Cast off false idols and awaken reason
When Rhee Yeung-hui published the revised edition of “Idol and Reason” in 1980, he wrote, “I desperately hope my writing will soon be an outdated text that no longer needs to be read or is just a meaningless grumble in Korean society.”
He truly wished for idols in masks to disappear and that society be ruled by reason. He passed away before such a world came, however, and 35 years after this preface, we can still see so many idols in so many places. We are obstructed by ugly idols even today - including the characters in the Korean Air flight delay and the Blue House string-pulling scandal.
The former incident stemmed from the belief that the owner is the company, and the latter stemmed from the belief that the president is the state. If it weren’t for this corporate attitude that assumes the chairman’s family “owns” the company, then his eldest daughter and the vice president wouldn’t have behaved so arrogantly. The pilot wouldn’t follow her instructions to go back to the gate. Could a hired CEO behave like that? A CEO wouldn’t neglect a plane full of paying passengers to force the cabin manager to disembark. It’s simply inconceivable.
And if it weren’t for the perception that the president is the “master” of the state, we wouldn’t hear the phrases like the “doorknobs of power.” Former and incumbent presidential secretaries blindly raise suits against reporters who are only doing their jobs. It was journalists, after all, who obtained the internal Blue House report that was confirmed to have been produced inside the master’s house.
Someone who claims to have been out of power for seven years appeared to be more influential than anyone else as he appeared at the prosecutor’s office. This is also inconceivable. This is servants mistaking their master servant as the master. The owners of a country are its citizens, and the owners of a company are its consumers. But this truth still sounds unfamiliar. People fear the one who holds the power and neglect the owner, who first entrusted that power. We may fear the person who pays the bills but look down on the real owners who create those funds in the first place.
An idol would never fall by itself. Nobel Prize-winning economist George Stigler said, “Not only does absolute power corrupt absolutely; it delays fantastically.” If we don’t want to see this happen, you and I, and all of us, need to rise. We need to awaken the drowsy eyes of reason and shatter society’s idols. We have moved past the era when Rhee Yeung-hui was taken away and tortured because he wrote this kind of argument. So it may not be such a hard thing to do.
The author is an international news editor
for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 12, Page 35
BY LEE HOON-BEOM