There is an enormous discussion (via On Gaien Higashi Dori) going on over at Joi Ito’s page following Joi’s… a Japanese with close ties and long experience with America and Americans… statement about how he feels about the U.S. election. For me it is interesting in that Joi’s perspective more closely parallels my own, but at the same time provides insight into how many Japanese around me feel. You don’t often get these perspectives in the blog world because most Japanese cannot enter into the discussions at this level of English and therefore people around the world tend to miss what the Japanese might be thinking. It is a close approximate of how much of the rest of the world feels, too. The resulting comments provide a lot of food for thought, but is, perhaps, somewhat unfair, in that for the most part only English speaking readers, dominated by Americans, can necessarily contribute to the discussion.
Perhaps there is something to be learned from Joi Ito’s (and several other Japanese commenters) responses, most of all his willingness to both make an unpopular (among Americans) statement to Americans (hell, you open your mouth and they jump all over you) as well as a willingness to appear human by admitting his own faults and those of Japan. Rarely have I spoken with a Japanese about the state of Japan in which they didn’t apologize for the way Japan is. There is this inherent understanding here that things could be better and, while people here have a long way to go toward getting more involved with their government and the Japanese government itself is a creaking dinosaur, there is a steady, if slow, progression towards newer ideas and social reform. Anyone who was here from back in the 70’s would see clearly just how much things have changed. From a Japanese perspective, comparing Japan’s changes to those of America, there is a real sense of things moving backward in the States. Joi, I think, speaks from that perspective, which most Americans, knowing almost nothing about Japan or other countries, even Europe, cannot hope to use as a base from which to gauge their own society or their situation. Joi’s view, by the very nature of Japan’s necessarily dependent relationship with the rest of the world, tends toward cross-cultural dialogue, whereas American politics and opinions tend to be ingrown and self-focusing.
Americans wonder why so many people around the world criticize them so much. It is not because people around the world arbitrarily hate Americans or feel some genetic need to disparage them. And there are a great number of non-Americans, like myself, who respect, like, and even love Americans (my brother and father are Americans and I have many friends who have been very close to me for over twenty years), but vehemently oppose the government’s policies. The problem is that so many Americans can’t differentiate between themselves as individuals and the identity of the country. As a nation the United States is committing atrocities around the world and forcing themselves upon the rest of us. Any person in their right mind would strongly oppose this and even show disgust, disdain, or outrage. Why these feelings are lumped together as â€œhateâ€ only tells so many of us that Americans as a whole do not think deeply about social issues and their causes.
The â€œworld as villageâ€ model can help us see what has been happening and provides a means for an individual to imagine the emotional gammut that all parties run through. It is the American refusal to acknowledge themselves as a just one member of the community, rather than the big cheese on the block, that so grates on people. Most people around the world after the New York tragedy voiced their sympathy towards Americans. With the Afghan war and then the Iraq war, very few people went so far as to call for the deaths of Americans; rather they called for dialogue and an attempt at reconciliation and understanding, mature and conciliatory gestures from within a working community. Even Sadam Hussein and Muhammad Omar (for those who can’t remember him, he was the leader of the Taliban) requested debates with Bush. Instead the American government sought to lie to everyone, ignore them, threaten them, insult them, and finally roll over their heads and attack two countries which had done absolutely nothing to them. If someone had done that to the Americans, if Americans are even able to empathize with this example, how would the Americans have responded? Graciously? With restraint and patience? Stressing non-violence and respect?
All that being said I can’t help feeling that here we all are going again. For the past three days I’ve been raking over the coals, wandering aimlessly through the wilderness of words between the two huge camps in the night, leaving scraps of food to chew on (with all the outrage of anyone else), stopping to converse with various sentinels, bounding back and forth in my head. I would have thought that in my heart I live among those who opposed Bush, and for all practical purposes, I do. But there is something insidious in the wall of anger all around and in the indifference of those who voted for Bush towards those who now grieve. The divisiveness reflects two sides of a lusterless coin. Either way the elections had gone, one side would now be up in arms, gnashing their teeth, and seeking revenge and reasons to get back at the other side. The very nature of the rift reflects the nature of the whole mess… people have ensconced themselves within a single perspective and refuse to budge from their position. The blogosphere is ablaze with bombs lobbed upon either side, not a soul seeming to stop and consider that the heart of the problem lies in the very inability to talk and find the same vocabulary. The doctrines don’t seem to really matter. Something much deeper is at play and it threatens the very frame of the world’s society. A new Babel over the airwaves, with the towers in flames at our feet.
I propose that the underlying threat arises out of our refusal to acknowledge the state of the physical world, and that in denying it, we have lost all sense of who we are and where we belong. The contention resides in our bones; just look at any other species… it is always a fight over the territory or male dominance. When the territory vanishes, when an animal loses ground, all hell breaks loose. We like to deny it, but we are animals, too.
One reason I stopped blogging at the end of the summer was in great part because of this sense of something in myself dissipating into the light of the screen and my muscles forgetting the stop-motion of walking and immersing myself in the arms of other living things. I had found myself following one contention to another through the cerebral world of blogs and the internet, arguing and sitting alone fuming and gradually darkening my mind with clouds of imagined wrongs. I wasn’t dealing with real people or learning more about living in the real world of nature. The very purpose of my feet and fingers, eyes and ears escaped my notice.
So I must stop myself here before I dive back into the water; I do not want to live my life fighting ghosts and demons. I want to learn to engage them and talk. I want to discover what it is that binds us all together and actuates language. Bush preaches hate and warmongering and revenge and absolutes. He refutes the mystery. And so many have fallen in step behind him, taking up his chants and marching to the beat. That is not how I want to live my life. That is not how I see the living things around me or how I want to greet other people. Not in the language of defeat and bloodletting.
So, as John from Journal of a Writing Man carefully deliberates, it is not the election or the aftermath that I want to embrace, but rather the stuff of our everyday lives, and a willingness to push through the brambles and emerge on the other side. Bush is a reality. I will work steadily for change, not rush it for the ego of one misguided man. The Earth moves along a different chronology from ours. It is up to us to match our footsteps to its rich rhythm. And to learn to speak its language and to remember the origins of work.