Superstition, politics, and tragedy

Political news from Seoul is increasingly ridiculous. One presidential candidate had a Chinese letter of ‘king’ on his palm, saying it was drawn by neighborhood grandmothers.

Some argued about red underwear. These acts are all very derogative to civil society, with poor excuses. These have made political arena a superstitious private sector when the politics is supposed to pursue rational, legal, logic, knowledge, and common sense.

It is sickening and tiring, and Koreans will never be able to get used to these absurdly superstitious politics for over three decades in experience as a foreign correspondent. Swindling of incantation and politics against civic sense is not a new phenomenon after all.

For instance, powerful politicians and military in Thailand have all been sitting around with shamans. Likewise, Burmese dictator Ne Win in 1987 got so obsessed with the number ‘9’ and issued a note of 45 Kyat and 90 Kyat. Also in Singapore, then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew decided to put the Eight Trigram for divination in one dollar coin to prevent recurring subway accidents in the 1980s.

There's no need to put sophisticated explanations to these episodes. Superstitious politics is a silly money and power game. As we saw in Thailand and Burma, these countries are known as Buddhist countries. Moreover, Burma doesn’t allow superstition.

However, in reality, temples and monks became politicians’ trumpeters and there comes a big charm market. This could be seen as the modern religion market penetrating into traditional animism. In other words, this shamanic world with unreasonable votes and corrupt lobbying money has been a politicians’ lucrative income source. It is notable to observe that shamanic politics increased whenever there was an economic crisis in the 1980s Southeast Asia.

In all ages and countries, this is not a coincidence to have shamans and exorcists around dictators. Those who broke the principles of democracy based on laws and institutions would have only luck in the surreal world to lean on.

It was Indonesian dictator Soeharto who decided to take advice from  astrologers, South Korea’s Park Jung-hee consulted shamans for dictatorial Yushin proclamation, and South Korea’s Chun Du-hwan who discussed 1987 presidential election day with exorcists. Adolf Hitler went back to Aryan heritage and Hindu symbols of Swastika for his Nazi party.

All of these dictators were eventually abandoned by citizens, and overthrown. The ending was always tragic also for the people. Whether they draw a ‘king’ on the palm or wear red underwear for politics, they all have to fearfully face the history of mankind.

Politics is not a spiritual and heavenly promise but a now and here matter of commitment to its people. That commitment is a reasoning democracy. Do not meddle with civil society by superstition with politics.

  • Most read