Notes for Understanding What is Happening in Japan

Since 3/11 and subsequent calamites, I have been thinking all the time about Japan, the archipelago in the Far East where I was born. Now it has been thirty years since I moved to NYC, but beginning from the 1990s, I began to reconnect myself with various veins of radical movements there. So I have many comrades and friends suffering and struggling there at the moment. I am communicating with a number of them every day by skype and e-mail. Along with a few other Japan-born activists in NYC, I cannot remove my attention from what is going-on there. We are destined to be closer to the situation than the majority of New Yorkers.

In that sense, I feel I am with the Japanese, though I cannot share the actual life there. My position is ambiguous: I am both outside and inside Japan at the same time, or more precisely neither outside nor inside completely. To try to understand what is happening there from that neither/nor position is our task in To try to understand it in relationship and continuum with global events – most of all, the rising insurrections and the labor/student movements in other parts of the world -- is the promise tacitly shared among our participants. Thus we are encouraging the discussion to be two-way traffic through which the discourses from within and without interact.

On 3/11 the country plunged from an advanced and well-managed consumerist society to an ominous epicenter of planetary radiation and collapse of the apparatuses organized by the advanced capitalist nation-state. While the Japanese government is desperately attempting to sustain its sovereignty, it is revealing its incapacity to solve the amassing problems; in the broad picture, its national territory is being divided up into enclaves of inaccessible regions, the national economy is sinking into the abyss, and all these could result in a fundamental disequilibrium and (…).
Japanese technology was known to have set a world model for innovation since the 1970s, in consonance with its society and bureaucratic system. Thus Japan as a model was highly praised for efficiency and good management among those in the worldwide business community and the conservative cultural sector. What has been revealed since 3/11 are not only the problems inherent in nuclear power (despite their immensity), but also those rooted in the amalgamation of the bureaucratic system, technology and civil society, constitutive of this apparatus called Japan, one of the zeniths that the modern industrial civilization has reached.

While the people in the stricken areas, especially in Fukushima, are suffering from physical devastation and intense radiation that are just too difficult to face up to, Tokyo residents are confronting invisible threats: low doses of radiation in various forms continue, while a civil war over internal recriminations has begun. The effects of the radiation are yet to be revealed: The information provided by the government, TEPCO and the main media is totally irresponsible and useless for the well-being of the commoners as well as for the populace of the entire world who are to be affected sooner or later. The information blurring centered on the intentional underestimation of radiation and its effects shows only their desperate attempt to sustain and control everyday business as usual.

But this is proving to be an unforgivable crime for the reproduction of people’s lives. Thus increasing groups of people have begun to share more precise information and raise their voices of doubt, but Japan's civil society has developed a self-suppression mechanism toward dissenting voices. The accusations against buying bottled water, of not buying food products from the north east, the bashing of those who express their anxiety, frustration and anger, is the epitome. The information war over media reports is a new form of civil war taking place in the domain of collective affects.

This seemingly quiet warfare is very complex, involving as it is everyone’s angst and despair and the hopes for change that are nevertheless hard to find at the moment. It appears that on the one hand there are people who would not want to admit the magnitude of the crisis in order to continue their everyday life in the society as they know it, and on the other hand, let alone the people who have already lost their livelihoods, there are people who dare to understand the situation correctly, knowing that this could lead to deeper devastation and despair. The populace is split between denial and confrontation. It is in the latter that I would see a new subjectivation that could pave the way to another sociality.

The discourses from Japan uploaded on our website are rooted in such deep devastation and despair, which however are dialectically counteracted by strong anger and a powerful impetus for analyses. The anger is certainly expressed by increasing protests and various other projects (such as refugees’ commune building), while the impetus for analyses is becoming more and more intense and sharp as it is confronting head-on the information blurring and the unknown future. Although it is hard to envision a principle of hope in such a dystopian condition, these two affects at least are trying to open a door.

During the on-going critical condition of the power plants, whose complete solution is evidently postponed to an indefinite future, we are observing unprecedented situations arising at least in four axial areas: labor, everyday life, sovereignty and struggle.

