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Means and Ends
2017년 09월 19일 (화) 12:40:58 한민석(공연예술대학 실용음악과) 교수 ddpress@dongduk.ac.kr

Being a minor news junkie, I start my day with checking various news sites, scanning headlines to see if the world is as solidly (dys)functional as I checked the night before.

Not too long ago, I ran into an interesting article about what elementary school children want to do when they grow up in Korea. Expecting to see some outrageously entertaining quotes of what kids often have to say, I clicked on. It may have been one of those click baits, but what I ended up reading was definitely not what I had expected.

At first glance, the list of jobs kids like seemed to include the usual suspects; school teachers, public workers, pop divas, and etc, with minor variations until I saw something odd: Building owners. I had to double check if I read it right, because that word seemed so out of place on the list.

As I read on, I realized that this was way more than what I signed up for reading over coffee in the weekday morning. The odd inclusion of such profession(?) as “building owner”, or “building ownership” as a type of vocation in and of itself was not as much of an eyebrow-raiser, as the fact that somehow this has made into the list as one of the most sought-after career choices by school children under 12, and more specifically for the reasons laid out in the article. The article went on to describe how long-term financial stability is the first and foremost goal for many children in choosing jobs and career, preferably accompanied by the methods through which the financial gain and the status are achieved with minimal “work” involved in the process, while maximizing equity. To some extent, I am willing to accept that some of the well-fed, and well-clothed middle class children may develop some degree of precocious awareness of how things work in a capitalist society. Even with an understanding that Korea has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world in the last several decades, I was rather taken aback than impressed by the level of sophistication in the working knowledge of capitalist economy that had to be involved in deducing such a finely calculated conclusion. By school children.

Now, this may have been an old news to many folks who might shrug it off as yet another “non news” item by internet news outlets trying to maintain their media presence at all costs. Perhaps some may even argue that there is nothing out of ordinary in this phenomenon, and as a matter of fact we should pat ourselves on the back, as this may be an empirical evidence to how well the country’s multi-billion-dollar private education industry is working just fine by churning out brilliant minds at such young ages, securing the future of the nation.

 

According to the survey, career options such as school teachers and public workers have won the top spots mainly due to the job stability and pensions. In other words, at least a sizeable portion of the children under the age of 12 in the country prioritize these aspects to plan their life around. Of course getting a job would be a fine alternative if attaining financial independence as a result of sound real estate investments and/or even better, from inheritance of already established enterprise is out of reach for them for some reason. In that case, they may just have to resort to the second best option to bring the second most desirable elements to their future life, jockeying for what would be considered the second-tier positions. Oh, well.

 

This may mean that many of these children consider “what they want to do when they grow up” (in a vocational sense) to be merely a means to fulfil their financial objectives to obtain and maintain the lifestyle they want. We might have a case of means vs. ends here. Means exist for a purpose, because it is a method through which an end is attained. In other words, means in and of itself does not warrant the same existential weight as the end it serves. In general, the traditional question of what a child wants to do when he/she grows up (or an existential variation replacing “do” with “be”), is an inquiry about aspiration, individual preference and attitude towards the concept of vocation, or even about a sense of calling, in some cases. However in this particular context, the question was tacitly understood and translated by the subject into an inquiry of what types of means one would like to utilize in order to attain the end. That end in this case, seems to indicate a specific life’s purpose that has mostly to do with the financial stability, the amount of wealth one possesses, and maintaining such status, rather than curiosity about life, desire to explore and experience the world one lives in and beyond, pursuit of beauty, learning about other beings, and etc.

 

The act of pursuing then becomes a mere agent here, not the end of it’s own. What one does for life becomes something expendable, temporary, and barely tolerable until one doesn’t have to do it any longer. This would work only if the end goal is so wonderful that you could almost be willing to put yourself through it only for as long or as you have to, preferably as little as possible. There would be no joy in the process or inherent value to this endeavor because you are only interested what could come afterwards. You are in it just for the chips, is what they say where I came from.

Though they will soon figure out for themselves that life ain’t peach all the time,

this still is a pretty dreadful picture of the world for 11-year-olds, or anyone.

Perhaps the particular lot of children has had chances to think through the existential challenges and figured out that the idea of working and most vocational endeavors are just overrated, and thus came to a somewhat tainted yet ecclesiastical conclusion that the only reliable thing from which one could find comfort and happiness in the later years is his/her wealth, but for some reason I am inclined to doubt that.

A more plausible explanation might be that these children are utilizing their incredible learning ability naturally endowed upon them to figure out what are (considered to be) the proven models of success in life and how to follow them. Monkey see, monkey do, is what they say where I came from.

 

That raises some questions: are these occurrences indeed so common and routinely incorporated in our daily lives that the young and impressionable minds can observe them and readily form corresponding opinions with ease? If so, what are other corroborating examples of such social phenomena that we could think of? I have one, again from our trusted news sources. (To be continued)

한민석(공연예술대학 실용음악과) 교수의 다른기사 보기  
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