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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Frankly I don’t know what to call this thing in English — validating arguments by which side the arguer stands for, rather than by logic or reason. Koreans used to call this “camp logic(진영논리)” and I tried to find out what English term is out there for something like this in Google but well, I couldn’t find any. Indeed human beings are political animal and there is nothing peculiar being herded together and building a certain camp, like a party, but there is something peculiar in the collective mind of SK. Here I’m trying to draw something out from it.

It would come in handy to describe, at first, the recent boom of camp logic. In the beginning, there was a podcast. What? A podcast? Yes, it was I’m a Weasel, the first-time-ever national hit podcast (though being armed with the all-time No.1 internet bandwidth, podcast hadn’t been popular in SK because oligarchies in the cellphone market had been trying their best to block iPhone from landing on SK soil. It took 3 years for iPhone to finally land on SK. Believe it or not, iPhone caused a considerable power shift in the SK mobile phone market…). I think you still don’t know how big was the podcast in SK. Not just some popular online talk show, it had a political power to put momentum behind something. I was in Seoul Plaza at the day when Park Won-soon was elected as the new mayor of Seoul in the last year, with a crowd celebrating his victory and I heard people saying “without I’m a Weasel, how could this ever happen?” and all sorts like that to each other. Among all the podcast contributed to SK politics, foremost was turning young voters’ mind, formerly indifferent and felt hopeless, to politics.

All this was possible thanks to, with my tongue both in and out of cheek, Pres. Lee Myung-bak. He has been a symbol ofdishonesty, corruption and oppression through his presidency, only Silvio Berlusconi can match for. He drew a very clear, distinct line around himself and his associates in the GNP almost in the Manichean manner so everyone opposes him easily made oneself looked like, ironically, on the good side. This taught us a funny lesson: you don’t have to be actually good to be seen as a good one as long as your opponent is doing evil all the time — just oppose him! Well, we all know there is no perfectly good people in politics but when you see someone purely evil you might get caught in the Manichean frame of thought, making you believe opponents against pure evil would be pure good.

And there came the second boom: Kwak No-hyun, the education chief of Seoul, was arrested on bribery charges. It was probably true that there was a political consideration upon the prosecution, Kwak being the very first “liberal” education chief of Seoul, and that his request for bail was denied unfairly to interrupt his superintendency, however he admitted his giving money to his rival candidate in return for the rival’s withdrawal.

There were bitter observations among the so-called liberal newspapers in SK, the Hankyoreh and the Kyunghyang, calling for his immediate resignation right after his arrest. But the public opinion went upside down after I’m a Weasel supported Kwak, criticizing those who called for his resignation as team-killers, moralists. A torrent of support for Kwak soon followed, some commentator even argued to “throw your ethics to the dogs.” The debate has reignited after he was found guilty at his first trial a week ago. Supporters showed a great distrust against the current judiciary system, denouncing judges as dogs of the President.

Distrust against the judiciary further intensified with the release of the film Unbowed, which is strictly polemic against the judiciary. Some criticized the film being too lopsided to the plaintiff, a former college professor who had paid a visit personally to a judge, who dismissed a rescissory action of his discharge from the college, with a crossbow and a knife and allegedly (this being an issue of the case) fired a bow to the judge. The film is making success anyway.

Years ago, people hoped a lot when Roh Moo-hyun, the former Pres. had been elected — none of us ever doubted his authenticity, wholeheartedness for reforming the country for the people, humble commoners, until we have found out that he was driving the country along the sign of neo-liberalism. The supporters were heavily confused and soon disintegrated. Still, the (former) President seemed as though he haven’t lost his wholeheartedness and that was pushing them deeper into bewilderment. Technocrats remained undiminished in the government and they diffused and distorted any attempts on reform. One of tragedies in the history of SK politics is that a single individual in politics is often misunderstood to be the whole government itself and the people’s praise and blame are always directed at the individual. Well, it seems inevitable for indirect democracy — one of us has to be chosen anyway.

The line had became opaque, leaving the people confused, but in the next turn Pres. Lee came and drew the line clearly more than ever. With the general election (April) and the presidential election (December) incoming, remnants of the former ruling party and supporters of Pres. Roh are gathering together, being sure of their victory. Voters seem to forgot what had led them into confusion.

Controversy over the Seoul Students’ Human Rights Ordinance has been reignited right after Kwak Nohyun, the current superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education who had been suspended while he was on trial for bribery, returned to work. His bribery case was a hell of camp politics. The point is that he was the first (in the SKorean meaning of)liberal education chief of Seoul and there had been a fishy transaction over a single candidacy agreement for the victory of the last election. This is one of the top major issues in SK but I’m not going to go into details here.

