앞선 포스트에서 기재한 잡지 기사 속 나의 인터뷰 내용은 몇달 전 이루어진 아래의 인터뷰 내용을 기반으로 하였다. 이에 작년 겨울 Sébastien Falletti 기자와 인터뷰 했던 내용을 본 포스트에 개제한다. 영어로 이루어진 서면 인터뷰였으며, 기자의 질문에 내가 대답하는 형식이다. 내 영어 답변의 한글 번역은 지면 관계로 생략한다.
Interview with GEO
The reference to my thoughts about Korean collectivism within the magazine article that I introduced in my previous post was based on a written interview conducted months before its publication, which I am introducing in this post.
The questions and answers below are the content of the interview that was held last winter between Sébastien Falletti (the reporter) and me. I answered his questions by email in English.
1. Would you say that Korea is one of the most collective society in the World? (대한민국이 세계의 문화들중 집단주의가 제일 강한나라라고 생각하십니까?)
Although the concept of collectivism has been confusingly used, I think that South Korea is certainly one of the most collectivist societies.
2. What are the key factor behind this? (이 대중문화뒤에 어느 요소가 제일 작용이 큽니까?)
South Korea, despite its advanced technologies with fast online networks, is still fundamentally exclusive society, and its exclusivity has an emotional, rather than physical, form. So, political rhetoric and cultural identification have special meanings, and media plays powerful roles in Korean society.
This collectivist feature based on its exclusivity appears most clearly today as a form of blind nationalism or unrealistic expectation on democracy. Indeed, regarding democracy, many South Koreans tend to heroicise the direct voices of the mass in collective protests. They believe that their emotional voices should be urgently taken care of by their president, as they were by their kings in the past. In comparison, institutions and processes, such as parliament and election, often play secondary roles.
3. What are the historical roots of this phenomenon? What about the role of confucianism? (이 문화뒤에는 어떠한 역사적 근원이 있습니까? 그리고 유교사상은 어떤 역할을 합니까?)
Many South Koreans regard North Korea as abnormal or ridiculous society, but few of them realise that it is rather North Korea that inherited the spiritual and philosophical identity of the nation in Korean history. Particularly, the striking similarities between North Korea and Joseon dynasty come mainly from their strong collectivism.
Koreans have obeyed the totalitarian dictatorship of a single dynasty for about five hundred years until the late 19th century. The social control which enabled the obedience was based on not only physical threats or abuses but also the manipulation of language and thinking. Confucianism, which was aimed at maintaining self-sufficient agricultural economy, was used by the learned elites to suppress any individualistic economic motivations in markets.
Koreans, who had lived hundreds of years under such collectivistic social confinement, internalised the social strategy of collectivism. In both societies (Joseon and North Korea), peoples' minds were completely controlled not only by the central elite groups who set up the collectivist social frames, but also by the support from people themselves. For instance, people during the Joseon era learned and followed the elites' paternalistic language, such as 民本主義, which is conceptually not much different from 民主主義 (translated as democracy). In such a situation, any attempts for social reform and efforts for individual self-improvement were hardly institutionalised to a a meaningful extent.
4. How important has been the Japanese occupation in this respect? (일본의 한국 통치는 중요한 요소였습니까? 얼마나 중요합니까?)
During the Japanese occupation, the concepts of civil right and civil law were introduced to Korean society. Through such a process, Koreans could have learned the core of the civil right concept, which is self-responsibility of an individual person. Western history shows that the civil right concept was developed from the recognition of defective human nature as part of human interaction and it was used to protect individuals as well as stop such defective humans from harming one another.
But, most Korean independence activists and elite intellectuals under the Japanese rule were socialists or nationalists and were so strongly against any Japanese systems that they ignored such an philosophical essence of individualism. This hostility among Koreans against the Japanese political and social influences continued after the liberation from Japan, As a result, the concept of individualism, in South Korea, is severely retarded and distorted, often being regarded as self-centered immorality.
5. Do you see any fundamental change from the new generation of Koreans? (젊은 세대층사이에서는 눈에 띄는, 근본적인 변화가 있다고 보십니까?)
It seems obvious that the era is gone in South Korea when the government directly took the initiative in leading collectivist projects, such as the promotion of three behavioural virtues of “diligence, self-help and collaboration” during the 1960s to 80s. Considering the weak individualism in Korea, it seems natural that young people today feel more comfortable within the collectivist social atmosphere. They tend to expect governmental efforts or complain about social systems rather than introspecting their own efforts and decisions. Particularly during the past few decades, they have been substantially influenced by the predominant nationalist and socialist views among academia and media, both of which are closely related to collectivist social strategies.
I think that individuals of individualist society become more responsible for their own decisions, whereas individuals of collectivist society tend to care more about the eyes of other members in their groups.
GEO French Edition, March, 2019 (special edition for its 40th anniversary)