Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Democracy’s Growth Pains

Friday, November 19th, 2010

One of the things that Nel Noddings analyses in the opening pages of his book “Educating Citizens for Global Awareness” is social and cultural diversity. Noddings states that “diversity” involves “racial, ethnic, and religious differences” while disregarding physical appearances of individuals. In other words, Noddings considers “diversity” along lines of cultural heritage—which, of course, is defined by the social, historical, and cultural context of the people in question.

In his book, Noddings states that recognizing the importance of “diversity” is paramount to the creation of “pluralism,” that is, “sharing power with all those affected by policies and decisions.” By this Noddings means that in order to construct a rich political sphere that is representative of the myriad discrepancies that make up the populace, we must recognize that the “public” is not one homogenous mass but rather one that is made up of an people of eclectic backgrounds.

The thrust of Noddings’s argument concludes with the remark that “diversity, pluralism, and multiculturalism—rightly understood—protect us from our worst social/political impulses.” Although Noddings does not provide historical examples of such cases, one can easily make a link between his argument (which is an abstract truism) and say, some of the real, harrowing events which serve as examples to verify his claim (like the Holocaust and the oft-overlooked yet no less horrifying genocide of the Chinese committed by Japan during WWII).

Yet one cannot help but question the limits to Noddings’s rosy vision of a public sphere where minorities and marginalized people can freely express their opinion. Noddings seems to accept the deliberative democracy envisioned by Jager Habermas in his book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1961)—that is, a democracy that functions healthily by taking into account the multitude of opinions of a non-homogenous populace.

There are many thinkers today who challenge such optimism. Chandal Mouffe is one such thinker, and her argument about agonistic pluralism, that is pluralism where differences are the source of friction rather than deliberation, is convincing enough—after all, is it really possible to completely ignore conspicuous disparities between people of different cultural heritage and view each other as equal citizens who share a common heritage?

Mouffe’s antithesis to Habermas’s claims can also be applied to the argument put forth by Noddings—a deliberative democracy assumes goodwill and well-reasoned, cool-headed (yet passionate) deliberation amongst people of differing backgrounds. Yet Mouffe says that this is impossible; as human beings, we cannot help but recognize our differences, and it is through recognizing these differences in an agonistic way that we can really express, and hope to overcome, our grievances.

At present, those of the deliberative democracy camp and the agonistic pluralism camp have dug their heels firmly into the ground to challenge the other on ideological and conceptual grounds. This all comes to show that present structuralized forms of democracy are well overdue for a serious update, and its flaws once again unearthed.

Once such flaws are unearthed and tended to, we may be able to finally water down the stereotypes and biases so prevalent in the world today and strive for a truly global, peaceful coexistence amongst the people (and hopefully in a green earth too!)

 //By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Japan’s Identity Crisis

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

The chapter “Ethnic Diversity and Citizenship Education in Japan” in the textbook “Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives”  is a rather scathing critique of the Japanese government’s backwardness. The government, despite egregious indicators suggesting otherwise, has continued to preach the notion of a homogonous Japan.

This façade obviously cannot hold  for long. Borders between countries are becoming ever the more porous, and Japan is already finding itself in the throes of globalization’s turbulence. Even if the government doesn’t recognize a multicultural Japan, they’ll have to recognize it when the ministries are swarmed with trick-or-treaters from all across the world nagging at their sleeves for candy.

Of course, the rational hunch would be that the Japanese government officials are fully aware of Japan’s future as being inevitably awash with foreigners, and they’re probably just as equally aware of the outdated notions of the “pure and homogonous Japan” that they’re trying to peddle with increasing desperation. It is all most likely their way of buying time before the day of reckoning.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s book “utsukushii kuni he [To a Beautiful Country]” really comes to mind in terms of rising nationalistic sentiments amongst the Japanese people. The book’s notoriously nationalistic overtones is probably matched only by Masahiko Fujiwara’s “Kokka no hinkaku [The dignity of the State].” Both are, quite conspicuously, attempts to try and resurrect a national identity amongst the Japanese people.

As Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, the author of the chapter eloquently pointed out, the sense of collective identity has continued to decline precipitously in Japan. But efforts like Abe and Kiichi’s are counterproductive: any man with a morsel of liberal education will be able to quickly spot the words which connote the arousal of nationalistic fervor.

