People’s Agenda Beyond Market and Technology*

by OH Jae-Shik


When we sang "We Who Bear the Human Name" at the opening worship yesterday, I was reminded by the exercise in Jakarta in 1972. 0f course, I started earlier with CCA but when you think of 1972 when the song was composed and written, Korea was already in emergency rule and the Philippines was going into Martial Law. And then such countries as Pakistan and India were under military rule. And you are the witness of the at least last 25 years of struggle under the leadership of URM people in CCA, making the agenda for people.

The so-called People’s Forum was organized in the following year, 1973 in Singapore. That was one of the spearheading or ice-breaking breakthrough in the thinking of Asian minds with the people coming ahead of any other agenda. From then on many colleagues have gone through a tremendous suffering paying a high price, personal and collective, and many find difficulty explaining to family members and children what they are actually doing in their own countries in their lifetime. Therefore, it is in that spirit that I enjoy that association. I made a remark in Vancouver in the URM gathering, "I am changing my hat but I will never leave this fellowship." I am very happy to be back with the crowd.

But on the other hand, I have to be more frank and honest. I see the same old faces are lasting too long in URM circles. We have to radically change this pattern and hand over to the next generation. Because while we are enjoying this kind of fellowship, there are many other ways of people and energy to be multiplied and they should be the one to lead the next turn of the struggle.

After Walden Bello’s presentation yesterday and today, I have almost lost esteem of my own speech. He has spoken much to the point that I’m trying to make today. But my title under the "New Ecumenical Trends" which I do not find myself in and I do not see any signs in the ecumenical circle that is going to really lead us into the next stage. That is the sad part of it. Coming back to the original point, you are the one around this table who or elsewhere in Asia who has to generate this new vision. Do not look for it outside or from somebody else or in Geneva or in New York. The spiritual energy has been exhausted elsewhere and we are also feeling very much tired in Asia. So how do you overcome this fatigue, this tiredness, is an issue that I will be dealing with.

Where are we now?

Post Cold War Era

Hypothetic structure (commitment mobilized)

We are talking about the post Cold War era but as a Korean, we do not feel that way. The Cold War is continuing and has become more acute because elsewhere people are singing for the liberation from the Cold War bondage we are suffering under. Therefore the suffering has been intensified. We are feeling very much left behind from the euphoria that people are feeling that the Cold War is over. But in this mixture of transitional period, when you look back at the Cold War system as a political structure, it is in many ways, at least for the Korean eyes, seen as very much fictional that we started the international political game that mobilized commitment — to believe in liberty and to believe in justice. And we were lured into that two camps of belief system, under the name of political ideology, that one system served humanity as a whole over against the other. And this formulation of ideology that we have in those days has been very much a fiction. A fiction right up to the end of the Cold War because each side has lost its confidence as well as commitment to the original messianic promise that each camp have made in the name of humanity.

Moral crusade ("freedom from hunger, ignorance and fear")

For instance, if you look back at the announcements of Brettonwoods, the United Nations Charter and its preamble in 1945, all are saying that (they) are here after the end of the war to save humanity from hunger, ignorance and fear. This was well repeated in the other camp as well. They will be better serving the humanity in realizing justice and equalitarian distribution of wealth in an egalitarian society. Both sides were crusading to save humanity from all these bondage. Not only fear of warfare but fear of anxiety, fear of insecurity, fear of being attacked without reason.

And these promises of the two camps has been lost very instantaneously at the end of the Cold War. That is to prove that structural Cold War itself was very much hypothetical, a false one, or even fictional. That we have committed ourselves, our seniors and ancestors, for the last at least 15 years of history, to this hypothetical structure of mental exercise.

Moral bankruptcy (no need to compete)

Now, at the end of this game, there is no moral commitment at either side of the camp including the leadership of the United States of America that they feel they do not need to compete with each other. As I said earlier, this is a jungle of game that we are finding ourselves in — survival of the powerful and the fittest. The game has lasted over the last 200 years.

