Love the World, America, or Leave It
As the early shock waves from the great earthquake known as the 2016 United States presidential election subside and the world now braces itself for the resulting tsunami waves to follow, it is a good moment for us all to pause and do what the USA, in particular, has always been very poor at doing throughout its history as a young nation: self-reflection.
It is not part of the American collective psyche to spend much time looking back on the past, reflecting on big mistakes, and then, having learned from those mistakes, to move on to a brighter future. No, the emphasis has always been on right now, grabbing and snatching all it can get its hands on as a society, with little thought of either yesterday or tomorrow. But that will all have to change, now that a billionaire businessman with a neo-fascist agenda is set to be sworn in and addressed by all U.S. citizens, whether they like it or not, as “Mr. President”.
What led the USA to this ignominious place it stands at today? Was it the European trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 1500s onward in which millions of human beings were shipped in chains from the continent of Africa, the cradle and apex of human civilization, and brought to a “New World” to build an economy from the ground up? Or was it the systematic slaughter of millions of indigenous First Nations people who had lived on the continent known as Turtle Island tens of thousands of years before the word “America” was ever uttered by those European invaders?
Or could it have been the concept of “manifest destiny”, a theory of divine providence that was first made popular not by some politician but by an American journalist named John O’Sullivan, much later in the mid-1800s, to justify the mass rape and theft of other peoples’ lands across the North American continent and beyond? Or was it the ensuing destruction of foreign lands, wars, genocide, more wars, mass accumulation of wealth, still more wars, slave labor, hyper-productive industries, permanent environmental pollution, and yet more wars — all done over the course of centuries, up to the present day, with the blessing of the god Greed?
Whatever it was that spurred you along, you’re now at that place, America, and you’re in deep trouble. And the worst part of it is that due to the global influence and reach of your tentacles of politics, economics and culture, the whole world will have to suffer along with you.
America — Love It or Leave It was a common slogan heard in U.S. society especially around the time of the USA’s war on the sovereign Southeast Asian nation of Vietnam back in the 1960s and 1970s. This slogan was found everywhere, from bumper stickers of cars to neighborhood graffiti to placards of pro-war demonstrators in the United States. “Love it or leave it” dripped from people’s lips in the media at the time. The words seemed to be everywhere.
And some Americans took that advice, literally. Canada was the first choice of escape for many young people who refused to go and kill some innocent brown-skinned people across the ocean just because their corrupt government in Washington DC told them to. During that time, a number of American military personnel stationed on U.S. bases here in Japan deserted their ranks and were secretly smuggled out of Japan and on to Europe with the help of a grassroots network of sympathetic Japanese antiwar activists. Americans, when given a choice of loving it or leaving it, will often choose the latter.
And that choice, ironically, now comes back to haunt you as a society, America, decades later as you prepare to swear in a Wall Street real estate mogul by the name of Donald J. Trump (a.k.a. The Muskrat) as your 45th president in just a couple more months.
Love this world or leave it, America. There are more than 200 countries and independent territories on this planet, of which you are only one. You are superior to no one, and if the truth be known, you are inferior in many ways to other nations when it comes to taking care of their own people and nurturing peaceful relations between countries. You are not God, America, and never were. “Manifest destiny” was the Great White Lie that was buried long ago. The seven billion people on Planet Earth will need to survive together, and the times call for us all as a human species to stop and go in a different direction now that we see the Earth, our common mother, crumbling at the seams at a time of massive environmental change.
Love the world or leave it. We hope you choose the former, America, but if the latter is your choice due to your sense of adolescent self-centeredness and arrogance, then please make sure you leave as far away from here as you can go. Have your NASA scientists find a way to send all those selfish U.S. citizens who refuse to get along peacefully with the rest of world’s people into a gigantic space station outside the Earth’s orbit, and then get lost somewhere out there in the Final Frontier. If you just can’t love this world in all its diversity, and if you can’t act responsibly and respectfully among the international community of nations on this beautiful planet, then sorry, you’ll have to leave.
We’re sure you can understand what we mean when we say Love the world or leave it. You are the Land of Two Choices after all, right? It’s either Coke or Pepsi. Coors or Budweiser. Ford or Chevy. Democrat or Republican. Communism or capitalism. Guilty or innocent. For the terrorists or against the terrorists. Support the war or shut up. Life or death.
Self-reflect or die: That is the urgent challenge before you now, America. It goes against all your materialistic instincts to collectively reflect on yourself and your past mistakes, but that is exactly what you need to do now. And once you’ve reflected deeply enough and taken a good, hard look in that mirror that’s before you, then you need to quickly shift into resistance mode and stop this dangerous incoming president and all the vile things he stands for at every single opportunity. Trip up Trump. And do it well.
