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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

JUST BE CAUSE

Of toadies, vultures and zombie debates


If there's one thing execrable in the marketplace of ideas, it's "zombie debates" — discussions long dead, exhumed by Dr. Frankensteins posing as serious debaters.

Take the recent one about racial discrimination. When you consider the human-rights advances of the past 50 years, it's settled, long settled. Yet regurgitated is the same old guff: "We must separate people by physical appearance and treat them differently, because another solution is inconceivable"; "It's not discrimination — it's a matter of cultural misunderstandings, and anyone who objects is a cultural imperialist"; and "Discrimination maintains social order or follows human nature."

Bunkum. We've had 165 countries sign an agreement at the United Nations defining what racial discrimination is, and committing themselves to stop it. That includes our country.

We've had governments learn from historical example, creating systems for abolition and redress. We've even had one apartheid government abolish itself.

In history, these are all fixed stars. There is simply no defense for racial discrimination within civilized countries.

Yet, as if in a bell jar, the debate continues in Japan: "This nation is somehow unique due to historical circumstance, geographic accident, or purity of race or method"; or "Bullying foreigners who hate Japan take advantage of peace-loving, effete Japanese"; or "Racial discrimination is not illegal in Japan, so there." (Actually, that last one is true.)

A good liberal arts education should have fixed this. It could be that the most frequent proponents — Internet denizens — have a "fluid morality." Their attitude towards human rights depends on what kind of reaction they'll get online, or how well they've digested their last meal. But who cares? These mass debaters are not credible sources, brave enough to append their real names and take responsibility for their statements. Easily ignored.

Harder to ignore are some pundits in established media who clearly never bought into the historical training found in all developed (and many developing) multicultural societies: that racial discrimination is simply not an equitable or even workable system. However, in Japan, where history is ill-taught, these scribblers flourish.

The ultimate irony is that it's often foreigners, who stand to lose the most from discrimination, making the most racist arguments. They wouldn't dare say the same things in their countries of origin, but by coupling 1) the cultural relativity and tolerance training found in liberal societies with 2) the innate "guestism" of fellow outsiders, they try to reset the human-rights clock to zero.

Why do it? What do they get from apologism? Certainly not more rights.

Well, some apologists are culture vultures, and posturing is what they do. Some claim a "cultural emissary" status, as in: "Only I truly understand how unique Japan is, and how it deserves exemption from the pantheon of human experience." Then the poseurs seek their own unique status, as an oracle for the less "cultured."

Then there are the toadies: the disenfranchised cozying up to the empowered and the majority. It's simple: Tell "the natives" what they want to hear ("You're special, even unique, and any problems are somebody else's fault.") — and look! You can enjoy the trappings of The Club (without ever having any real membership in it) while pulling up the ladder behind you. It's an easy sell. People are suckers for pinning the blame on others. For some toadies, croaking "It's the foreigners' fault!" has become a form of Tourette's syndrome.

That's why this debate, continuously looped by a tiny minority, is not only zombified, it's stale and boring thanks to its repetitiveness and preposterousness. For who can argue with a straight face that some people, by mere dint of birth, deserve an inferior place in a society? Answer: those with their own agendas, who care not one whit for society's weakest members. Like comprador bourgeoisie, apologists are so caught up in the game they've lost their moral bearing.

These people don't deserve "equal time" in places like this newspaper. The media doesn't ask, "for the sake of balance," a lynch mob to justify why they lynched somebody, because what they did was illegal. Racial discrimination should be illegal too in Japan, under our Constitution. However, because it's not (yet), apologists take advantage, amorally parroting century-old discredited mind sets to present themselves as "good gaijin."

Don't fall for it. Japan is no exception from the world community and its rules. It admitted as such when it signed international treaties.

The debate on racial discrimination is dead. Those who seek to resurrect it should grow up, get an education, or be ignored for their subterfuge.

Debito Arudou is coauthor of the "Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants." Just Be Cause appears on the first Tuesday (Wednesday in some areas) Community Page of the month. Send comments to community@japantimes.co.jp


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