[OBSERVER]Korea doesn’t respect the young

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[OBSERVER]Korea doesn’t respect the young

Civilization is the matrix of rational discourse. To take part in this discourse is to be civilized.
Savagery is about authoritarian dictation and totalitarian control. Savage people are controlled by misleaders who dictate public opinion and by miseducators who dictate social conformity. The dictators control public affairs. The masses are controlled.
Civilized people, on the other hand, are neither dictators nor controlled masses. They are interlocutors equally vested in public opinion.
The savage conflict between dictators and masses, as opposed to the civilized discourse of interlocutors, is manifold. White vs. colored. Bourgeoisie vs. proletariat. Man vs. woman. We see differences of race, class and sex as arbitrary in light of reason. What about differences of age?
We have admitted racism, classism and sexism to be problems. What about ageism? Adult vs. child. Perhaps the “age of reason” will bring clarity to this problem.
The Catholic Church considers 7 years old to be the age of reason, i.e., the age by which every sane human being can understand cause and effect and can tell right from wrong.
From around the age of 7, from his First Communion on, every Catholic is personally responsible for the salvation of his soul. I ask: How can a child bear such responsibility, the ultimate responsibility? Is not the essence of man his soul? Is not the essence of adulthood the responsibility thereof?
Not only Catholics. “Soul” does not denote religion. The age of reason is universal. Seven is the age by which every sane person is mandated to account for his actions and to be responsible for his soul. But what can the average human being do by age 7 that justifies adult responsibility?
He knows good and evil, right from wrong. He can read; write; do ‘rithmetic. He can recognize contradictions. He can comprehend paradox. He can infer a conclusion from premises. He has the tools with which to build a career and explore his curriculum vitae.
Seven-year-olds are relatively weak, but still they are peers of the civilized adult. The antithesis to the idea of civilization as the matrix of rational discourse is “might makes right.” The white man’s guns; the capitalist’s money; male strength and testosterone. These racist, classist and sexist versions of “might” have variously defined “right.” Nowadays, the adult experience is the ageist version of might making right.
Life is trial and error. When we say that we learn from experience what we really mean to say is that we learn from our mistakes. We learn what not to do as we figure out what to do. The point is that experience has no light. The light is the moral compass which finesses experience. The lights are the categories which organize and process experience. The light is reason.
For too long, Western education has followed the lead of the English philosopher John Locke, and has therefore treated the 7-year-old’s mind as a tabula rasa (“blank slate”). It has believed, with Locke, that all knowledge comes from experience. But experience, again, is a source of error, not knowledge. Experience is darkness. Reason is light.
South Korea would do well to cease its imitation of all that has gone wrong with Western education since the triumph of Lockean “experience” over reason.
The Catholic educators, especially the Jesuits, still offer a decent classical education. They respect 7-year-olds as apprentices to adulthood. The problem is the Catholic propagandists are as cocksure about Christian dogma as the Lockean miseducators are about experience.
Confucius was wiser. Consider the following: “There were four things from which the master was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy and no egoism.” Such testimonies abound throughout The Analects. Confucius was wise because he was humble. He was smart because he knew he did not know much. That’s why he, like all great educators, respected youth.
But South Korea disrespects its 7-year-olds. It oppresses them, and all youth. It justifies its oppression with a mystical fixation on age, which it uses as both a quantifier of experience and as a quotient of wisdom.
Its worship of experience, at the expense of reason, is the deepest source of its authoritarianism. Alas, its numerological ageism, which it euphemizes as “Confucianism,” is diametrically opposed to the humble spirit of Confucius. South Korea is more Lockean than Confucian.
Confucianism comprehends life as a question. It is not a tradition, rather, it is a point of departure for inquiry into the perennial problems of civilization. Confucian scholarship is thus deeply humble.
Such humility is prior to respect for youth. Confucianism is conducive to respecting the 7-year-old as a rational being, which is to say, respecting his essence as an adult. The Confucian 7-year-old is an adult-in-training, an apprentice to civilization. Confucius would have endorsed the age of reason. Confucius himself said: “A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal to our present?”

*The writer is a professor of English at Sangmyung University.

by Taru Taylor
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