[Outlook]Truth gamesWhen the government suddenly changed its policy on beef imports, the whole country began a chaotic game of finding the truth.
The government failed to give the people a reasonable explanation for its change of tack. Media outlets have poured forth a wide range of opinions on the matter. Some scientists have even taken on unscientific attitudes, making the whole situation even murkier.
Koreans sometimes play a truth-finding game with friends. During the game, the truth often disappears, leaving only assumptions. Players ponder how much of the truth they will reveal and in what way.
Most distort the facts to their advantage, while maintaining that they are telling the truth. Some refuse to tell the truth from the beginning, saying they will take the punishment, but this only adds to suspicions.
In short, the truth becomes even more elusive in a truth game.
The fundamental problem is that playing a game is not the best way to find the truth. A precondition for the game is that participants trust each other so that they can share their secrets. However, the fact that they are playing the game in the first place also implies that the trust they claim to have in one another is thin to begin with.
They can trust one another only to the extent that they can share secrets. The moment they realize they can’t share personal truths with one other, the mutual trust is gone.
The participants are supposed to trust each other, but that trust soon evaporates into suspicion. The players wonder if the others are telling them the truth. At this point, the truth is no longer the main issue. Those caught up in the game now start to doubt if they can really talk about the truth with the other players.
The truth can’t be revealed by playing a game. Making the truth the object of a game presents big risks.
But still, when a group of friends plays a truth game for entertainment, it is relatively harmless. If the same game is applied to public issues or the process of making decisions that affect the whole country, the game very quickly becomes serious.
In this case, the issues of concern are that the public interest is trivialized or becoming the object of a game. As the final outcome affects everyone involved in a very serious manner, the people expect a final decision to be made based on the truth.
When all parties are playing truth-finding games in matters of public affairs and national decisions, everyone feels confused and betrayed. Official procedures that have the job of forming public opinion must not be carried out arbitrarily.
Public organizations, whose members are elected by the people and have the responsibility of carrying out public policies, must reflect the people’s opinions when going about their jobs.
If they don’t follow the proper procedures when making decisions that will affect the public, the decision can’t be regarded as having been made by the people. There are also limitations regarding the content of a policy or decision made under such circumstances.
No state organization can act according to arbitrary measures. Public organizations are obliged to listen to the opinions of the people and to act according to the results of public debates.
In the theory of modern democracy, any differences between the opinions of the people and those of the leaders must be narrowed down through discussion.
In public decisions, finding out the truth is not a country’s right, but its duty. If a nation plays games in finding out the truth, it loses its dignity, particularly if it is a democratic country.
As Korea’s beef market is fully open to U.S. beef, mad cow disease is a risk. However, even more serious dangers can occur when people play games with the truth.
These dangers are distrust of the government, the media and scientists who call themselves experts and also distrust among the people. As parties that are supposed to be trustworthy become unreliable, ordinary citizens who don’t have the resources to find out the truth on their own are left to feel helpless.
As if surrounded by countless shepherds who habitually cry wolf, Koreans are now in a panic. Telling the truth is the best policy.
*The writer is a professor of law at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sun-taek
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?