Over the last five months, South Korea, our strategic partner and the 11th largest economy in the world, has been undergoing a major transition with the former President Park being impeached and now pursued for legal action.
Unlike countries that allow influence peddling, blacklisting, surveillance, and unconstitutional actions as the price of freedom, Koreans have collectively decided that enough is enough. The history of Korean democracy/dictatorship is as checkered as any and more severe than most, but mass demonstrations and public outrage over perceived abuses of power have made it impossible for the ruling apparatus to manage the events of the last five months. Like the catchphrase from the movie Network, people are “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!”
- Mass demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of people were unrelenting. They were protesting the discovery of undue influence of Choi Soon-sil, the defacto right hand woman and Svengali of former president Park
- The president was impeached; she resisted but the courts upheld it. She is now being questioned for criminal prosecution.
- The heads of Korea’s legacy conglomerates were called like Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten before Joe MacCarthy’s congress.
- The CEO of Samsung (analogous to Tim Cook of Apple) was imprisoned for donating to Choi Soon-sil.
- Artists are suing the government for maintaining a “black list” of thousands of people who not be financially supported and to whom travel bans would apply.
As I blogged about in October comparing Medea to the Korean character, the residents of the “Land of the Morning Calm” are not very calm when it comes to moral terpitude that has been going on for a while.
What is surprising is not that people were paying a private citizen for access to the president but that it suddenly became visible and worthy of prosecution. In the past, it is probable that a few bribes, threats, and surveillance tapes would have helped to manage the situation more deftly.
When they teach the history of “successful” Asian economic development, they like to simplify the narrative into the “four Tigers” of Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. According to this theory, a conservative, repressive, and monolithic power structure provided a competitive advantage above other languishing economies of the developing world. I think the story is more complex and that the Chinese Confucian ethos along with favoritism by the American Empire and its allies are bigger factors.
During the Vietnam War, a counter-culture Anarchist’s Cookbook was created by war protestors; here is my outline for the “Oligarch’s cookbook” if they wish to avoid problems with populism and legalism that have now spiraled out of control.
- ) Maintain tight control over the media and what they are allowed to report on
- ) Legalize and normalize constant surveillance of all citizens
- ) Bribe, intimidate, and replace judicial appointments that don’t act in your favor
- ) Neutralize whistleblowers and make an example of them
- ) Make sure everyone has actively participated in some degree of malfeasance so that they are invested in the status quo.
The key is to force people into accepting bribes or committing crimes under threat of harming them or their family and then using their acquiescence as leverage. When you see movies like Spotlight you understand that the best way to keep people quiet is to make them feel complicit in the wrongdoing. From child sexual abuse victims, to parents, to attorneys, to good priests, to journalists- everyone knew it was going on and yet no one would do anything to impugn the in larger institution they felt provided a greater good. The sheep protected all the shepherds- whether virtuous or whether they were wolves in priests’ vestments.
I don’t know if President Park is grateful for a peaceful transition of power but if you read the dramatic story behind her father, President Park Chung hee’s assassination, it could have be much worse. Peaceful transitions of power are seldom easy and from the time of the Roman senators stabbing Julius Caesar (notice how they all had to take turns to share the blame) up until the machinations of cyberspying and leaking that are going on now with regard to the rifts in the intelligence community as I blogged about here prior to the revelations by Wikileaks which subsequently occurred as described here.
We live in interesting times and the most interesting thing is not that oligarchy breeds corruption but that the human animal is still capable of exercising moral agency despite the many levels of disinformation and complicity that we have to own up to. People will usually do the easiest thing so it is noteworthy in history when conditions arise when the easiest thing is to actually follow the evidence and uphold the constitution, come what may.