Monday, May 05, 2008

Japan celebrates non-diversity

In case you missed it, I recommend Takuan Seiyo's fascinating "Astarte and Amaterasu — The Diverging Destinies of Europe and Japan" at Brussels Journal. (Part One here; Part Two here.)

Seiyo tries to answer the question of why these two civilizations have responded so differently to aspects of the modern world, especially mass migration and the pressure to dissolve the indigenous culture in a multi-national soup.
Inconveniences and differences notwithstanding, there is one overwhelming blessing that makes me glad to be in Japan. It's the daily experience of living in a country that, unlike Western Europe, and increasingly the United States, does not actively pursue it's own extinction.

I am a European. Ich kann nicht anders. Europe had left my parents long before they left it almost 50 years ago, so now I am a Euro-American and I take this distinction seriously. Still, I don't feel the religious impulse except in a church that's at least 300 years old; and it's only European music that penetrates to my soul, and only European languages in which I can express what I hold dearest, and only European artifacts that satisfy my love of beauty and craftsmanship. Well, not quite – Japanese artifacts do that too.

But Europe is my Beatrice: a pure vision of the past with little resemblance to what she is now. The real, contemporary Beatrice does presume to tread the path, like Dante Alighieri's muse, from Purgatory to Heaven, but the Compass of Reality shows that the path in fact leads in the opposite direction: back to Virgil's guided tour of Hell. This is a Beatrice with a bipolar personality disorder, self-inflicted cicatrices, labial and nasal rings and tattooed breasts, sporting combat boots and a black leather suit with a Palestinian terrorist's kaffiyeh wrapped around her studded dog collar, with a book of onanistic gibberish by an Althusser or Bataille or Foucault in one hand, and a Quranic whip for self-flagellation in the other.

Japan, he argues, has its own social ills, but they don't include inviting non-Japanese populations to come in and take over like the bikers did to the town in The Wild Ones. Nor are they going to dilute their national sovereignty because borders are so 19th century, so un-progressive.

I've read several blog postings and comments lately trying to diagnose why European nations, or at least their rulers and intelligentsia, are culturally suicidal. One popular explanation is the trauma that settled in following two horrendous world wars, or as some historians say, one with a 20-year intermission. The psychological damage is easy to understand, especially for Germany, France, and Britain, which lost huge numbers of people and suffered devastation from air raids and combat.

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According to this theory, there was a tendency to blame nationalism for the disaster, and see the cure in erasing boundaries and growing a multi-national Great Brain to replace petty squabbling governments. And a lingering guilt for the atrocities committed during the war, particularly in Germany of course, but even in Britain for bombing non-military targets like Dresden or inflicting dreadful civilian casualties such as in Hamburg.

But it's too glib an explanation. The Soviet Union lost some 10 million soldiers killed, along with 14 to 17 million civilians, about 14 percent of the pre-war population (equivalent to a loss of 42 million in today's U.S.) — simply staggering, beyond conception for most of us. Yet the Soviet Union, needless to say, remained fiercely patriotic or nationalistic (take your pick) during the Cold War, and its constituent nations and the newly independent nations that devolved from it remain completely uninterested in being absorbed in an international, multi-cultural blob.

The same for Japan. While not as much of the homeland was trashed as in Europe, raids in 1945 on Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki attracted some notice. The Japanese armed forces were shredded, the country experienced an unquestionable defeat, and it was ruled by American occupation forces for several years after the war.

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Yet, according to Seiyo and other sources, that has not made the Japanese ashamed to be Japanese, although they have every right to feel as guilty as Germans for their conduct in the '30s and '40s. For that matter, Russians have as much reason to loathe the memory of their leaders in the Stalinist era.

Every country, like every person, has events in its past that should cause remorse. But a continuous history is one of the ways that the mistakes of the past can contribute to avoiding them in the future. Respect for human rights and property, the rule of law, and many other benefits of a civilized society didn't spring up spontaneously. They are the fruit of bitter experience.

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When you cut the mystic chords of memory you cut out the roots of a civilization. And you can't just replace them with a cultural mish-mash and a Universal Declaration of Rights or sententious propositions. When the local and particular is replaced by a centralized bureaucratic state, it doesn't change the facts of human nature or insure that oil and water will mix. Just because different cultures mingle within the former boundaries of nations can't make them live harmoniously together. Apparently the Japanese understand as much.

Seiyo writes:
Japan … has been preparing for a future with a smaller and older population. Instead of importing Asian nurses, Japan has developed robots that care for hospital patients, or it exports its old and infirm to the countries where the nurses are. Instead of importing window and wall washers, it has developed nano-polymers that repel dust and dirt. Instead of importing street sweepers, it has mobilized retired volunteers to maintain the cleanliness of their own neighborhoods. Instead of opening its doors to primitives who happen to be refugees, Japan donates huge sums of money to refugee organizations.
So that's how. But why do they feel no apparent need to apologize for what the bien-pensants of the Western world would call xenophobia? Whatever it is, I wish we could import some, and Europe needs a transfusion.

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2 comments:

Asian Business said...

Japan is indeed Becoming a "No Young Man's land" and I guess that the more immigrants come the more Japan will start celebrating diversity.

Rick Darby said...

Asian business,

You write in your blog:

I live in Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, where suffering and hardship is a common thing. On the other hand, in spite of being a developed country, Japan is suffering for its population. It looks like being developed does not mean the end of all problems.

So? Who ever said it did? And what's your point? Every country should have wall-to-wall people because misery loves company?

I'm probably too much the individualist Westerner to care for the Japanese lifestyle (although I admire its aesthetics), but given a forced choice between Japan and Bangladesh as a place to hang my hat, I'd choose Japan in a nanosecond. No offense to Bangladeshis is meant; you have my sympathy and best wishes that you'll get your overpopulation problem sorted through better means than war or plague.