HEADNOTE: In the previous version of this post, I wrote a lot about the futile discussion I'd had with unprincipled American individuals over what brings or fails to bring together the nation, i.e. the people, and the state, i.e. the system, and what happens when a founding principle is outgrown by the new reality or proves to have been false from the very beginning. But now I've realized these people I've talked to aren't prepared for a serious discussion because they have been irreversibly indoctrinated since their childhood to believe in America's Founding Principles as indisputable axioms. Actually the Founding Fathers of their country just borrowed John Locke's philosophical rubbish about the "natural rights to life, liberty and property." That is why now I'm uploading a shortened version crossing out all the hogwash so we can get down directly to the formidable issue of statelessness. .
The Japanese transformation from a nation of feudal fiefdoms, presided over by a samurai dynasty, to a modern Western-style nation-state was always going to be a patchwork job. The constitution was largely Prussian, the navy was fashioned after the British Royal Navy, and so on. But the biggest problem for Meiji-period intellectuals and politicians was to find the most suitable model for a modern state.
From Occidentalism coauthored by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit. Buruma also authored a book titled Reinventing Japan - 1853-1964 in which he observed the postwar reconstruction was also a patchwork.
A parade to mark the end of the
Luna New Year festivity went by
when we were in the middle of a
skull session at Chens' place
An Example of the Traditional Nonprofit Approach - Stateless Network
Lara, Chen Tien-shi, founder of Stateless Network
In the fall of 2009 I came across an eye-opening book titled Mukokuseki - Stateless. When I was through with the book for the first time, I already knew author Lara, Chen Tien-shi is a rare species in that she always keeps a life-size view of the world. This is a remarkable attribute because most other people talk big while acting very small.
Deeply impressed by her wholehearted dedication and down-to-earth approach toward the problem facing the stateless, I soon became fully committed to the cause of the nonprofit organization Stateless Network Lara founded in January 2009. I still remain so although what I could do for the group is quite limited thus far.
In late-February Lara gave me a mail to invite me to an extraordinary meeting where the key members of Stateless Network were going to have a skull session over the future direction of the nonprofit, multi-ethnic organization.
I was very honored by the invitation from the youngest daughter of one of the wealthiest families of this Chinatown because I am one of the poorest and oldest residents of the same community.
I think she had two things in mind when inviting me to the important meeting despite the fact that I have fallen almost 2 years behind in my payment of the annual due, and equally important, I don't fully agree to the principle on which she is steering the Network.
Firstly Lara must have wanted to acknowledge that she still owed me a response to the homework I'd given her about the viability of a "stateless nation." She must have thought I would better understand her answer to my challenge by participating the steering committee, because the issue at hand is too complex, multi-faceted and subtle, and has too far-reaching implication to address just by quick exchanges of words.
The other reason she thought I should attend the meeting may have been that she just wanted this old loner to have fun mixing with these youngish people with diverse backgrounds.
It looks as though Lara made a good decision for me if these were her objectives.
Japan, where she was born and brought up, is an eerie country. It wasn't founded by anyone; it just generated itself sometime between 600 BC and 712 AD. Needless to say there has never been a founding principle. The dubious 17-Article Constitution, which was supposedly promulgated by Prince Shotoku, who is most probably a fictitious figure, famously said in this land harmony should prevail over anything else. People have always substituted it for a founding principle, but actually it's not a substitute of any principle because it was meant to unconditionally prohibit them from conducting themselves on their own.
Against this historical background, the way principle-less, rather than unprincipled, people communicate with one another in a meeting is very unique. More often than not, reaching a specific agreement isn't the objective of the meeting. Normally there's no articulated proposition put on the table; neither is there any substantive argument. When there is one, it's presented and discussed before or after the meeting, most typically at a bar. In short a meeting, or any other form of communication, is little more than a ceremonial event to build consensus about a predetermined answer.
Although the time during which I was exposed to communication in the international setting is still twice as long as her international career, Lara seems to be much better skilled in that respect. And yet, she still remembers that in a local meeting she has to seal off those skills and play the role of a Shintoist priest, or priestess, so to speak.
Lara's opening speech, delivered in an unusually casual manner, had just a few substances in it. At first she insinuated that this Stateless Network will still remain closely affiliated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But she said she isn't really convinced that stereotypical UNHCR's definition of a stateless person is clear enough and that the ambitious goal proclaimed in its 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness is attainable in the foreseeable future. Then she added that some other factors have made it even more unrealistic to achieve the goal. For one thing, she confided, she fell ill last year. She didn't say how serious it was.
