|Why the Philosophy of Symbiosis?
Cooperating While Competing
The Age of the Death of God and the Icon
A Mirror Society
The End of Universality
The Mix-and Match Age: Jekyll and Hyde
Cooperating While Competing
A great conceptual revolution is underway across the world, but it is taking place so quietly that it has gone largely undetected. It is not the birth of a new ideology, like capitalism or communism; nor is it the advent of a new philosophy to replace that of Kant or Descartes. yet the new currents of thought that are arising around the world will have a greater effect on us than any ideology or systematic philosophy. They are unarguably changing our way of living and our idea of what it is to be human. This great, invisible change I identify as the philosophy of symbiosis.
Criticism of Japan---"Japan bashing"---is popular recently. American congressmen and representatives smashing a Toyota product with sledge hammers is perhaps the quintessential image of Japan bashing. But the same impulse can be easily observed in Japan itself, where, as the proverb states, "The nail that sticks out is hammered down." Japanese society inherits a long tradition of human relations cast in a feudal mode, which dictates that those with special talents, with unique personalities, or those who achieve sudden success are attacked and ostracized by their peers. In an isolationist or protectionist era, when it is sufficient to guard the status quo and shun all external influences, individuality and achievement are despised as destabilizing factors, and they are feared for the bad effects they may have on the established order. The fact that most Americans engaged in Japan bashing are protectionists further testifies to the truth of this claim.
The elimination of the spirit of protectionism, in both trade and in the form of group loyalties that exclude all outsiders, is a universal struggle and a universal goal. But to pursue that goal also means that we are plunging into an age of confrontation: between benefit and harm, between personalities, and between cultures. It will no longer do to simply hammer down the nail that sticks out. We can no longer solve anything by attacking those who are unique or extraordinary. We are living at the start of an age of symbiosis, in which we will recognize each other's differing personalities and cultures while competing, in which we will cooperate while we oppose and criticize each other.
Will the traditional Japanese reverence for harmony, the emotional and spiritual commitment to consensus, function effectively in this age of symbiosis? If we define harmony and consensus as undercutting all individuality and exceptional ability, as forcing all to bend to the will of the group, then that tradition will find itself at sea in the age of symbiosis. Nor is their much hope for a harmony that is regarded as served by cowering before the strong and failing to put forth one's own position forcefully.
When the positions or standards of cultural value are in disagreement, it is not necessary for one side to defeat the other and force his values on his opponent. They can instead search for common ground, even while remaining in mutual opposition. The success of this approach depends upon whether one has any desire to understand one's opponent. Even two cultures so different from each other that understanding is impossible will find that the sincere desire to understand the other makes cooperation possible.
Symbiosis of this sort, a symbiosis that includes elements of opposition and competition, is a common feature of the animal and plant kingdoms. This is the reason that I have selected the word symbiosis, preferring it to other words such as peace, harmony, and coexistence.
The intermediate space and sacred zones that I will discuss here are necessary conditions for the establishment of symbiosis.
Whether it be the relationships between federations and peoples, nations and their minorities, or the EC and the individual countries that make it up, the symbiosis of part and whole, the issue of the individual and common rules, will become major themes of discussion and great changes will take place around the world.
The age when the strong countries made all the rules, when they forced their ideologies on all other nations, is coming to an end. The nation and the city will gradually achieve an equal status, and the cities will become increasingly autonomous, engaging in their own foreign relations, trade, and cultural exchange. The minority peoples will also become equal in status to nations and federations, and parallel to such federations, they, too, will engage in their own foreign relations, trade, and cultural exchanges.
This is the tide of the age of symbiosis.
This type of symbiosis, which includes opposition and competition, is often seen in the world of living things. This is one reason that I selected the term "symbiosis" rather than coexistence, harmony, or peace.
The Age of the Death of God and the Icon
One of the great revolutions of the modern age has been the death of God. Up to now, society has taught us that all humankind is equal before God. For those with religious faith, God was the absolute and, at the same time, the one who instructed humanity in its proper course. Even after the masses ceased to believe in an absolute God, mass society created substitutes for the deity: heroes and ideal human beings, or "superstars."
