What passes our mind when the 21st century descends upon us in no time is the fact that we are going into the unknown
we have never gone through. And we should be reminded of the ideals and
ideas on our beings remarked by numerous thinkers and philosophers.
The most outstanding characteristics of the latter half of the 20th century
should be the accelerating changes in every field and the standardization on a global scale. Computer-controlled, efficiently run human activities
have been pursued from the standpoint of Western civilization and as a
result, a vast, controlled society has been formed before we have realized
and even imagined it. More and more sociologists claim that, scarcely has
an individual man been emancipated from the tradition-bound society before
he is again trapped into a tight-knitted network of technological society.
But in contrast with the pessimistic view that inhuman situation gains
momentum, taking account of boundless possibilities of human adaptability
with the differentiation of people's life styles, a sprouting of new ways
of life can be felt everywhere as well. To be sure, biological limitations
of human beings can't be modified, but our bright future can't be flatly
denied, considering the flexible thinking and immeasurable learning capacity our ancestors were equipped
with, who had dared to stand up with their two hind legs millions of years
When we think of both bright and dark sides of our species, it is necessary
to get away from the old historical views under the influence of regional
and traditional conditions, and to try to think of them from as broad perspective
as possible, both of individuals and societies, and of
international relations. Here we deal with the problems from these two view points.
Contemplation on individuals can be dated back to the 19th century, when
psychology boasted of its prosperity, and in the field of literature not
a few writers contributed to the instinctive insight into the human nature,
far more elaborate in its achievement than serious researches undertaken
by their academic contemporaries. But the rapid materialistic prosperity
of the 20th century seems to have driven the study on this mysterious creature
far into a dead end. To be sure, our nature has not been changed overnight,
and money, fortune and honor are as perennial themes as ever for secular
mortals. But new problems were added to the materialistic saturation which
has come to be more and more imposing since the latter half of this century.
What will happen in his psychological constitution once materialistic satisfaction
has been realized in the true sense of the word after he had eagerly sought
it? It may be called 'breaking-up from materialistic greed'. In fact that phenomenon was temporarily observed in the 1960's. Mainly in the USA and other economically advanced countries, many boys
and girls, who came to disgust their parents' way of living who had achieved
their affluence as a result of their diligence, left home, seeking to be
freed from the sense of boredom, ennui and impotence, and tried to find
something in the hippie way of life. But few have now favorable evaluation
for it. In spite of the fact that there appeared many soul-searching for
materialism brought about by postwar economic boom, and much advancement
in racial and sexual discrimination, we are now being faced with the twilight
of this century without anything insightful to talk about as to how we
should live in the future. Those boys and girls are now in the midst of
the economic prosperity in the U.S.
And now such new waves of materialism as Reaganomics, Thatcherism and economic development of Asian countries,
are now washing against the already the opulent and greedy people. Those
who are in the limelight of this movement are forming a new kind of the
bourgeoisie, so called yuppie. Those idealistic in the chaotic 1960's must not have dreamed of such
changes coming into being in two or three decades after.
Will a new revolt of people break about against the prosperity we are now
enjoying, as that against the economic expansion of the 1950's? The greatest
difference between our generation and thirty years before will be found
in the absence of, idealistic atmosphere. This is characterized in the surge of conservative sentiment
in every aspect of political and religious thoughts and the young themselves,
who may well take a leading stand in any movement have lost their initiatives
in the whole constitution of our society. Instead, gerontocracy has its
day. Whether this is here today and gone tomorrow or not notably determines
what the 21st century will be like. The most we can say is the fact that
the result of the 1960's, sadly enough, had little contributed to the 'breaking-up
from materialistic greed', and this means that our future will be seen
in the light of the repeated surging of pendulum between the extremes of
saturation and its backlash against it.
From the birth of human beings to the 19th century, the idea of hard-core
materialism had always been disguised and dispersed in the midst of other
countless problems because there had been so many frontiers facing man.
But now the frontiers pioneers had had headed for and craved for have disappeared, we have to
cope with what we have to take care of in our mind or, our own need. A
typical example of this problem can be seen in the leisure the denizens of so called civilized countries spend. What are the people
doing who have just arrived at the resort area after going through congested
expressways which required them a whole hour to inch an inch? A news reporter
asks, 'How do you spend your day on the beach?' A holiday maker will reply
'Well, I'll get a sun tan in the morning, have lunch at nearby restaurant,
and after taking a short walk, have a nap. After that, well, I'll do nothing
particular but chattering with my friends until supper.' He'll spend such
a vacation not for a day but two whole months. In the world where frontiers
have vanished, those privileges that they enjoy which used to belong to
the kings and blue bloods are growing affordable to common people, not
just in developed countries but in those developing ones. Some former aristocratic
class may have been indulged in luxurious or even bizarre pastime, but
our middle class don't have such financial power or (rather abnormal) curiosity.
