[Viewpoint] Wishing for a windWhat is politics? In Korea, politics means elections and elections are cut-throat contests where you risk everything to win. In a way, politics is not so different from a game of sports in which the winter takes all. An intense competitive spirit comes alive in election season. The spectacle of alliances, endorsements, grandstanding and below-the-belt attacks are all tactics used to win the game.
Is this the innate nature of politics? Historically, politics was a noble affair. In ancient Greece, politics was a field of reasoning and logic. The reasoning power of public figures was demonstrated in persuasive speeches, and Demosthenes and Pericles were great politicians and superb orators. It was a direct democracy, not representative. The only time citizens voted for a person was when they voted to ostracize someone deemed dangerous to the state, sending that person into exile for 10 years.
How about Rome? The core of Roman politics was patriotism. Lucius Junius Brutus, who was the first consul of Rome, ruled that his own sons were guilty of a conspiracy to bring down the fledging republic and restore the monarchy and personally oversaw their execution. Marcus Atilius Regulus became a captive of Carthage, but when he was sent to Rome to negotiate peace, he gave a speech at the Roman Senate to refuse the proposal. Upon returning to Carthage, he was executed. The actions of the Romans could only be explained by patriotism.
But the reasoning of the Greeks and the patriotism of the Romans cannot be found in Korean politics. Korean politicians are only thirsty for victory. Candidates spend all their time praying for the proper wind to blow. They all wish to become “sons of the winning wind.” In fact, there have been a number of winds in recent years blowing from different directions, such as the “Rhee In-je’s Wind” and “Roh Moo-hyun’s Wind.”
Which wind will blow in the next two weeks as the by-election for the mayor of Seoul approaches? Will it be Park Geun-hye’s or Ahn Cheol-soo’s? Zhuge Liang built an altar and prayed for the eastern wind before the Battle of Red Cliffs against Cao Cao’s fleet. What are the Korean politicians doing as they pray for advantageous winds? Are they relying on social networking services such as Twitter or seeking photo opportunities with celebrities?
The ancient Greeks thought the wind was a divine intervention. Only a god could make the wind blow, or stop. When Paris abducted Helen to Troy, Agamemnon, the king of Argos, commanded the Greek forces and the thousands of ships used in the Trojan War. However, his fleet couldn’t sail: They didn’t have the right wind. Agamemnon consulted the oracle, and he realized that he had incurred the wrath of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Upon hunting a deer, he boasted that not even Artemis could have done better than him. Only by sacrificing his daughter could he propitiate the goddess and get the right wind.
Of course, Koreans still talk about God in the 21st century, but we don’t worship the goddess of the hunt or the sun god. We celebrate the god of study, the divine jobs, and the gods of management. The Greek gods and goddesses were far more solemn and transcendental beings. They intervened in mundane affairs to punish the arrogance of the humans. Arachne boasted that her weaving skills were better than that those of Pallas Athena and was turned into a spider as punishment. Marsyas challenged Apollo, the god of music, to a contest of flutes and lost his skin.
Candidates running for Seoul mayor: If you yearn for a wind, be modest in front of the gods! Pallas Athena brought the domesticated olive tree to the city of Athens, bringing its people wood, food and oil, and the guardians of the Republic of Korea brought prosperity and liberty. It is an insult to the guardians of Korea to say that the government provoked the North, resulting in the crew of the Cheonan dying, as candidate Park Won-soon has. If you say you cannot believe the truth of the Cheonan sinking because you do not trust the government, you are not modest before the god of national security. Will you choose to not believe the truth about the Cheonan incident, the Battle of Yeonpyeong, or even the Korean War once you realize the government’s approval rating is low?
The Greeks who boasted they were best in flute playing, weaving and hunting all received severe punishments. You should consider yourselves dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of the giants of the Republic of Korea, even though you act like you are giants climbing to power on the shoulders of dwarves. As long as you think you can get votes because you can play a flute, instead of being grateful to the guardians of Korea, the wind will not blow to your advantage.
*The writer is a professor of civil ethics education at Seoul National University.
By Park Hyo-jong