What we really need, then, is a new generation of Japanese who consider themselves members of one multicultural global village.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Japan: The Place that Never Existed

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, a man who advanced new frontiers in linguistics in the 19th to 20th century, once observed that “every language is a complete system of signs.” His work in linguistics led him to differentiate between signifiers (the symbol, or word) and the signified (the object that is brought to mind).

Nearly a century later, a Frenchman by the name of Roland Barthes would step foot onto Japanese soil. Barthes, who devoted much of his life to sociology and lexicology, was intrigued by the country.

So intrigued, in fact, that he would go on to write an entire book—Empire of Signs—on his observations of Japan in 1972.

His initial quest was simple, audacious, and fascinating; Barthes would go to Japan although he spoke no Japanese.

And thus Barthes’s journey began:

“The murmuring mass of an unknown language constitutes a delicate protection, envelops the foreigner in an auditory film which halts at his ears all the alienations of the mother tongue: the regional and social origins of whoever is speaking, his degree of culture, of intelligence, of taste, the image by which he constitutes himself as a person and which he asks you to recognize.” (p.9)

Yet Barthes could not have been ever the happier:

“What a respite! Here I am protected against stupidity, vulgarity, vanity, wordliness, nationality, normality,” Barthes notes exuberantly. He then goes on to play observant: “the unknown language, of which I nonetheless grasp the respiration, the emotive aeration, in a word the pure significance, moves around me, as I move, a faint vertigo, sweeping me in its artificial emptiness, which is consummated only for me: I live in the interstice, delivered from any meaning.” (p.9)

Eventually, Barthes reaches the conclusion that Japan is, as the title suggests, an empire of signs devoid of meaning. He arrives at this conclusion from his analysis of Japanese haiku, gastronomy, and city planning.

Starting with Haiku, he first enumerates a few such as:

I come by the mountain path.
Ah! This is exquisite!
A violet!
-
Basho (p.71)

Which leads him to conclude that “The haiku wakens desire: how many Western readers have dreamed of strolling through life, notebook in hand, jotting down ‘impressions’ whose brevity would guarantee their perfection, whose simplicity would attest to their profundity.”

This basic analysis leads to a much deeper observation: “there is a moment when language ceases, and it is this echoless breach which institutes at once the truth of Zen and the form—brief and empty—of the haiku.” (p.74)

What Barthes is thus talking about is haiku’s attempt to elucidate the lack of a Saussurian signifier to accurately represent the Saussurian signified. In other words, he realizes in haiku a certain form of arresting silence that talks quite loudly to the soul in the most ineffable of manners.

Likewise, in the field of gastronomy, Barthes notes Japan’s emphasis of lightness rather than the rich and creamy tastes preferred in his France:

“For us, in France, a clear soup is a poor soup; but her the lightness of the bouillon, fluid as water, the soybean dust or minced green beans drifting within it, the rarity of the two or three solids which divide as they float in this little quantity of water give the idea of a clear density, of a nutrivity without grease, of an elixir all the more comforting in that it is pure.” (p.14)

By stumbling upon Japan’s emphasis on things that are clear, pure, and silent, Barthes triumphantly lands upon one more triumphant find: the lack of a “Center” in Tokyo.

Again, Barthes begins his observations with what he’s used to seeing at home—a concentric city with the center filled with churches, offices, banks, and other key functions of civilization. In contrast, “the city I am talking about (Tokyo) offers this precious paradox: it does possess a center, but this center is empty. The entire city turns around a site both forbidden and indifferent, a residence concealed beneath foliage, protected by moats, inhabited by an emperor who is never seen.” (p.31)

Thus Tokyo’s ominous center imposes the stillness of nothing amongst the daily havoc of a typical modern city.

And thus, concludes Barthes, “daily, in their rapid, energetic, bullet-like trajectories, the taxis avoid this circle, whose low crest, the visible form of invisibility, hides the sacred ‘nothing.’ [Tokyo] is thereby built around an opaque ring of walls, streams, roofs, and trees whose own center is no more than an evaporated notion, subsisting here, not in order to irradiate power, but to give to the entire urban movement the support of its central emptiness […] in this manner, we are told, the system of the imaginary is spread circularly, by detours and returns the length of an empty subject.” (p.31-32)

Welcome to Japan—the land that has never existed.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

The Faults of Reconciliation: Stuffing Words in a Dead Man’s Mouth

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

In many newspapers, the word “conflict resolution” is often used interchangeably with the term “reconciliation.” However, while the former indicates an end of state-level discord, the latter is a branch of peace studies that is rapidly gaining followers.

