When looking at pictures of the South Korean impeachment, one could be forgiven for thinking that the parliament has gone collectively insane, or at least that all decorum has given way to outright violent struggle.
I’m not there and I can’t be sure, but my instinct tells me that’s not the case.
Koreans, in my experience, are experts at almost coming to blows. Time and again I saw it: a burst of screaming and lapel-grabbing and chaos on the street, two men with fists cocked and murder in their eyes, or else a couple of old-lady vegetable sellers chasing each other in circles and shrieking. For a long time I expected every such outburst to lead to violence; but the violence never came, or at least nothing more serious than a bit of rough shaking. After a while I began to see these conflicts as a kind of street theater, a fascinating area of social exchange in which agression is released in pantomime. (It reminded me of stories I’d read about Native American tribes who would go to “war” with each other by riding out and tapping each other with sticks.)
This is not to belittle the Koreans, who are entirely capable of genuine, serious violence. But in trying to figure out what’s going on, it’s important to recognize just what it means when an MP throws a piece of furniture.