Toward an open community
The author is an emeritus professor of journalism and mass communication at Hanyang University.
We are fortunate to have a new year. It teaches us that there is time behind as well as ahead. Since a new year comes with a sense of hope, we envision a better future instead of being chained to the space of the past. A human would be no better than a chemical composite if not for an ability to dream. A dream for a better future becomes the power to broaden, deepen and enliven the space for homo sapiens.
President Moon Jae-in spoke of dreams at the year-end as he pardoned his predecessor who had spent four years and nine months in prison. “We must move beyond the pains of the past to march forward,” he said, calling on society to unite to build a stronger future instead of wrangling over the past. He expressed hope that the presidential pardon could herald a new age of unity and harmony by overcoming the differences in thought. But given the lengthy period of conflict and division, union and harmony cannot suddenly come about.
Upon inaugurating as the 19th president on May 10, 2017, Moon promised to deliver a country of unity and co-existence. “From this day on, I will be a president for all. Every one of those who had not supported me are my citizen, and I’ll serve every one of them.” He claimed to be brimming with ideas to create a new world of unity and co-existence. He vowed to change the politics of conflict and division and end the age of contest between the conservatives and the progressives.
“There is neither a winner nor loser. From today, we are all partners to build a new Korea,” said Moon. He promised his inauguration would be the beginning of a time when the people of Korea truly become one.
At the memorial service of the Gwangju Democratization Movement on May 18, 2017, a 37-year-old woman in teary voice paid tribute to her father she had never gotten to know. Her father was killed by soldiers on his way to home from his workplace in Wando to Gwangju to see his baby born on the day. President Moon walked up to her when she stepped down from the podium, and promised her to visit her father’s tomb together. The scene brought the nation together as one.
But it is a pity that the uplifting and engaging moment did not go further or touch many others. To become a president for all and create a country of unity and co-existence by regarding each and every one as partners, the president should have engaged those who had different ideas. He should not have confined his empathy to Gwangju and instead reached out to the broader population. Arrogant was his belief that his government cannot do anything wrong as it is perfect. Bigheaded was his pushing ahead with policies and appointments regardless of opposition, unilaterally shaping the future of the country by railroading through controversial laws and policies and denying the opposition parties or critical forces claiming them to be descendants of wrongful past.
The ruling front compelled the people to accept its ideology and values instead of respecting diversity in thoughts and competition of thoughts and choices in the country with an economy that is one of the tenth largest in the world. In his principal work “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” philosopher Karl Popper warned that a society subordinating individuals with abstract values can turn into a totalitarianism.
Unreliable, vulgar, violent, slanderous and unverifiable languages that push the country further away from union and harmony are swelling in the trail towards the March 9 presidential election. Falsehood is packaged as if true, and words are ever changing to meet needs. Sophists were originally teachers of philosophy and rhetoric in ancient Greece. They traveled around the Greek cities to spread words of wisdom and speak in public. But as they taught their skills for a price and won argument no matter what, they became to be regarded disparagingly. A sophist today refers to someone who reasons cleverly with deceptive motive, as such an argument is deficient in ethos.
A society of openness and unity is possible on the reliability of words. Reliability is earned through the words and how behavior and actions meet them. Logos (logic), pathos (empathy), and ethos (credibility) make up the pillars of public speech or rhetoric teaching by Aristotle. Of the three, credibility is the key to having persuasive power. In the new year, we wish to hear words of ethos, not sophistry.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.