Stuck in dogma
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“They just refuse to listen,” a member of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) told me on Jan. 2. “They seem to act as if they know everything and whatever they say is correct.” Earlier that day, he heard that a Blue House official criticized Kim Ju-young, president of the FKTU, for an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. The article was published that morning. According to the FKTU member, the Blue House official told Kim, "How can you say that [to the press]?”
In the interview, Kim denounced the Moon Jae-in administration for pressing ahead with its labor policies without heeding to the voices of the public. “The government rammed through every issue it had to solve, step by step, with social dialogue, including plans related to converting part-time contract workers to permanent status, raising the minimum wage and shortening work hours.” Kim continued that the government’s speedy policy implementation has only complicated the society’s labor problems by creating high expectations without providing ample solutions. What he meant was that the Moon administration’s policies are full of ideology and reflect zero field experience, which is why they never work in the real world. The side effects are everywhere, and critics have ceaselessly blamed the government’s bad policy-making for the sluggish economy.
One labor activist told me he was not sure whether the Moon administration does not want to hear any criticism from labor groups, or that labor groups should not criticize the government at all. “If we complain about something to the government, the response we should be hearing back is ‘Okay, we’ll put that into consideration the next time we formulate polices.’” An economist told me, “What difference does it make to give advice to the government when they insist they’re always right?” Adding, “It’s astonishing how they tell off their own policy-making partners.”
The most crucial part about making a policy is to listen so that the policy can blend in with the society once it’s put into practice. If the government only says what it thinks without opening its ears, policies will be unable to naturally mix with the public — or worse, they could cause mayhem.
That’s why social dialogue is needed. When the government listens to the people it serves and tries to mix and match the reality with its own thoughts, it can come up with a good solution. Dogma will only shatter in the face of logical reasoning. The kings Sejong (1397-1450) and Jeongjo (1752-1800) carried out such logical politics, preventing treacherous subjects from muddying their rules.
How can you define a treacherous subject? They’re followers of dogmatism and choose only to say whatever pleases the person they serve. When their superior hands down an order, whatever that may be, treacherous subjects always get the job done. They do not doubt order. They just look forward. They block any opinions that go against the order. They’re good at criticizing and denigrating others. They only report on cases that fit the tastes of their superiors, which makes superiors saturated with partisans. Looking back at Korea’s tumultuous times, it’s no surprise that treacherous subjects always had the upper hand.
In a sense, gapjil, or abuse of power, is a legacy of dogmatism. There’s no consideration for others. There’s no need for a creative idea, let alone any idea that opposes what the superior says. In the end, the inferiors are always the ones feeling pained. If people get injured at their workplaces, they can receive compensation for their industrial accidents and stay at their homes or a hospital to rest. But in politics, there’s no way for people to seek treatment for their bruises caused by government policies.
In politics, there are many cases where policymakers pretend to introduce a policy for the people only to stir up a fight. Such was the case with the minimum wage. The Moon administration said it would raise the minimum wage for economic growth, but the socially underprivileged — mom-and-pop store owners and part-time workers — are the ones suffering. The government ended up spending trillions of won on a fund to stabilize employment, which was an unprecedented maneuver to disrupt the market. No wonder so many people lashed out at the government for pushing through the policy.
The inferiors are not the only ones who suffer from gapjil. The gapjil scandal of Korean Air led to the revelation of corruption accusations against the owner’s family. The owner’s daughter’s abuse of power in 2014 boomeranged to take down her entire family. Every inferior who’s tired of gapjil will be pleading with their superiors to open their ears, be considerate of others and blend in with the rest of the group.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 15, Page 25
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action