Moon Dae-sung and traits of Koreans
The meteoric fall from grace of Korea’s iconic taekwondo star Moon Dae-sung leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Koreans.
The gold medalist in the 2004 Olympics in the Athens had been a national hero. His high-jump reverse kick knocked down his Greek opponent in the heavyweight division match. The memory of his high-profile win still lingers in the minds of Koreans.
The lawmaker-elect quit the governing Saenuri Party last week.
Now his copy-and-paste plagiarism is likely to risk his IOC membership. The IOC told The Korea Times that the committee will investigate the case.
Moon’s plagiarism of his doctoral thesis is not merely a personal issue.
The strikingly good-looking man tarnished Korea’s image, leaving foreigners to think that Korea is the land of plagiarism.
This is not good for Korea because it adds to the line of top figures involved with sports who have been exposed for corruption, including Kim Un-yong and Lee Kun-hee. Of course, the IOC has had many cases of corruption, but these are usually associated with “Third World” countries. It is quite sad that Koreans cannot rise above the temptation.
Moon also epitomizes the pervasive Korean mentality of trying to mobilize whatever means possible to realize fame, money and power.
On a positive note, Korea has the self-purifying mechanism of weeding out what is wrong. Without a whistleblower, Moon might have continued to have commanded national respect as an epitome of the can-do spirit ― an Olympic gold medalist, a professor, an IOC member and a lawmaker.
Koreans are noted for their can-do mentality with a competitive spirit and passion. However, Moon’s disgrace shows that this spirit is tolerable only under laws and social norms. Competitive spirit and passion alone cannot ensure the success of people unless they have integrity.
Depending on their view people see, a bottle is either half-empty or half-full. Korea is a land of lawbreakers and rule benders. On the other hand, society has a healthy mechanism for filtering out the bad sediment.
Koreans tend to think big, help each other in joys and sorrows with an envelope of cash. This envelope culture had been a virtue of mutual assistance; however, it is becoming a crime in this growingly transparent society.
Korea is an originating country of quick service. The quickly-quickly mentality is behind the phenomenal rags-to-riches success story of the Korean economy, but now this “ppali ppali” culture has become a liability to Koreans as society demands due procedures.
Korea has been a land of red hot industrial expansion, and its chaebol are a unique global model for conglomerates although the country borrowed the system from Japan’s zaibatsu. However, chaebol can no longer expect unbridled growth just through collusion with those in power. They should become transparent and socially responsible. Their cowboy capitalism is no longer tolerable.
Moon took a risk for his phenomenal personal success. Koreans are incomparable globally in taking risks. Korea is the country where derivative financial products are the most actively traded in the world.
However, Moon’s ignominy also shows that there are limits in taking risk.
Many Koreans assume an air of importance. Moon has become the victim of this trait.
Face-saving is more important than anything else here, and until the last minute, Moon tried to save his face by denying his plagiarism.
He is not an exception to many Koreans who are lovers of fame and showing-off, with an El Dorado mentality. Many drivers become rash monsters behind the wheel. Moon pushed an accelerator pedal with his knee-jerk drive to show off his fame.
Korea is now struggling to move toward a highbrow society from the lowbrow one. Koreans are now living in a hero-less, entertainment and bad-mouthed society. The noisy minority has a false sense of prevailing over the silent majority. Digital activism is prevalent in the cyber world.
Korea will only become a true highbrow society when fake heroes and heroines disappear. The nation will get respect internationally only when honest leaders become IOC members. Korea will become a highbrow society when Koreans are no longer nationalistic, emotional, hot, group-oriented and suspicious of anything new or different.
They will get respect when they are no longer tribalistic, pushy, hierarchical, provincial minded and parochial.
When such expressions as “excuse me,” or “I’m sorry” become ingrained habits, Koreans will become citizens of a highbrow society. As long as TV panelists prefer argument to discussion, the nation will remain a vulgar one.
Lawmakers will be able to make the nation a highbrow society if they do not perceive compromise as weakness. Many Koreans sometimes are not doing in Rome as the Romans do.
Korea is a land of the world’s largest church. It is also an exporter of babies.
Koreans try to make the nation a highbrow society by voting out the bad-mouthed podcaster in the parliamentary election. Moon’s episode demonstrates Korea’s struggle to become a highbrow society. The crucial criteria for the next president should be honesty.
The next leader should frustrate illegal leapfrogging up the social ladder and goal-achieving. He or she should send a message that cutting corners is no longer a sure road to success. The leader should try to block people from becoming “top dog” through bending the rules. The leader needs to encourage the watchful role of whistleblowers over mammonist and venal culture.
Lee Chang-sup is the executive managing director of The Korea Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.