Exchange a culture of insult for discourse

By Lee Chia-tung aP

RECENTLY, A MALE legislator insulted a female legislator on the floor of the Legislative Yuan and the incident became big news. It's high time we recognized that, as this episode demonstrates, there is a unique culture of insulting people in Taiwan.

Look at television's coverage of politics. Many TV hosts rarely mention problems or solutions or discuss the pros and cons of government policy. Instead, they just berate people from beginning to end. Some programs do discuss issues, but all too often those issues are so excessively political that matters of public policy are overlooked, while guests take the opportunity to air grievances about others.

Even worse is that these programs give listeners a chance to call in and take part in the name-calling and finger-pointing. Some direct their attacks at the party in power, others at the opposition parties, but everyone gets some degree of satisfaction.

The badmouthing of others has also become standard fare in our legislature. On this particular occasion, the legislator's mistake was to use crude language. If his speech had been a little more refined, nothing would have come of it. But the legislature is the place to discuss affairs of state, not to hurl abuse.

After all, it's not as if there are not important issues to be discussed in Taiwan. How can we improve industry and agriculture, establish more universities and get kids from rural areas into good schools? How should we solve the unemployment problem? These are all major national problems that are rarely discussed on TV.

Too many programs discuss problems of a purely political nature. Should such and such a political figure have made a certain statement? Should one political party cooperate with another? These are the issues most likely to prompt emotional responses and, hence, endless call-ins. Of course the TV stations like them.

One egregious effect of the many programs dedicated to character assassination is their tendency to inflame passions, especially when they touch on ethnic issues. Ethnic tension does exist in our society. Many political issues touch on people's ethnic identity. Otherwise, they wouldn't generate such emotional responses. Even when these programs don't provoke ethnic confrontation, they do bolster people's political biases.

Political apathy is not to be applauded, but excessive political passion is not conducive to social stability.

An even greater negative consequence is that political parties take advantage of this culture to evade responsibility. They know that the people just want to watch everyone upbraid others, so they don't bother to provide solutions. After all, the media isn't interested in the problems. If they don't provide solutions, nobody is going to reproach them.

When martial law was lifted, people finally had an opportunity to berate officials and let off steam. There was nothing wrong with that, but it was a long time ago. People have long since become their own masters. Why are they still hurling insults in the legislature and in the media?

The people of Taiwan are very easy-going and polite. Very few people have suffered verbal abuse while shopping or asking for directions. Why do we like to watch our representatives attack each other? Why do we like this kind of TV program?

We really should get rid of this culture of vitriol and establish a culture of discourse. We should no longer have programs that capitalize on the cheap shot. We should only have programs that discuss issues. We should not encourage call-in shows either. We should establish rules in legislative bodies that requires lawmakers to discuss issues.

Lee Chia-tung is a professor at National Chi-Nan University.

Translated by Ethan Harkness