[Editorial] What We Know About Future
Although it hasn’t been a year since the new government was inaugurated, we cannot help feeling pained—a day has seemed like a thousand years during this period. I call it the “new” government, as it is distressing to even cite the name of its head, but it is also outrageous to call it “new.” If there is anything new about this government, it would be the level of pain most of us feel about it. Its corruption, incompetence, and irresponsibility have brought not only pain from physical violence, including numerous deaths, exemplified in the October 29 Disaster, but also serious mental and emotional suffering from its incredibly open and brazen shamelessness. Lies that make us doubt our ears and grotesque conduct painful to witness are causes of our ordeal; but, even more importantly, we are deeply distressed by the sense of shame in the face of this absurd situation that we have somehow brought upon ourselves. As it was time for us to hasten the speed of reform, which had been too sluggish, we have been even more saddened.
In retrospect, we could entertain, even momentarily, an expectation during the early phase of the Lee Myung-bak government (2008-13) that it might be somewhat pragmatic. Also, even though we were greatly disappointed with the result of the presidential election, we entertained a fantasy during the early days of the Park Geun-hye government (2013-17) that it might have learned at least the appearance of governance from previous governments. But not giving an iota of space for such a misunderstanding or fantasy would be another new feature of the current government. Like a drama that reveals the entire story and its conclusion within the first three minutes of the first episode, we can predict what the remainder of current government’s term will be like, without waiting to see its progression. The only reasonable conclusion of this sordid and trashy drama, which frustrates and angers us with all its predictable steps of ills and failures, would be an early ending. We don’t even need to cite its approval ratings to know that our collective judgment about the current government has already been made. Although there is institutional stubbornness that does not immediately bring into effect a judgment, I believe that democracy, which is stronger and more flexible than any institution, will find a way to embody this popular will before long.
The current government’s ills do not stop at its efforts to destroy the values essential to a democratic community, which we have carefully nurtured so far. It also tries to impair our sense that these values are important. A dictatorship wielding illegal power might help realize the importance of the rule of law; but the kind of dictatorship that criminally executes the law makes us find the rule of law meaningless. This has been true of their clear attempt to cloud the true meaning of mourning by hastily establishing a pseudo-memorial altar after the October 29 Disaster, without allowing the customary portraits and tablets of the deceased. Their words are the locus where they transparently display their deceitful behavior, like someone insisting after poisoning a well, that there was never clean water.
Lies are a mechanism of violence and structural dominance that this ridiculous and atrocious government likes to use. Indeed, their lies are so prevalent and structural that we have to believe there has never been a day when their utterances did not include one. The most frightening side of this practice is the attempt to make the distinction between truths and falsehoods meaningless through the overwhelming circulation of lies. Because of this, we cannot simply overlook their obvious lies, which seemingly deserving only contempt. Indeed, as this fight against falsehood has become the frontline of democracy, we have grown unprecedently angry at the mainstream media as well. They have brought upon themselves people’s reproach for becoming collaborators with power, at times taking on the role of amplifiers of lies and at other times forgoing the necessary questions for fear of offending the powerful. In the end, they have created a situation in which no one is convinced or moved by the claim of freedom of the press.
Yet will all these developments really destroy all the important values and turn back the clock on history? As to what has happened with the freedom of press recently, today’s farcical situation is, in fact, an opportunity for us to learn again and in depth what democracy is—although we thought we had learned enough. Even though we have experienced that “freedom of the market” is just another name for ruthless polarization, and even after we have confirmed how dramatically empty the meaning of the word “freedom” has become through our president’s anachronistic speeches, the word still has a strong aura for us. Facing the attitude in which they insist that even falsehood is freedom of the press, however, we are finally freed from the concept of freedom as mere appearance, and incisively realize that the pursuit of truth is a more fundamental element in democracy. As we realize, thanks to their attempts to set back the small reforms achieved so far, that only bold reform is firm, we are led to the awareness, due to their attempts to cloud the meaning of democracy, that democracy is only alive if it is renewing itself.
The device of “return” is one of the characteristics that stand out in recent web-novels and dramas. In this device, the main characters return to the past with what they know in the present in order to redeem their present condition, which has become a failure, and to build a successful life. In general, the desperation from their defeat and the strength of their resentment about the situation enable this return. It is often their intense energy that moves the heavens and leads to this opportunity to revisit the past. Clearly, this kind of success narrative is another expression of a profound sense of helplessness, a symptom of our society—but what we need is the exact opposite.
In fact, we know a lot more than we think about what the future holds for us: the result of our neglecting the climate crisis, the tragedy that will result from a failed inter-Korean relationship, and, even more closely, how it is impossible for the current government to go on. In this sense, we are already people who have returned and can change the present with the firm conviction concerning what we know about the future. Yet, we might not have the kind of intensity of pursuit and hope to overcome the desperation arising from defeat and the potency of resentment. This is in fact because we have fought so long and so passionately. Thus, it is now time to shake off our frustration from a momentary setback and to encourage one another for large and small fights.