From an academic perspective, “reconciliation” connotes a deeper level of attitude-change amongst the parties involved. It is not merely a change of diplomatic stance but a deeper level change where simmering animosities are relieved, which progresses to benign coexistence and finally, it is hoped, towards a relationship that is mutually intimate and symbiotic.

Yet for all the buzz in the academic sphere, for all the hype amongst International Relations majors, reconciliation as a conceptual framework for establishing peace is and remains flawed. Reconciliation counts amongst its tools the seeking of justice, truth, restitution, reform, and oblivion (“time heals all wounds.”) These tools are used to ameliorate hostilities with the aim of normalizing and establishing amicable relations between the parties involved in conflict.

All of this sounds good in theory. But there remains something evidently disturbing about reconciliation.

To realize just what’s so disturbing about this notion, one must first question who is the most disenfranchised when conflicts occur.

Needless to say, it’s those who have lost their lives.

The crucial fault of a posteriori claims for justice after conflicts occur is in the fact that we are essentially acting as agents for the dead, we are representing people who have lost ability to voice their opinions. What we ought to bear in mind then, hypothetically, is the rights of the dead.

Some may have sought vengeance had they been killed, yet others who are more docile of heart may not have sought retributive justice. As survivors of conflict, we can only surmise what the dead (the most disenfranchised of all) would have wanted us to do.

But reconciliation is a scary science, and it’s a scary science because it justifies the act of putting words in a dead man’s mouth.

Considering what to do afterwards, a form of retrospective analysis, is by its nature subjective. This leaves a great margin of interpretation that the victor can capitalize upon. Hence the term “victor’s justice.”

To make matters worse, reconciliation’s benefits are dubious. The fact that conflict continues to occur despite the work being done on reconciliation, shows that historical reconciliation, as a study, does not have preventative qualities; thus the essence of the study of historical reconciliation is not an answer to conflict or even a preventative measure but rather a form of a posteriori opinion surveys as a framework for how conflicts ought to be dealt with after they occur.

Besides, why do we need to reconcile? Are not the relatives of those who have been killed retaining the identity of their deceased by harboring deep resentment towards the aggresors?

As John, one of the main characters in Aldous Huxley’s masterpiece work Brave New World states, “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

To which another character replies, “in fact, you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

John’s response?

“All right then, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.” (p.240).

Reconciliation may have lofty ideals, but killing resentment may be the same as a ridding the world of the last remaining memories of the dead. Which, might I add, is a form of memory genocide.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and Visible Misinterpretations

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Famously absentminded and an avid player of whist, he roamed the campuses of Glasgow and Oxford in the mid-18th century. This man was also frequently overheard talking to himself. Nonetheless, this eccentricity of a man was a preeminent thinker and held the chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University. He counted amongst his friends great intellectuals such as David Hume, D’Alembert, Turgot, Voltaire, and even Francois Quesnay.

This man, of course, is Adam Smith.

Today, Adam Smith is one of the most well-known figures in economics. Most textbooks begin with an expert from his book The Wealth of Nations, enlightening young students about how an invisible hand tends supply and demand towards equilibrium in the long run. Hailed as the founder of economics, Adam Smith has certainly made lasting contributions towards modern economics.

But do we really understand Adam Smith and his insights? Can we be certain that we did not misunderstand him?

Ironically, Adam Smith himself did not see himself as a “founder of economics,” nor did he even consider The Wealth of Nations to be his greatest work.

The former claim is an easy one to verify: Smith had intended to dedicate The Wealth of Nations to Francois Quesnay, the French thinker who authored the Tableau Economique—an economic model of macroeconomics.

The latter claim can be deduced when one looks at Smith’s life-history: Considering his long-standing reputation as an authority on moral philosophy, it is quite probable that Adam Smith died thinking that his book Theory of Moral Sentiments published in 1759 was his greatest work.

