Korean Mass Hysteria and Tyranny of the Majority
I've been through at least half-a-dozen Korean mass hysterias in my eleven years in country, two of them just this year. Of the first one, Mr. Yang says, "More than half of South Koreans think they will be affected by mad cow disease if they eat U.S. beef." After more than a decade here, I cannot say that I understand Koreans, and having a Korean wife who by some fortunate twist of fate turned out to be a "rugged individualist" doesn't help. (A bisexual Korean-American colleague who had a girl-crush on my then-future wife was attracted to her "cynicism" and "dark sense of humor," two very non-Korean traits.)
In my late teens and early twenties I participated in a few protests. As a highschooler, I protested against police — we called them "pigs" — trying to break up our peaceful keg parties in the woods. I protested against a KKK rally in Philly, during which I met the Workers World Party's presidential candidate and talked at length about the Chelsea hairstyle then popular among the anti-racist skinhead chicks. (The experience influenced me to split my first ever vote in '88 between that Marxist-Leninist sect at the federal level, voting for a black man two decades before Senator Obama came on the scene, and the Right to Life Party at the state level.) I marched against Bush the Elder's War on Mesopotamia, and, as an exchange student, against General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte. (I've since softened a bit toward the old man, now that's he's passed on).
Anyway, the point of the preceding paragraph is that I have experienced something very similar to Maoism and the Mass Mind. Intoxicating though it was, once I realized what was happening in my head, I became completely disgusted with myself and those around me, and had to walk away. Like the soldier in Phil Ochs's song, but for different (but fundamentally similar) reasons, I declared, "I ain't marchin' anymore!"
The average Korean, in contrast, is always on the lookout for a good march, even if he never leaves his living room and its TV. Even when there's nothing to protest, the two most common words heard on TV seem to be "uri" (we) and "hana" (one). (One wonders if Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian novel We has been, or even could be, translated into Korean.)
Expatriates here commonly, and wrongly, blame Confucianism for Korean Collectivism (and everything else they find wrong with the country). I think blame should rather be placed on the Peasant Egalitarianism that emerged after the chaos of the Korean War. There are still élites, thank God, like the conservative editor whose article occasioned this meandering post, who form a résistance to this tyranny of the majority, but they are utterly vilified by the herd.