To bee or not to bee

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To bee or not to bee

Jumping to conclusions and making assumptions is always dangerous. An enraged voting public delivered a harsh verdict on the governing power through their April 13 vote, and yet our dysfunctional democracy improved little. President Park Geun-hye has not been humbled. She is not expected to change her high-handed governing style.

The president has sped up the government’s push for reforms in labor, education, finance and the public sector. Those directions are right, but the strategy is utterly wrong. People who failed to be nominated or elected in the recent legislative election are expected to be rewarded with senior positions at public enterprises. A total of 97 chief executives whose tenure will be up by the end of the year will have to be replaced. Hundreds of auditor and outside director positions are also available. Those who pledged allegiance to the president have lined up to receive their blessings from the presidential office. It would be a miracle if reform is possible under such a seamy system.
Policy makers outside Korea are worried about a flash point on the Korean Peninsula since North Korea upped its military provocations after its fourth nuclear test in January. William Perry, a former U.S. secretary of defense and North Korea policy coordinator for President Bill Clinton, advised that Seoul needs to come up with and initiate its own process to denuclearize and establish peace on the peninsula. But the government has no clear way of tackling North Korea’s weapons threat and the worsening inter-Korean relationship. North Korea and security issues weren’t even mentioned on the campaign trail. Senior military officials who should ensure our protection against North Korea are sent to prison for taking bribes in return for procuring faulty arms and weapons.

How have we come to such a disgraceful state? Defeatism and opportunism may have become our second nature, justified under the glory of our staggering economic success. Our fate slipped out of our control when colonial rule brought an end to the 518-year Joseon Dynasty. Koreans must have become accustomed to being watched, regulated and controlled as they survived a lengthy chain of colonial rule, bisection, wars, a Cold War and dictatorships.

Cheap opportunistic escape became a means of survival. The dignity of maintaining an individualistic and unique self-identity was lost, and the civility of placing reason and responsibility ahead to uphold balance and harmony in a community was regarded as a luxury. Korea has made itself an autistic society. People turn a deaf ear to the inner voice of conscience and are dull to outside developments. They have built prisons for themselves, licensing all kinds of excess and liberty to greedy politicians.

Can we hope a new president sworn in 22 months from now will bring about changes in our society? Sadly, a savior may never arrive. The only way out is for all 50 million people on this land to practice citizenship. None of the challenges our society faces — establishing a lasting peace, fighting structural low growth and low birthrates, and fixing inequalities in the economy and income level — are easy. They cannot be achieved through legislative and gubernatorial elections every four years, and a presidential election every five years. Unless each citizen does his or her part, the next elected president will be dominant for the first part over the term and then become an alienated lame duck. It’s the Korean way.

Thomas Seeley, a Cornell University professor of neurobiology and behavior, discovered a democratic and effective decision-making process upon close observation of honeybees finding new homes, a decision that can mean life or death for the entire swarm. After locating potential sites for a new home, a scout group of hundreds of bees share the information with the rest of the community to come to a group decision on which site would work best.

Once a decision is made, the entire colony moves. The queen has limited access to information. Collective brain work makes the best possible judgment. The queen has no influence. Humans — unlike a bee colony — must be entitled to individualism. But we can borrow wisdom from a species that has lasted over 40 million years. Communication among the greater masses is stronger than a single domineering leader.

We must decide for ourselves whether to invent our own destiny or have it done by others. Do we want to spend our lives fretting over food for ourselves and our family? Or shall we exercise the full rights and duties of citizens and uphold human dignity? If we choose the latter, we can bequeath a society of toleration, solidarity and equality to future generations. Are we capable of doing that?

JoongAng Ilbo, April 27, Page 31

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

Lee Ha-kyung
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