Sunday, May 18, 2008

Demagoguery and a gullible public


Demagoguery and a gullible public

Here are some of the groundless, unproven, even downright false, allegations and rumors that have been circulating in South Korea in recent weeks mostly through the Internet and over cell phones. They are being circulated by nameless, faceless and irresponsible “netizens,” scaring a lot of people, especially young impressionable middle and high school students.

--The United States has pressured the administration of President Lee Myung-bak to import American beef tainted with the mad-cow disease as a pre-condition to supporting the Free Trade Agreement;

--Americans themselves are eating beef imported from Australia and Canada while they are exporting their own beef infected with the mad-cow disease to South Korea;

--The mad-cow disease is so potent and dangerous that it can contaminate other meat such as pork if they are prepared on the same counter during cooking;

--Parents stop sending your children to schools where lunches are cooked with American beef;

--The first case of mad-cow disease was found on May 2. [even though imports hadn’t begun yet]

--President Lee, who is also pro-Japanese, has handed the disputed Dokto islets in the East Sea over to Japan.

What is especially unbelievable is the fact that the nation’s public-supported and government-financed television networks, namely, the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) and the Munhwa Broadcasting Company (MBC), were fanning the mass-hysteria against American beef.

The broadcast media as well as political propagandists using the Internet are also whipping up a new wave of anti-American sentiment through unabashedly biased reporting and so-called in-depth news analyses and commentaries.

Meanwhile, the opposition political parties and left-leaning politicians, who were soundly defeated by Lee Myung-bak and the conservative Grand National Party in the presidential election last December and the parliamentary election in April, are busily engaged in demagoguery against President Lee and his administration which was inaugurated only three months ago.

Ignoring the fact that less than half a year ago an overwhelming majority of voters gave the conservative President Lee a clear and unequivocal mandate to govern the nation, the “progressive politicians,” a euphemism for “the leftists,” launched an Internet campaign to impeach the president, blaming him for what they called “the mad-cow beef fiasco.” They are also said to have instigated the mass “candle-light protest.”

By the way, I am curious why Korean demonstrators, especially young protesters, hit the streets with lighted candles, the minute they come cross a political issue with an anti-American angle to it.

Recalling the term, “candle light vigil,” I wonder if they are trying to add some religious fervor to their protest. Perhaps, they want to attach a romantic connotation. Or maybe, as I suggested in another article earlier, they were encouraged by--or even in collusion with—candle manufacturers.

Whatever the reason, demonstrators, in the tens of thousands, came out of their homes and lit candles once again to protest beef imports from the United States. One well-known actress went so far as to say in her homepage that she would rather swallow a capsule of cyanide than mad cow beef. But South Korea is a free country. She has the ability to choose, nobody is going to try and ram a piece of American beef down her throat against her will.

For my part, as soon as I came back to America last week, I looked around to see if I could find beef imported from Australia or Canada, but I couldn’t find any, at least, not in the supermarkets I went to. And as far as I can remember, I have mostly been eating USDA choice beef for decades without feeling any ill effect.

Incidentally, watching and reading about the protests against American beef imports, I was quite mystified by the meek, almost inaudible, protests, much less action, against harmful products imported from China. So many Chinese goods, including foodstuff as well as toys, have been scientifically proven to be toxic and harmful to our health and yet not a “boo” has been uttered against their import.

Does this mean that we, Koreans, are such a gullible people that we can only react when the biased media and some unconscionable politicians and entertainers spread groundless rumors and unalloyed lies? Yes, this, I am afraid, is true to a large extent.

But what makes us so gullible? Are we collectively naive or stupid so that we can easily be manipulated and swayed by politicians or other interest groups? I don’t think so. We may be often blinded by or made to believe in something because of monetary and material greed, but never because of naivety or stupidity.

If anything, Koreans, on the whole, are very emotional and hasty rather than coolly rational and deliberate in making judgments on any social and political issue. And let’s face it, we are also a pretty insecure and paranoiac bunch of people as we have long been suffering from an inferiority complex.

Because of these regrettable national traits, we easily become prey to the demagoguery of a few unscrupulous people who have their own ax to grind or political hay to make at our expense. But we are smart enough and are living in an advanced society where we should be able to make our own judgments and decisions based on objective facts, not just listen to other people and follow them blindly.


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