Let them go extinct
There are always reasons for extinction. The dinosaurs failed to adapt to a changing environment. Modern technologies like cathode-ray tube televisions and pagers were the darlings of their time, but their usefulness expired as science and technology developed. In general, the survival of the fittest applies, but in some cases, the fittest may become arrogant and get ousted by the weaker yet smarter. The Neanderthals went extinct and were replaced by Homo sapiens.
The skulls of the Neanderthals were bigger than that of modern humans, and they used more advanced spears than Homo sapiens. Yet, they disappeared from the face of the earth because they settled for the way things were. As they were good at dealing with realities, they didn’t need creativity or imagination. But our human ancestors were vulnerable and sought constant improvements for survival. When waves of icy air covered the Eurasian continent 5,000 years ago, Neanderthals fell, but Homo sapiens survived. They used imagination and creativity to build huts to keep themselves warm.
It is not just tangible things that go extinct. Intangible systems die out when they fail to meet the demands of the time. Theocratic rule, monarchy and, more recently, the Yushin system came to an end naturally.
Today, there is an intangible entity that is slowly approaching the fate of the dinosaurs. The cold air can be felt on the tip of their noses, but they have no idea which way the weather is going. We are talking about political parties. They have no life remaining but are barely surviving on the equivalent of a respirator as a constitutional institution and with intravenous injection of state funding.
This is not my theory, nor does it apply to Korea alone. Nearly 10 years ago, the American magazine Foreign Policy predicted political parties as one of the things that would be extinct by 2040. If it created its list now, it would have moved up the expiration date. Many futurists predict that assemblymen would be extinct in the 2020s. French newspaper Le Monde also wrote about the grim future of political parties in a recent report.
Political parties are in an existential crisis because they have failed to meet the calls of the times. Gilles Finchelstein, director general of the Jean Jaures Foundation, a think tank of France’s ruling Socialist Party, diagnosed that the functions of political parties - collection of information, the study of politics and policy making - are not working.
While political parties claim to be leaders in modern politics, they are actually products of the Industrial Revolution. They are the solidarities of “individuals” reorganized according to jobs and social class, created as a result of rapid industrialization. By nature, they exist to express opinions for the group.
But we are in a postindustrial society. We live with interests, issues and values that are too complicated to be identified with certain ideologies or social classes. We feel a sense of belonging to a very specific group and have complex, mixed identities depending on different issues. For some issues, you may agree with the Saenuri Party, while the Minjoo Party of Korea may represent you better for others. In a highly advanced information society, people have their own voices rather than expect political parties to represent them. For example, many nongovernmental organizations bypass political parties and deal directly with a government to influence public policies and legislation.
The last remaining function of political parties is to elect political representatives by nominating candidates. Even that power has been increasingly diminishing. Let’s look at the parties in Korea. They cannot determine the nomination method and seek external advice or voters’ opinions. Some suggest relying on public surveys that completely exclude their own party members. Individuals already feel that parties are not representing them properly. A vicious cycle toward extinction is in progress.
The U.S. presidential election is not much different. The two major political parties helplessly watch as candidates who greatly deviate from their policy spectrums gain immense popularity. The Republican Party is in the position of having someone with very different views run as a Republican candidate. Voters have no reason to vote for parties.
We need to change our mind-sets. Instead of spending taxpayer money to resuscitate political parties, let’s leave them as the relics of the past. When the world changes, new values emerge. There need to be extreme measures such as constitutional revisions or ending of state funding for parties. It is awkward that members of the National Assembly are the ones who need to make these changes. They have no choice. This would be true political reform, and Korea could be the first in the world to accomplish it.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 2, Page 28
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom