The New Political Culture of Intimacy: Ahn Chol-Soo’s Book “Thoughts of Ahn Chol-Soo”

I am currently reading Ahn Chol-Soo,s new book  “Thoughts of Ahn Chol-Soo.”

Ahn, who serves as Dean of Graduate Studies at the Institutes for Convergence Technology at Seoul National University, has been engaged in a remarkable political dance for the last year  concerning whether or not he will run for president. He  is someone  who has never held political office before. In the United States, this sort of a political game would  be impossible as no one  who is not committed early on could possibly be a last-minute candidate. With the Korean elections scheduled for December, it is astonishing that someone who has not taken the first step to start a campaign is being compared favorably at times with the conservative party candidate Park Kyun-hye.

This photograph of Ahn washing dishes is one of many photographs of Ahn Chol-Soo that pepper his new best-seller “Thoughts of Ahn Chol-Soo.” The choice of dish washing is significant at several levels. Most political figures put most of their effort into building up their stature. Here Ahn attempts to create an accessible and intimate image as someone who is a successful businessman, but still perfectly capable of washing his own dishes.

Ahn keeps telling people he will run for president if the people want him to, but that he does not desire it himself–and his wife is opposed. He took the ultimate political step of publishing a book two weeks ago in which he puts forward, in extremely accessible language his thoughts about politics, society and his moral responsibility–as well as comments about his life experience and his marriage.

The main theme of the book is insight and intimacy. The book seems to be designed to convey a special intimacy with Ahn, as if one were sitting down on the couch drinking coffee with him and talking about his experiences founding a software company and his insights into Korea’s social and economic problems.

This political culture of intimacy, so key to his campaign, is perhaps driven by a real need for honesty and accessibility among Koreans because they are so sick of being fed an artificial and sterile reality by politicians and they want more than anything a personal, intimate touch that inspires trust.

This photograph of Ahn washing dishes is perhaps the most significant. It serves to give an insight into his daily life, and also suggest a humility that cannot be found among privileged politicians who never wash dishes. Whether he actually washes dishes is another question.

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