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

Series "What's brewing in post-3/11 Japan?" No.2: Will Mankind Ever Learn?
ONO Goro  / Professor Emeritus, Saitama University

September 7, 2011
March 11 will be remembered as a special day by the Japanese. Since the Meiji era, Japan had sought to catch up with the advanced western nations, and continued on that path after its defeat in World War II. We aimed for, and attained much. But on that day, many a Japanese realized just how fragile our achievements were.

We had abandoned our traditional awe of nature, which was handed down to us over generations, and began acting as if mankind were equal to nature. Worse still, we embraced the western idea of conquering nature through human will. Thus we attained the material and economic prosperity we now enjoy. But somewhere on the way, we forgot just how small and helpless we are against the forces of nature. We forgot that no matter how advanced our science and technology, there were still things we cannot do or things we cannot understand.

Of course, accomplishing what wasn't possible and understanding what we didn't know are prerequisites of being human, and should not be denied. However, no matter how advanced our civilization may become, there will still be things we can never achieve and things we can never know. Mankind can never become God. In other words, while we may boast being at the top of the evolutionary ladder on earth, we are still only one of many living creatures that coexist on this planet created by nature, at the mercy of nature, limited by the laws of nature. If that is so, we should satisfy ourselves by keeping our activities within the bounds of the natural cycle and the capacity of the ecosystem. In other words, we shouldn't go after superficial measures such as "shifting away from dependence on nuclear power to other energy sources" Instead, we should break away from modern civilization itself, from its dependence on vast amounts of resources and energy.

Physical conditions and natural phenomena are not the only elements mankind must come to terms with. The same can be said of social and economic phenomena. There is the duality whereby the rights and freedom we enjoy in our social life are only recognized as long as we accept the concomitant responsibilities and obligations. Likewise, we are free to pursue economic activities as long as they remain within physical and social limitations.

While many of us today accept democracy without question, there is no absolute value in democracy itself. In the days of Aristotle, a good monarchy was considered the best government, while in ancient China the world ruled by Shennong, the Divine Farmer, was considered the ideal government. We must correctly realize that the reason why we chose democracy was to avoid dictatorships and aristocratic systems that tend to give way to despotism. Otherwise, we may fall into the trap of mobocracy, or worse, totalitarianism.

In that sense, even the advanced western nations have yet to achieve an ideal democratic system. Rather, there can be no ideal democracy when most citizens fail to either correctly realize or express the duality I mentioned above. And that is precisely why each conscious individual must act to fill that gap. Even so, some still follow the U.S. brand of democracy as though it had absolute value. I worry because that smacks of totalitarianism.

If we continue to force our values on each other without recognizing our own shortcomings, or spend our days engaging in hair-splitting argument for expediency's sake, in the end we will all go down together. I would rather choose to believe that human dignity lies in unselfish altruism and mutual aid, as was displayed in the latest earthquake disaster.

The same can be said about the market economy. Advanced nations have sought to make up for their lost growth potential and maintain the illusion of affluence by turning to financial transactions exceeding the volume of their real economic activity. Pursuing such a course will inevitably lead to a bursting bubble, as was the case of the Lehman shock. However, having learnt nothing from that outcome, mature economies like Japan, Europe and the United States continued to implement economic stimulus measures in the hope of returning to the growth path. And that is what caused the current collapse in European credit, decline in confidence in the U.S. dollar and collapse in Japan's public finance.

The Old Testament tells us that God saw the overpopulated earth and urged King David to choose from death from starvation, war or illness to reduce the human population. David chose illness. Shouldn't we repent and return to the place we deserve before God presents us with another choice?

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

「3.11後の日本」シリーズ No.2: 人類はいつになったら反省するのか
小野五郎 / 埼玉大学名誉教授

2011年 9月 7日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Series "What's brewing in post-3/11 Japan?" No.2: Will Mankind Ever Learn?