[Outlook]Flying to the polls

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[Outlook]Flying to the polls

An interesting article ran in the science section of the New York Times on Nov. 13. Swarming animals and insects, such as ants, locusts, some fish and migrating birds, move in groups of hundreds of thousands. How can they keep organized and oriented? Scientists explain that these animals have not only instincts for individuals survival but also a collective intelligence for the survival of the swarm.
That collective intelligence leads to certain decisions. When a shark approaches, only a few of the fish in a school that numbers in the hundreds of thousands notices the creature, but the entire school swims to avoid it. When birds migrate, the entire flock knows which is the right direction. These are all because they have a collective intelligence. I think human beings also share this trait.
There is something odd about the presidential election campaign this year -- namely, Lee Myung-bak’s approval ratings have stayed above a certain level. He did not hold election rallies that were more aggressive than others, and he did not spend more money on his campaign. Rather, his problems were aired in front of everyone, such as land transactions in Dogok-dong, southern Seoul and his involvement in BBK.
If one looks at his problems and irregularities, there is no reason for him to enjoy high approval ratings. It is understandable, to some extent, that figures in the ruling party complain that, “people are senile,” or “the country has become bizarre.” Why have Lee’s approval ratings stayed above 40 percent? Is it because he is a great person?
Insects and animals make decisions affecting the survival of the entire group, and humans may have the same instinct. Elitists believe that the masses of humanity are passively led by a handful of elites. This is a shared opinion on both the right and the left.
During this presidential campaign, the left-wing forces that are in power now have attempted political engineering. Meanwhile, conservative elitists have worried that their efforts would change public opinion. The summit between South and North Korea is one such example. But the meeting did little to change public opinion.
The people seem to have made a collective judgment. There is something inside people’s minds that is so deeply rooted that elites cannot shake it no matter how hard they may try. That something could also be called the spirit of the times.
Looking back, Koreans have been doing quite well. After gaining independence, the nation has gone from being one of the poorest countries in the world to the world’s 12th-largest economy in a mere 60 years. That was thanks to our collective intelligence. We worked when we should have and we achieved democracy when that was needed.
Former President Kim Dae-jung and incumbent President Roh Moo-hyun’s entering office were also probably decisions made by our swarm intelligence. Conservatives might find these people disagreeable, but without the two, Korea would not be where it is today. Resentments between the people in South and North Jeolla Province had to be resolved.
Corruption of conservative forces and misuse of power by the privileged also had to be fixed. Without these two presidents, these issues would just have festered and we would have been stuck in a dead end. Our collective mind knew it all long ago. As a result, we have been able to resolve these issues to a significant extent in the past 10 years.
Where does this collective intelligence come from? Has the pain we’ve experienced throughout history turned into wisdom? Has Koreans’ enthusiasm for education resulted in the power of reason? It could have been that heaven instilled us with a collective intelligence. We cannot know the answer for sure but one thing is certain: As long as we have collective intelligence, we have nothing to worry about.
A new revelation about the BBK scandal has arisen with the election just days away. Things continue to be chaotic until the last minute. Our collective mind may feel frustrated about this situation but it will find a way to make sense of it.
The new president will be chosen tomorrow. But there is nothing to worry about, whoever is elected. If the person is chosen because he is very talented and smart, he may end up being dominating and controlling.
If so, our collective intelligence will keep him in check in a general election in three and a half months.
If the new president is humble and lowers himself, thinking that he is a temporary tool, the people will support him so he can work efficiently. An independent prosecutor for investigation might give the new president a hard time.
Even if we have to vote again for a new president, we should not worry. Our collective intelligence will help us make the right decision.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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