The war of words

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The war of words

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Lee Hyun-sang
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Insensitive words cut like a knife. They are like a merciless and ever-spiraling virus. They are bigoted, ruthless to strangers. They land coldly and rudely on the people. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon claimed he could expose all the flops of the previous Park Geun-hye government during the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015, in defense of the current government’s handling of the new epidemic. Rep. Park Kwang-on of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) made a bizarre argument that the surge in the number of infected people underscores how well the national control system was doing. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo blamed Korean nationals returning from China for spreading the coronavirus.

The government should not be handed the entire blame for the outbreak of the new virus. That claim, in fact, would be overestimation of the government. Under chaos theory, a movement as seemingly insignificant as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can cause storm-like consequences. Who would have imagined a follower of the Shincheonji church roaming around with the virus breeding inside? In such a complicated and random realm, it is impossible to foresee and count variants. The best one can do is be humble and vigilant. Yet the government was boastful about its world-class quarantine system when the number of infections stalled. The people are not just outraged by the government’s ignorance and impotence, but by its arrogance and its overlooking of common sense.

Rhyu Si-min, chairman of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, is tops among the self-deluded bunch in the ruling and progressive front. He attacked conservative Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin for “transferring responsibility” to the central government ahead of the April elections when he criticized the government for not blocking Chinese from entering the country. He lambasted the city for using the disease as an election strategy. Rhyu in his YouTube channel said he would not vote for a conservative party even if King Sejong was resurrected to run as its candidate. It was a self-contradictory admission that a party alliance was more important than the candidate and the campaign platform. Critical liberal scholar Chin Joong-kwon sneered, “If King Sejong is a candidate, I would pick him even if he is from another party. Should we vote for Chung Bong-ju [a former DP member who was convicted for sexual harassment] just because he is from the ruling party?” What Rhyu says these days is hardly surprising, given his insistence that the wife of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk did not “destroy” evidence but tried to “preserve” it.

There may be questions about the effectiveness of an entry ban on Chinese. The government would have to consider its ramifications on the economy and foreign affairs. But Rhyu has been using such issues for political attacks. There is no logic to his words even though he is an expert in writing and oratory. Under his reasoning, President Moon Jae-in should come under attack for turning the blame on a certain group by his mention of the Shincheonji church. When Moon was elected, Rhyu volunteered to serve as a pro-government scholar. He has been true in loyalty but whether he can maintain his intellectual reputation is questionable. An intellectual cannot make such baffling accusations. A liberal is not a liberal if he neglects people in pain.

The language being used these days sounds like a religious war. Both parties are at fault. But the governing power is more to be blamed. It has abused its power to be more brutal in the war of words.

The Blue House claimed the president declared the virus crisis would be soon contained to “appease the people.” It is hypocritical to speak of benign intentions when the ruling force has been merciless in its use of language. When rival candidate from the same party Ahn Hee-jung said the opinions of the opposing front need to be approached with goodwill during a premier race, he was scorned by Moon’s supporters. Moon too sneered at Ahn, overlooking the rage of the people.

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” The utterly poor choice of language from the ruling force bares the limits of its world. If it does not want to expose its limitations further, it better keep its mouth shut.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 28, Page 30

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