"Political recession" - anarchy (bankruptcy of moral direction)

If you look at the Rwandan situation, they are saying more than half a million lives were sacrificed last year alone. This is incredible considering we had thought that this is only a tribal conflict. But how can 500,000 lives be wasted in 1994 alone. Boutros Boutros Ghali wrote an article in the International Herald Tribune where he tried to appeal to the heads of states in the world who are heading for Copenhagen. He said, "The crisis that was unimaginable one decade ago is now happening right in front of us."

The mass killing and sufferings today is as much as any reference of mass destruction. When we talk about peace, we are always talking about advanced nuclear weapons and chemical weapons of vast destructive nature. We are obsessed to dismantle all these (materials) of destruction but we have not dealt with, as seriously as possible, the human structure that has also destroyed. The human hatred that is equally destructive against humanity, and human practice. And this hypothetical structure of the political governing system has resulted in front of us the sacrifice of billions of lives.

This is where we are. This is exactly what is happening in Chechnya, Bosnia and elsewhere. And there is no longer moral guilt feeling of any kind. There is no longer moral obligation to stop it. There is no longer energy to mobilize military forces for justice. So this is very much a chaotic situation.

Project Modernization

Life cycle into time

Over the last three decades, Asia has been undergoing so-called modernization. It started in the ending part of the 60s, the first development decade of the United Nations. Asian countries began to move in response to the call of the United Nations. So we all joined the camp and crusade that to overcome starvation, ignorance and fear, we have to adapt ourselves into the development crusade.

In that span of 30-35 years of time, what have changed is that our life cycle has been translated into time span. We always calculate the speed of time over against the pace of our life. Unless you catch up with the speed of Japan, you will be categorized as underdeveloped. All of a sudden, we find ourselves into this race of time that time is going on a straight line that is ahead of us. And we always have to catch up with it. So our life cycle has been a straight line from alpha to omega point. And Christian eschatology has contributed towards this kind of understanding of our life. (World) growth has been reduced into a time scale which is not of our own origin but controlled by power centers. They set the pace and we catch up with them and we did not have control over the time that we are in.

Local into space

Also, our localities has been translated into space. There is no particular locality. Every area is a space, the same quality quantifiable that has allowed expansion of power centers into much more wider areas of locality or localities. Either we meet in Bangkok or New York does not matter. We do the same work, the same thing goes on. It is the same space, the same square meter that we can be accommodated into. We are here for a week but we don’t care about what is happening in Thailand. We have our own agenda. So this is the lifestyle (today). We do not care about locality. Each locality is a chapter of national politics. Each locality is (pawn) to national power games. The center controls every locality. So seen from the center, every locality is a part of this integral space. So time and space has been the (center) in the ideological framework where we undergo development.

Standardization: state, market, technology

We are molded into a certain standard starting from the Miss Universe contest all the way to motor race. We have a certain category of standards where you are to be placed in. Unless you wear a certain color of (jacket) you do not qualify as intellectual in a society. When we had the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988, there was an international movement to go against the Olymic Games. Then I realized how the Olympic Games is making people feel so inferior except some who win the gold medal. All others are feeling so inferior that they cannot compete with the speed and capability of a particular breed of humanity.

Standardization is going into the (terrain) and area of market, technology and state. Such factors in modern life are the main entity which are controlling ourselves in terms of standardization. You should be a part of a nation. That is, we have to speak the national language, believe in the national religion, and perform as a national body, and observe a national calendar. So the state has enormous power to standardize our personal life.

Likewise for the market. You have to be in a beautiful package, otherwise you will not be sold. Unless you have sold more than 500,000 copies, you are not a good scholar. So market determines your quality. This is fantastic thrust by the market and technology and also by the international academic bombardment. All the politicians were preaching us to comply ourselves into the Cold War dichotomy. All the religions were (teaching) us to be obedient to the signs of the times.


Then comes the notion of nation-state. Our state is much more national. Our people has been molded into a nation. Therefore, we believe that our state — the Korean nation-state — has been the center of our own national life; has been the actor of modernization. The whole purpose of our country over the last three decades has been to build a country with the wealth and might. This is the ideology of the western imperial power. The wealth and might are the elements that can sustain and propel a country as a nation.

