Friday, March 25, 2011
It is well worth reading Karatani's article in its entirety, as he also has some interesting observations as to how the much less severe 1995 Kobe earthquake served the purposes of neoliberalism. If one does so, one hears the echo of left alternatives to the postwar military and economic alignment of Japan with the US, an alignment that provoked intense political conflict during the 1950s and 1960s, as addressed in my 2007 review of Shohei Imamura's daring documentary, A History of Postwar Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess. Some of Nagisa Oshima's films engage this subject as well, especially Three Resurrected Drunkards, which is available on DVD. Unfortunately, his 1960 film, Night and Fog in Japan, a film that indicts the autocratic practices of the student left as being responsible for its failure to prevent the approval of the US-Japan Security Pact, the treaty that memorialized the subordination of Japan to the US, remains unavailable. In many of his writings and interviews from this period, as translated in Cinema, Censorship, and the State, Oshima express his hostility to the Vietnam War and the use of US military facilities in Japan to conduct it. He also integrates the history of Japanese imperialism in Korea within this context as well.
In the ruins of postwar Japan, people reflected upon the path the country had taken in modern times. Standing against the Western powers, modern Japan strived to achieve the status of a great military power. The shattering of this dream in the nation's defeat led to another goal, to become a great economic power. The ultimate collapse of this ambition has been brought into sharp relief by the recent earthquake. Even without the earthquake, it was fated for destruction. In truth, it is not the Japanese economy alone that is failing. In the early 1970s, global capitalism entered a period of serious recession, and since then it has been unable to overcome the decline in the general rate of profit. Capital has sought a way out of this decline through global financial investment and by extending industrial investment into what had formerly been "third world" regions. The collapse of the former strategy has been exposed by the so-called Lehman shock. Meanwhile, the accelerated development of countries such as China, India, and Brazil, continues. Yet such accelerated growth cannot last long. It is inevitable that wages will rise and a limit on consumption be reached.
For this reason, global capitalism will no doubt become unsustainable in 20 or 30 years. The end of capitalism, however, is not the end of human life. Even without capitalist economic development or competition, people are able to live. Or rather, it is only then that people will, for the first time, truly be able to live. Of course, the capitalist economy will not simply come to an end. Resisting such an outcome, the great powers will no doubt continue to fight over natural resources and markets. Yet I believe that the Japanese should never again choose such a path. Without the recent earthquake, Japan would no doubt have continued its hollow struggle for great power status, but such a dream is now unthinkable and should be abandoned. It is not Japan's demise that the earthquake has produced, but rather the possibility of its rebirth. It may be that only amid the ruins can people gain the courage to stride down a new path.