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A government with ‘good’ genes

Jan 05,2019
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Cho Kuk, presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, testifies on alleged spying on private citizens at a hearing held by the House Steering Committee of the National Assembly on Dec. 31. [NEWS1]
Lee Hyun-sang
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

It seems that the genes of the Moon Jae-in administration has been met with cutting-edge bioscience.

“As scientists remove recessive genes with DNA scissors, Cho Kuk, presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, has removed all the blacklists [that were submitted by junior public servants],” said a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party on the House Steering Committee of the National Assembly on Dec. 31.

His remark reconfirmed the moral pride of the administration. The administration supposedly is now armed with bioengineering technology, according to the lawmaker. Does this mean that there is no place in this administration’s morality for “impurity” to penetrate?
Genes are powerful. Our genes, built during the ancient hunting period, are still functioning. Human behavior and emotions often betray evidence of our genes. The 10,000-year history of farming is a long time for a civilization and a society, but it is too short to bring about a biological change. And yet, an experiment has disproved that belief. It is an experiment by a Soviet scientist Dmitry Belyaev.

In 1959, Belyaev started an experiment by selective breeding of baby silver foxes that were not scared of humans. After a few generations, foxes became tamed. Only after nine generations, their physical characteristics changed. They came to have white hair on their heads and chests and their jaws and teeth shrunk. The domesticated foxes came to have curly tails.

The experiment continued after Belyaev’s death, and after only 30 generations, domesticated foxes were sold as pets. It took just a half century for the DNA of wild foxes to change into the DNA of domesticated foxes. Genes are not as stubborn as we believe.

Social genes are more easily modified. In “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins, the author coined a term “meme,” referring to a factor that is handed down in a society like a gene. The speed of change for a meme is much faster than that of a gene. At this speed, the administration’s genes could be changed during the five-year presidency of Moon, far before the ruling party’s vision of a half century in office.
The belief that “our genes are superior” is dangerous. In history, it often led to exclusion and violence. The Nazis and KKK amply demonstrated this.

The moral elitism of the Moon Blue House is also worrisome. While it is pushing problematic policies, it calls them justice. It does not care at all about the opposition’s criticism. It will likely face the public’s verdict that it is no different from previous administrations.

It is actually questionable if this administration’s genes are different from those of previous governments. Despite widespread concerns, the Moon government approved the ordinance to implement the minimum wage hike. How is that different from the genes of the Lee Myung-bak government, which faced fierce public resistance when it reopened the Korean market to American beef imports without taking the people’s concerns into consideration? How is it different from the genes of the Park Geun-hye administration, which labeled internal criticism the “politics of betrayal,” while it is labeling a whistle-blower a “loach” and an “impurity”?

Carl Sagan, the author of “Cosmos,” said that what rules organisms in our world are the same principles of organic chemistry. As he said, it will seem far more honest for the Moon administration to admit that the same principle of power rules our politics.

“Pure” genes are dangerous. Asexual reproduction, such as grafting, is effective and free of risk that genes will get mixed. But when exposed to a particular disease, there is a high risk of complete extinction. The Great French Wine Blight of the 19th century and the Panama disease blight of Gros Michel bananas in the 1960s are examples. The Park administration collapsed in a short period when its political genes failed to embrace evolution. Those examples are not just for plants or the political past.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 4, Page 30