The meeting was constantly disturbed by her 9-year-old son clinging to the chairwoman with his arms around her neck. Lara didn't seem to be annoyed at all. She certainly knew the Sunday meeting was a serious loss of opportunity for the kid to have intimate contact with his mom. Another source of disturbance was the paraders incessantly making deafening noises of drums and firecrackers on the street. She didn't care too much either. Neither did other attendees including myself.
The way Lara presided over the meeting indicated that she and I are still on the same wavelength in that both of us are inclined to have diverse people loosely networked rather than build a monolith with a fixed principle.
Following the semi-formal session, Lara treated us to a gorgeous dinner. I enjoyed talking with people sitting in the hearing distance as we were supposed to. They included an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo and Thai woman and her daughter.
In the last 45-60 minutes I concentrated on a conversation with a young, brilliant lady named Rina Ikebe who had moved over to the seat next to mine. Miss Ikebe introduced herself as a student studying "community psychology" at a postgraduate school of Tokyo's International Christian University. I enjoyed our conversation all the more because she was very good at active listening.
I asked her: "What do you think connects you to this country, or how do you really relate yourself to Japan?" After thinking it over for a while, she said: "Maybe it's my nationality, isn't it?" I said, "I don't think so. Your nationality is nothing more than a certificate of the ties you have already established with this country."
I might have added it's a principle that brings or fails to bring together the nation, i.e. the people, and the state, i.e. the system, and that this is exactly where the media find their essential role. Although this was the most relevant topic for the community psychology major, I left it unsaid in part because I thought I had to refrain from spoiling her appetite and my own. More importantly, I knew an exceptionally bright woman as she is would have found it superfluous if I had given her any more lead to my theory about the modern nation-statehood.
Then encouraged by her story about her late-father who was a scholar of French literature and European history, I tried a simple quiz with Miss Ikebe: "Do you know how the life of Marie Antoinette came to an end?" She answered delightedly: "Beheading by the Guillotine!" The next question was: "How many French people, roughly, were killed in the same way?" She didn't know that the correct answer was 16,594.
I produced from my backpack the printout of my most recent post, saying, "If you are interested in these subjects as a student of community psychology, why don't you keep it."
From time to time, Lara was giving a glance-over at us across the huge Chinese roundtable as if she was worrying I might be instilling in the young student poisonous ideas about the failed nation-state. But I hope she knows very well that I am a person who never bites the hand that fed him.
After the party was over, I stayed on there to be alone with Lara, her parents and one of her elder sisters. I said to her, "I didn't know you fell ill. Are you getting better now?" She smiled and said, "Yes, now I'm OK." Her sister quickly cut in to say, "No, she isn't."
I said: "Remember you aren't Mother Teresa. You should always prioritize your own personal life and your son's. Nothing is more important than that."
These are the people I want to have around until the second-to-last day of my life.
New Approach to Turn the UNHCR Formula Upside Down
Okinawa native entrepreneur Takashi Hiyane
Lara's colleagues are the type of people who would rather extend a helping hand immediately and directly to specific individuals with a nationality problem than formulate a longterm plan to save millions of stateless people at a time. As a matter of fact, though, they tend to act on a first-come, first-served basis. More often than not, therefore, they end up wasting their limited amount of human and financial resources on those who just fall on the UNHCR definition of the statelessness but actually crybabies with no sense of self-reliance.
If you are really concerned about these people who are allegedly persecuted in many ways for their de jure or de facto statelessness, you should not take it for granted that aiming at the reduction of stateless population is the only way to address the issue at hand.
In fact there are people who have chosen to pursue the same end from a totally different perspective.
In recent years the geopolitical landscape has been undergoing a sea change in every region of the world. Most noticeably, the number of minority groups seeking secession has been on a sharp rise.
In a sense this is reminiscent of the days when the massive exodus of pro-Kuomintang Chinese from the continent was taking place. But I see a fine line between an ideology-driven split-up of a nation-state and total or partial breakup of a nation-state where a more fundamental thing than a political ideology or a religious dogma is at stake. We shouldn't mix up the two because such cases as Crimea and the pro-Russian region of Ukraine have very little to do with the quintessence of the statelessness issue.
In the realm of breakup of nation-states without ideological implication, we have witnessed some regions in European countries seeking secession for varying reasons.
