into roughly the following:
* Humans have the cognitive structure of thinking more about an elephant when they are told not to think of an elephant.
* The Democratic Party can never win against the Republican Party as long as it remains stuck arguing against the agenda set by the Republicans.
* The Democrats should regain support from the voters by setting a new agenda and framing language that fits its own ideas.
It is likely the Korean politicians considered the book as worthwhile advice, since the presidential election is around the corner.
In Mr. Lakoff’s view, Republicans adhere to a “strict father” model of family, while Democrats prefer the “nurturant parent” view, and therein lies the key difference between the two sides. He thinks conservatives see the world from a strict father’s perspective, while liberals see it through the eyes of of a nurturing parent.
Since the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, American voters have become more attracted to the strict father model of family. It can be said therefore that President George W. Bush, who was re-elected owing to the changed perception of the electorate, is leading the country in that manner.
In the field of international relations, the strict father frame of the Republicans is also applicable, according to Mr. Lakoff. He also thinks that conservatives are of the opinion that a father, as a moral authority who decides what is right and what is not, should guide children to the right path by punishing them sternly when they go astray. The role of a father is to bring up children to become mature grown-ups through strict moral education. It was under this strict-father frame, therefore, that President Bush showed the example of punishing Iraq severely.
Mr. Lakoff added that, according to President Bush’s view, there was no need to get the consent of the United Nations for a man to punish a child. In the eyes of Mr. Bush, the United Nations is nothing but a gathering of minors who are not yet fully grown up. Whatever one may think, this is the world view of the leader of the superpower now dominating the world.
What will happen if we apply the strict father frame to the Korean Peninsula?
After liberation from Japanese rule, both South and North Korea were like orphans left in an orphanage. The United States and the Soviet Union adopted South Korea and the North respectively as foster-fathers.
South Korea grew up under the guidance of a strict father. Since he was diligent and was not a dull boy, he enrolled in a university that was recognized by people in the community.
On the other hand, North Korea became isolated after the death of its father and is making the whole neighborhood uneasy by creating trouble continuously.
After entering university, South Korea started to disobey its father, saying, “Is there anything wrong with saying no to a father?” or “Didn’t you make any mistakes before?” He even defended his separated brother by saying, “There must be a reason that my brother creates all this fuss.” Finally, he has made up his mind to be independent from his father’s care.
The father, who is not as strong he used to be, is now sick and tired of taking care of his son. He has many other things to take care of in the village. So he takes a lukewarm attitude, not objecting to the son’s decision to be independent.
If North Korea is a juvenile delinquent who creates trouble in the neighborhood by firing missiles, South Korea, which tries to transfer wartime control of its troops from Washington, can be compared to a university student who dreams of independence from his parents. When he graduates from university and becomes a grown-up, he should stand on his own even if he doesn’t want to.
But isn’t it wise for him to focus on studying now and wait for the right time to become independent?
Japan, which graduated from university with honors and got a good job, has chosen to remain under the care of the nurturant foster-father.
Whether it is a strict father model or a nurturant parent, the United States sees the world from the perspective of a village elder and it will not change even if there is a change of government here in the next presidential election.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok