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The art of suspicion

We cannot respond to every single conspiracy theory dreamed up by internet users.
Apr 04,2017
There are a few people who staged perhaps the most outrageous hoax with the sinking of the Sewol ferry. They are Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and “Zaro,” the so-called Netizens’ investigation team.

Zaro created a documentary film, which runs eight hours and 49 minutes, at the end of last year, arguing that the Sewol ferry was likely hit by a submarine.

Mayor Park responded on Twitter on Dec. 26, as if he was waiting, by saying, “We must respond to the truth that Zaro discovered after a long time of hardship and patience.”

Although the ferry was lifted from the waters, the theory of a collision with a submarine does not disappear. If the Sewol collided with a submarine, the hull could have not been intact, as we now see that in fact it is.

“Who is the actual owner of the Sewol, registered under the name of Cheonghaejin Marine Company? I am convinced that the Sewol belongs to the National Intelligence Service,” Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung wrote on his Facebook on Dec. 28, 2014.
The message was posted amid groundless rumors that the intelligence agency sunk the ship intentionally.

Both Park and Lee are responsible politicians with presidential ambitions. They may compete against each other in the Seoul mayoral race in 2018.

We cannot respond to every single conspiracy theory dreamed up by internet users and commentators. But we have to ask if Park and Lee are still standing by their words. It is the responsibility of a public figure to live up to their words. They must develop the art of governance. They must not exercise the art of suspicion.

The conspiracy involving the Sewol is truly first-rate. The art of suspicion is developing at a speed faster than that of the fourth industrial revolution. It could be the keyword that defines Korea in 2017, along with references to the democracy of the Agora.

The Sewol ferry surfaced three years after its sinking. It was a devastating sight. However, despite the thankful lifting of the ship, suspicions still emerged.

Why was it lifted so late? Did the Park Geun-hye administration stop the lifting to conceal the truth? How come it took such a short period of time to actually lift it once the decision was made? Was there something to hide before the new administration began?

Conspiracy and suspicion exists whether the lifting is late or early. So when will be the right time to salvage the ship?

At the Mokpo New Port, Chairman Ryu Chan-yeol of Korea Salvage is currently taking care of the Sewol. He said it is fortunate that he lost the bidding to lift the ship to Shanghai Salvage. “If a Korean company carried out the project, it would have been doomed by politics,” he said.

In the soil of suspicion, a business cannot grow. It is a relatively small loss that the government budget of 100 billion won ($896 million) was given to a Chinese firm. The biggest loss is the expertise in a salvage operation that Korean professionals could have learned through this project.

Regarding the conspiracy theories, pundit Rhyu Si-min said, “They don’t appear to have bad intentions. They probably needed a different scenario in order to understand the unreasonable events that took place after the sinking.”

His argument, made on a JTBC talk show on March 30, seems convincing, but it is sophistry. There are many cases when bad outcomes were produced, though there were no bad intentions.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, an old saying goes. The logic that a person will fall into a conspiracy theory to make sense of something that is hard to understand is also unconvincing.

The conspiracy theorists often sugarcoat their theories with “reasonable doubts.”

From my perspective, those are unreasonable speculations. Only they use the term “reasonable doubt” to encourage each other.

In such a situation, conspiracy theories become part of established culture. Suspicions become normal. Raising doubts will be praised as a virtue. The art of suspicion will overshadow democracy.

A conspiracy theory will have a chain reaction. Some say that when it comes to lies, sunshine is the best disinfectant, but that is also unrealistic. A lie is not mold.

Some say that the lack of information and the lack of transparency in the government fuel conspiracy. That is irresponsible. Conspiracy theories are not contagious.

They are more like a cancer. No matter what the truth is, it will spread on its own.

Suspicions have their own life force.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 3, Page 30

*The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Chun Young-gi