So then, what about the bloated fanfare about his notion of the invisible hand? The term appears on page 572, where Smith writes,

“[The market participant] intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

When one reads The Wealth of Nations, the reader cannot help but wonder if Adam Smith wrote of the invisible hand in passing. After all, Smith makes sure that he repeats important claims several times within his work to reinforce his claim. In contrast, the term “invisible hand” appears only once. Perhaps it’s just a metaphor.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Adam Smith considered himself more an authority on philosophy than a voice for economics, and we ought to titillate the feasibility of whether or not the invisible hand is just overbloated hype.

But with all of that said, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is certainly a bible of macroeconomics. The book hints of Smith’s stance as a Rawlsian long before John Rawls established his notion of the “difference principle” and also contains Smith’s insights on population growth, statistics, and speculation—just to name a few. Smith also draws liberally from French thinkers, which makes The Wealth of Nations a rich and enjoyable read.

Students of economics would do well to read The Wealth of Nations—being content with the notion of an invisible hand may in fact lead to very visible misinterpretations of not only Adam Smith, but of economic theory in general if the students’ attitudes towards studying are characterized by lazy inquiry.

Thus the fork in the road towards sound economics and vulgar economics seems to lie in whether or not an individual sees the continuity of the economics as a study.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Defending the Undefendable

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Meet Dr. Walter Block: a man born in New York who started his early career as an academic embracing the egalitarian ideals of liberalism.

This was, of course, until he met Ayn Rand.

People well informed of the libertarian school of thought will be quick to realize that Ayn Rand provided the philosophical backbone for America’s about-face in socioeconomic policy from a gracious welfare state towards one that relies increasingly on free-market fundamentals. Rand’s influence are far-reaching: she counts among her disciples big names such as Alan Greenspan—the former chairman of the Fed, and Ronald Reagan—the man who made neo-conservatism more digestible, and thus more widely supported by the populace (think Reaganomics).

In the mid-1960’s the young and liberal-minded Walter Block engaged in an academic battle against people such as Rand and other notable libertarians of the day. Both sides proclaimed the superiority of their ideals, and the two intellectual camps decided to wage the war of words and ideas upon each other at occasional luncheons, a very benign way to settle a war at that.

Unfortunately for sympathizers of liberalism, Block’s defense of egalitarianism eventually collapsed, and shortly after he was converted to the libertarian faith. Block, now a supporter of laissez-faire capitalist anarchism, is a member of the Austrian School of Economics and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

It is clear that Block is one of the most vociferous and staunchest supporter of freedom and individual liberty today. In his book “Defending the Undefendable,” he applies the non-agression axiom—the cornerstone of liberatarian philosophy—in some of the most extreme cases.

In the book, Block eloquently and wittily presents his rational and systematic refutational analysis of the common misconceptions harbored against various members of society. In other words, Block illustrates the misguided public opprobrium leveled at a total of 32 types of social pariahs, which include blackmailers, counterfeiters, crooked cops, drug pushers, drug addicts, employers of child labor, and even people who yell “fire” in theatres. In each of these cases, Block presents a well-reasoned argument that depicts these people as heroic members of society.

For instance, one may be quick to proclaim that the blackmailer is a villainous figure. After all, he knows something embarrassing or harmful about an individual and is threatening to reveal it to the public! Thus, isn’t it quite obvious that the blackmailer is evil incarnate?

Block argues no. In fact, he reasons, “the sole difference between a gossip and a blackmailer is that the blackmailer will refrain from speaking—for a price. In a sense, the gossip is much worse than a blackmailer, for the blackmailer has given the blackmailee a chance to silence him. The gossip exposes the secret without warning. Is not the person with a secret better off at the hands of a blackmailer, than a gossip? With the gossip, all is lost; with the blackmailer, one can only gain, or at least be no worse off.” (p. 42-43).

So then, the blackmailer may be the lesser of two evils perhaps, but what of those who employ children as child laborers? Aren’t these people exploiting children? Isn’t this a morally reprehensible practice that must be banished from modern society in all nations?

Against this notion, Block first elucidates the fallacy of the notion of “adulthood,” which is nothing more than “the age of 21 […] an arbitrary cutoff point.” (p. 245). He then reminds readers, “there is first the problem that several, if not many 10 year olds, have a greater grasp of political, social, historical, psychological, and economic factors, presumably the factors that enable one to vote ‘wisely’ than do many people over the age of 21.” (p. 245).