What kind of labor are the workers at the power plant committed to? Being affected by radiation, they are charged with extremely pressing and responsible tasks. Praised as national heroes, they are on the verge of existential breakdown. Or being praised itself is driving them toward such an extreme engagement that should be committed only by the military at a nuclear war – special forces, elite mercenaries or whoever is specifically trained and paid for such tasks. We hear that many of them are locals who have been affected by the tsunami and some of whom have even lost their families, and many of them are not even formally hired employees of TEPCO but informally recruited by subcontractors. Evidently refusal of work – the important and ultimate tactic of the labor movement -- would result in a worsening of the meltdown, which would be attributed to their irresponsibility. Under all-fronts and concentrated sufferings, they are doing the job beyond job. Is this a labor we know by the name? This is not slavery in the conventional sense since they are working voluntarily. But the whole mechanism that drives them to do this work is just loathsome. This is a labor whose necessity is imposed by the self-imploding apparatus that is refusing to materialize its subjectivity thus would not take its responsibility.

Radiation would deprive civilians of their everyday life in relationship with natural conditions. They will not be able to eat organic foods, have full access to the environment and enjoy healthy reproduction. It forces everyone to confine himself in an artificially shielded zone and rely more and more on chemical substances to live with effects by radiation. This means that the business/control of capitalism would permeate the body and all the domains for reproduction. This means that autonomy of life activity would be harder and harder.

While the government is showing its inability to handle the crisis singlehandedly, it seems that a new global regime is tacitly and quietly in formation -- the worst yet present scenario. The constituent states and corporations of this regime are subtly following the Japanese government in terms of information tactic. And it is now clear that global capitalism has no intention of abolishing nuclear power and rather is seeking to re-organize the technocracy to manage it, namely, to manage nuclear disaster, forcing people to get used to varied forms and degrees of radiation. As we have observed in the past, global capitalism would try to use any and every crisis for its laboratory for developing new ways of expanding its interest、and the state apparatus is taking part in it. The management of nuclear disaster is the coming strategy for profitmaking, rule and control. We do not have the words to describe how menacing this practice would be. But if I dare say, it is a new form of nuclear war, no longer being fought between the states, but between the global nuclear regime and all the life forms including humans.

What kind of campaign or movement can we imagine to fight against the global nuclear regime under the name of this labor beyond labor? The goal of the labor movement -- especially this one -- should not be to sustain but only to abolish itself. But how is it possible? All the principles of anti-capitalist movements, i.e., autonomy, diversity, horizontality and mutual aid are facing challenges in confrontation with radiation whose effects will last for an astronomical number of years. The movement may be an indefinite struggle whose result cannot be known in our lifetime. Nonetheless we know that abolishing the labor imposed by the apparatus is sine qua non. Are we ready for an eternal struggle?

Is Fukushima an ecological disaster? On one level it is. But I would hesitate to call it just that. It is certainly a natural and man-made disaster; there is no doubt that it is a disaster caused by capitalism; but all in all, it is the self-destruction or implosion of the apparatus, the whole of the systems run by capitalist/nation/state, which happened to be triggered by the earthquake and tsunami, the processes of planetary movement, the processes beyond good and evil that we are part of.

While a revolutionary impetus had been rising in other parts of the world, Fukushima took place in the Far East. Although the news reports treat them as unrelated, from our vantage point it is impossible not to think of their connection: between revolution and disaster. First of all they both derive from the same capitalist expropriation and in turn embody an unprecedented threat to the entire apparatus, though they come from different ontologies (or subjectivities): one is positive and another is negative; one is identifiable and another is unidentifiable; one is human and another is non-human (or the earth). The revolutionary impetus is from the onset intended toward a formation of new sociality. Though the nuclear disaster has not yet resulted in forming a revolutionary impetus in Japan, it could and if it did, it would have to be a full-hearted and all-embracive one whose entirety is unforeseen. What can be said for now is that the threats in unity would lead to formations of both a new regime of rule and an unforeseen, global revolutionary impetus. In any case, together they are inexorably forcing the planetary apparatus to undo and redo itself. In this sense, they are One Event in the ultimate dimension, the dimension that we must further define and identify.
Therefore what is happening in Japan cannot be deemed merely a situation particular to a nation-state in the Far East, but a new phase of human history, an opening toward a future unknown equally for the global powers and the people. It is a universal experience in the sense not only of its economic and environmental impact but also of the self-destruction of the apparatus that the modern world has been building up on a planetary scale.