Japanese model in Asian NlEs - Prof. Sakamoto (since 120 years ago)

This national goal was such to expand and build might — that is, military and forceful might — this is not a foreign one to the Asians. A Japanese scholar, Prof. Sakamoto, gave a statement on this thesis: These Newly Industrializing Economies in Asia (NIEs) is not a phenomenon of the last few decades. It started in Japan 120 years ago when Japan wanted to capture Europe. They were saying that we have to make an exit from Asia and enter into Europe. Therefore this NIEs phenomenon started in Japan even before World War II. Therefore the Japanese effort to do everything possible to build the country of wealth and might was justified and blessed by the western powers. And was also given a sanction that the Japanese were doing far better than any other Asian country. So Japan enjoyed a membership to the "Club of Europe".

And Prof. Sakamoto said that Japan is not an exception. All other NIEs in Asia are following exactly the Japanese model in terms of national goal, its practice, its performance and its people’s dreams are exactly the same —to aspire to (develop) and become rich, to aspire to become a member of European OECD. So our national goal has been set to become like one of those European states, at all costs and price.

State - defender of "national interests" solely

We have been accusing outsiders trying to destroy our own national identity. But when you look at Korea, it is becoming like (the) Japanese in the 70s in Asia. In many ways, Koreans are worse than the Japanese in the 70s. We are more aggressive than the Japanese. We are more blunt in seeking interests. We are in many ways much more cruel in dealing with foreign workers, overseas as well as domestic. After Korea, I do not know which country is going to follow. But the same pattern goes. Who can ever dare to challenge Korean energy to build a country of wealth and might.

Now at the end of the Cold War, the strength is now determined to defend national interest solely and nothing else. There is no moral crusade anymore. There is no calling for a common action — a .collective. The market is far less in control by the state. It is an irony that URM people argue against state control and state collaborating with the market. I now feel that we have sided with the state over and against the market. Because the market is becoming all of a sudden organized demanding that states should not control their capacity and ability to operate overseas so that they can compete in the international game freely and at their will. And states are being persuaded and they are more or less giving in or yielding to the market "Alright you go ahead and do whatever you want for the interest of the nation!"

Technology - monopoly of the power center with no borderlines

Technology, from the beginning, was being monopolized by the power centers. But nowadays they no longer have any limitations in crossing the borders. This is a universal territory that technology can go any place with a (privilege patent?)

We were talking this morning about intellectual property. But no organization has ever questioned the property rights of intellectual resources. When you think of intellectual resources as a property of a particular person who has invented something or a laboratory team that has given patent to monopolize that particular wisdom and knowledge.

Who controls the rules of the game internationally when it comes to matters of intellectual property. But the capitalists would say, "We have invested so much to develop a certain technology and device, therefore we have to be compensated and paid back (our due)." But when you really look into the matter of intellectual property, it is like Columbus going to central America and "discovering" the land, "Oh, this is our land!" So this is still going on that you have a certain claim over a certain (field of) science can be monopolized and then becomes a commodity of your own. That practice that we are allowing is where we are now.

Where are we from?

Polarization and struggle

Let us go back at least three decades to see where we started. Our working style, the whole ideological thrust in Asia with the Cold War threatening from our backside, we (made) believe that there was no other way but to go along the line. But it was the workers, farmers, tribal people, cultural tribes and small minority groups — very sporadic and isolated — who raised their voices, like the indigenous people’s fight against the Chico River dam project in the Philippines. We did not start that project at all. We were drawn into it - to the call of this original people. And we became a witness to the world that what is happening in the Chico River .dam is not for the people but for the corporation. So we were drawn into a situation (that was) polarized already. And we decided to (be with) one. And we were not able to mediate.

Our struggle began in a polarized situation. We want to serve a particular group. The polarization in our struggle has (molded) a pattern of (life). If you look at the dichotomy of the rich and poor; national interests versus people’s interest; ethics and strategy; friends and enemies; center and periphery; power and energy. Meanwhile, we try to place ourselves into a certain area or line in this polarized/dichotomized situation that we have thought of, the providential preference. We have justified theologically that the (law) that we are living in is (oppressive). Therefore we, being called into that situation, have chosen strategy versus ethical norms; friends against enemy; we were siding with periphery against the centers; trying to mobilize energy against political power; and we were to defend interests of the people rather than national interests.