Basically, he’s talking about child geniuses.

So then, if the exact time at which a child becomes an adult is arbitrarily dictated by society, when, exactly, does a child become an adult?

“A child becomes an adult,” Block states, “not when he reaches some arbitrary age limit, but rather when he does something to establish his ownership and control over his own person.”

Thus if a child’s mental capacities are capable of self-ownership, then he is ready to be acknowledged as an adult. And because the child is now an adult, he may enter voluntary labor contracts as he pleases.

In this manner, Block takes reader on a journey on why none of the “disgraceful” occupations in society are morally reprehensible and roots his logic deep in the virtues of libertarianism—namely, the efficiency of market fundamentals, the ridiculous notion of “moral” or “immoral” societal roles when in fact all societal roles are amoral, and of course, the grandest axiom of libertarianism: “it is illegitimate to engage in aggression as nonagressors.” (p. xiii).

This leaves us with one simple, provocative question: what of the link of amoral markets and moral-minded human beings, and how should we construct an academic framework for such an inquiry?

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Who Started the Fire?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

In 1989, Billy Joel released his song “We didn’t start the fire,” a song that catalogues the events that took place throughout Mr. Joel’s lifetime. The overall message of the song is clear: the baby boomer generation—of which Mr. Joel himself is also a part of—was not to be blamed for the downsides and shortcomings of society. After all, these societal ills were around before the baby boomers were born, so thus, argues Mr. Joel, his generation should not be held accountable for historical responsiblities.

The song’s lyrics references dozens of historical accounts, events, and people all the way from Marilyn Monroe to the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion at a dizzying speed, adding to the songwriter’s case that societal events occur in such a manner that no particular generation can be singled out and found at fault.

Two decades have passed since Mr. Joel’s song charted #1 on the U.S. billboard top 100, and now a new generation of people, most popularly christened the children of the “digital age,” have come into existence. Though there has been an easing of finger-pointing over the years, the question still remains: are historical responsibilities inter-generational?

This question was proposed this year on August 25th at The University of Tokyo by Harvard professor of philosophy Dr. Michael Sandel. He asked the mostly Japanese audience of 300—picked by NHK out of an 8,000 strong applicant base—whether or not today’s generation of Japanese have any responsibilities for the crimes committed by previous generations.

Dr. Sandel, of course, was talking about the wartime atrocities committed by Japanese forces during World War II.

The audience found itself divided into two camps: one claimed that historical responsibilities are inter-generational, since each generation is built upon the achievements and faults of the previous one. In contrast, the other camp asserted that there are social paradigmatic shifts brought about by galvanizing change, which makes the idea of a Darwinian-Marxist model of an “evolutionary path of society” untenable.

This question is particularly interesting because the interpretations of the link between the concept of time and the concept of society clash most often at the country-level.

Both views of historical responsibility based upon a particular interpretation of time raised at Dr. Sandel’s lecture at The University of Tokyo were mentioned by Benedict Anderson mentions this in his book “Imagined Communities.”

 “The idea of a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogenous, empty time,” he observes, “is a precise analogue of the idea of nation, which is also conceived as a solid community moving steadily down (or up) history.” (p.26)

Which lies in stark contrast to the argument against this notion, namely a “more Foucauldian sense of abrupt discontinuities of consciousness.” (p.28).

The crucial fact that we must realize here is that historical responsibilities where the parties involved are at the nation-state level are mostly issues of restorative justice, and have little to do with the true academic inquiry of the time-society link.

What we ought to be analyzing, therefore, is whether or not restorative justice really eases the pain of the victimized party, or rather leaves the victimized party grinning after he has successfully capitalized on the descendants of the relenting aggressor.

Historical texts seem to indicate that events in history underscore man’s ineptitude to have amicable relations at the nation-state level. Large-scale wars have only been decreasing in the past half-century because of the deterrence offered by nuclear weapons and the birth of supranational organizations, however infantile and largely powerless they may still be.

