[Viewpoint] The end of ideology?

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[Viewpoint] The end of ideology?

The Lee Myung-bak administration declared the end of the political ideological era upon his inauguration four years ago. Today many believe the ideological yardstick of the right on one side and the left on the other is outdated and over simplistic. They believe the world is too complicated to be pigeonholed into simply right or left.

The political terms of right and left were coined during the French Revolution. On the right side of the president’s chair in the Estates of General, or legislative assembly, sat the nobility that supported the ancient regime - the monarchy and aristocracy - while on the left sat liberal generals who supported the revolution. The ideological dichotomy was established from a simple and convenient seating arrangement. Life is too versatile and fluid to be framed as simply right or left. If classification is necessary, it is better to view today’s society on a vertical axis rather than a horizontal.

The contest between the rightists and leftists in our society is like a top-spinning match. The one who first knocks over the spinning top wins the game. But in the real world a kite contest where the one who scores by flying the kite highest would be a fairer and better comparison.

It is in vain to argue what ideology is good or bad. What matters is the substance of the truth. It may not be easy, but one should be able to kneel before the truth. Only a hypocrite would make a justification before an evident truth. It is impossible to live completely without lies. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato had said a “noble lie” is permissible in politics if it’s for the purpose of social harmony.

But noble or not, lying should not be encouraged at any rate. White lies should be reserved only for Santa Claus. He does not exist, but his name wields mysterious power on Christmas Eve. The winter fable that the silver-bearded man in a sleigh pulled by red-nosed Rudolph and his reindeer gang and gave gifts is a beautiful story that brings warmth to the hearts of both children and adults. Childhood winter memories would have been cold without Santa.

But our society today is brimming with more unbelievable tales than Santa Claus. There seems to be a spring somewhere in our society gushing lies. Popular comedian and entertainer Kang Ho-dong, who recently disappeared from TV after a scandal over tax evasion, was rumored to have died. Bizarre stories are promulgated through Twitter and Facebook, spreading an epidemic of lies across the country and cyberspace.

Three years ago we were told that we could catch mad cow disease from eating American beef. Today the freshly-ratified Korea-U.S. free trade deal is the epicenter for the hysteria virus. Anti-American sentiment has been augmented through opponents of the free trade pact. No one talked of imperialism or colonization when the country struck a free trade deal with the European Union. But one with the U.S. is dubbed as an annexation treaty. If the opponents were honest in the face of the truth, they should have argued on the choice of an open versus a closed market instead of patriotism versus betrayal.

The yardstick to gauge the ideological axis should be the belief in human dignity and rights. Many liberal activists rushed in so-called “Hope” buses and vans to demonstrate support for Kim Jin-sook, a civilian activist who protested atop a crane in a shipyard for nearly a year against layoffs at Hanjin Heavy Industries. But few pay attention to the cries to bring home the mother and daughters, residents of Tongyoung, South Gyeongsang, abducted and believed to be imprisoned in a concentration camp in North Korea. In North Korea, there are a multitude of men and women in unfathomable pain and suffering. But we don’t see anyone shaving their head or going on a hunger strike to protest the brutalities and human abuses in North Korea.

Liberals attack the rightists and conservatives for being self-indulgent and cowardly. But why are they mum as North Korean elites grow fat upon the sufferings of residents? The same people who are ever-tolerant on North Koreans and their atrocities hit the ceiling on every issue associated with Americans and turn the National Assembly into a melee. The ideological dispute in our society is not a contest between right and left, but between truth and lies, civility and indecency.

*The writer is a civil ethics education professor of the Seoul National University.

By Park Hyo-jong
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