Ecology and the World-System

By Walter L. Goldfrank; David Goodman et al. | Go to book overview

8
Modernism, Water, and Affluence: The Japanese Way in East Asia

Gavan McCormack


THE WAY OF AFFLUENCE

It is a commonplace that, for individuals and societies alike, powerful memories which are especially bitter and negative tend to persist longer than positive or happy ones; in the case of nation-states and their peoples, bitter memories may cloud perceptions of transformed historical contexts and block the process of necessary adaptation to change. Thus in late twentieth-century East and Southeast Asia the social memory of Japanese aggression and militarism of 50 or 60 years ago is kept alive, partly by the force of the horror it entailed and partly by the way in which Japan continues to equivocate about whether to celebrate or apologize for its actions then. In contemporary East and Southeast Asia, the phrase "the Japanese threat" is invariably interpreted in terms of the militarism of a half century ago, although few, if any, observers of Japanese society detect any signs of a revival of Japanese militarism.

This chapter argues, firstly, that the countries of the former Japanese "Co- Prosperity Sphere" are threatened today in quite specific ways that differ fundamentally from those of 50 or 60 years ago; however paradoxical it may seem, they are threatened, not by Japanese militarism, but by the Japanese model of affluence; secondly, that this model may be observed in particular in the way it impinges on attitudes and policies relating to water. While a significant paradigm shift is underway in "modern" attitudes to water in the advanced industrial countries, bureaucratic and corporate resistance to that shift is particularly strong in Japan, with the result that the outdated "modernism" retained at the heart of the Japanese political economy continues to be replicated throughout the region, at huge social and environmental cost.

The contemporary Japanese "way of affluence" is immensely powerful precisely because it is seen as "innocent" and as a far more attractive option than militarism, but it constitutes a threat precisely because it is neither sustainable

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