The ‘underdogma’ trap

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The ‘underdogma’ trap

The author is a national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The belief that those who are less powerful are good and those with power are evil is referred to as “underdogma,” a term combining “underdog” and “dogma.” American writer Richard Prell first used it in his book, “Underdogma,” in 2012. While he condemned the underdogma phenomenon based on his hardline conservative stance, the term is now widely used to explain the mistake of equating powerfulness with evil and weakness with good.

Opposition People Power Party (PPP) Chairman Lee Jun-seok mentioned underdogma when he criticized the protest by a civic group advocating accessibility rights for people with disabilities to delay on-time departures of subway trains by using wheelchairs.

Bringing up underdogma, he said, “The biggest danger of minority politics is that it creates a sanctuary and blocks people from raising even a single objection to it.” At the party’s supreme committee meeting on Monday, Lee elevated the criticism. “The people with disabilities continue to carry out illegal demonstrations from an uncivilized point of view that their demands are heard when they cause unhappiness and inconvenience to the greatest number of people,” he said.

As Lee’s comments became controversial, members of president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition team met with Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD) — the civic group behind the protest — to “seek solutions through communication.” SADD announced they would stop the protests during the commuting hours and continue the fight by shaving their heads. Rep. Kim Ye-ji, Korea’s first visually-impaired lawmaker from the PPP, knelt and said, “I am truly sorry for not understanding, not empathizing and not communicating with proper language.”

The solidarity’s voice is valid. The promise to install elevators at all subway stations hasn’t been fulfilled for 20 years. Now, 94 percent of all stations have elevators, but the remaining 6 percent is still a major barrier.

Yet it is hard to say the protest of halting subways for tens of minutes during rush hour can be justified or inevitable. Chairman Lee also shouldn’t have used provocative expressions such as “uncivilized” and “underdogma” when addressing the issue.

It is true that commuters experienced great inconvenience due to their protests. But most people at the scene remained silent, not because they fell into the underdogma that “the weak are good” or because they agree with their protest method.

Instead, they swallowed the inconvenience and discomfort as they believed that’s how they show consideration for the socially disadvantaged. When such caring attitudes disappear, we grow farther away from civilization. That’s for sure.
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