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Newsflash: Human rights are bad for you February 26, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Politics.

in excess, anyway…. (according to a Japanese Cabinet Minister, PM Abe appears to agree)

(Alternative Title: The thin end of the wedge – Why Japanese people should be worried about racism)

Our Minister for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (wow that’s a mouthful – the domain is http://www.mext.go.jp, so the x is probably a contraction for Culture, Sports and Science, interesting to note they are regarded as worthy of relegation to an anonymous x, but as I can’t be bothered to type or cut and paste the full title each time, I guess I’ll go with the MEXT contraction too, let’s see it it sticks like the METI (but at least here they had the courtesy to represent all 3 activities equally)), one Bunmei Ibuki, made some interesting comments over the weekend. Japan Times has a short piece here. They pick up on the “extremely homogeneous” bit of the talk, which is not that interesting.

The Yomiuri and the Asahi have more coverage, but in Japanese only thusfar.

MutantFrog makes a good stab at the translation of the quote in the Yomiuri article:

[Ibuki] went on to compare human rights to butter. “If you just eat nothing but butter every day, then you will develop metabolic syndrome. Human rights are important, but if you eat too much of it, then Japanese society will develop “human rights metabolic syndrome.”

[For those of you who do not keep up with the health fads which come and go in Japan, “Metabolic Syndrome” is the health bogeyman du jour in Japan. I guess it is something about intestinal fat buildup being bad for you. I don’t really keep up with these fads as I don’t watch or read material relating to health fads and snake oil crap like “minus ion” or Vanadium/Platinum water or Germanium baths and other such pseudo-scientific nonsense. I think Ben Goldacre who pens the Bad Science column at The Guardian would have a field day if he spent some time in Japan. Anyway, more on such matter some another day.]

Vincent, a commenter on the MutantFrog blog linked above, made a reference to a similar analogy Ibuki made back in December, this time comparing human rights to eggs, saying how eggs were touted as being good for you back in starving post-war Japan, but now doctors recommend that you don’t eat too many for fear of sending your cholesterol through the roof. [I’m guessing that pissed off the egg producers so he has switched to another foodstuff which he hopes will not incur the wrath of the producers’ lobby. (The Japan Dairy Association are the ones with the interest in butter)]

I think I recall hearing the same quote from Ibuki, which appears to have been made last December 15th. There wasn’t much on the internet about the statement, I found one page where the quote appears, and can’t vouch for its authenticity, but he makes the comparison between rights and eggs, noting that too many eggs in your diet will cause metabolic syndrome, so excess consumption is not good. Then he goes on to say “it is the same with rights and freedoms”.

I guess by extension of his analogy, it is possible for a healthy society to function effectively without any rights or freedoms, as neither butter nor eggs are vital to our diet. Please, I would like to see one, and no, the DPRK doesn’t count. Unless we want to be eating barks and roots of trees. Not much of a life, that.

According to Ibuki, we have too many rights and freedoms, and it appears he is happy with restricting them using legislation.

I can sort of see his thought process, though I cannot agree with it. There are plenty of abuses of the system where people who claim to stand up for rights and freedoms basically milk the system for personal profit. The problem isn’t unique to Japan, any system will be gamed by the unscrupulous. He’s probably fed up of the people who go on about rights without regard for the responsibilities that come with those rights, and he does have a point in that there are lots of people who assert only their rights when it suits them. Me! Me! Me! Me! All the time….

But to confuse the issue of selfish people with the validity of fundamental human rights and liberties is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Is this guy really that stupid that he can’t make the distinction? Or is he using an issue which resonates especially with the more conservative and traditional types (read old people and/or people who live in the countryside (whose votes are worth upto 3 times a vote in the city in the lower house, and 6 times in the upper house and therefore hold more electoral influence in Japan)) to push Japan towards a limitation on personal rights and freedoms?

In either case, it is scary that someone who is that stupid or has a wanton disregard for such fundamental values is a member of the ruling cabinet.

The Asahi shimbun has another choice quote in its article, which has him saying that the Basic Education Act was overhauled (last year) to include text about respecting the value of public-mindedness in the preamble because “Japan has over-emphasised the status of the individual hitherto”.

I guess he means we should be grateful for what we the unwashed masses receive from the corporate-bureaucratic complex who runs the country and should stop complaining about “the little things”.

He is unfortunately probably typical of the bureaucrat-turned-politician genre who arrogantly think they should be left to run the country without interference from the commoners, they probably believe they serve the country but do not think that means they are obliged to be public _servants_ accountable to an electorate. He and his ilk appear to think the commoners are too stupid know what is good for them, and will basically do whatever they please. (The multiple generation political dynasties share the feeling that they are also chosen to lead the nation, no doubt)

I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at such a  perspective on individual and minority rights being made public by a government official, when such rights are routinely trampled upon in Japan by the government and corporations at every opportunity.

The media is also complicit by usually turning a blind eye to such events, or even when they do pick up on it, gets bored of such issues so quickly they can’t wait to jump on some bit of crappy celebrity gossip to spend their time dissecting – I guess experience tells them that this is a better audience draw, so the public only has themeselves to blame, their apathy towards politics being a root cause of the politicans and bureaucrats getting away with blue murder.