The case for time-society links and the larger philosophical context in which it ought to be analyzed should be done, first and foremost, by consulting the notions of collective memory forwarded by Maurice Halbwachs, a French philosopher. Whereas “history” shared by nation-states inevitably introduces politics, shared experiences and collective memory of mankind as a species are factual and actuary.

Perhaps then, the notion of collective memory may be the nitrogen that finally extinguishes the “fire” Mr. Joel had mentioned in his masterwork song.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Why We Ought to Read

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Today, very few people feel the need to read the dusty, classical texts of ancient writers. Or perhaps, a more accurate account may be that they are unable to do so, what with the zeitgeist of contemporary life being one where people are overloaded with societal duties. It seems as if people today are often forced to multitask to incredible extremes. As Nicholas Karr points out in his book “What the Internet is Doing to our Brains,” we are becoming increasingly inept at focusing on one particular task.

Technology has been no savior in this regard. As a matter of fact, as Karr has noted, technology is the prime culprit in preventing people from detaching themselves from society and engaging in leisurely activities.

So then, what do I mean by leisurely activities and how does it pertain to reading? Well, the concept of “leisure” envisioned by say, Hannah Arendt, is a deliberate act of “contemplation.” So thus when we are robbed of time, robbed of time to reflect upon ourselves, robbed of time to read, then we are losing the time we can spend to “contemplate,” or to be inquisitive about the world around us. When men are robbed of their ability to be inquisitive, they are effectively blinded of their ability to see the faults of the established zeitgeist and are washed away with the times.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. Ray Bradbury had pointed out in his book “Fahrenheit 451,” published in 1953, that though technology shaves time to do chores, it also erodes peoples’ time to contemplate—for example, as dressing up for the day becomes easier, “the man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour.” (p.74).

“Fahrenheit 451,” one of the most well-known novels depicting a distopian society, tells of a chilling alternate history where firemen burn books. The story unfolds as a fireman proudly proclaims, “Monday burn Millay. Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then bury the ahes. That’s our official slogan.” (p.15)

As the story unfolds, the protagonist, a fireman by the name of Guy Montag, begins to have doubts about whether or not burning books will really increase society’s aggregate happiness, as he had been taught by his superiors. Montag is led to realize that books must have enormous significance when an old woman commits suicide upon learning that her books must be burnt. In a sudden bout of enlightened discourse, Montag proclaims, “I thought about the books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper […] we need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” (p.68-69).

Yet Montag was challenged by another character who reminds him that “the public itself stopped reading of its own accord […] in any event, you’re a fool. People are having fun.” (p.113) In other words, if the public didn’t care about grave issues, then wouldn’t it be better to let them become carefree of all societal woes?

Ray Bradbury was not the only author who imparts this question upon the reader. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author credited for creating the jazz age, has one of his characters point out in his most celebrated work “The Great Gatsby” that “the best thing a girl can be in this world [is] a beautiful little fool […] everything’s terrible anyhow, everybody thinks so—the most advanced people.”

So then, the question comes down to whether or not the public ought to read books and become aware of societal woes, or remain ignorant?

Ignorance is bliss.
Or is it?

One thing that we can observe is that the cause for reading books is not a lost cause. As a matter of fact, many of Japan’s topmost business “elites” have read classic texts consciously aware of what the books’ significance. For example, Katsunobu Onogi, well-known in Japan as the former president of Long Term Credit Bank, was reputed to have read books voraciously. As Gillian Tett, former bureau chief in Japan for the Financial Times reveals in her book “Saving the Sun”—an account of Japan’s failure to modernize its financial institutions—that “In London, Onogi happily roamed around secondhand bookshops, devouring European and American works by Weber, the German political scientist, John Milton, the English author, and Charles Lamb, the English essayist who had written about the dangers of financial speculation and asset bubbles back in nineteenth-century London.”

So then books, through their ability to store the collective knowledge of mankind, have the ability to give us the wisdom to make better decisions.

Once again, in “Fahrenheit 451,” Montag is made aware of the significance of books when Faber, an academic-in-hiding tells him,“the books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.” (p.112)

Even the most seemingly infallible of us make mistakes. But we can lessen the severity of these mistakes and make better decisions and thus create a better system of informed decision-making handed down from one generation to the next if we decide to retain our collective knowledge through books—which are tangible relics of our experiences, and arguably our greatest treasure.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI