Monday, December 01, 2008

The Road to Nowhere

Because what the world needs now
Is a new kind of tension
'Cause the old one just bores me to death.
- Cracker, "Teen Angst"

Tobias Harris has from time to time portrayed the current political impasse as analogous to the so-called Bakumatsu Era. In the final decades of the Edo Period there was a growing sense that Tokugawa consensus had run its course. However, there was no single compelling vision of what the next governing structure should be like. Without a shared vision, there was no common understanding of what steps needed to be taken to remake the system. In the stalemate, allies divided against each other; (actual) political bloodletting was rampant; foreign influences were simultaneously envied and despised; some regions prospered, many did not. Ultimately, the pressures of keeping the barbarians out and the distant han down proved too much for the divisive Tokugawa political framework, resulting in its internal collapse and replacement by the centralizing, modernizing and pugnacious Meiji State.

Harris's metaphor is still relatively hopeful. It posits a new order that can, by and large, accommodate the old, as just as the samurai were transformed into the businessmen, prefectural bureaucracy, military officers and noblemen of the Meiji order. The politicians, bureaucrats, quasi-governmental foundations, local administration of the present order, in some way, may serve in the new structure, whatever it will be.

I am much more pessimistic. Looking at photos of the central leadership of Liberal Democratic Party, their hair dyed unconvincing shades of black, sitting about in their overstuffed armchairs (the Prime Minister still grinning like a gargoyle, as if he has not seen the latest polling results) or the impassive and ever more crapulous visage of Democratic Party leader Ozawa Ichirō mechanistically asking his questions during Question Time on Friday, I find myself experiencing visceral negative feelings. "What are you still doing here, you old men?" I find myself wondering, uncharitably. "Why do you still squat upon this country's chest, keeping us from breathing? Whom do you represent? Why do you still burden us with your presence?"

The political climate is so stale, we can actually have the members of the ruling coalition coming together to agree to extend the Diet session, then agreeing that many of the issues before the Diet are too important and contentious to be resolved within the extended session, so acting upon them would be counterproductive. Mind you, this comes to us from a government that said it would be irresponsible to hold an election now because the crisis facing the nation is too great--that the government's ability to respond to events would be impaired.

It is unclear how we move on. The current crop of so-called leaders does not hold the confidence of the voters. Asō Tarō and his main rival Ozawa both receive the same low level of support--17% of those polled--to the question of "Who is most appropriate to be Prime Minister right now?" However, no constitutional means exists for dislodging these ancient toads. If they are to go, they must do so voluntarily. Unfortunately they, as we, see no future for their ilk in a 21st century Japan.

So they and we sit on our tushes while the energy of the nation drains away into a vast entropic soup of exhaustion and cynicism.


Anonymous said...

Japan is a follower. Unless there's a modern country taking the lead in developing a post-industrial economy, Japan will be stuck in the past, unable to adapt to the changing world. Well, for Japan to adapt, it needs the world to change. And note that despite all the noise around Obama's election, America itself, as well as Europe, haven't been evolving that quickly neither.

Anonymous said...

Governments run out of steam after 10-15 years (pace UK, Australia). They run out of ideas, and focus instead on hanging on. This one has been in for 50+ years. Get rid of it and things will get more interesting, and hopeful.

Anonymous said...

It isn't that much better in many other developed countries. Despite all the fawning praise in the media, Obama only got something like 52% of the vote, and that was against a mediocre opponent and with a lousy economy. But what can the masses do? Barring an economic collapse or worldwide turmoil, real change isn't possible.