There comes a time when each of us notices that his life has not proceeded exactly as he had wished. To compensate for this disappointment, he transfers his unrealized dreams to a hero, an athlete, a superstar, an idol of some sort. At the same time, this ideal image, or icon, becomes his goal. Society until now has been composed of this God, this ideal, this icon, on the one hand, and, on the other, the great body of humankind---Heidegger's das Mann. But in the present age, God, the ideal, and the icon are dead. We have lost the icon as our goal, we have lost our heroes, we have lost our superstars. Though stars may still be born, they soon fall to earth, and they are consumed in the blink of an eye.
A society that still has a goal, still has an icon, is a society supported by the concept of progress. Progress is defined as approaching closer to that society's goals, to the human ideal, the social ideal, to the heroes and the stars. For most of the nations of the world, Western society and Western culture have continued to be the ideal and goal. As a result, developing countries have made every effort to approach, even if little by little, the ideal that the West represents. Progress has been identified with Westernization.
Societies that cherish this ideal refuse utterly to recognize the value or meaning of other cultures. For them, modernization is Westernization. It is the conquest of one culture by another.
Japan, in particular, from the time of Meiji Restoration in 1868, consciously chose this path, on which modernization equals Westernization. With progress as its rallying cry, the nation has spared no pains in its grin ding efforts to modernize. 1) Years ago, Tokyo, and especially the Ginza area, was regarded as a major symbol of this belief in modernization through Westernization. 2) Enraptured by the icon of the Ginza, towns across the archipelago dubbed the main streets of their shopping arcades the local Ginza, and little Ginzas sprouted over Japan as quick and thick as bamboo shoots after a rain.
And so it is that Japan set out in pursuit of Western society and, eventually, surpassed it? Ridiculous. It is impossible for a society to overtake or not overtake another society of a completely different nature. We cannot speak of superiority or inferiority among cultures. Each of the different cultural spheres in the world treads a different path. It is not as if they were all on one large athletic field, racing against each other.
Recently in Japan we frequently hear the claim that Japan has overtaken the West and no longer has any goal to aim for. This is a great mistake. True, the philosophy of society up to now, with its faith in the ideal, the icon, has crumbled, and we find ourselves in a world without icons. Without an ideal, the concept of progress, of course, becomes meaningless. But now that the heroes and superstars have faded, it has become possible for anyone, for each of us, to play the role of the hero and the star.
A Mirror Society
The film stars of the old days, whose names were synonymous for the ideals of female and male beauty, have passed from the scene, and today's stars are on an ordinary human scale. When we see these quite ordinary-looking and ordinary-acting entertainers on our living room television screens, we are confirmed in the belief that we are stars, too. Since an absolute and other God, a star as an image of human perfection, no longer exists, we must provide a dwelling for God and for stars within ourselves. This is the beginning of the age of a mirror society, in which we define ourselves through the activity of observing others, in which others are a mirror in which we see ourselves. Since we cannot find peace of mind in God, we are forced to find it in looking at others. The present is an age when we are all greatly concerned with those around us.
Modern society offers great opportunity for each of us to emphasize our individuality and create a unique identity. To call ours a mirror society is another way of saying it is a society in which we confirm our own identity by observing others, opening the possibility for increasing diversification. We have taken the first step into an age of discrimination, which values signs, symbols, and that certain extra factor. The possibility that many unique individuals may flourish in symbiosis, that we may see the birth of a symbiotic society that respects each and every different cultural sphere, is on the horizon, too.
I have purposefully used the word "possibility" because the road os not an easy one. A mirror society easily degenerates into a conformist society and an absolutist society. This danger is particularly strong in Japan, where the strictures of the village society of the long feudal period---a society that rejected nonconformists and those of exceptional talent---remain strongly entrenched in people's minds. A mirror society contains ample danger of becoming a society in which we seek only to live our lives as everyone else does and dare to think only as others do, to avoid being ostracized.
When one company succeeds in a certain venture, the rest follow in a thundering herd. Many Japanese businessmen, on the pretext of socializing, go out drinking night after night with their colleagues to communicate the message: "I am just like you. We're the same sort. No need to worry that I have any special talent, any real individuality." They are preserving the peace of the village. And by the same token, they are jealous and spiteful of anyone who does show special talent, someone who succeeds.
There is a definite danger in a return to this type of backward-looking mirror society, spanning many areas including educational policy and the worlds of the universities, business, government, and the arts. Those who dare to violate the strictures of conformity are denounced by their colleagues, slandered, and the value of their achievements challenged. This is not at all remarkable in Japan; it is, in fact, the accepted practice.
The age of heroes and superstars in finished. Recognizing and evaluating the individual worth of others is a fundamentally different activity from the process of creating heroes and superstars. From the fair and proper evaluation of different cultures, different talents, and different personalities is born the critical spirit, and a society of symbiosis is created.
The End of Universality
In the age of symbiosis, the ideals of universality and equality, which have passed unchallenged up to now, will cease to apply. Up to now, the most widely accepted from of universality has been the assumed universality of technology. It was widely believed that technology, which brought wealth and happiness to the masses for the first time in history, would unify and homogenize the entire world, regardless of the differences in stage of development or in culture among nations. Automobiles, nuclear power plants, and the glass and steel buildings of Modern Architecture were supposed to make people in the deserts of the Middle East, the tropical cities of Southeast Asia, and the loess plains of China happy, and to make them the same.
But we no longer believe this is necessarily true. Technology does not take root when it is cut off from culture and tradition. The transfer of technology requires sophistication: adaptation to region, to unique situations, to culture and custom. When the technology of one culture is introduced into another cultural sphere with different lifestyle, it is often difficult to ensure that the technology will take root there. Even if in the future atomic fusion is perfected and becomes economically viable, is it necessarily a good idea for atomic fusion power plants to spread across the globe as the universal means of power generation? Probably not. If the per capita income of the Chinese were to reach the level of the Japanese, would it be a good idea for China to become a mass automobile society? Probably not. Each cultural sphere should cultivate its own unique technological systems to create its own distinctive lifestyle.
The twenty-first century will be one in which fusion, fission, steam, and water-generated electrical plants will exist in symbiosis. This will not be because some countries or regions are too poor to introduce nuclear fusion generators, but because different peoples will select different technologies to create their own distinctive lifestyles.
The Mix-and Match Age: Jekyll and Hyde
In contrast to the first half of the twentieth century, during which concept of progress implied improvements in the quality of materials and in the standard of living, in the future discovery and creativity will be the concepts that express the richness and improvement of out standard of living. Though we will no longer have a single unified goal toward which we progress, people will make the discovery of fluid, mix-and-match combinations of their goals their aim. When Paris fashion reigns as the model of style, other designers need merely imitate it to create their fashions. But in an age of mix-and-match, fashions from many different times, men's and women's fashions, and formal and casual wear are combined and juxtaposed. Unlike an age fond of hierarchy and order, when conventions of time, place, and occasion reign, in the mix-and-match age can find delight in reading the sensibility that has dictated the choices in each new combination.
This will be an age of people who can pursue many different activities at the same time. It will be a time of broad and flexible "Jekyll-and-Hyde" sensibility that can freely combine and juxtapose the sacred with the profane, the Paris mode with farmer's overalls, a creativity that can, through subtle combinations, bring us novelty. It will, in other words, be the age when a schizophrenic, richly creative, split personality reigns supreme. Sincerity and insincerity will live side by side, the distinction between work and play will fade, formal and casual will lose their meaning in fashion---such will be the lifestyle of the age of symbiosis.
Whether it will be more enjoyable to live in this new age of symbiosis remains to be seen. The world will be a harder place in some important ways---though it will be "hard" in a way different from out interpretation of that word now. The age of the individual, an age of pluralism and diversification, during which each person will express his individuality, each person will be responsible for making his own choices, will be an age of the joy of discovering what is different and unique. Each of us will need to make continual efforts to acquire the skills that will allow us that pleasure. Unless we polish and cultivate skills that will allow us that pleasure. Unless we polish and cultivate our sensibilities, it will be difficult to make new discoveries or to be creative. Compared to an age of conformism, when we could be lazy and merely unthinkingly copy what others were doing, the world will be a more challenging place to live in. But it is too late to revive God and the icon. We have no choice but to take the first steps on a path that may be difficult but leads to a richly creative, brilliantly sparkling life.