The anti-intellectual tunnel

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The anti-intellectual tunnel

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Rambling on is a sign of age. It differs from person to person, but in general, the older you get, the more you talk. Talking also increases with experience. If you find yourself giving advice on all and sundry, it means you have aged. You must try to open your ears and keep your mouth shut to avoid being called an old nag.

Lee Geun, a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies, lashes at the silver set that prefers to talk about themselves in the book “Provoke: The Power to Stand up Against a World That Tells You What to Do.” He points to the serious irony in our society in which a generation that is highly educated, proficient in foreign tongues, savvy, and raised in a democratic environment takes orders from an older generation that is ignorant of foreign languages, handling of computers or other tech devices, and slow in intelligence sourcing.

He believes the anti-intellectualism of the old guard is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to further progress in Korean society. An anti-intellectual society is a closed community that disapproves of questioning. When there are no questions, there are no answers. Since there are no answers, there is no criticism. Even if there is criticism, it often dissipates. A society that does not accept intellectual challenges to customs and traditions draws a red line: you are told to choose one side or one “identity” and attack opponents from the other side with emotions rather than reason. The entire society is mired in a vicious cycle of anti-intellectualism as both the mainstream and challenging forces use black-and-white stances to justify themselves. They don’t recognize shades of grey.

In the recently released movie “Tunnel,” a tunnel suddenly collapses, trapping a driver. Rescuers stumble. The odds of survivability are thin. The media plays up the story, of course, as the crisis lengthens. Some begin suggesting the tunnel must be blown up in order to meet the schedule of construction of a nearby tunnel timed for the opening of new urban community. They remind everyone of the social cost that would be incurred by a delay in the tunnel, citing the protests over Mt. Cheongsung in which environmentalists expressed concerns about risks to salamanders.

The head of the rescue teams shouts that the life of a person is at stake, not salamanders, but he is ignored. The government presses the family of the victim to sign a paper agreeing to the blast. It claims the decision is approved by a majority of the public. The explosion is prepared without checking on the man inside the tunnel.

What side would we take if the question of blasting the tunnel was asked of us? Should society endure a cost to the economy to save a single person’s life? Or is a single life more precious than almost any price a society has to pay?

Every single life of the 51.6 million people living on Korean soil is unique. This is equally true of our world of 7 billion. No one has been the same since mankind was born. Each is different in appearance and thought. This is why no life should be treated lightly. Each life carries value and weight as it cannot be replaced. To question a human life’s value in the context of economic gain and loss is an insult to mankind.

Tragedy ensues when a dichotomy exists and people are forced to choose one side. The Jewish genocide by Nazi Germany is one example.

The threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to root out perceived enemies of the state and U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s vows to prevent Muslim entries to the U.S. are extremely dangerous.

Intimidating opponents is the road to dictatorship. Making each soul choose sides regardless of individual beliefs is inhumane and anti-intellectual.

JoongAng Ilbo, August 16, Page 31

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