Cheering the youth on
The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Youth in revolt is always refreshing. Many thought the youth vote in the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan might be a passing wave of conservatism among the young. But the upsurge of political rookies like Lee Jun-Seok, a former member of the Supreme Council of the People Power Party (PPP), prosecutor-turned-lawmaker Kim Woong and journalist-turned-first-time lawmaker Kim Eun-hye during the preliminary race for the leadership of the main conservative party underscores the spirt of the young longing for creative destruction in the party. Their rise mirrors the broader young population’s hunger for a revamping of the old order regardless of ideology or party affiliations.
As a member of the older generation often referred to as “kkondae” — the old school of lecturing and condescending elders — I have to confess I have a slight contempt for the younger generation’s lack of perseverance and sense of adventure. Our generation was able to find work or success by working hard, and buy a house after saving a lot to move up the social ladder. The generation that spent their youths under the rigid military regime in the 1980s and early 1990s at least had dreams and passion. They had faith in a new future. When the young stay vibrant and kicking, society moves forward.
Rage and revolt are privileges of the young. But Korea’s young appear to have given up on the privilege. They have lost hope amid job scarcities. One out of every four are without a decent full-time job. They tried to survive on part-time jobs without genuine complaints. Jobs openings are mostly for delivery work.
They can no longer dream of owning a home in their lifetime, but they do not protest the policies or the people that make them. In a press conference on May 10 marking his fourth year in office, President Moon Jae-in apologized for the real estate mess. Upward social mobility has now become only possible in TV dramas. The mainstream is led by a generation that were student activists against the military regime and who strictly keep to the inner circle to dominate privileges. The young borrow whatever they can to invest in stock and cryptocurrencies because a jackpot is the only way to escape from their poor state.
Although living under the same sky, we have become strangers who cannot understand others or be understood. The ruling force is enforcing a uniform voice and perspective, stifling the free market where differences should be accepted. Their pretentious rhetoric about co-existence and fairness only mask their lies, deception and arrogance.
The people liable for causing such despair and disarray can immediately land jobs at a university, company or law firm upon leaving the Blue House and government. A person of many flaws and wrongdoings is packaged as an “able talent” upon being appointed to the cabinet. A lawyer who defended defendants in a $2 billion fund scam for hefty advisory fees from a law firm was nominated to head the prosecution. Abnormalities have become the new norm in our society.
The resistance movement by the young poses a new hope. The young appear to have come to an awakening that they will never get out of the slump of abnormalities unless they challenge the shameless power mainstream. They could be forever chained to borrowings and pipe dreams if they do not break the sad and suffocating old structure.
Youth in revolt has always brought about a new world. The young were behind the April 19, 1960 revolution and the June 10, 1987 democracy movement. Young rioters of May 1968 in Paris revolted against the old and traditional norms and system. Anti-war protestors and hippies challenged the traditional concepts of human rights, racism and sexuality. The famous essay “Eulogy for the Youth” by intellectual Min Tae-won (1894-1935) during the Japanese colonial period can excite the young of today. “The blood of the youth is simmering. The heart pumped up by hot blood is as powerful as the steam engine of a warship. This is it. This has been the propeller behind the changes in the history,” he wrote.
Even if their challenge ends as a storm in a teacup, they must not despair. They should follow the heart’s cry for a society where honest rewards are paid for hard work regardless of family, gender, and school background. The youth who silently accept unfair institutions are from a dead age. Raging youth must remember there are many old school members who are cheering them on.