Our tragic loss of trust

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Our tragic loss of trust

As we learn the details of the Sewol ferry tragedy, the trust in our society is crumbling. Crew members who were supposed to be responsible for the safety of the passengers remained incompetent and irresponsible, and the high school students who innocently followed their misleading directions lost their lives. We entrust our safety to professionals whenever we ride on a boat, airplane or even a bus. We trust that those who are in charge are able to safely operate the vehicle and act responsibly with professionalism. However, our belief has been shattered because of what happened with the Sewol. The accident occurred when the situation wasn’t so desperate, and crew members abandoned the passengers to save themselves.

The government’s response after the accident completely shook our trust in public officials. Early on, even the authorities were confused about the number of passengers aboard. As time went by, the confusion was not resolved, and they seemed to care more about how high-ranking officials were feeling. How can citizens trust the government, feel safe and enjoy everyday life? Allegations surrounding the safety check before the incident and approval of the ship’s refurbishment seem to be related to the “parachute” appointment of the civil servants, so the citizens’ distrust is on the verge of explosion.

In fact, the distrust of so-called power agencies in Korean society has reached a dangerous level. In the past, the judiciary used to make decisions that pleased those in power, and lately, some puzzling rulings have made citizens furious and confused. Prosecutors have lost their authority, and citizens are cynical - and nearly indifferent - toward the National Assembly and politicians. The media, which is considered the fourth branch after the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, is not free from criticism, either. They created confusion by broadcasting an interview with a fake diver, and some reports that went against healthy common sense and media ethics made viewers frown.

In the 1996 publication “Trust,” American political philosopher Francis Fukuyama argued that the development of a healthy liberal democratic market economy should be based on the trust among members of the society. The more social trust we have, the less the transaction costs of economic activities, resulting in greater efficiency. Professor Fukuyama classified Korea as a country with low social trust.


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