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I really enjoyed a (not so) recent post by Ampontan: Logos, pathos, and Japanese politics. I would really like to get my hands on a copy of Koizumi Seiken—Patosu no Shusho wa Nani wo Kaeta no ka? (the subject of the book review which sparked Ampontan’s post), although at this stage it would be little more than extra weight on my shelf.

My research area came from my understanding of the abduction issue as emotion overcoming reason, and thus it was with a happy sigh that I managed to read something addressing these two aspects of politics in the context of Japan… a sigh because I wish I had been able to read something like this sooner.

He quotes from the review:

(Professor Uchiyama) discusses the advantages and disadvantages of a strong prime minister who frequently resorted to pathos (passions, sentiment) and top-down methods of governing. […] But the author points out the dangers of Koizumi’s incorporation of pathos into politics, which was symbolic of his approach of stripping logos (reason and language) from politics, thereby weakening the logic of responsibility.

Ampontan then suggests that logos has been the preferred political mode in postwar Japan. It is also my preferred mode of politics and the very reason I wanted to take the Japanese government to task for its handling of the abduction issue in light of the very real nuclear threat posed by North Korea. He writes:

After their defeat in the war, perhaps the Japanese developed an antipathy to the use of emotional political appeals as they applied themselves to studying and incorporating the principles of liberal democracy.

This didn’t sit very well with my gut feelings about the abduction issue, although Ampontan’s later comments settle that impression somewhat:

That is not to say that Japanese are not susceptible to pathos; the public were enthusiastic patrons of the Koizumi Theater. It’s just that pathos does not always mix well with politics here.

I had held the view that Koizumi’s conduct regarding the abduction issue was calculated, controlled, and ultimately correct. If he pandered to the Kazokukai and Suukukai, it was in a fashion that kept the politicians largely in control. Certainly when contrasted with the handling by Abe Shinzo which was an absolute barrage on the public sensibilities, arguably stretching their energy in the issue past its point of elasticity. We all know of ‘aid fatigue’, the public’s over-exposure to aid campaigns (particularly in the age of LiveAid); well, I would argue that the Japanese public has suffered ‘abduction fatigue’.

Ampontan sums up my feelings quite well:

Mr. Koizumi used emotional appeals to sway the electorate, but he was an adroit, skillful politician with an engaging personality. In contrast, Mr. Abe lacked political skills, and his personality, while not unpleasant, tended toward the bland businesslike demeanor Japanese expect from men at work.

Every society suffers from hot-button issues, the kind of issues that are used to rally the electorate and identify opponents. The abduction issue, perhaps similarly with its public anti-nuclear principles, are one of Japan’s.

Koizumi used the abduction issue to bring the electorate behind him in 2002 and 2004 (in the latter case so successfully that even the victims’ families could not stand against him). He showed a calculation that Abe just couldn’t wield as a result of being the issue’s champion. Whereas Koizumi could reel the abduction issue’s advocates, Abe simply allowed them to run rampant. It is my feeling that Abe did more for the abduction issue as Koizumi’s Chief Cabinet Secretary than he could have ever had done as Prime Minister.

Finally, the media were a crucial part of the abduction issue’s growth and strength. They helped popularise the issue through the broadcasting of a ‘vicarious trauma’, as Hyung-gu Lynn wrote in Vicarious traumas: television and public opinion in Japan’s North Korea policy’. Ampontan’s comments on the role of pathos in the media are spot on:

Ideals as these, however, must confront the reality that people consume politics through television, and that the demands of television are intrinsically pathos-based and seek the dramatic rather than the sober and the serious.

From this he concludes that pathos is with Japanese politics until the end. I quite agree, although Fukuda’s stance on the issue appears to have brought back some much needed logos. Time will tell how much of that sticks.

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The Fortean Times has been a guilty pleasure of mine for some time, although during my Masters I stopped reading magazines and concentrated on my security reading. As a result, since I finished my course I’ve been playing catch up.

While reading about the links between conspiracy theories and Fortean thinking (FT223), or rather the epistemological considerations of appreciating conspiracy theories, I came across the following passage that made me stop and think:

Conspiracy thinking is mythological (or ‘magical’) thinking. Martin S Day has observed that “scientifically, [a myth] cannot be proved” and neither can it be “properly reconciled with phenomenological facts”, elaborating on Hans Georg Gadamer’s judgement that “the only good definition of myth is that myth neither requires nor includes any possible verification outside of itself”.