So our language naturally became a partisan language. Our energy was mobilized to resist, not to build. And, of course, our end result was a utopian world outlook rather than realistic institutions.

Walden posed to us this morning, "How do you nurture capacities to build institutions and expand it?" To me that was a very powerful message. We have never been trained and have never asked how to build an institution. Instead, we have been using our energy and every resource that we have had to resist and fight against even to the extent of toppling the central state. That is what we have aspired. Therefore, our ability now, after the end of the Cold War, is very much limited to a partisan language.

Fight against militarism and military culture

We have been fighting against militarism and military culture. Therefore, we (pose ourselves) as a guerilla — to battle, to (fight). We do not have enough power to wage into warfare therefore we were (posing) ourselves as guerillas. Guerillas are to pick an issue — very polemic issues to win over the support of the people. Without the support of the people, we cannot wage a guerilla warfare. Guerilla warfare requires popular support. Issue-centred operational style is sporadic, lacks consistency and continuity and lacks discipline to establish and maintain a system. That is our limitation.

Centre obsession - dream of revolutionary change (eschatology)

We have this revolutionary dream to change things completely. We were thinking of changing the center of power to do service for the entire (humanity). We believe that changing the center of power will solve the problems that there are. So I call it center-obsession. All our directions were heading towards the center of power — that such and such people, such and such party were doing all the wrongs therefore if we can change them, the world will be fbi better off than it is now. That is our simplistic (view). So whatever we do was directed towards the center. Change at the central governance as ultimate goal.

But our naivety was proven that we do not, could not, nor have not (nurtured) what we call now a civil society — change of central governance without mature civil society. And without which change of power at the center does not mean a thing. There is a change in the clothes but doing the same thing. With the new government we have had in Korea and elsewhere the same pattern lasts longer.

And while fighting (against) the center, we are also drawn into the logic and style of the center while denying and resisting, at least mentally, the cultural center. We become like one of those who are in the (center). Therefore, (latently) corrupt, we aspire to become a part of the center by denying what there are at the center. So all local actions becomes stepping stones towards the politics of the center whereby you can enter the game of the center believing that you yourself can better the situation. But that has not happened over the last 30 years.

Where do we go?

Centers are diversified

How do you overcome this polarized (situation) is the first issue. The world has really been changing rapidly. All our paradigms of thinking is becoming useless unless we think much more in a drastically and dramatically different way.

For instance, center does not stay as center anymore. Periphery does not last as periphery. Many and (each) periphery is becoming a center. That is a religious statement but in many ways it is a political phenomenon nowadays. It is a becoming apart. The center cannot maintain itself as center in the proliferation of periphery as small little centers of their own. Therefore, our perception also need to be changed.

People organized into citizenship

In the earlier days, building communities is a futile action. But nowadays, building a community of your own and having it proliferated ten times more, they make the political scene different. That is what Ed was saying that at least we have maintained a point and have come back to the original thesis of our own that local is important over and against space. And community is important over and against the nation. And this belief that you have to (honor) the periphery’s ability, capacity and possibility of becoming a center by itself. We really have to organize people in what we call a citizenship, members of a society.

People-based civil society (debate on people’s movement and civil society)

A civil society is to build on the basis of people’s aspirations. That is, people’s organization which have a capacity to mobilize expertise, intellectual support and to formulate their own aspiration intellectually. It is not the other way around.

There is a debate in Korea and elsewhere in Asia about people’s movement over civil society and vice versa. This discussion has to be continued more seriously. We tend to compare civil society and the notion of it in terms of western history. There is a pitfall there that the people’s energy has not dismantled (the landlord system) at the end of this war. It was politically (arranged). But there were many cases that people fought against. But basically, the new democratic constitution which was imposed by the external forces has alienated the landlord system. And in that pattern of ownership of the land, the civil society has not grown out of that. We were not able to mold a civil society and energize that into social forces. We lost the momentum. Anyway, it is a long debate but let us keep it as an agenda for the future to clarify the people’s movement and civil society.

