The good-hearted majority

I stumbled across an email I wrote to a friend in Oxford following the big earthquake of 2011.  She, like many other friends overseas, was anxious to know how things were for us in Tokyo.  I found it interesting to reread it, and thought it worth posting here.

At the time it seemed almost inconceivable that Japan would ever accept the use of nuclear power again, but it seems that corporate interests have still been able to just about prevail over the need to radically reassess the way we do things here.

This sentence stands out for me:

 “Long-term this may be what was needed to shake Japan out of the aimless torpor and leadership vacuum it has been ever since its post-war boom peaked some 20-odd years ago. ” 

There are a few questions buried here that I’d like to go into deeper at some point.  For now I’ll just list them in an ad hoc way as a way for me to keep track of my thinking.

  1. Why did did I assume that “torpor” and “leadership vacuum” are particularly applicable to Japan, or that Japan in particular needed shaking up before it can find what it really wants?
  2. There are obviously corporate/governmental alliances that remain successful in promoting and defending interests, such as the nuclear power industry or the TPP, that run against the feelings and good sense of ordinary people.  Of course there are counter-arguments that can be and are (so far unsuccessfully) mounted against the power of corporate interests.  But if the overall global system is naturally evolving in a direction other than that of the corporate interests, there must be all kinds of weaknesses that are internal to the corporate system that are  indicators that their current practices are not sustainable. Hence the questions which follow.
  3. Was the post-war boom in Japan really a period of glory?
  4. How happy are people in their lives?
  5. What do people need in order to feel happy?
  6. Don’t we have the power to feel happy despite adversity of different kinds?
  7. What changes, within organizations AND within individuals are needed for us to understand and feel happiness?
  8. How fruitful is it to emphasize  “leadership” — at least top-level governmental leadership as a central problem?  As my parting reference to the character Grand in La Peste suggests, there is something important (but as yet unharnessed) in the good-heartedness of a huge number of people.  Perhaps it could be helpful to replace the term “silent majority” with “the good-hearted majority.”

Here is the mail:

Hi Jo,

Thanks for your thoughts.  Everyone I know is all right, but it’s been quite an experience.  As I’m sure you know, Tokyo was relatively unscathed, despite the very long earthquake approaching magnitude 6.  It was quite a surprise to see how little apparent damage there was, so I guess that shows how high the building standards are.  If the epicenter had been here, though, the consequences would have been far worse than the terrible devastation we are seeing up north.
I have to go to work, so I’ll add this, which I wrote earlier:
Of course we’re hoping for the best with regard to the radiation.  People outside Tokyo seem to be more concerned than we are, although there is definitely an unsettled feeling now.  Most areas are experiencing planned power cuts of three hours a day, many commuter trains are disrupted, and people are not going out much.  Much of our food comes from the north, so the supermarkets are out of milk, eggs, tofu and other staples.  We’re quite jumpy.  There was a significant jolt last night centered on the Mount Fuji area that was not classified as an aftershock to do with the same system that hit us on the 11th.  
There are also a lot of administrative repercussions.  We’ve had to extend the deadline for students to enroll for the new academic year.  I think the graduation ceremony may be cancelled.  
Long-term this may be what was needed to shake Japan out of the aimless torpor and leadership vacuum it has been ever since its post-war boom peaked some 20 odd years ago.  I’m pretty sure the Japanese public will refuse to accept nuclear power now, and that Japan is well-placed to lead the world in the use of renewables, providing the right level of determination is there.  This is the only country to have suffered attack by nuclear weapons, and now the only country to have suffered a simultaneous major earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, each in its own right a disaster of historic proportions.
I don’t know if you ever read Albert Camus’ “La Peste.”  The feeling here reminds me somewhat of his depiction of the city of Oran.  And one of the “heroes” of the book is a very unassuming civil servant who stood out for his simple good-heartedness and willingness to get on with doing whatever he could to help, regardless of how small his contribution was.
Love to you all,

gary-larson-sheepCartoon by Gary Larson

2 thoughts on “The good-hearted majority

  1. So, 8 years on (in 2019), has Japan been shaken “out of the aimless torpor and leadership vacuum it has been ever since its post-war boom peaked some 20-odd years ago. ”

Leave a Reply