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Employing reason to combat racism

The rationalism of the many outweighs hostility and xenophobia of the few

  • Fr Thomas Lee Jong-jin, Seoul
  • Korea
  • April 20, 2012
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The election of the Filipino-Korean lawmaker Jasmine Lee, and the subsequent scrutiny of her in the local press and in online forums, reminds me of the importance of objective judgment and cool-headed discernment.

What criteria do we employ to judge others? What common focus do we share out of our arguments about her?

The German poet Arno Schmidt (1914-1979) said “most people, around 999 out of 1,000, judge many important things by their initial impression. An accidental combination of prejudice, passion, caprice, illusion, improvisation or image becomes a standard of judgment.”

He adds: “Of the mentioned 999, at least 900 people do not use their reason to judge others. Rather, they misjudge things by looking at them from others’ perspectives and by hearing through others’ ears, and they ridicule themselves by others’ ignorance, instead of understanding and judging things by their own ability.”

This can serve as a general standard for right discernment regarding recent racist attacks made against Lee.

We must keep asking about the nature of the criticisms made against her, about counter-arguments and about the rational basis for the opinions being expressed.

The dispute seems to hinge on two points of contention.

First, there is the hostility bred of racism and xenophobia. But there are counter-arguments being made by people of honor and good sense. While people have expressed concern about the proliferation of prejudice, many others have stood up to oppose such hatred.

Second, much of the criticism of Lee focuses on the dispute over her academic credentials. Lee said she graduated from a medical college in the Philippines. As it turns out, she dropped out of the biology program at Ateneo de Davao University.

This line of criticism is rooted in a desire for facts, and asking for an honest explanation for the discrepancy has nothing to do with racism and xenophobia.

This sort of inquiry goes beyond the politics of left and right, of Koreans and foreigners.

Right discernment and good judgment demand that we not be swayed by the word games of a few senseless people, who should rightly be held accountable for spreading irrational hatred and violence in our society.

But as a lawmaker who is required to maintain above-average morality, Lee must also be held accountable, and be required to provide an adequate response to the proper form of criticism.

Father Thomas Lee Jong-jin is professor of philosophy in the Jesuit-run Sogang University and dean of the Graduate School of Theology
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