One of the education chief’s main political issue was this students’ human rights bill. Although several municipal governments had already approved the bill more than a year ago, since Seoul is still the Republic of Korea, itself the controversy is so intense. Let’s see what the bill is for:

Major contents of the Seoul Students’ Human Rights Ordinance

  • A right to not being discriminated by religion, pregnancy, family situation and sexual orientation
  • A right to be free from corporal punishment and verbal abuse
  • A right to realize one’s personality by dress and hair, etc. (which means that it was not a right for students of SK theretofore)
  • No frisking and seizure (which means also…)
  • A right to hold a rally inside and outside of school
  • No pressure on students for attending to religious ceremony (a lot of private schools in SK compel students to do so)

Now you are going to witness what the major SK newspapers have got to say about the bill. I guess this is a good evidence that SK is yet to be a democratic country. I’m not going to comment on them because it is superfluous.

The following are excerpts of editorials from the big 3 newspapers in SK — Chosun, Joong-ang, Dong-a, aka CJD: (bold type by me)

It is indeed necessary to inform students of their rights but what’s more important is that nurturing a character and an ability to exercise their rights as future members of society. However Korean Teachers & Educational Workers’ Union and the superintendents with backing from the union were giving a wrong signal to studentsthat they are allowed to do everything in the name of human rights.

— Editorial from the Chosun Ilbo, Jan. 8th 2012

No one could imagine what a mess this country will be if even fourth or fifth graders hold a rallyinside and outside of schools. There is no country which gives unlimited freedom and rights to its little students. This is not an issue of the superintendent Kwak’s own personal philosophy and belief…

In this tougher-than-ever educational situation, setting students’ human rights in front would accelerate a dissolution of educational authority.

— Editorial from the Dong-A Ilbo, Sep. 9th 2011

Undoubtedly, school has discipline and it is also important for civic education to make students comply… andwe should make them comply with discipline or take regulatory measures. There is no school good without rigorous discipline.

— Editorial from Korea JoongAng Daily, Dec. 21st 2012

We’ve been told a lot about school bullies recently by the media. Everything happens only after something has happened. For this I don’t want to blame someone, I just feel sad, asking myself “is this really that hard to prevent?” Did we really have to see teenagers killing themselves in order to do something for preventing school violence? No, they, no, we haven’t been caring enough. There was always full of signals, even since I was attending a middle school or far earlier than that. We haven’t cared: schools were nothing if they weren’t for colleges. And now we’re paying for that.

Should there be a Nobel prize for human rights of the Korean military, especially for the enlisted, who were called up for their mandatory duty which is required for every male SK citizens, the first recipient ought to be “Pvt. Kim,” who had thrown a grenade to barracks and went on a shooting rampage, which was recorded for the highest number of casualty in the military firearm accident since 1984. Pvt. Kim had been bullied by his superiors and planned to “turn his platoon upside down” 2 days before the accident in 2005. After that upper echelons and the ministry took the issue seriously and began to take some measures. It’s far from being perfectly effective since there are still some accidents happening, but it’s rather of the system issue, the way of maintaining the military and drafting personnel, which needs a lot of researches, discussions, and nationwide consensus so I am not going deep down with this issue right now.

Anyway, the media was hunting down a goat for crucifixion. It seems that they are not good hunters themselves as I give a look upon what they have got from the hunting: games and comic strips. The Chosun Ilbo reported about violent web strips, (FYI: web comic strips are a dominating majority in the SK comic strip market. The World’s all-time No.1 bandwidth almost defoliated the offline comic market.) citing that “children may learn about violence in detail while reading violent webtoons (this is what we used to call web comic strips)” and “it may encourage a school violence if they justify their violent behavior as ‘a hilarious thing.’” after its own rampage of articles upon school violence. The author of the strip which was specifically mentioned in the article had to quit carrying his work after the report. There is no point admitting that there are some violent comic strips and the authorities lacked a proper management although they are so true. The point is, that the media once again blames the easiest to be blamed to shun confronting what really matters.

The Chosun Ilbo went further. Under the title “He… was a creature in a game whom we are to beat down to death,” the Chosun reports that one of the assailants, aged 13, compared the same aged victim to a creature in the video game and cited from an expert that “many of young game players cannot distinguish a virtual reality from reality” and “it is dangerous because players learn to be cruel to loser when they are compete for level-up.” The assailant’s use of metaphor indeed caused by his way-too-much gameplaying but it doesn’t necessarily prove that his violent behavior is caused by gameplaying. Again, the Chosun Ilbo did their base implication.

