Facts, rules? No one cares anymore

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Facts, rules? No one cares anymore


It is not new but seems to be getting more serious. Public opinion in our society is divided into extremes, as if the sea was mysteriously split. Just like oil and water, the two extremes confront each other. The middle ground is so small that it is negligible. When I discuss this trend as I meet people in various fields, they all sigh but don’t have any solution.

Some go back to the factional discords of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to find the origin, while others say that it is the nature of an interest-driven society and that the problem will ease eventually. But will time really solve the problem?

A philosophy professor I meet with regularly told me of his experiences when he studied in the United States. He was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1990s. He was already married at the time and had to bring his 5-year-old child to a university day care center before going to classes. His child always cried and did not want him to leave, so he gave the child some toys and left while it played.

After several tearful separations, the day care teacher told him, “You have to let the child see reality. Don’t use duplicitous measures. The child may cry, but you have to make known the fact that you have to go to school.” He recalled that he was shocked when the day care teacher added, “You have to finalize the deal clearly.”

He shared another story. Students and their spouses at the university volunteered at the nursery whenever they could, and he learned a rule from them. Children covet new or interesting toys. If one gets to play with a popular toy, others are envious. But sometimes the child has to go to the bathroom and doesn’t want to lose his turn to play with the toy. The day care center has a red tag that the child can put on his toy while taking a bathroom break. Other children do not touch the toy because it is already taken. It was the rule, and as long as everyone agreed on the rule, fairness and justice were maintained.

Making a child understand reality is teaching a fact. The red tags put on the coveted toys were the symbol of rules. How about Korean society, which is far simpler than American society in ethnic and cultural diversity? When people have a discussion, they have a set conclusion and get ready to fight instead of making arguments based on facts.

Facts are considered secondary. Thinking they might lose the debate if they are compromising or on the defensive, people raise their voices and stubbornly persist in their ideas. There can hardly be a reasonable discussion on anything. What about rules? The rules that have already been agreed upon are often ignored. How do they have so much to say when they ignore facts and rules? What has happened to us?

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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