Seoul Mayor Commits Suicide
I don’t do “breaking news” here in Limbo, but since I live in Korea, perhaps a word or two of first impressions would be in order, in light of the news that long-time Seoul mayor Park Won-soon has committed suicide after being accused of sexual harassment by a former secretary. This accusation is especially humiliating, in this nation built on pretenses of spotless reputation and the avoidance of family shame, because Park himself was a vocal supporter and defender of the global feminist “MeToo” movement. Park was also, naturally, a long-time ally of Moon Jae-in’s socialist government (they don’t call themselves that officially, but I’m trying to keep this simple), and was regarded as a leading candidate to fill Moon’s shoes at the end of the latter’s presidential term.
Lately, as is almost uniformly the case here among high-profile politicians of any party, his career has been challenged by scandal, with all the vulture-media spotlight and popular “outrage” funhouse atmosphere that such a scandal entails in high-speed-internet Korea. And so, as is all too often the outcome in this modern climate that combines a traditional shame-culture morality with an extremely frivolous view of the ultimate meaning and value of life and the individual soul, a prominent and widely admired public figure has yet again reinforced the terrifying spiritual emptiness at the core of today’s Korea by saying — like dozens of other celebrities and public figures in recent years — that the easiest and most cowardly escape from life’s complexities, or one’s own failings, is reasonable, acceptable, even somehow romantic.
There is nothing reasonable or romantic about telling one’s admirers and adherents, at the end of a life devoted to building a reputation and gaining respect, that life itself is ultimately worthless, and that any little error or failure or embarrassment in one’s past (or present) is legitimate grounds for devaluing life and courage for all Koreans, by running away from one’s problems screaming. Let me emphasize that last point, which is the core of the issue for me. It is not suicide itself — the voluntary ending of one’s life — that fills me with such contempt. It is suicide undertaken as an act of hiding from ordinary responsibilities or casting off unwanted (but perhaps self-created) difficulties that appalls me, and all the more so in people who have worked hard to build a following of strangers over years, only to throw those followers off a cliff merely to escape from their own little problems.
I am sorry if I do not seem to be expressing the proper measure of respect for “the loss,” but I did say this was a first impression. And having personally known and counselled too many young Koreans who have been plagued with suicidal thoughts themselves, or experienced the harsh reality of suicide near them in this suicide-obsessed society, I frankly have very little patience or sympathy left in me for the rich, famous, and influential who choose to say, in effect, to all those vulnerable young people who look up to them, “I don’t care if you give up and kill yourself someday because of my example.”
To hell with these careless cowards.