Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

We must rethink all our basic assumptions on a global scale.
ONO Goro  / Emeritus Professor, Saitama University

June 28, 2016
The G7 countries seem still intent on leading the world, as they have done in the past. It is true that G7 comprised major powers whose actions were regarded as "given" conditions for the world as a whole, and they bore concomitant responsibilities to the world. However, the raging waves of globalization came to jeopardize their position as major powers, and the G7 countries, for their part, have had to put their own national interests above their global responsibilities. They originally perceived "globalization" as Westernization, tantamount to bringing the world into conformity with Western values and standards. Contrary to their expectations, they discovered that in reality it meant "diversification". They continue to uphold the flag of "shared values such as democracy and market economy", but there are signs of disarray in their ranks.

Why? Could it be that there had been no such thing as "shared values" to begin with? Could it further be that we have avoided coming to grips with such fundamental skepticism?

For example, with respect to Japan, there have been a number of instances where doubts were raised about the validity of the assumption of "shared values". After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, it became necessary to rethink the Japan-U.S. alliance and the security architecture for East Asia. Environmental degradation, in which Japan is embroiled, poses the challenge of how we can ensure the survival of humankind. As we find ourselves in the process of transition from high growth to zero growth and mature economy, we are beset with problems such as striking the right balance between "benefits" and "burdens" under the "market economy" and between "freedoms/ rights" and "responsibilities/obligations" under "democracy".

As we take another look at the multitude of problems at home and abroad, they all look "déjà vu". Those of us who have tried for decades in the pas to raise the alarm and suggest solutions cannot but feel that it is already too late. None of the ideas touted as reform plans appear to be much more than quick-fix, palliative measures, limited in vision and unlikely to lead to long-term solutions from a macroscopic perspective.

As someone coming from a nation vanquished in war, I venture to say that the "postwar order" is in a way nothing more than a concoction by the victors. The underlying notion that "victors are always in the right" tempts some countries to try the nuclear option for assurance that "they will never be vanquished". It also provides the breeding ground for terrorists who "remain unseen to the enemy".

It has been considered a taboo to question these "givens". What we need to do is to break the taboo and rethink all these assumptions with a view to establishing an ultra long-term and macroscopic framework for contemplating the future and then go on to work out the specific plans of action. We should not emulate politicians and academics who tend to start with their current preoccupations and try to build up the specifics.

What lies at the core of the debate in which human survival is at stake is none other than the two truths: firstly, "humankind is nothing more than an entity (element) allowed to live in the ecosystem (universal set) of the earth", and secondly, "the raison d'être of humankind is spiritual rather than material". However, even these truths are no longer accepted by today’s democracy, which is like mob rule, and the market, which is like a casino. The concepts of "democracy" and "market economy", though they may sound axiomatic, are neither absolute nor universal. We should realize anew that they are full of shortcomings, but have been adopted for want of better alternatives.

America, whom Japan has emulated since its defeat in the war, has had its share of conflicts, internal contradictions and risks. In recent years, it has been struggling to meet the challenges from the emerging countries. Amid all this, it has consistently sought to seek new frontiers. It has managed to maintain its position of influence in the world by dint of its strength as a super power with the world's key currency.

It is not as easy for other countries to retain their influence. That is why the advanced countries in Europe, with nuclear weapon states in their midst, have come subtly to distance themselves from the United States. Britain's exit from the European Union can be seen as a move in that context. If such is the case, what is the implication of the fact that Donald Trump, who is openly skeptical about the Japan-U.S. alliance, has become a presumptive U.S. presidential candidate? We should assess the situation dispassionately and bear in mind that, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election in November, there are many Americans who feel sympathetic to Donald Trump.

As for Japan, we need to grapple seriously with a host of impending tasks. To name a few:

•In-depth debate on possible amendments to the Japanese constitution embracing the spectrum of opinions;
•Pros and cons of Japan’s nuclear weapon development;
•Rethinking the Japan-U.S. security arrangements and the scope of "self-defense";
•Measures for fiscal reconstruction comparable to Greece, including default; and
•Resource-saving and energy saving with accompanying pains. 

In any event, people in their twenties and thirties should be the prime movers of far-reaching reform for the ultra long term. Those in their forties and older, with their "conservative (ossified) mindsets", should refrain from speaking, and should limit themselves to helping produce the environment for free and active debates among the younger generations.

Goro Ono is Emeritus Professor at Saitama University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小野 五郎 / 埼玉大学名誉教授

2016年 6月 28日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > We must rethink all our basic assumptions on a global scale.