Monday, June 3, 2013

Why South Korea’s Anti-Discrimination Bill had to be Killed

Now that some months have passed since we've heard a peep out of the National Assembly about the proposed Anti-Discrimination Bill, I think it's safe to assume that it is dead.  This is the eulogy I am giving it.

The proposed anti-discrimination law, which was drafted in February 2013, would have prohibited Korean employers from discriminating against people based on religion, political ideology, educational background, and sexual orientation among other things. Looking at it from the surface, this proposed law did not seem like it would have had much political opposition. Besides, even conservative columnists from the Chosun Ilbo have written in the past about how Koreans need to end various forms of discrimination such as age, gender, and ethnicity.

Yet opposition the bill faced. Tough opposition. So much so that the Democratic United Party’s two representatives, Kim Han Gil and Choi Won Shik, who have been accused of being homosexuals and North Korean sympathizers, withdrew their sponsorship of the bill on April 21st 2013.

The manner in which conservative groups have reacted to the bill was, to put it politely, pernicious. Religious fundamentalists may have found a way to disguise their discrimination against homosexuals under a cloak of piety but even legal scholars, at least in the privacy of their own minds, must recognize that the religious fundamentalists’ call for religious freedom rings hollow considering the fact that it lies on a foundation of irrational hatred and fear.

Who could forget the famous Golden Rule? "Do unto others as you would have them do to you unless they're in any way dfferent from you.  In that case, FUCK those guys!"

So why did the liberals lose this battle whose victory should have been all but guaranteed? Liberals, who felt that because this bill could not have possibly attracted fierce opposition, overreached, which was exactly what attracted fierce opposition.

The proposed bill called to ban discrimination in ‘employment and other social treatments’ of people in about twenty categories, including region of birth, skin color, schooling, age, thoughts, medical history, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, and marriage. The proposed laws would have also enabled ‘victims’ to seek compensation for damages through filing lawsuits, while imposing penalties of up to 30 million won for violators.

Had this bill applied only to government agencies, there would have been little to no controversy on the matter. However, the bill would have applied to both the government and the private sector and that was what caused the uproar. Had the National Assembly passed the bill, the government would have made it a crime for private businesses to discriminate against customers and/or prospective employees. This would have been a gross violation of the rights of private property owners.


Liberals failed to acknowledge this fact. Is the Presbyterian Church of Korea owned and run by Presbyterian clergymen and churches or is it owned and run by the government? Are private businesses, be they mogyoktangs or restaurants or Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., owned and run by private businessmen and their shareholders or are they owned and run by the government and voters?

Liberals who supported this across-the-board bill acted on the premise that anything that a society chooses to do is moral as long as it is democratically implemented. This implies that a right exists through numerical superiority; vox populi, vox dei. This is morally repugnant. Rights are universal for each individual and if a right can be overturned through the ballot box or the legislature or the muzzle of a gun, then they were never rights to begin with.

Majorities, regardless of whichever kind, are as moral as this hammer.

This is certainly not to say that conservatives are morally right to discriminate against others based on their ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation, etc. They are, in essence, based on that most primitive form of collectivism – tribalism. By claiming that the government must pass legislation to not only combat but also punish these views, liberals are claiming that they do not have the ability to persuade others through enlightenment; that force must be used to make people comply with the times. History has witnessed far too many groups of people who have employed the same strategy. History has rarely been kind to any of them.

Even without the implementation of anti-discrimination laws, if a business owner barred minorities from patronizing his/her establishment or refused to employ minorities for no other reason other than being minorities, it might not be illegal but it would be immoral behavior.  In this current age that we're living in, with our current sets of ethics and technological abilities, how long would a business that discriminates against racial or gender minorities survive in the free market?  People who are being discriminated against and others who sympathize with those who are being discriminated against will most likely 'vote' that business out of existence through their wallets.  The people through their own personal choices on how to spend their money does a great job as it is to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Government-sanctioned punishment of bad behavior, especially when rights have not been violated, is overly punitive.

Koreans' views regarding racist behavior and homophobia is changing.  It may not be occurring as quickly as some would like but it is occurring.  And some day, racist behavior, even in Korea, will become a thing of the past.

A plaque in the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC reminds people that “Freedom is not free.” The price of attaining freedom is indeed high but people often forget that once freedom has been attained, people must keep paying to remain free. And one of the prices of freedom is that we have to live with the views of others, no matter how distasteful we find them. After all, there are most likely people who find our views distasteful.

Yes, there are people who actually enjoy this show and no, we cannot kill them.

Limiting the freedom of expression, and in the Anti-Discrimination Bill’s case, the freedom of association does nothing to advance freedom. In fact, it imposes conformity, which is the very opposite of freedom. In order to truly combat social ills such as ethnic or gender discrimination, the best thing to do would be to allow everyone to practice his or her beliefs and allow the free market place of ideas to determine which ideas ought to remain in practice and which ought to be relegated to history books.

Though the desire to end discriminatory practices is certainly grounded in good faith, the road to hell is always paved with good intentions. As someone who is staunchly against discrimination as well as the legal use of force to regulate people’s personally held beliefs, I will have a drink at the thought of the Anti-Discrimination Bill’s premature death but something tells me that my drink will be bittersweet.

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