Apologists, of one stripe or another

A very good post from Adamu at Mutant Frog reflecting on whether or not he is a “Japan apologist”. Bottom line: no, because he’s not getting paid for it. The post sprung from a debate over whether the term “Japanophile” was derogatory or not. The two terms are sort of linked; but Japanophile seems to have a more amateur connotation – you can be one whether you’re a respected historian, university professor, martial arts fan, anime freak, or even a humble language student (check my bad self).

Japan apologists, on the other hand, are people who reside in paid (often infuential) positions, either in Japan or outside, whose job mainly consists of presenting a favourable image of Japan to the outside world. In the initial explosion of Japanese studies in the late 70s and 80s, the attitude that Japan was a fascinating and misunderstood place that needed to be “explained” to an often hostile world gathered a lot of credence. However, Japan’s economic slump and the complicated post-Cold War world have given rise to more nuanced explorations of Japan’s society, culture and international relations. As Adamu says:

As I’ve said before: I love Japan, but it’s screwed up. The society’s got major problems that have translated into things that have affected me personally. But at the same time, I’ve been fortunate enough to befriend enough real, intelligent, and genuinely friendly people to keep me from dismissing the whole country as the kind of place that wraps foreigners in lacquer.

I’m optimistic enough to think that most people who come to Japan with an open mind share this view, despite some reductive and stereotyped viewpoints from a few people I’ve come across here. Official apologism is still all around, of course, and not just for Japan.

China seems to be filling the role that Japan had back in the 80s: rising economic power, relentlessly hyped from either a friendly or hostile perspective. Academics, journalists and other writers can make a good living churning out hyperbolic pieces on “the rise of China”, with little research or impartial thought. A regular culprit is Martin Jacques of the Guardian. I agree with the assessment that most of his articles can be cobbled together from platitudes such as “China is rising” “Europe is falling” “Japan must come to terms with its past”, but this doesn’t mark him out as a paid-up China apologist. He is, sadly, just an old-fashioned Orientalist.

See this takedown of one of his pieces at Blood and Treasure. It’s one of Jacques’ rare articles that doesn’t mention China being on the up and up, but it relates to his opinions on “the East” versus “the West”. Jacques writes:

The belief that western institutions, values and norms were of universal applicability, in the here and now, blinded the proponents of western-style democracy to the importance of history and culture; it marked a return to the western arrogance of the colonial era, when such attitudes were the common sense of the time.

To which Jamie K replies:

Jacques has the idiot’s habit of arguing against himself. The west has values and norms. The rest have “history and culture”. The first require a thought process. The second simply imply immemorial superstitions.

So Jacques is happy to portray everyone outside “the West” as lacking thought processes, yet believes they will take over the world. This is classic Orientalist thought – projecting your own opinions and prejudices onto the subject, without ascribing them free thought or agency. As the B&T post goes on to explain, China has a long tradition of political philosophy “absolutely none of which is founded in an ideal of individual liberty.” This is why the frequent rural protests in China’s countryside aren’t demanding freedom – they’re demanding justice. There’s even now a strain of Chinese political thought which blames the atrocities of the Communist government on the importing of radicalism from the West. Societies can be influenced from outside, but lasting reform can only come from within, and asking people to junk their own traditions of discourse based on the fallacy that “freedom and reason and science” are the West’s alone is doubly counterproductive.

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2 Comments

Filed under Japan, linkage, thoughts

2 responses to “Apologists, of one stripe or another

  1. adamu

    Hm there are plenty of unpaid Japan apologists as well – see Momus for one example.

    On the trackback thing, I am pretty sure you have to change the settings for Blogger to send trackbacks, or there might be a field when you make a post of what URLs to trackback. You can always just comment that you’ve posted something related to another blog post.

  2. Curzon

    Martin Jacques is a total twat.

    (Here ends my deep thought of the weekend.)

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