Beginning from the “World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth” that took place in Cochabamba Bolivia 2010, the rights of nature and the earth have been widely discussed. A multitude of groups that participated in it has been demanding the UN acknowledge various rights concerning our environment. It is significant that this movement was initiated by the indigenous groups whose lives are based upon the interconnection between bio-diversity and cultural diversity. The motivation is far beyond the so-called environmental protection, entailing as it is a radical antagonism against global capitalism.

This movement as a broad coalition made the UN adopt the human right to water in July 2010. This is undoubtedly important. But as with the original motivation of the indigenous groups, the real question is the right of water itself: for all humans to have equal right to water, water should have its right to exist and circulate without contamination and privatization. If not for it, the human right would not make sense: what kind of water humans have the right for. Here exists the fundamental problematic concerning human laws vis-à-vis nature. While the well-being of humans cannot be granted without the well-being of nature, human laws in their entirety are unequivocally based upon human’s claim to treat nature as non-subjectivity, a mere object, mere resources to exploit; they are designed to expropriate nature, for appropriating, privatizing and dividing the ultimate commons called the earth. Therefore if we think about the rights of mother earth full-heartedly, we have to accept sine qua non of decomposing this unilateral claim/right of humanity. How we can do this is the real question. Without serious attempt to answer this question, the praise of mother earth sounds vain.

This is telling of the discrepancy between the concepts of the world and the earth. The world is the stage where human societies play the drama of their interactions with their structural languages (such as international politics and human laws). The earth is the factory that produces and reproduces the players and the stage themselves but by using different languages that are machinic rather than structural (in the sense of Felix Guattari). The machinic operates differently from the structural in the sense that it penetrates through and traverses between the conscious and the unconscious in the collective domain.
The two radical moments revolution and disaster seem to be touching the discrepancy from opposite ends. The revolution in its subjective process inexorably reaches the discrepancy at its heightened moment, while the disaster embodies the discrepancy from its onset.

In this precise sense, the global event called Fukushima, the worst disaster in human history, cannot be properly associated with the concept of the world, either epistemologically and ontologically. For the event radically questions the validity of all the concepts associated with the global governance such as G20 and the UN, mainly consisting of the representatives of nation-states and capitals. These representative voices cannot embody a will to solution but only to management.
The nature of the event lies rather on the level of the unconscious called the earth, upon which the apparatus is built and we are living everyday life without thinking about it. That is, the unconscious earth surfaced in the conscious world in the form of natural disaster and began to open fissures in the apparatus that had been expanding larger and larger, and embedded deeper and deeper into the planetary body toward becoming one with it. The implosion of the apparatus took place at the forefront of the merger, where the language of the planetary unconscious is now shaking everything about being human, its being subjectivity, society, history and the world.

As we all know by now, if not for a global movement to oust capitalist/nation/state, to undo the apparatus, we are heading toward suicide with all what we are familiar with and the world whose immiseration and oppression are getting worse and worse in the ex post 3/11 climate. And if there is such a movement coming, namely, an ultimate class struggle between the global nuclear regime and the living beings -- it will have to be still fought within world politics to a large extent, but -- its real and potential battleground will be over the planetary unconscious or the ultimate commons called the earth, the nurturing mother and the goddess of wrath at the same time. The struggle will be unprecedented; the forms it takes are yet to be discovered. The only certain thing is that it will involve not only the negotiation processes called politics, but also everything about our minds, society, and environment.