Civil society - global

Although I still believe that any form of civil society — a collective group of people, of expertise, of their own resources — should be based on aspiration. But of course we need to have a civil society (that is) international-global.

The trend is becoming an international one. Many are saying that the international game is getting worse than they were. At least during the Cold War, there was check and balance. So it is with the (rules) of the powerful that the games have been formulated. GATT and WTO are not going to serve the interests of the people. The president of Korea is now stating that Korea is for globalization. But there is a remote target that to achieve the global goal, you really have to achieve the national (goal) as a nation. There is no jump from the national to the global state. Any state has to go through international game in order to make the global. I don’t think the Korean government has the power to influence the international game.

Inter-national does not necessarily mean global although there are values and aspirations the whole community is aspiring to have a sort of an order, it is a long way to go still. But the national is now moving towards localization much more rapidly [refer to diagram]. Local elections and local governments are being built-up. So the local becoming more and more powerful. In the diagram I placed two lines with arrows both ways between global and local. Unless you strengthen locally, the global will be flu remote and there is no power to check the national and inter-national.

So how can we build-up locally without losing the vision for the global values and (goals). That is even going back inter-nationally. That is to say:

can we envision a civil society or people’s organization based on the local and inter-national way and global network?

Of infrastructures

National - Regional - Global

We need to have infrastructures. It does not happen overnight or spontaneously. We need to have infrastructure — that is, an office, consultancies, supporters and expertise. Somebody has to organize these in the national and regional levels.

What do we do with this NGO phenomenon — the proliferation of NGOs? Rajan was talking about the need for a national forum to discuss about national goals and priorities amongst the NGOs. Amen! But when you think of 5,000 NGOs in one country, how do you organize? We then have to really discuss a much more fundamental way of building an infrastructure which has linkage with the global network that has to serve regional and global infrastructures.

To build this we need to install a new training program — that WCC and CCA is a party to — to build this national process of discussion of goals and priorities. Both organizations cannot sit back and stay idle. There is a tremendous task to build a civil society globally. That is the only hope that we can cope with the challenges and changes that we are now facing.

UN machineries and NGOs - role of ecumenical bodies

Within less than two weeks or so, people will be heading for Copenhagen for the Social Development Summit. As if NGOs can influence the agenda about the Summit in Copenhagen. But if you look at the UN documents that have been produced, has any NGO been able to digest or condense the contents of these? The UN machinery is entirely different. They have a different work process. There are many expertise working on these for years and years and building up.

We have to have an NGO, at least when we call ourselves an NGO, that will have a different line of thinking. And we cannot ever be able to match each item with the UN machinery. So we choose only one or two symbolic actions to hit hard, and hardest, to make news. And that has to be selected. That has to be devised by the regional and global organizations. In this case, CCA and WCC. They must train people, at least for a year, to be prepared what to take up. One symbolic issue should serve the purpose. We cannot deal with every issue that are being (raised). One single issue that we choose, through national debate and discussion, through global coordination and networking. We cut that in and test them out. That strength (we must develop). Therefore, infrastructure is very important to mobilize, to rejuvenize and to extend the energy that are being used.

Faith and Healing

What can we do to heal each other’s wounds and scars? What faith is required of us? In WCC, there are two lines of thinking that I have witnessed myself. One is the new understanding of church — what is the church? The other one is the new understanding of the world — justice, peace and integrity of creation. Of course, I for one was against the restructuring of WCC. But I for one and others of like-minded people were overpowered by the institutional church leadership. So WCC has gone into this restructuring and all the small, little, sporadic initiatives and beautiful tentacles have been cut off and lost. So WCC is now in a manageable, financially-safe, risk-free and sound institution. (I’m afraid, WCC as a protected organ will lose its ability to stimulate and pose challenges.)

New understanding of the church

When we talk about the church, the ecumenical dictionary say that is people of God, body of Christ and community of the Holy Spirit. So the parallel trinitarian understanding of God is people, body, community. The whole notion of koinonia. If you understand koinonia in such a way, that is to go back to the origin of faith that is the geo-political origin that is, Europe. European church history is the origin of Christianity. However you do, you are to return back to the geographical (position) of Christianity. If you call koinonia a (communion) of the (saints), the body of Christ is lost. The community is centered around the European community. Can a fellowship, can a koinonia be interpreted as a fellowship of humanity, a fellowship of creation?

