Creating a system to check power

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Creating a system to check power

The author is the cultural news editor of the Korea JoongAng Daily.


Left to right: Bill Cosby is escorted out of the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in the United States on Sept. 25 after being sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for sexual assault. Theater director Lee Youn-taek was sentenced to six years in prison on Sept. 17 for sexually assaulting members of his Street Theatre Troupe. [AP/YONHAP]

Over the past week, celebrities were sentenced to prison terms in Korea and the United States for sexual harassment charges for the first time since the Me Too movement began. Stage director Lee Youn-taek and Bill Cosby are similar cases. Ever since Bill Cosby played the friendly and wise dad on “The Cosby Show,” he had been one of the most beloved father figures in the United States, and advocated for a number of social and educational causes. Lee Youn-taek had led a theater troupe with strong leadership despite challenges in the theater world, and was acclaimed internationally for various experiments.

However, both Cosby and Lee were notorious for being tyrannical in their industries, and they committed constant and habitual sexual violence on multiple women. How could such heinous crimes and glorious accomplishments coexist? They have outstanding artistic sentiments but couldn’t think about the pain that their victims suffer? Did they not expect their crimes to bring them down?

Professor of psychology at UC Berkeley Dacher Keltner, author of “In the Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence,” and many other psychologists and neuroscientists studied the mindset of these powerful people. Once they become influential, they become more impulsive, lose the sense to detect risks and their sense of empathy is drastically reduced. Their behavior is similar to patients suffering from brain damage. It seems that the Norse mythologies and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” where the bearer of the Ring becomes strange and violent, were not fantasy but reality.

Moreover, the greater danger of cultural influencers like Cosby and Lee is the fans who admire them. Fans don’t want their dreams and fantasy to be broken and try to silence those who speak up.

These influencers are surrounded by people who admire their work and respect their power. Combined with the backward mindset that women are not equal beings but resources that come with success for men, the worst sexual violence occurs.

Cosby and Lee must be punished strictly, but rather than demonizing them as individuals, we need to be wary of the dangerous nature of power that affects the brain. Those with even the slightest amount of power and influence need to constantly check themselves not to become such monsters. There should be a system to check on power and facilitate whistleblowing in all areas, including politics, culture and religion.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 29-30, Page 35
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