[Viewpoint] A call for humanism, not hubris

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[Viewpoint] A call for humanism, not hubris

The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The ruling and opposition parties are debating the problem of irregular workers in danger of losing their jobs. The ruling Grand National Party maintains that the opposition party should not exaggerate the situation because the law related to irregular workers has not led to large numbers of people getting fired.

The GNP calculates that only tens of thousands will be left jobless because other companies will hire those left stranded because of the bill. It also stresses that the act is still meaningful because 30 percent of irregular workers renewed their contracts as full-time workers.

But neither party actually knows the real experience of the people affected by the law. All they see are figures and percentages.

“The situation is really harsh now. It was so hard when I worked as an irregular worker that I almost wanted to quit it. But now I wish I could get a wage like I did back then,” a worker is quoted as saying in an article from the Korean version of The Economist. If politicians fail to hear these voices, what is the purpose of politics?

When talking about war we only remember, “This particular war left some hundreds of thousands of casualties,” or “A certain general’s decision was decisive.” We are often uninterested in the pain the dead and their families felt.

Communists who see the world as strife between capitalists and workers rarely feel sorry after hundreds of thousands die in ideological conflicts. As they see the world, an individual holds no real meaning. If we look at the world through ideas or figures, everything becomes clear and simple.

It is as if we look at the Earth from an airplane or a spaceship. We can see the Korean Peninsula but we do not see 45 million people living there. If we want to know what is happening to every single one of them, we need to get out of the plane or come back down to Earth. And we need to meet people face-to-face.

If one looks at the world through the concepts of justice and equality one can easily believe that we can build an ideal world soon. However, when looking at every individual, it is not that simple. We realize how difficult it is to build a utopia. In history, what has truly been built overnight?

As our time on Earth is limited, all we can do is take one step after another in the right direction. Jobs cannot be created just because the National Assembly establishes a law that says they should. Even if the National Assembly orders companies to offer employees lifetime employment, it’s just not feasible.

Some maintain that the public sector can absorb workers but the public sector can only work when people can afford to pay taxes.

Employers need to take an interest in every single employee on their books. The current financial crisis and the side effects of neoliberalism are the result of looking at the world in terms of economic value and efficiency.

If we understand the world only as numbers or scales of interest, some people may become richer, but more people will live in misery.

Who wants to live in a world in which a well-paid employer says he has to fire one of his employees because of a tight budget?

The issue concerning the plight of irregular workers will only be resolved when management realizes it has to take a more thoughtful approach to caring for its staff.

The National Assembly has not collapsed because the institution is wrong or there are no regulations. It is because of the politicians themselves. Lawmakers walk about with picnic mats inside the National Assembly Hall, like homeless people. They share grilled chicken and giggle among themselves. And they don’t seem to feel any shame: No one has stood up and said, “I cannot do this because I am an elected legislator and because it is not right.”

Our politicians do not have the guts to do this, even though it does not require much courage. All of them are just part of a mob, and none try to be an individual with his or her own voice.

I do not believe in politics or politicians who are uninterested in individuals and only speak grandly of their love for the people and their work for the poor. I do not believe in economists who talk about growth and development, presenting various sets of figures, while they are numb to an individual’s agony.

No matter how much politicians may shout for justice, equality or economic growth, these values only turn a country in to an empty shell.

We need to give up this hubris and accept humanism as our guiding principle. We should act with concern and interest in people beside us.

It’s not something you acquire from knowledge but from genuine relations with others.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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