I guess when you have only the NHK (which is on a short leash, especially since all the scandals) and small handful of whoring commercial media empires running the TV and newspapers, and with politicians and bureaucrats wielding powers (via the press club mechanism) to starve media outlets of first hand news reporting, what else can we expect? Oh to have a BBC or PBS type media outlet in Japan, and a press accreditation scheme immune to political pressures….

Ibuki’s comments appear to be in line with the recent trend towards totalitarian and fascist ideologies being gradually reintroduced into the Japanese political debate.

Sound far-fetched?

I’m not saying that Japan is a fascist or totalitarian nation. Yet. But the vector of the shift in political debate is most certainly directed towards a decrease in individual rights and freedoms, the thought being there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and it is preferable for people to make certain sacrifices.

When the government has multiple voices bemoaning the lack of public-mindedness, and suggesting that a focus on individual rights is to blame, that can only be interpreted in one way. The individual should be subjugated to the greater good. Prime Minister Abe certainly has no problems with Ibuki’s speech, as he made clear in today’s press briefing.

If that isn’t the basic philosophy behind totalitariansim and fascism, I don’t know what is.

We are probably seeing the thin end of the wedge, the small snowball which has not picked up much snow. If we let the momentum build unchecked, I fear we might be transported back to something eerily reminiscent of the pre-war era. It will no doubt happen slowly so that most people do not notice their eroding rights, until it is too late.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. (attributed to Benjamin Franklin)

I am also reminded of Pastor Niemöller’s poem (one version reproduced below)

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

To round off this post, a quote from Peter Drucker (via Nivi):

The truly important events… are not the trends. They are changes in the trends.

I fear that we may indeed be witnessing a change in the tide.

And that is why the “homogeneous” Japanese population should not brush aside racisttreatment of foreigners in Japan.

Because they could be next.


1. Darren Beck - February 26, 2007

Is this xenophobia (or out right racism) just targeted at specific minorities (Nigerians, Iranians etc.), specific ethnic groups (white, black, yellow) or just everyone who isn’t Japanese?

2. Chris_B - March 2, 2007

Every day I’m more and more convinced that Japan is still a feudal nation. I’m starting to seriously question why I continue to be here.

On a lighter note, the quote I’m reminded of is from The Clash’s “Know Your Rights” http://www.lyricsfreak.com/c/clash/know+your+rights_20031891.html

3. A cat in Tokyo - March 15, 2007

Yes, this creeping fascism is bothering all of us who are aware of what is going on. However, you need to consider the reality of present day Japanese society. I have all the same worries, and find the above kind of remarks very troubling. But these ministers are just like snakes or animals, they are basically predatory and deceptive. It’s simply no use to expect them to behave like reasonable human beings. What counts in Japan is power, not morality. There is no morality, in the western sense anyway. Of course Japan does have a wonderful morality of its own. The Japanese are honest, hardworking, full of common sense, modest and thrifty.

But the notion that an individual has rights is somewhat foreign. Nonetheless, these rights were bestowed on the Japanese by the occupation, and the cat is out of the bag. These politicians probably have very little chance of stuffing it back in, much as they would like to. They want to return to the pre-war status-quo, no mistake about that, and they are very powerful, or at least the forces behind them are.

I was talking with my Japanese wife about this. What do you suppose the possibility is of a return to fascism (or whatever you want to call it) is in Japan, I asked her. She said it would simply never work. Japan has changed too much since those tough days of the war and pre war period. The youth of Japan are so soft, and really only interested in fashion, and hairstyles. There is simply no way you would be able to get them in uniforms and behaving obediently.

Japan is unquestionably very authoritarian in nature. That element does prevail at all levels, but I think the old politicos are dreaming. There efforts find resistance among the 50 and over crowd that have a tradition of activism from the 60s, but the youth are basically unaware of this evil wind from Nagatacho.

I spoke with some very aimiable young guys, in a bar, not racist or anti gaijin at all, but they both believed Nanking never happened, so the lies are getting through. The Japanese Ministry of Truth is doing an excellent job of rewriting history, and no doubt most young Japanese feel Japan did no wrong and was trying to liberate Asia. But from there to reinstituting Emperor worship, which is where these ministers want to go, I think it will simply be impossible. For the simple reason that it is too boring and dry, too uninteresting.

Who wants to go back to the days of the Meiji period with the Emperor as a divinity? Believe me, I work in Nagatacho, and it is the most dull and boring oppressive place you can imagine. These politicians live in a hermetically sealed world, and have no idea what is going on. They have enough enablers to let them progress on their path, but that’s it.

In any case, it is not up to us foreigners to do anything. The Japanese need to grow spines and learn that they cannot take their liberties for granted. They need to fight for them. They were granted by MacArthur, but in order to keep them, they will need to fight.

Having said that, America is in the same boat. Our forefathers fought for liberty, but that cherished liberty is slipping from our hands as we speak.

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