The author is a senior editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
On a spring afternoon in 2005, Cho Ki-sook, senior presidential secretary for public relations, telephoned me to invite me to tea. I was the newspaper’s correspondent at the Roh Moo-hyun Blue House, and we met at a cafe near the presidential office. I vividly remember our conversation. At the time, the Blue House was engaged in an uphill a battle against the opposition party and media.
“What do you think of the Blue House these days?” Cho asked me.
“It’s no different from what you think,” I replied.
“There is one thing that doesn’t make sense to me. I seriously thought about it as a scholar, but still cannot understand. President Roh’s logic and arguments are not wrong, but I don’t understand why everyone is criticizing him,” she said. “Am I doing something wrong?”
“Probably not,” I replied. “Because you are just looking in one direction every day and moving toward it, you are probably not seeing the shortcomings. Sometimes, you need to face each other.”
“What can I do, then?” she asked.
“Just continue doing what you were doing,” I said. “It’s not your fault. It’s the responsibility of the people who recruited only likeminded people.”
In the following February, Cho returned to academia after saying “the country will regain calm if I leave [the Blue House].”
Today, I have two questions as I watch the appointments of Kim Yeon-chul and Park Young-sun as ministers despite the opposition parties’ protests. I am skeptical that the right to serve in public office, one of the basic rights of the people, is given to those from a certain lineage: those who worked on President Moon Jae-in’s election campaign, those who share his philosophy and those from the Democratic Party. I also am skeptical about the incestuous nature of this government, in which the candidates and those responsible for recommending and vetting them are from the same line. The inbreeding seems to be having a bad effect on economic, social and diplomatic policies.
The Kim Dae-jung administration appointed conservatives Kim Jung-kwon and Kang In-duk as chief of staff and unification minister, and the Roh administration recruited conservatives such as Ko Kun, Lee Hun-jai, Oh Myung and Han Duck-soo. The Moon administration is very different. It may be the first government with officials that are uniformly liberal.
In his New Year’s press conference, Moon made clear his philosophy of appointments and his believe in “One Team.” Of course, his predecessors Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye repeatedly made bad appointments. Lee put his closest allies in top posts while Park named people who were linked to her late father Park Chung Hee or those recommended by her friend Choi Soon-sil. I want to ask the Moon administration why it is doing something similar, since it has labeled such practices “deeply rooted evils”?
Nanami Shiono, who researched the Roman Empire her entire life, discussed an interesting idea in the book, “The Stories of Nations.” “What we want to pay attention to is not just the beauty of the crossbred,” she wrote. “The crossbred adapts to their environment more easily than the purebred, and they show less susceptibility to grudges.
“The purebred often put all [their] energy into resolving their longstanding grudges and pains, so they are not left with enough power to face a new crisis,” she wrote. “Sometimes, I wonder if the purebred are just doing all the work while others get the credit.”
It was praise for the mongrel. It was a summary of her belief that the most valuable legacy of Rome was not its territory or the Colosseum, but the openness that embraced different ethnic groups, religions and races and admitted the existence of others.
Success in any civilization is a synonym for engagement, fusion and openness. Jesus, a symbol of liberals under suppression at the time, declared that everyone was a child of God and even those with sins will be saved if they show a true and genuine repentance before God. It was an idea of engagement and openness that destroyed the long belief that the Jews were the only selected people. It allowed Christianity to grow into one of the most universal religions in the world. On the other hand, the Hapsburgs, a symbol of incestuous marriage for 600 years, ended as their members increasingly suffered genetic diseases. Nazis, which promoted the biologically purebred, committed the most inhumane crimes and finally were defeated by the United States, the crucible of different races and cultures.
Asked what kind of puppy he and his wife would get for their daughters as they moved into the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama said the family wanted a low-allergy dog because of one daughter. But he said he want to adopt a puppy from an animal shelter. “Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me,” Obama said at the time. It was a signal of diversity and engagement demonstrated by the president, son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, and whose cultural background is a mixture of various places including Indonesia and Hawaii.
The purebred’s power silences internal criticism and reflection. Survival within the inner circle requires pure DNA. In the end, malformation surfaces. The power will be dominated by lack of communication, arrogance and high-handedness.
It is not the time to take sides. The result of crossbreeding is collective intelligence, fusion and creativeness. Academic fields are now seeing barriers fall and the merging of all kinds of ideas and technologies, an evolution that embraces robots, artificial intelligence, cloning, blockchain, big data and 5G technologies. And yet, where are we seeing the rigid framework of the purebred mentality?
Shiono wrote that crossbreeds have one weakness. Because they do not have a clear foundation, they easily rely on people who are being friendly. But the weakness has disappeared in current Korean society. It is the time of purebred power, as all the presidential dogs in the past were only loyal to their owners. But it was always a mongrel dog that welcomed us when we visit our hometowns.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 16, Page 31