(Ah, did I forget to mention that they were blaming games when Pvt. Kim rampaged through his platoon? Though the aforementioned (linked) article does not directly connect games to the rampage, they did imply that violent video games are to blame.)

Do they seriously believe that school violent will be eradicated once after we sweep away these nasty games and strips?

This is not a news but my recollection of an eccentric character who was quite popular for a short moment. I think that this character would show you one side of the modern South Korean mind.

It was about 8 years ago, I was a sophomore when I got to know him for the first time. An article from the web which led me to him was telling that he had been proclaiming himself God Almighty since before the dawn of internet in Korea — he then had used to write “I am God” things on a humor section of one of the major Bulletin Board Systems because the section was the most popular section of the BBS.

There are tons of scoundrels who refer themselves as God and exploit poor, gullible folks throughout the history of mankind but this guy had something different, making him somehow special in comparison to the other charlatans: he was something that could be called as god of the humble class.

Mr. Lee was a janitor of an elementary school and in his mid-40s then. No one exactly knew what he was doing at work and how he maintains his life but it was clear that he spent quite a lot of time promoting himself; he wrote mostly about facts of his godlikeness and future plans. Among his plans there was one about showing his supernatural power (he preferred to show creating clouds and lights, which is relatively easy, according to him) in public TV show and take James Randi’s (he actually mentioned the name) million dollar and a throne of the world.

Not only gods of Populous and Black & White are in need of followers but Mr. Lee was also desperate for them. He built his followers’ group himself on the web and wrote a torrent of words, his wants and fantasies mixed. People were paying a visit to his group and often left messages which were mostly mocking him. As god of the humble class, mild and naive, he used to take their ironic comments literally and sincerely promised to hire them to a future corporation of his. Yes, it was one of his future plans to build a big corporation after him being on the throne of the world and hire the first 10,000 people who joined into his group. If you are now wondering why would God need his corporation, with himself being God, you don’t know South Korea. There are some companies which have been dubbed as “even a god would want to be employed.” Getting hired to a big corporation is considered as a supreme task.

I was wondering why he kept insisting that the government should designate Gimpo, where he was living in, as sacred land. He even submitted a formal request to the government for designation of his estate as a cultural property, which was soon rejected. (In a short post at his group message board, he expressed his anger from the rejection, “…whereas birthplaces of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad were designated…”) Probably he can do that himself later if he once proves himself to the public of the world and makes Mr. Randi go bankrupt and lets him die in poverty, I thought. In fact, his estate was at risk of being expropriated by the government, according to the Gimpo new town plan. He was so nervous that he would “lose a big money which an ordinary man could never have earned throughout his entire life” and expressed his nervousness into his writings of that era. He was enormously happy when he heard that the government had revised the plan so he promised to repulse every typhoons heading to Korea. The typhoon which was then heading to Korea was dissipated before landing in, thanks to him. (at least he insisted so.)

From characters of Toji to the fallen appointee to the Minister of Environment who were nationwidely ridiculed by having explained that she “just loved land and it has nothing to do with speculation” when she was accused of land speculation at the parliamentary hearing, Koreans were always attached deeply with land and our dear God was not an exception.

But a few days after the dissipation he reviewed his real-estate registration and found that his dear property was still on the expropriation list. Exasperated, he canceled his promise over typhoons and proclaimed he will never be concerned in from then on. This time, it was us poor Koreans who had to tremble in fear of loss.

Still, Mr. Lee, now aged 53, aims to convince the public that he is the One by demonstrating his miracle, which unfortunately have never succeeded yet. But right now his urgent aim is mastering English — in order to gain popularity and affirmation globally. Yes, his aim is that high and in his worldview, English is the only way to connect him to the world. “At the end of the year I will have memorized 2,000 English sentences in total. Writing in English would be far easier should I once master the word order. After that, I will appear in an American TV show and surprise everyone and then everyone will be desperate to have me as their king,” Mr. Lee wrote 7 years ago.

After a long time I visited his web group out of wondering how he’s doing. “In 2012 at the latest, I will be a master of English and accede to the throne of Israel,” his recent message at the front of the website welcomed me. (Somehow Judeo-Christianity had invaded into the South Korean culture successfully after the Korean War.) That God couldn’t have managed himself to master English throughout these 7 years saddened me but I am not going to deny him as Peter did to Jesus before the cock crows. He may not be God Almighty but is the one who represents those who still haven’t beleft their obsession with real-estate, those who are being swayed by aimless self-help craze, especially with English, and those who vie hard to be hired by big corporations — namely South Koreans.