+ A

Justifying immorality

Oct 09,2019
이미지뷰
Seoul National University students are staging a candlelight vigil in Acropolis Square in the campus last month to demand controversial Justice Minister Cho Kuk step down. [LIM HYUN-DONG]
이미지뷰
Kang Hye-ryun
The author is a profession of business management at Ewha Woman’s University.

There are ample examples underscoring the discrepancies in human thoughts and actions. Many have proclaimed the arrival of the autonomous mobility age. Automakers are racing to make the transition to next-generation motor vehicles. However, seeing hands-free and self-driving cars on the roads appears to still be far-fetched. The hardware innovations are ready, but technology that can fully take into account human unpredictability, unreasonableness and impulsiveness is not.

In psychology, there is a term called “moral licensing,” referring to cognitive bias and the contradicting behavior a person can commit out of self-deception or self-righteousness. A study showed that a person who openly criticizes gender discrimination can actually be more biased to hire male employees than female employees. This is because one can pardon his behavior through self-defining oneself as an indiscriminate person. People making a habit of self-excusing or justifying themselves based on their past good behaviors can actually commit immoral or bad actions.

Opposing moral and immoral features can exist in a person. The mental mix can be at work because one wishes to be rewarded for past good behaviors.

Enron, which once was the most innovative energy company in the United States, went bankrupt in 2001 in the largest auditing scandal for a public U.S. company. Kenneth Lay, born as a son of a pastor, devoted his entire life to build a gas supplier and built Enron as a leading energy company. He was bought into the exotic accounting concept that was able to inflate corporate books and wealth to finance his personal jets and luxuries.

Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family faces morality questions and prosecutorial probes. In the public eye, Cho’s moral standards have received a fatal blow. But Cho himself does not recognize any wrongdoing. The gap is staggering.

He appears to be immersed in the self-made image as “an icon of social justice and reform.” He may think some selfish pursuits in his personal life can be pardonable.

Judgment on a senior government official’s morality and sense of fairness could differ by the conditions and experiences of the people and therefore spark social conflict. The group most underprivileged in social benefits could be in the best position to be objective.

The young generation is the most well-educated in Korean history, but faces the toughest competition in getting into universities and landing jobs. They do not dream of become successful, but will settle for a modest living. It is why they are so outraged by the unfair playing field upon learning all the privileges Cho’s children enjoyed.

The children from prestigious families get scholarships even if their academic performance is bad, while all others get academic probation if their academic scores are low. It is uncomfortable for a professor to face them in the classroom these days. I admire their behavior because they appear to know their civilian rights and how to protest in the face of unfairness.

The beginning of any social reform should start from the self-reflection of the person spearheading it and those joining the reform. It is hypocritical to demand changes when one does not change themselves. It is like a parent making demands on children even when they’re not setting a good example.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 8, Page 29