Most states in the current society are built upon the concept of the social contract, the notion that in return for tax, the citizens receive public welfare as well as safety. Safety in the social contract covers a wide array of different kinds of safety: from the protection of human rights to physical safety. As it is a contract, it is only potent with the consent of both sides, and because of this premise, citizens tend to trust their government to be honest and to act in the interest of the majority.

It may seem like a no-brainer for an educated citizen to question authority when appropriate. However, this may not be as easy as it sounds.

On July 1997, the financial crisis that afflicted most of East Asia and South Korea was among the countries that had been severely influenced by the, then new, financial contagion. At that point in time, the national debt was over 30.4 billion dollars. To overcome this plight, the South Korean government came up with a campaign: The Gather Gold movement. The purpose of this movement was to sell the gold in the citizens possession so that the Korean government could pay back its debt, and increase its possession of foreign currencies. The Korean citizens donated trophies, wedding rings, and any gold they had in possession. Olympic medalists donated their medals, and singers donated the trophies.

News broadcasts depicted this movement as a beautiful act of patriotism. An action that salvaged the nation from collapsing. Although not directly criticized by the government, those who held on to their gold were deemed despicable, traitors even, and many were pressured to give all the gold they had to the government. This movement is illustrated in the same way in Korean history textbooks, and possibly because of the public education curricula, many still believe that The Gather Gold movement was an effective economic conduct that saved all citizens from having to deal with a prolonged financial crisis and substantiated the power of patriotism.

Few questioned the regime after the gold was collected. Exactly how the money was used was not the public’s concern. The citizens were too busy celebrating the success of the movement itself. This attitude, this blind trust, was what condoned the actions of the government. The South Korean government abused this trust to pay back the debts of large corporations. Even though the economic crisis had led to many citizens losing their jobs, the government sold the gold at a giveaway price to other nations and around 6 million dollars were lost to “trade fees”, which, in reality, were given to large corporations like Hyundai, which then owned a massive construction subsidiary company.

Foreign critics deemed this as an act of abuse by the government. The government had initially caused the financial crisis by assuming that the economic breakdown in Vietnam would not affect Korea, yet the government used private funds to solve a problem they were responsible for.

As much as we rely on logos, we are vulnerable to pathos. Public sentiments can flood your vision and your judgement. Perhaps, the reason we learn history is to recognize the pattern of an authority, and learn how to doubt it, instead of blindly following what is set out for us. We must learn to fight against our nature, to know the WHOLE truth.

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