Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Japan at a crossroads.

Japan is at a crossroads. As the nation embraces itself in the run-up to the general election to be held on 16th December, the future of the nation is hanging on a very delicate and potentially volatile balance. So much is at stake.

As this essay is not about naming and finger-pointing, here I do without any specific mentions of the political parties. I am writing thus not in fear of offending somebody, or in the hope of affecting the results of the election in my own trivial and negligible ways. I am choosing this particular style in the recognition that anyone could alter his or her system of thoughts, so that naming is not really necessary or appropriate.

It is understandable that Japanese politics is leaning towards the conservative at the moment. A psychological mechanism called “mortality salience” suggests that when people become aware of life-threatening situations, circumstances suggesting their own mortalities, they tend to protect themselves with conservative values. Immediately after the September 11th attacks, for example, the support for the Bush administration, which preached conservative policies, jumped up. How it affected the results of the presidential election in 2012 is now history.

It is understandable that, in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant last year, the Japanese people are finding conservative values attractive. The political parties projected to win the General Election tend to put forward conservative and nationalist policies, including the revision of the progressive Constitution of Japan enacted after the defeat in Second World War. 

To recognize and appreciate one’s unique historic and cultural heritage cannot be a bad thing. It is also practical, from time to time, to realize that people’s behavior cannot be changed overnight. Conservatism, at its best, recognizes that it is not possible to change the nature of people overnight, as progressive arguments sometimes seem to suggest.

That some Japanese politicians are stressing the merits of traditional Japanese values is both understandable and appreciable. In a time of recognized national crisis such as this, it is only human nature to emphasize Japanese values, both real and imagined, against those of the neighbors, such as Korea and China. The real question is, however, whether it is wise to do so, especially to the degree that ethnic and cultural diversity is threatened.

We live in a globalized world. Connecting beyond and overcoming national borders is the name of the game. The equation for prosperity has changed. The internet has literally redrawn the map of human activities on the surface of the earth. The search for talents has also become global. It makes sense to be lenient to ethnic diversity, not only in human rights perspectives but also from economic points of view. A Syrian student fathered Steve Jobs. Sergey Brin was born in Russia. Taiwanese entrepreneurs were involved in the founding of Yahoo and youtube.

In this age of small world networks, no nation succeeds by preaching nationalistic values. The great paradox is that a nation thrives to the degree it is able to refrain from nationalistic sentiments and open its doors to the diversity of world at large.
It is certainly true that Japan has had its share of entrepreneurs of ethnic minorities. Mr. Masayoshi Son of Softbank is one of the most luminous examples. The most remarkable thing, however, is not how Mr. Son managed to overachieve. The real question is why there aren’t more cases like Mr. Son.

Japan has come to a crossroads. One road leads to more openness, embracement of the cultural and ethnic diversity, and economic prosperity. I don’t think the other road is worth mentioning here. I for one believe that Japan would never take that road.