But more and more organizations for stimulating desire, in the most obvious
form of advertising, are reaching out their formidable tentacles toward
Where there disappears what offers people the sense of goal-attainment
can be found in suchvalue-added items as expensive cars and luxurious mansions. No sooner have they become affluent
enough to afford them than they rush to get them partly to satisfy their
greed, partly to show off their status symbols. Knowing that even if they
replace 'Corolla' with 'Mercedes Bendz' they will be what they are as ever,
and moreover, already having learned that from history and their own experiences,
they, nevertheless, spend their lives in pursuing pleasure derived from
materially being satisfied and is this a forerunner of so called 'matured society'? If we mean by 'maturing' the ripening of material civilization we can
name many examples of them when we look into our past.The only difference
between our civilization and those of the past lies in the fact that we
owe much of our prosperity to technology, which has been accumulated since
the beginning of mankind, and the danger of losing incentives for better
lives, which we now face is incomparably great in that we are just like
an heir who happens to have great expectations. For those who seek less
mercenary values, the end of the 20th century may seem the realization
When we make a trip to large cities in South East Asia, many street venders
and shabby stands selling from foods to everything people want are found
in large cities. The sight not only pleases foreign visitors who are weary
of 'advanced' civilization but shows the vitality of the people. Even if
his is an owner of a small needle counter, as 'Boys, be ambitious' has
it, he may be the most prosperous Tycoon in Hong Kong. There still remains
room for exercising adventurous spirits in developing countries, so people
can afford to be ambitious and have dreams.
In Japan, on the other hand, it has become very difficult for young people
to embrace great aspiration except in so far as they win the race for entering
first-class universities, because this country has passed the point where
the border line that divides the rich and the poor has become ambiguous
and somewhat lost upward mobility. In a classroom of our age, a child's
composition will be laughed at as childish when he writes that he will
devise an electric appliance in a small workshop and establish the largest
manufacturing company in Japan. Such stagnant situation can be commonly seen among the countries which have achieved
to some degree economic successes. To be sure, legalistically speaking,
we are supposed to enjoy the freedom of speech and economic activities,
but even if they are assured, we have no rewarding enterprise we can embark
If such being the case, most European countries as well as Japan are falling
into the trap. Is is justifiable to measure the progress of human beings
by the standard of economic prosperity since Industrial Revolution? So far this alone can convince everybody
and only recently people have a great faith in Gross National Products.
It is true that the social structure of a country has been simple enough
to be judged only by its economic condition. But modern society requires
multi factor analysis. It is a well-known fact that the very science and
technology, which we have given rise to, very much threaten the annihilation
of our kind.
Energy problem is one of the most famous. Atomic energy promises us a vast
amount of energy. Radiation it produces threatens our lives, but the whole
dependence on oil and coal would bring about greenhouse effect on a global
scale and whimsical weather conditions. We will have to choose either way,
but they are both disastrous.At this point we are in a dead end, and a
totally new way which we have been unable to figure our must be taken in
order to get out of it. Looking back, we have had dreams to build a new
Eden on this earth since we were thrown out of it, but from another view
point, this very earth is the original Eden, and are we not destroying it?
How can we solve the problem in the 21st century which was asked to every
one of us as to how we live, which has been made in the widsom of Socrates.
Christ, Buddha, Muhammad and many other moralists and philosophers? As
I have said, human nature never changes and individuals are exposed to
only rapid material prosperity, just like great waves of the ocean. I have
to show you depressing episodes. Just think of how fate of Eskimos and
indigent people in New Guinea has been changed by the great waves of civilization.
Hunting life and agriculture have been destroyed immediately and people
have lost integrity, jobs, vivaciousness, and most of all, meaning of life.
Not only those who have survived since the pre-historical age are degenerated,
but by the tremendous amount of bills to buy out for the purpose of constructing
factories and atomic energy plant humanity is thrown into dirt, children
try to get their parents' expectations and their relatives pesters just
like hyenas.( Are hyenas more modest?)Those people with nativity, who are
not immune to the evils of civilizations, are quite helpless against the
wicked attraction of material life. With that, the primitive people who
have surveyed for more than tens of hundreds of years are instantly drawn
to extinction, with the exchange of refrigerators and TV sets.
Then, how do we fare, who have been immersed in the civilization from the
first place? Are we prepared to counter the great evil forces? Regret to
say, we have nothing. The conditions under which Eskimos are living is
to some degree apparent in our lives ,and the most prominent example is
drug addiction. So far, most countries manage to surpass the spread of
the abuse within the tolerable range with the force of laws and government.
But a little relaxation of the control over drugs might cause grave epidemics.
What is the reason for it? I would like to look into what causes people
to go awry.
WRITTEN DECEMBER 1988
REVISED MAY 1999
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