But WCC has not ventured to go that far yet. It is led by dogmatic, orthodox Christian understanding of church. In that sense, we are going back to the past rather than adventuring into the future. WCC is now in a dilemma of understanding how do you best understand koinonia — to embrace a formula that can embrace the entire humanity into one basket under the love of God and go out from there.

New formulation of churches’ understanding of the world

The other formula is JPIC — how do you best understand the world? The formula was to put justice, peace and creation together. Still, JPIC has centers. Peace is European-centered. Justice is South-centered. Creation is half-European and half-South. There is no way we can meet together under these two. There is no center that can mobilize and embrace everybody. We are caught in a theological and ideological dilemma.

When you talk of peace over and against justice, just think of a mother holding her baby being shot and killed. The shock and pain of the death of her child in her arms cannot be compared with anything. Think of an African mother holding her baby dying of starvation. The pain and shock has been prolonged to a span of one month instead of one minute. The child is dying of one month of starvation and she cannot feed the child. Which pain is more acute?

So when we talk about center of humanity, this seemingly very important center of its own are only relative centers. There is much more profound centers that we really have to (see) together for the sake of human life. Therefore, JPIC itself has overturned this dichotomy of life, of (ritual), of experience and history.

Privilege of the Sacrficial Lamb

So what is going to heal the wounds of dichotomy and polarization? The privilege of the weak, the privilege of the sacrificed, the privilege of the victims. In the Bible, the sacrifical lamb has a mission. The sacrifial lamb is not ending in death. That is an irony of theology but we get inspiration from there.

Victims have the power to forgive. Offenders have no power to forgive, they are suffering. But victims have the power to forgive. That is the privilege of the victim. Victims have the power to call for repentance. And also the victims have the power to redeem. We have been so much enslaved by the fact that we were victimized. But we have to go much further. The victims have a mission task in the historical (change) to perform. That is to forgive, to call to repentance and to redeem the dichotomy.

The year of tolerance and the year of jubilee the victims have to pronounce

Korea and Japan had a symposium last week. All of them were speaking in unison that in 50 years after the end of the second World War, after the end of the colonization of Korea by Japan, Japan was saying we repent our sins of the past. The Koreans were saying on the other hand that, "Your repentance is not enough! You have to (give) more. Until you do that, we cannot (forgive) you." Koreans were not able to forgive. There was no power for the Koreans to forgive and go beyond.

Like what happened in Auschwitz in the memoriam of the (war), there was a dramatic ceremony — for the Jews to forgive Germans and for the Germans to come to the altar to pray for repentance joined by the Christians and the Nazis. This all happened at the same altar marking a new starting point. And we have not gone that far. We have only exploited the victims’ sentiment for a particular gain. Therefore, our agenda has not overcome the political game into a (phase) where it can mobilize new inspiration. That is (supposed to be) the (role of) CCA, NCCs, World Council of Churches and whole Christian (community). We are not able to give any inspiration.

Finally, Mr. Oe was one of the Japanese guest speakers to Korea last week who happen to win a Nobel Prize last fall. He has a very moving testimony. He has a 32-year-old son who is mentally-retarded. He was not able to speak. The parents used to hide the boy from friends who were visiting the family. They used to lock him up at the back of the house. Then one day when they were having a picnic by the mountain, the boy ran after a bird and shouted the name of the bird. He followed his son and asked him to repeat the word. And his son did. That was the turning point of his (life). Now this boy is a composer. He cannot communicate verbally but he can compose music. The boy has been given an award for his best-selling CD. And Mr. Oe has this to say, "The agent of redemption of my own soul is a retarded child of my own. Otherwise, without him, I would have become another arrogant Japanese writer. But that boy of my own made me understand literature as a tool of healing."

Let us have a new wisdom. And let us have the courage to go beyond the language of polarization. And make new institutions of public interest.

* (Ed. note: This paper is a transcript of an oral presentation made at the 26th CCA-URM Programme Committee Meeting, 12-18 February 1995, Bangkok, Thailand.)