This struck a minor chord with my own research.

I have always considered the Japanese response to the abduction issue, in its 2004-6 form (at the height of the Yokota Megumi story), to be somewhat irrational, emotionally governed, and to some extent dogmatic.

During the course of my research, I came to see the Yokota Megumi story as a national narrative. Every nation has such stories to some extent. I daresay that the Madeline McCann story in my own country, plus the Soham murders among others, are such a narrative. They appear to bind the nation together in condemnation of a state or group, taking over the headlines: bad news coming good. Indeed, 9/11 ultimately falls into this category.

However, with the Yokota story, we are unlikely to find her alive, or find her real remains (if indeed the tests performed on the ashes provided by North Korea are correct). The story is unlikely to be resolved.

I am beginning to believe that the abduction issue might be penetrating Japanese national mythology, much like how the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is now an inherent part of the Japanese nation, or how constant victimisation figures in Korean and Chinese self-image.

This current mode of thought suggests to me that an effective way of studying the abduction issue would be to examine it as a narrative. This is something that I wish to do but cannot at this moment as a result of a lack of language skills and opportunity. However, it is a thought that I will ruminate on.

The subtitle of this blog is: “North Korea, Japan and the Politics of Fear’ but what is the politics of fear?

Fear penetrates society. I may seem dramatic and unnecessarily general to say so, but fear is a, if not the, major moderator of social life. It keeps people in check. It moderates your driving, it conditions your social interactions, and it keeps you alive. Fear, in tandem with an appreciation of risk, is a social force unlike any other. Thus it is unsurprising that we find it thriving in politics.

Political fear fosters subservience. It is polarising, removing the middle ground from debate. Like a stampede of wildebeest, it brings a population’s thoughts into line. The palpable fear (or should that be anger?) of terrorism post-9/11 has created a climate in which, at least initially, populations were willing to cut back their civil liberties in order to make it more difficult for a handful of terrorists to infiltrate and operate within a country. No one would dare risk being a terrorist sympathiser.

Fear, to paraphrase, is the opiate of the masses. Those that can manipulate, or even generate, political fear stand to benefit enormously. A successful attempt to manipulate fear can generate wide-ranging political support that can allow a break from the traditional rules of political action (conceptually similar to Ole Waever’s securitisation theory). The identification of a convincing threat is all that is needed.

The benefits of political fear, to policymakers, can be seen in the rallying effect of war. During wartime, criticism of the broad political project of the war itself (although not necessarily its conduct) becomes taboo. The needs of the state supersede those of the citizenry and opposition is placed within a discourse of internal threat or fifth columnism . War elucidates the ‘other’ in sharp contrast to the ‘self’.

The war rally effect has long been recognised, just look at the Russo-Japanese War, initiated, in part at least, in order to placate and consolidate an uppity populace. Of course, when things go wrong the equation changes, cynicism and resistance take over. See, for instance, the Russian revolution and the anti-war protests of the 1960s/70s.

Cynicism, one might argue, is becoming more prevalent in our own age. We are strained with fear fatigue: the constant fluctuations of the terror alert systems once piqued our emotions, but now, having gone on for 6 years with no sign of reaching lower thresholds, we are comfortably numb.

The modern political party is tailored to the manipulation of fear: PR spin-doctoring makes the best (worst?) use of that most potent instrument of fear, the media, who propagate and editorialise their messages, openly or by stealth, by means designed to grab the attention of the average guy on the street. The days of a discreetly wheelchair-bound Roosevelt communicating by radio are long gone, ever since Nixon got sweaty while debating with Kennedy, the power of the media to make or break a politician has been clear. Today’s politician must have the image-consciousness of a supermodel, a far cry from the days of Churchill (“Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober.”)

Why is this worrying? Fear gives democracy the trappings of autocracy. However, unlike autocracy, the government of a fear-ridden democracy have far less control than the leadership of an autocratic state. A wannabe democratic-despot has to expend a lot of political energy and rhetoric in order to have their way. They must prey on our insecurities and manipulate our psychologies.