The feature of this issue, “Korea in Crisis: What Should We Do?” pays attention to why the fights we encourage are acutely necessary and where they should lead us. Paik Nak-chung persuasively explains how the emergence of the Yoon government is not a suspension of the Candlelight Revolution, but an irregular event that happened because of it, and how all kinds of outlandish events currently witnessed throughout our society, including in the political arena and media, are also the result of the Candlelight Revolution. Thus, he emphasizes that we cannot break through even the current phase if we continue to live as we have so far. Instead, he argues that the overthrowing of the current regime is a matter that requires our imagination. That is, he proposes that we work to come up with creative ways of practice that are faithful to the standards of gaebyeok (great opening), even while not ignoring our immediate tasks, as our battles to build a society that deserves the term “country” are essential for gaebyeok, which will fundamentally change human society.
After carefully examining the seriousness and complexity of the crises that Korean society is now facing, while its government without any positive vision or policy has been subsisting on turning various groups it doesn’t like into its enemies, Lee Tae-ho argues that civic movements should focus on restoring societal solidarity and materializing political reforms. In his article, Yu Hae-jeong investigates various clear examples of human rights regression in the lives of the underprivileged since the beginning of the current government, such as the Oct 29 Disaster; scenes of industrial accidents where workers are openly oppressed, and the struggle for the rights of the disabled condemned as anti-social activities. Then, Yu testifies that resistance and hope have never disappeared, even in such a situation, and urges that we boldly and steadily continue our collaborative struggles.
“Dialogue” discusses, under the title, “A Rapidly Changing World and the Korean Economy at a Crossroads,” the world-historical context of the economic crisis that the Korean people now feel more vividly, and ways to cope with it, in line with the question addressed in the feature. Moderated by Lee Il-young and with participation by Kim Yanghee, Nam Jong Seok, and Lee Yong Woo, it analyzes the reality of a Korean economy in peril and its main tasks, in broad strokes, beginning with the discussion of the political and economic implications of sudden change that became clearer because of the Russia-Ukraine War. It guides us through almost all the things we should know about the Korean economy now, in contrast to the current government abandoning its responsibility.
“Articles” offers much exciting reading. Kim Yong-Oak discusses the significance of the concentrated publication of the Donghak Scriptures in Cheonan Mokcheon in 1883, doing so in relation to the essential aspect of the Donghak that distinguishes it from other religions, in particular, its lack of kerygma. He also offers a description of concrete details that will correct misunderstandings about these editions, doing so in his characteristically lively style. Handling such an interesting topic as “conduct,” Kim Jong-yup examines examples in which politicians’ conduct mediated political change. He then shows how going outside the critiquing of conduct, which has become a main custom in our political thought, is a way of working for a grand transformation of our society.
In “On the Scene,” Kim Si Yeon invites us into the youth housing rights movement, a field that some of us might find unfamiliar. While reminding us of the limits of contexts and facilities outside the family, hidden behind the term “runaway,” Kim convincingly argues that ensuring youth housing rights is an important movement along our path toward a happier society.
The creative writing in this issue is full of excellence. Thirteen poets, from Kang Woo Geun to Pi Jae Hyun, lead deep thinking by awakening our senses through new works. The “Fiction” corner presents colorful and solid thinking in new short stories by Bak Solmay, Baik Sou Linne, Yun Ko Eun, Jeon Sungtae, and Jeong Sung Sug.
In “Literary Criticism,” Oh Youn-kyung continues the discussion of the last issue’s feature by exploring the possibility of the literature of transition, focusing on poems that perceive the “capitalist bad weather.” And by carefully examining novels and short stories by Hwang Jung-eun and Kim Yu-dam, Kim Juwon shows us how women’s narratives tell us different stories from men’s narratives about the family and care.
In “Focus on Author,” Park Hyung-jun helps us to hear the voices of poet Ko Hyeong-ryeol, who recently published Winds That Became a Body, doing so through a story offering an overview of the life of a poet who has accomplished all the things a poet could, and the world of his poetry. In “Literary Focus,” moderated by poet An Heeyeon, author Kim So-young and literary critic Yang Jae-hoon engage in a rich and forthright dialogue about six noteworthy books of poems and fiction published in this season.
The essay project, serialized under the title “Where I Live,” which has established a solid presence during the past year, features Bonghwa-gun County in Gyeongsangbuk-do in the current issue. This essay contains various substantial aspects of Bonghwa captured from the unusual perspective of plant taxonomist Heo Tae Im, is also an excellent essay about ecology. “Book Reviews” also offer a collection of short essays containing original thoughts by the reviewers, propelled by various fascinating new books in diverse fields.
This issue also presents works by the winners of the 21st Daesan Literary Awards for College Students. We heartily congratulate them and look forward to their future activities. We also share a piece of news about our editorial board: Professor Kim Young-hee, who has served as an editorial board member for a long time, becomes an editorial advisor. We thank her for her hard work so far and ask a favor of her continuing generous advice.
Greeting the spring, we renew our resolutions, as we know how grave a task we must achieve during this year. As always, Quarterly Changbi will join the movement of citizens who are trying to reactivate their power as sovereigns, after overcoming embarrassment from stumbling on a stone. As we prepare various new efforts and plans for our summer issue, which will be our 200th, we ask for our readers’ generous encouragement and anticipation.