Teachings from ancestors, dead or alive, are worth taking seriously because they are absolutely unselfish pieces of advice for a successful life of posterity. In family gatherings on occasions like Chuseok that we celebrated earlier this month, teachings are passed down from the older to younger generations.
Parents will want to deliver to their children the advice they have received from their own parents with some modifications they feel are necessary out of their lifelong experiences. Meanwhile, their sons and daughters should listen and not openly raise objections. As children grow older, this kind of communication, often in the form of one-way traffic, goes on to form a family tradition.
The above pattern, however, is in flux in contemporary Korea. Elections are times when perception gaps on major issues become apparent between generations, genders and even individual family members. We have just observed such differences in two nationwide elections this year. Still, we cannot keep ourselves from defining a set of social edicts to pronounce at opportune times in order to clarify the liberal democratic identity of contemporary Koreans.
Moses’ Ten Commandments to the Israelites offers a good style to emulate. I have worked out 10 clauses to summarize what I think are the most important principles of life that present-day citizens of South Korea should follow, no matter what political changes may take place in this country. As the North Korean problem is the mother of all problems, it begins with this line:
“You shall not recognize North Korea in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula as a democracy or a republic.” No paraphrasing is necessary for this clause, as we have seen video clips of the celebrations in Pyongyang of the 74th anniversary of the North’s founding with the third-generation ruler Kim Jong-un in the throne. This of course is a warning to the sizeable number of pro-North Korean activists who gained prominence during the previous Moon Jae-in administration.
Commandment Two: “You shall not seek to change North Korea from its nuclear arms policy and hostility against South Korea with whatever amounts of economic assistance or humanitarian aid.”
Since the 1950-53 Korean War, successive South Korean governments have knocked on Pyongyang’s door with various proposals of material aid and actually supplied cash and goods. These were steps taken with the aim of easing military tensions and taking joint steps toward reunification. Brief shows of amity were followed by further deterioration of bilateral relations and ever-heightening nuclear blackmail.
Commandment Three: “Maintain a strong military alliance with the United States until we secure our own nuclear capabilities and delivery system on par with or above North Korea’s, and continue conducting joint exercises with the US so that the US extended nuclear deterrence can ensure no possibility of war on the peninsula.”
Then, we have to address the ties with our closest neighbors. Commandment Four says: “Do not let the issues of Korean forced laborers and wartime comfort women stand in the way of improving relations between Seoul and Tokyo and make it clear to the Chinese that economic cooperation on free and equal terms without political interference serves the best interests of the two countries.”
Commandment Five: “Domestic politics should evolve to realize a stable balance between the left and right in all representative bodies, and to ensure equal opportunities for changes of government power in order for the supreme values of freedom and equality to be perfectly guaranteed.”
Within political parties, senior members need to promote internal unity. Remember the split of the conservative ruling party during Park Geun-hye’s presidency, which resulted in her ousting via impeachment in 2017. The subsequent five years were marked by economic confusion and disoriented North Korea policy under leftist rule.
Commandment Six: “Politicians should refrain from bringing disputes, either internal or external, to the court, ultimately offering their fate to the hard logic of jurists instead of the people’s judgment.”
In recent decades, political revenge in South Korea has turned increasingly ugly, as new powerholders subjected former rivals and potential challengers to criminal procedures. The new rulers exercised their power of appointment to introduce favorable lineups of prosecutors and judges. This was most conspicuous during the former Moon Jae-in administration. Regrettably, senior members of the present ruling People Power Party have also invited the court’s intervention to settle internal strife.
Commandment Seven: “Whoever seeks a leadership position with the public’s trust should see to it that no family member has ever used forged documents in seeking jobs, produced academic papers of dubious content in preparation for degrees nor engaged in stock price manipulation or speculation on properties to increase wealth.”
Commandment Eight: “Young people should get married, bear children and build strong willpower to fight against inevitable adversities in life.”
Commandment Nine: “The mass media should live up to their mission of finding facts and disseminate them correctly without malice or favoritism, while their audience should help establish order in the media market by using their good senses in weeding out unqualified players.”
YouTube videos, social media posts and internet newspapers are filling an unlimited realm with a mixture of lies, half-truths and some factual reports. They produce a huge amount of inappropriate content which contribute to creating unnecessary disputes and raise the noise level in our society.
Commandment Ten: “Industrial workers, teachers, public servants, medical doctors, self-employed businesspeople and other interest groups should not seek to obtain more than their fair share in the social distribution norm by using their collective powers, because it amounts to stealing from others.”
Moses’ Ten Commandments contained God’s plan to make sure that the Israelites whom he saved from Egyptian slavery would be able to live freely and peacefully in the chosen land of Canaan. South Koreans who have achieved material affluence and liberal democracy through great toil over the past seven decades since the war have found themselves in bitter conflicts over social, political and economic divisions.
The older generation, including myself, is concerned that younger people may have no idea about how to live without the economic and political environment they now enjoy once the present absurdities grow worse and everything is lost. Responsible citizens are invited to produce their own Ten Commandments as mutual warnings to each other.
Kim Myong-sik is a former editorial writer for the Korea Herald and former managing editor of The Korea Times. – Ed.