A Response to Rebecca Solnit


(This entry is written as a response to Dear brothers and sisters in northeastern Japan and Beyond by Rebecca Solnit )

Rebecca Solnit’s work is enthusiastically and widely read in Japan at the present moment. Many people are seeking to find a clue in her work that vividly depicts the dual face of disasters: on the one hand therein paradoxically grows the power of the people, and on the other hand, there intervenes the power of the state that attempts to capture and appropriate the former. At the moment Japan needs various wisdoms both from within and without. Among others, Solnit’s letter as well as A Paradise Built in Hell recently published in Japan will remain with us for years to come as an indispensable resource to learn from. Thanks to her work, our stance being bound by imminent reality can connect itself with various examples in history, and achieve not only practical knowledge but also an aspiration for the future. Based as it is upon the maximal trust in people’s power and also cautiousness about the usurping power from above, her work fulfills what the present Japan lacks in order to confront the coming socio-political regime.

As Solnit considerately acknowledges, however, her case studies which work for the tsunami stricken north do not necessarily work for the disaster at the nuclear power plant. She honestly points out the unknown factor entailed in it. What is significant here is the difference between oil spill and radioactive leak. Although they both are toxic disaster, their natures are radically divided.

Oil spill is certainly a grave environmental pollution, but it can be removed to a large extent if not completely. On the other hand, radioactive leak can never be removed in its nature. Although its effects can be reduced more or less, radiation and radioactive substance remain in bodies as long as they live and in generations to follow. Even those Japanese proxy scholars who repeatedly insist on the safety of eating and drinking more or less polluted products have to reluctantly acknowledge the danger of long-term accumulation in bodies. What they dare not say and many people are unaware of is the fact that even low exposure dose can cause serious symptoms. That is to say, radiation accidents can never be recovered.

While Solnit implies this aspect by saying: “the disaster may never end,” her overall tone seems to be based upon hopes for recovery. But unfortunately, the singularity of the current accident in Japan lies in its being unrecoverable. Furthermore, this disaster has shown, at least up until now, no signs of utopian construction. Most visible at the moment is rather a moralistic command issued by the state to drink polluted water; the situation is becoming more and more dystopian. (What I mean by dystopia here is less about radiation than by the counter concept of utopia.)

As I feel strongly, at this moment in Japan many of the previous thoughts have collapsed, turned out to be meaningless. Not to mention that they cannot confront this situation, they are becoming an obstacle for a precise recognition of the situation. Since Japanese thought is not much known among foreign readers, I shall take up just one example among others: the worldly celebrated animator Hayao Miyazaki. His representative work Nausica of the Valley of the Wind that depicted the world after nuclear warfare made a global hit. Therein many fans must have received a message for surviving strongly in the A-bombed world polluted by radiation at the same time as fighting against nihilism.

In Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant that is in critical condition at this very minute, there was a PR center of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) whose main purpose was to promote the idea that nuclear energy is not only safe and clean but also effective to counter the global warming. I heard that the café of the center was once filled with the goods of Studio Ghibli (they have been removed since), and a message posted at the blog there said i.e., “Many animation of Studio Ghibli appeal for the protection of nature, and fit the idea of nuclear power.” Studio Ghibli would claim that it was TEPCO’s deed and had nothing to do with them. And I myself don’t know Miyazaki’s position vis-à-vis Nuclear energy. In any event, it is backed by this tendency of thought, a mixture of nature protection and pro-nuclear power, that the moralistic threat to the people avoiding to drink polluted water has come into existence.

What we are witnessing is a dramatic collapse of previous thought. But then, what and how should we think now? What would be the basis for our new thought? We don’t know it yet. But we must search for it.

This is certainly not to criticize Solnit at all. No motral being has expected this unprecedented situation. And it is not that our understanding was insufficient. We have just realized that this could happen ex post facto. This is a kind of accident that humans have never experienced. If I may say so, this is a singular event in human history.

My hope is that Rebecca Solnit observes this disaster thoroughly based upon a recognition of this unknown-ness. I would like her to continue to write many more pieces by her new discovery out of this situation. The rise of the anti-nuke protest in Germany is really encouraging. But I wonder how many nuclear power plants (as well as other types of nuclear facilities) exist in the world, and how much our everyday life is relying on them. Being encouraged by the protests, I wish from my heart that all of us think of the significance of the singularity of this accident together. What we need is an assembly of many wisdoms from in and out of Japan.










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