Just a few years ago, the de-politization of young people was a prominent problem. Academic papers on the de-politization of people in their 20s were published frequently, and several newspaper editorials criticized university students for not being interested in politics. A new phenomenon appears in the form of ‘de-ideologicalization.’ Convenient methods were provided to encourage young people to vote. The world lamented youths’ inactivity and indifference to politics.
However, as of 2021, the world seems to be on a slightly different track. One simply cannot be free from politics anymore. Every single word is thought to have political connotations. Thoughtless acts are perceived to have political intention. People are now exposed to ‘politics’ constantly and indiscriminately.
However, few of these ‘political actions’ have profound meaning. Most people are simply swayed by the torrential current of public opinion spearheaded the popular opinions of the B’ group. As such, individual opinion is cast aside, and Person A is quickly assimilated into the political groups of A’ and B.’ simultaneously afraid of being kicked out of their already affiliated B’ group, and they try to appeal to their groupmates by going out of their way to agree with by loud voices. Take the situation of Person A. Person A is unknowingly sorted into a political group called A’ because of their characteristic, A.’ They are simultaneously afraid of being kicked out of their already affiliated B’ group, and they try to appeal to their groupmates by going out of their way to agree with the popular opinions of the B’ group. As such, individual opinion is cast aside, and Person A is quickly assimilated into the political groups of A’ and B.’
It seems that a division facilitated by a ‘sense of belonging’ to the group has been strengthened, rather than actual political interest. The current political sphere equivalent to each tag they are associated with. to have certain ‘political’ tendencies depending on the groups one belongs to. One is dissected into their characteristics, and is held to have political opinions is a jumble of ‘Faction Logic’ in which something is black or white, either ‘us’ or ‘them.’ There is no ambiguity, and no third option. It is thought as natural to have certain ‘political’ tendencies depending on the groups one belongs to. One is dissected into their characteristics, and is held to have political opinions equivalent to each tag they are associated with.
Most recent ‘political’ issues follow this flow. One is either a woman or a man. One is either a Korean or a foreigner. One is either old or young. Gender conflict, racism, xenophobia, and ageism all arise from or are intensified by polarization pertaining to this rapid and acute sorting of groups.
There are three main factors that are important in this turbulent situation. First is “safeguarding one’s integrity.” Although listening to the opinions of others of similar backgrounds is indeed important, formulating individual thought should be put before parroting a group’s rhetoric. These days when fake news are prevalent, one should evaluate and sensibly accept the validity of claims rather than accept it in its entirety. It is also a good idea to form one’s own opinion before listening to others’ opinions about a given fact. Opinions that are already formed are less likely to be influenced by others.
Second is “recognizing and accepting ‘grey zones.’” There are times when standards that seem to be bifurcated are not so. For example, the elderly andthe youth may seem to be two opposite groups, but they are not. At what age is one regarded old? There are standards presented by various organizations and laws, but there are things to consider beyond them. Is psychological maturity a factor in age? Should social standing or a position in a family be a part of how old somebody is? More often than not, people are on a spectrum ranging from the perceived extremes rather than being neatly placed into groups. As such, recognizing grey areas and putting scales on a spectrum, instead of merely two groups, leads to a departure from grouping people into camp ‘Us’ or camp ‘Them.’
Finally, one should try to respect others. When ignoring others’ opinions or trying to assimilate others’ opinions into a more valid or louder voice, meaningful conversation becomes impossible, and polarization (the problem) is reproduced. There is usually no ‘correct’ opinion. One should develop a mature attitude that respects other people’s opinions with this thought in mind. Only then can opinions be truly diversified, and individual identity restored.
Lee Tae-ran (ST Reporter)