[Viewpoint] Politicians stuck in adolescence

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[Viewpoint] Politicians stuck in adolescence

A photo capturing the wrangling between ruling and opposition lawmakers over the budget bill was chosen by The Wall Street Journal as one of the best photos of the year. The newspaper also features nine to 18 photos every month on its Internet site and the photo, which shows lawmakers from the Grand National Party entering the National Assembly’s main chamber after fighting a blockade by the Democrats on Dec. 8, was included in the selection. Internet users cynically said that by appearing in one of the year’s best photos, Korean lawmakers have contributed to promoting the country’s image.

Ever since parliamentary politics were introduced, there has been violence inside legislative chambers all over the world. And yet the practice has disappeared in most advanced countries as politics matured. A violent melee was seen from time to time in the U.S. Congress about 100 years ago. And yet, it was more of a fist fight between individual lawmakers, not a gang fight like Korean lawmakers are used to having.

In the British parliament, which proudly promotes its history and tradition, criticism and jeers are common even today. That’s why the global magazine Foreign Policy picked the British parliament - along with the legislatures of Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine and Australia - as the most disorderly legislature in the world. And yet, it is rare to see a verbal altercation devolve into physical violence in England.

In the British parliament, the ruling and opposition lawmakers sit facing each other. Two red stripes form a “sword line” in the middle of the hall and ruling and opposition lawmakers are not allowed to cross the line. The idea was to make sure that members with swords were kept apart from their rivals.

Even when the atmosphere becomes tense, the speaker shouts “order” once or twice and the chamber quiets down. Although heated arguments, criticisms and jeers are frequently exchanged, there is no physical violence.

A Goethe researcher once said the difference between the ego of Goethe and a regular person is the same as the difference between people and monkeys. The researcher probably said that because he admired Goethe, but the message is clear: Not all men are equal.

I was recently reminded of a lecture from my school years, given by Yoo Young-mo, an influential Korean thinker. He wrote “man, human, humane” in English on the blackboard, and said those were the three stages of a person’s growth. He said that we are born as men, grow into humans and are reborn as humane according to the laws of nature. It could also means that each person has different stages of spiritual growth.

There is even a joke that a politician has less of a chance to become a man than a sperm, poking fun at some politicians’ seeming lack of a soul. As if to prove the joke is true, GNP Chairman Ahn Sang-soo recently made a sexually inappropriate remark while having lunch with three female lawmakers. He said men look for natural women who have not had plastic surgery when they visit room salons. It is hard to understand how he dared to even talk about a room salon before journalists - many of whom are probably his daughter’s age - not to mention that his remark was a sexual insult to women.

His self-evaluation about the Thermos incident, in which the mistook a blackened Thermos for a North Korean shell during his visit to Yeonpyeong Island, was also hard to understand. “I thought the Thermos shell incident was not so bad. When I gave a lecture to high school seniors. I introduced myself as ‘Thermos Ahn Sang-soo’ and they all laughed,” he said.

This would be an enormously embarrassing incident for most people, but Ahn apparently thought that it was an opportunity for him to become more famous. With such a man, are the politics of communication really possible? Even after his public apology, skepticism still lingers.

British philosopher Thomas Carlyle said titles and fame are nothing more than a lamp that shines on a man - they do not make a man better. Politicians probably believe, mistakenly so, that their titles and fame are the corroborate evidence of their excellent characters.

In the Analects of Confucius, Confucius said, “At 70, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.”

Politicians probably think the same way, and that must be why they are not thinking deeply about anything. In that case, titles and fame will be more of a misfortune to them, rather than a blessing. They will forever be confined to the puberty of violence and basic instinct and will fail to move on to maturity. Still, their misfortune can’t compare to that of the public, which has to support them as leaders.

*The writer is a professor of history education at Woosuk University.

By Park Sang-ik
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