Wednesday, December 08, 2010

'What's wrong with being #2?' in Adbusters magazine

“what’s wrong with being the world’s no. 2?”

So said Renhō, the single-monikered and, for a Japanese politician, unusually single-minded 42-year-old female member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, tapped by Prime Minister Naoto Kan this summer to serve as minister of administrative reform (aka, chief budget-slasher). Renhō uttered the question during a debate late last year on financing a next-generation supercomputer project powerful enough to compete with the US, but her plaintive question resonated far beyond the walls of Japan’s Upper House chamber.

By the middle of this year, as the stack of urgent reports concerning Japan’s stagnant economy, political paralyses, fading competitiveness, so-called Galápagos syndrome isolationism, emerging social strains amid widening income gaps, diminished labor pools and a rapidly aging population piled high, Renhō’s rhetorical query seemed to cut to the core of Japan’s mounting troubles.

She was promptly criticized, most notably by old guard politicos like former Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma when he offhandedly reminded voters that Renhō “[was] not originally Japanese,” playing the hoary hand of nationalism by referring to her naturalization in 1985.

Born to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother, Renhō is a former pinup model and TV news presenter who maintains a very active Twitter account, YouTube channel and Ustream internet video streaming site. She favors short haircuts and lean white jackets over her almost entirely middle-aged male colleagues’ bland barbering and suits of charcoal gray. A Wall Street Journal profile of Renhō this summer called her “the ruling party’s most recognizable face,” a significant label even in a country that has gone through five prime ministers in four years.

In other words: Most Japanese needed no reminder of who she is.

And then it happened. In the middle of Japan’s month-long summer holidays, during which local papers reported that some companies were curtailing vacations or cutting them altogether to stay competitive, the international media made it official: Japan suddenly became No. 2, at least in Asia, and No. 3 in the rest of the world. China had made sure and quick work of it.

Photo by Yasutaka Kojima

Reaction in Japan’s domestic media was mute to nonexistent. Some questioned the various methods used to calculate GDP figures, while other outlets simply ignored the story. The implied answer to Renhō’s question, which resonated deeply enough that she published a book titled Do We Have to Be No. 1? in June, has grown glaringly obvious: What’s wrong with being No. 2 is that you have to adapt to it. [more here @Adbusters magazine]


ArthurFrDent said...

Wow, lots of interesting stuff there, way more than I could comment on without some kind of insane 3 page long comment ;)

which I did partially write... but this would really be an hours long conversation, because there is just so much to cover, and every idea leads you down a tangent.

I guess when I boil one of the tangents down totally... I get that the idea of sustainability and using things to their fullest is fabu, but it cannot be an end unto itself.

what is the purpose it serves? Where do you wish to go/what do you wish to do? Being static and status-quo eventually is a hole you dig yourself. You are not making a decision in truth, you are deciding to not decide...

so much more to say on this... but the bottom line is we will have to decide if we wish to ride this planet down to equallibrium, where birth is only allowed if there is a death [assuming there isn't a war first] which is the road that sustain- actually leads because of the human factor...

or do we wish to go out from this planet and become what we may become?

the second is informed by the first because going out from here will require travel to other places and each time we will probably have to live sustainably in transit and when we ge there.

but it will be a goal that you must set your sight on and execute.

If you set your sight only on where you are at, and only decide to stay there, then the choices that will have to be made will be ever tighter, because human being yearn to breathe free.

Inward facing, and expanding recklessly aren't the only two options, but either of them without a goal only gets us back to where we already are, IMHO.

How I was hoping to relate that to the excellent article is that I see so much 'it was better in the olden days' in what the politicians and other writers said. It's an illusion, you can't go back, and it was NEVER as good as it looked. Nobody should kid themselves that life in the Edo period wasn't misery for the average Taro, or Joe, anywhere in the world. Some people had great lives, and thought great thoughts, but the vast majority lived pretty hard, short lives. The only way we got here was by changing all that... And that was caused by growth and destruction.

If we don't want to see the destruction, and the way we grew before can't be sustained forever, then we will have to pick a NEW way...

anyhow excellent, and if you can tell, thought provoking article.

Roland Kelts said...

Vast thanks for your recent comments, all of which I intend to address substantively as soon as I overcome a nasty bout of stomach/norovirus.

In the meantime, would you be willing to cross-post your comments (or some version of them) on the Adbusters site?

Generating some discussion there will help the story, the magazine, and ultimately, me.

Thanks. More soon.

ArthurFrDent said...

Sure, I'll post over there... bummer about the stomach bug, hope you feel better soon.