A wise vote over a cup of coffee

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A wise vote over a cup of coffee

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The first coffeehouse opened in Europe in 1650 when a Jewish entrepreneur from the Middle East introduced the concept in Oxford, England. Although it took two years before a cafe opened in London, coffeehouses quickly became popular there. Less than 50 years later, there were more than 2,000 cafes in the capital.

The success was not entirely thanks to coffee, which was described as “darker than the devil, hotter than hell and sweeter than a kiss.” Cafes were political venues. The English carried weapons at the time, so bars were not safe places for political discussion. When people were drunk, arguments often developed into bloody duels.

But cafes were different. People could engage in intense yet reasonable discussions over coffee. There were signs at cafe entrances saying, “Please take a seat. You don’t have to give up your seat to nobility.” In this way, democracy began to blossom in coffeehouses. In fact, many cafes had a ballot box so that patrons could write their opinions and share them confidentially.

Nowadays, social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook play the political role that cafes once did. People advocate for all kinds of causes in cyberspace. You may choose to keep a conversation among friends or speak out to tell everyone. Sometimes, you refrain from revealing your innermost thoughts. The same is true when you are at a cafe. Yet with more slander, accusations and ungrounded disclosures than logical discussion, social networks can sometimes be more like saloons than cafes. And when there is too much noise, the problem is that the essence of a discussion is often distorted.

The same could be said of today’s Seoul mayoral by-election. Campaign promises are nowhere to be found. Instead, you hear exaggerated discord. The candidates still seem to be confused and they mix up public and private matters.

The time has come for all voters to leave the saloons and find seats in a cafe. Both candidates and voters alike can benefit from the effects of caffeine. As Alexander Pope wrote in “The Rape of the Lock” (1712) coffee “makes the politician wise and see through all things with his half-shut eyes.” Max Weber said that the three virtues required of a politician are passion, a sense of responsibility and balanced judgment. Over a cup of hot coffee, the candidates need to think about how they should behave as public figures, and the voters should consider which of the candidates has the three virtues.

*The writer is the J Editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Lee Hoon-beom
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