This, I argue, is what is under way in Japan. Issues regarding its relations with North Korea are surrounded by an atmosphere of fear (atmosfear?) that conditions political action. With the abduction issue in particular, no-one can seem be against efforts to return the Japanese citizens taken to North Korea (even if the remainder are probably dead), no less that no-one can seem to be for the rights of terrorists. Debate is weakened, and without debate, democracy is weakened allowing ideologies in. Under Abe Shinzo, who was pulling strings behind the issue from 2002, the issue was tacked onto an agenda of new conservatism, the ideology of the LDP’s Young (and not so young) Turks. His fever pitch approach was an abuse of the abduction issue and one of many examples of the (ab)use of fear in the issue that I will endeavour to explore within this forum.

Sorry it’s been a while again, but I’ve just finished writing and finalising my second contribution to ワールド・インテリジェンス. My article this time focused on British Special Forces post-9/11. As you might imagine, for anyone who knows anything about UKSF, it was pretty hard to find good materials. The British government maintains a ‘no comment’ policy regarding any mention of its special forces, which unfortunately creates a lot more drivel than you’d ever think possible.

I started with the most reliable account of the SAS in Afghanistan that I could find: Ultimate Risk by Mark Nicol. Now, I remember back in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that the British media was full of stories of SAS action in the country. There were some incredibly detailed accounts, and most of them played up the SAS as a hi-tech, well-funded force beloved by US CENTCOM (who was cognisant of the SAS’ status as ‘the best’). Nicol’s account blows those stories out of the water.

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An interesting, if a little dubious, editorial from The Japan Times:

Paranoid android Abe blind to reality when it comes to eye contact
By PHILIP BRASOR
Sunday, Aug. 26, 2007

Image and issues always compete for voters’ attention on the campaign trail, with the former usually winning. A successful candidate is the one who uses the media most effectively in shaping an image that’s acceptable to more people than the next candidate’s. Issues, on the other hand, have become more or less window dressing that give a general indication of a candidate’s ideological bias.

Media critic Yukichi Amano took this dynamic for granted in his analysis of last month’s Upper House election, which appeared in the Asahi Shimbun recently. Amano not only believes that the Liberal Democratic Party lost because of image problems – an assertion few people would deny given all the scandals the LDP has suffered through recently – but pins the reason for the loss on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s use of eye contact.

Since taking office last September, Abe has continued the daily, casual press conferences started by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi. Amano believes this is a good idea but it’s only effective if you understand how TV works. Unlike Koizumi, who proved himself a master at media manipulation, Abe has no clue as to how unflattering TV can be.

One of his main problems is his use of language. The prime minister has no knack for the colloquial and often says things that go over the heads of most citizens. Where Koizumi immediately got his point across when he said that one of his goals was to “kill off the old LDP,” Abe expressed the same idea by saying he wants to “escape from the postwar regime.”

But the real problem is sincerity, or, at least, the illusion of sincerity. “Sometimes the face reveals more than words,” Amano writes, and Abe’s real problem was his decision to address the camera directly when answering reporters’ questions. “When someone asks you something,” Amano says, “you should look at that person when you answer. Not to do so is considered bad manners.”

Amano isn’t the first media person to find fault with Abe’s mesen (eye contact) policy. The prime minister’s reasoning is that he wants to talk directly to the people during press conferences, but the unnaturalness of his gaze has the effect of making everything he says sound insincere and meaningless. Koizumi also rarely said anything of substance, but he looked at the reporters who asked him the questions, thus making it seem as if he meant what he said. Abe says insubstantial things that sound insubstantial.

And because Abe is less confident in his abilities than Koizumi was, he is more likely to buckle under criticism. When pundits started questioning his mesen strategy, he stubbornly refused to abandon it. Instead, he tried to make his facial expression more forceful, which had the singular effect of making it look as if he didn’t even know the reporters were there – as if he were answering questions in his head. During one casual press conference back in the spring, reporters asked Abe directly if he didn’t think his mesen strategy was “strange,” and, without missing a beat or taking his eye off the camera, Abe said, “Rather than answering to you, I intend to talk to the people.” Monty Python couldn’t have come up with a funnier dig at political vacuousness.

Since the election, Abe has only compounded the problem by trying to modify the practice without seeming to modify it. According to an Aug. 12 article in the Tokyo Shimbun, Abe has “returned to zero” in his strategy of dealing with the press. But his effort to act as normal as possible is transparent. He looks at reporters now, but can’t resist glancing up at the camera. The effect is even more distracting than it was before. With his eyes wandering all over the place, Abe appears not only indecisive but paranoid.