CAUDAL AUTONOMY: [ˈkɔːd(ə)l ɔːˈtɒnəmi]Noun. Synonym: Tail separation
A defensive survival strategy found in many lizard and salamander species. The tail vertebrae of these animalsare easily broken so that the tail will break off in an emergency. Observed mainly in two types of situations, the survival strategy is used either as a self-defence mechanism to elude or distract the predators, thereby allowing escape, or when lizards are bitten by venomous snakes. In this latter case, lizards drop their tails so that the venom does not reach the body. Although the lost tail can be regenerated later and the lizard’s life is saved, the loss of the tail mighthave various negative effects on its ability to run fast, on its attractiveness to the opposite sex, and its social status.
Nope, this is not a biology article. It is indeed a society column. Nature and human society resemble each other in various ways. The key difference between nature and civilization, however, is that humans are able to form a normative judgment of what is right and what is not. Therefore, it is important from time to time to examine whether the concepts from nature are being applied appropriately in society. In this article, caudal autonomy in human society will be examined.
Making the most of caudal autonomy
The phrase “shedding the tail” often carries a negative connotation. From the predator’s point of view, it might be frustrating to expect a hard-earned whole reptile under its grasp, only to find a useless wriggling tail to prey upon. However, it is actually a brilliant survival strategy for the lizard. Since eluding the impending threat is its priority, making a sacrifice for saving its own life is a great survival tactic. Interestingly, some sectors of our society also apply similar strategies to escape from imminent danger. An example of such method is the incident of previous Prosecutor General Chae Dong-uk that took place early this year in March. Amid suspicions that the presidential office had ordered the retrieval of Chae’s personal information for political purposes, clear evidence attesting the direct intervention of the Blue House was uncovered. In itsefforts to shirk responsibility, Cheongwadae’s public relations official announced that the information retrieval amounted merely to “personal deviant behaviour” of the executive official, with no relevance to the Blue House. By firing the executive official, the Blue House used the strategy of caudal autonomy successfully, as it was able to escape from the danger of social scrutiny of the whole organization by sacrificing one of its individual staffers.
Is it just, though?
Although the application of caudal autonomy may save certain organizations from impending danger or embarrassment, the morality of resorting to caudal autonomy is a completely different matter. Despite the previous case providing an advantageous strategy for the Blue House,when considering the role of the government as the protector of justice and the representative of citizens, the correctness of such act is subject to discussion.
Similar cases illustrate how caudal autonomy can be applied wrongly. These cases exhibit two characteristics: “the absence of an actual emergency” and the significance of the “tail.” Thedismantling of the maritime police after the sinking of the ferry boat Sewol is a recent example that demonstrates both features.
34 days after the *Sewol* crisis, President Park made her first official apology by holding a press conference. Despite a tearful speech and a firm pledge to dismantle the maritime police, harsh criticism followed.
The first fallacy in using caudal autonomy here arises from the absence of anemergency. Even though a tail is not essential for a lizard’s existence, a loss is still a loss, which means that tailsare only shed in moments of life-threatening emergencies. Likewise, even if dismantling the maritime police is a small task, the negative economic and political implications must be offset by the solvency of an emergency. However, the situation was not urgent enough to justify the sudden and complete eradication of a governmental organization within one month. “Unless the maritime police was consisted of some kind of terrorists, and had to be dismantled quickly to prevent prospective harmful plots, which they were definitely not, the government was imprudent in the decision, leading to nothing more than scapegoating the maritime police,” one anonymous Ewha University professor of Political Science Department remarked.
The second fallacy arises when the supposed “tail” is actually significant. The essence of caudal autonomy is that a relatively unnecessary part of the reptile can be sacrificed for the benefit of the whole. However, when significant parts of the organization are sacrificed, the whole point of the strategy is in vain. The maritime police not only deal with domestic security, but also with international security issues around naval boundaries with foreign ships. “Dismantling a sizable independent governmental organization with a diverse range of responsibilities requires ample discussion and examination. It should not be provided as a sacrifice to appease the citizens,” an anonymous professor at Ewha denounced. A thorough review of the incident and responsible solvency measures are required, rather than a rash decision to cut a single significant governmental organization to temporarily mitigate the situation.
Where to go from here
Sacrificing the insignificant for the benefit of the whole is a natural and unilateral practice. The seeming advantage of evading full responsibility with the sacrifice of a few is appealing enough for those with authority to use it to their liking. In this sense, the prospect of true reform seems dim without the government’s active will to correct for the fundamental causes. There are two viable solutions to urge those with power to sufficiently account for their wrongs.
Firstly, the governmental sector has to devote a lot of time and resources before deciding the policies. Shin Kyung-min, formerly a prominent television reporter and anchor for MBC and now a congressman, suggests in his book, Accounts of Closing Commentaries, that ideally, when an emergency arises, ample analysis of all relevant information, and acknowledging the structural problems of the situation should be considered before announcing a response measure. In this sense, after the Sewol incident, a comprehensive analysis of the situation should have come first, rather than resorting to a tail-cutting strategy of dismantling the maritime police. Hasty temporary measures to evade responsibility are not fundamental solutions, only giving rise to further problems to be repeated in the future.
When government authority falls into the temptation of caudal autonomy for the purpose of evading responsibility, it is important for other sectors of society to actively denounce such acts. The fundamental reason why the government repeatedly uses the strategy of tail separation is its intention to take minimal responsibility for its own wrongdoings, as in cases ofcorruption, as well as other failures in fulfilling its duties as the protector of citizens. It is important for the media to shed light on these issues to strengthen public understanding.In response to this, the citizens should stay aware of political andsocietal affairs at all times. Close public scrutinywill preventthe government from avoiding its responsibilities and provide further incentive for reform.
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After a clear governmental failure, a thorough investigation intothe causes, subjects, and structures of such phenomena has to be executed. The media should shed light on those issues, and the citizens and non-governmental groups have to be sensitive to such issues. Only then can the government have further incentive to avoid repeating its mistakes in the future. The picture of the citizens holding onto a useless severed tail while the government escapes without addressing its own responsibility is an image that should not be painted again.