Bae Young-dae: "Korea needs a 'culture of discussion'"
I've been saying this for years, so I'm gratified to see that Koreans themselves are starting to echo my words. Bae Young-dae, for instance. In a JoongAng article published yesterday, "Korea needs a 'culture of discussion'" (April 1, 2010), Bae first uses heavy irony to note that:
Koreans apparently are good at "special skills," such as talking to themselves, fistfighting and ignoring established processes.He then explains this through a hypothesis about cultural lag:
Korea [has] proudly achieved economic growth and democratization in a very short amount of time, but the culture of discussion [has] never quite made it.I agree with some of this. Korea does lack a culture of discussion, and the reliance on "bullying and browbeating" is noticeable. But Bae's analysis of the reason for this fails to hit the mark, in my opinion. The aggressive dogmatism of intellectuals is just another 'symptom' of the problem, which is too deep-rooted to blame on intellectuals alone. The cause, I think, lies in Korea's hierarchical, Confucian social structure and is reinforced by the Korean language's system of 'courtesy,' which forces interlocutors to make distinctions of status and thereby judge some individuals as more worthy of being listened to, but other individuals as unworthy of respected opinions. And the problem is far-reaching. For open, honest discussion to take place, two individuals speaking in Korean would have to be of precisely the same status . . . and how often does that happen?
That is the dark shadow of our modernization miracle.
Conflicts have accumulated in various sectors of our society. We face conflicts between classes, ideologies, regions, generations, genders and cultures.
Political conflicts such as the Sejong City issue actually fuel the inability of Koreans to talk things out. According to a June 2009 survey by the Samsung Economic Research Institute, Korean society's conflict index was ranked fourth among the 27 members of the OECD, following Turkey, Poland and Slovakia.
There is always agreement and disagreement, optimism and pessimism, about any issue.
In Korea, however, conflicts worsen between the extremes of conservative and liberal, left and right. Justifications based on the black-and-white dichotomy often prevail.
Intellectuals are largely responsible for the culture of "bullying and browbeating" and we have no model on which to base a behavioral change.
Perhaps I overstate the case somewhat, but I do so to make a point, and I'll soon make a better case when a translation of my article on the need for a culture of discussion is published in a Korean journal, for I can then post the original English version.
But "soon" is a relative term . . .