As to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, I still don't know exactly what to make of it. All I can tell is that we should refrain from hastily jumping to a conclusion like those prisoners of America-centric way of viewing the world who call the ISIL a gang of terrorists so lightly
Let's face it: very few modern nation-states have been created without a tremendous amount of bloodshed. The American Independence War claimed tens of thousands of lives. The death toll of the French Revolution is believed to have reached one million that included 16,594 people beheaded by the Guillotine.
I'm more concerned about the likes of the Scots, the Basques and the Catalans although their aspiration for independence has yet to be fulfilled thus far.
Just take Catalonia for example. If its bid for secession from Spain had succeeded last October, the entire 7.5 million Catalan population would have become stateless overnight on the premise that the newly-born nation wouldn't have sought a membership in the U.N., the dead international body founded when the Chinese Continent was still ruled by Chiang Kai-shek, or the failing one named the European Union. The 54-year-old dream of UNHCR would have come true, or turned into a nightmare, the moment the Spanish Constitutional Court had somehow rescinded its ruling that the planned referendum was unconstitutional.
As a result statelessness would have meant absolutely nothing anymore to the Catalans because now everybody would have been stateless on his/her own will.
A more relevant example for us Japanese is Okinawa.
Now it's an open secret that in his "Okinawa Memo" delivered to W. J. Sebald sometime around September 20, 1947, Emperor Hirohito said to Douglas MacArthur that "the U.S. military occupation of Okinawa, and such other islands as may be required, should be based upon the fiction of a long term lease - 25 to 50 years or more - with sovereignty retained in Japan."
To put it bluntly, the father of the incumbent Emperor Akihito sold off Okinawa and its residents to the United States just to reciprocate the super-generous leniency Hirohito was expecting from Harry S. Truman.
Adolf Hitler had killed himself on the wake of repeated attempts of his assassination such as Operation Valkyrie of July 1944. The corpse of Benito Mussolini had been hung upside down in the street of Milan. But Hirohito knew very well that it was a piece of cake to avoid facing the same fate internally. So he made every possible effort to escape conviction at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East because otherwise he must have been sent climbing the 13 steps to the gallows after all.
In 2005, then associate professor of the University of Ryukyus by the name of Lim John Chuan-tiong conducted an opinion survey. He found out that 45.4% of the respondents thought Okinawa should eventually seek secession, whereof 20.5% even said the islands should declare independence, immediately and unilaterally.
I don't know how reliable the survey results are. But it's for sure that the 1.4 million islanders have now been fed up with the lip service they hear from the mainlanders, who they like to call Yamatonchu. And the monetary compensation from the Tokyo government is nothing but an insult because it only benefits a handful of government contractors.
Deep inside, they seem to know they will have to live with the perpetual presence of the U.S. military as long as they remain part of Japan which is little more than a satellite nation itself.
Now the newly-installed Governor Takeshi Onaga has started to sing to the same, old tune of lessening the burden of U.S. military bases his predecessor Nakaima kept singing during his tenure. It's as though the problem lies in the 74% concentration of U.S. military installations in Okinawa islands whose size accounts for a mere 0.6% of Japanese Archipelago's. But the fact of the matter remains that the very presence of the U.S. military forces in North East Asia is the problem.
Without a doubt the movements for the independence of these subtropical islands are further on the wane. And yet we shouldn't forget still there are people like this person named Takashi Hiyane (photo.)
As far as I know, he hasn't explicitly mentioned an independent Okinawa, let alone the statelessness issue. But obviously the youngish entrepreneur is looking for a new sociopolitical model which has nothing in common with the outdated idea about creating a small, closed, cult-like society like the communities of the Amish in North America. To him, the restoration of the Ryukyu Kingdom is out of the question.
I know very little about the "Lexues" company he founded 17 years ago. But in his recent TV appearance, Hiyane said to this effect: "Only by leveraging the creative minds of the native Okinawans, we would be able to return the annual appropriation of 200 billion yen to the Japanese government."
The implication here is that it's too soon to call an independent Okinawa a pipe dream.
Still there is a long way to go until we find a workable solution to the problem. But I've written this post just to juxtapose the two 180-degree different approaches without any preconceived answer. Yet I hope this will give some clues to those of you who have creative attitudes toward life.
Two and a half years ago I proposed a brand new sociopolitical model in this website, though in a little too sketchy way.
In my personal opinion, this model might be the closest thing to the solution that eventually makes a stateless nation, or a nation with less state, or even a micro nation-state, viable in the era of the Internet.