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Monday, June 27, 2011

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

Futility and resignation make for poor drama in Japanese politics


Special to The Japan Times

"Sheer futility," Quoheleth says. "Sheer futility: Everything is futile!"

As "son of David, king in Jerusalem" in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, Quoheleth could well have been talking about the state of politics in 21st century Japan instead of the state of existence in biblical times.

Futility is a terrible thing. To feel that everything is futile is probably the most dangerous of all mental conditions. It deprives people of the will to live. They stop caring. They become oblivious to their environment — its dangers, its pitfalls, its wonders, its brilliance. Everything becomes gray and indifferent.

What is happening in the Diet is truly awful. Politics that drive people into such a state of mind should be banned and the perpetrators of such antics ought to be outlawed. Yet they run rampant in both houses of the Diet. They inhabit the prime minister's official residence. They even claim to be the leaders of a legitimate opposition. All of this is all the more unforgivable given the calamity that has befallen this country.

Fukushima is still very much an ongoing story. There is no end in sight for the hardships being suffered by the victims of the earthquake and tsunami of three months ago. As the nuclear threat spawned by the catastrophe grows more sinister by the day, revelation after revelation ruins the actors' show. They do not even seem to have known what kind of a show they were putting on — no script, no direction, no coherent thinking about who is supposed to play what role, or when.

With all the chaos to be made sense out of, there is clearly and absolutely no room for the kind of political squabbles and farcical performances we are being forced to watch each day.

The government should be going about its business. The opposition should be helping. Neither side should feel the need to resort to such dubious arrangements as a "grand coalition" to come together in a temporary alliance for reconstruction. And the prime minister should not be baffling people by seeming to unsay everything he has said before, every time he says something.

All this being said though, this is by no means the first time in history that politics has filled people with dismay. Not by a long shot.

The Japanese politicians of today would do well to heed the sayings of the wise from years past, from those who gasped at the futility of it all.

Robert Luis Stevenson for one observed that: "Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary." Oh dear. But how right he is.

None of the people involved in Japan's current farce seems to even know the meaning of the word "preparation," much less "profession."

It was, of course, Harold Wilson, who twice held the office of prime minister in the U.K., who said that "A week is a long time in politics."

These are not so much words of wisdom as the words of a seasoned practitioner of the art of politics who knew the ropes better than almost anyone else when it came to surviving in that futile world.

Henry Brooks Adams, an American writer and intellectual of a less cynical turn of mind, has observed that "Practical politics consists in ignoring facts." Our politicians currently involved in the warfare over nonresignations and over who said what and when, are certainly experts in that field.

But it is that grand old man in history, Charles de Gaulle, who has the last word on this subject: "Politics are too serious a matter to be left to politicians."

So there we are.

Noriko Hama is an economist and professor of Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.


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