If you ask me, America, you’re damn lucky that there are still enough honest, hard-working, good-hearted citizens left within your borders who are willing to fight for your soul and for what little bit of dignity you’ve got left as a nation, considering all the unforgivable things you’ve done to your own people and others around the world over the past few hundred years. But fight they must now, and if there was ever a nonviolent Good Fight to be fought for the sake of the survival of the whole world as we know it, then this one is it.
We’re all in this thing called Life together. Love the world or leave it. Reflect deeply on that, America, then get right to work on helping to save the globe from this holy mess you’ve created. It’s either that, or we bid you farewell into the vast cosmos. And you know there won’t be too many extra-terrestrial beings up there in outer space who are glad to see you, either.
January 17 — A Remembrance
No lie; that is just the way it happened. The next morning, almost as if I had jinxed myself (and a whole lot of other people), that “big disaster” came to pass.
Before I felt it, I heard it. It was about 5:45 the next morning, a Tuesday, January 17, and I had my alarm set for 6:00 a.m. I was lingering in that space between sleep and waking up. Then, off in the distance, I heard this low rumbling sound growing closer and louder. The only thing I can compare it to is the sound of a massive herd of buffalo coming straight at you, just like you see in American movies.
When that rumbling thunder sound reached us, our four-story apartment building began rocking violently. At first I wasn’t bothered by it, having grown up on the west coast of the United States and endured earthquakes before. But as the intensity of the earthquake kept growing and I could actually feel our whole building teetering to one side and then the other on its foundations, back and forth, like some leaning Tower of Pisa, I sat straight up and thought, That’s it, we’re going down.
My wife screamed and our son (then only six months old) woke up crying. The sound of things falling, crashing and breaking in our apartment filled our ears. Though it seemed like forever, it actually lasted for about 20 seconds. Just as suddenly as the rolling thunder had arrived, it retreated back into the distance and our hearts started beating again.
As any survivor will tell you, one second in earthquake time feels like one hour in regular time, and that was the loooongest 20 seconds I’ve ever lived through. The apartment was still standing with only minor damage, thank God, but I knew by the sheer force of the quake that if it had continued on even a few seconds longer, our small building would no doubt have tipped over and the overall damage from the quake would have been much worse for many other people too. Later I heard some Japanese experts confirm exactly that.
The thing that really saved us, it seemed, was that we had chosen a fairly new concrete-made apartment building to move into after we got married and started our new family. Many of our neighbors were not so lucky. Those who lived in older apartments or older Japanese-style houses with wooden frames and heavy ceramic tile roofs (built under outdated earthquake codes) saw their dwellings collapse like matchsticks — in many cases, burying the occupants alive. Although I had always loved those kinds of traditional Japanese homes and dreamed of living in one someday, I was glad at that moment that we had chosen a more modern, quake-resistant-type of building to live in.
We were now isolated, in any case, from the rest of Japan and its modern conveniences. The quake left us without any electricity, water, gas or phone hook-up. That first day, our only lifeline to the outside world was a battery-operated radio.
As the hours dragged on, we caught the news and could hear just how bad things were in the central Kobe area: a magnitude 6.8 quake that had done major damage to buildings, and traffic and port infrastructure. Though we were living at the time in the nearby city of Nishinomiya, which was also hard-hit, we were located on the eastern edge of the quake zone and were thus spared a much worse fate than those who lived closer to Kobe.
The first night or two after the quake we lit the apartment by candlelight. With gas and water supplies now gone, we had to fend for ourselves in search of broken water mains in the area, fill up big containers with water, then lug them back up three flights of stairs — several times a day. You never appreciate how much water is used in an average toilet flush until you’ve been in a disaster like that. We learned very quickly the art of conserving everything as a matter of survival.
In the meantime, the phone line was dead silent with no incoming or outgoing calls possible. One of the first few phone calls that miraculously managed to get through to us in the days following the quake came not from inside Japan, but from overseas. I answered the phone in Japanese, expecting to hear a Japanese voice answer back. I was instead greeted with a few moments of silence and crackling on the line, a sure sign that it was an international call. “Brian?” a gravelly voice said on the other end. “It’s Roger Tatarian.”
It was indeed “Mr. T”, our old university journalism instructor, and he was now calling from Fresno, California to see if we were all right. I assured him we were fine and thanked him for taking the time to check up on us. His phone call out of the blue that day cheered us up considerably and injected some much-needed sunshine into the depressing days that followed the Great Hanshin Earthquake (as it was officially being called), as the death toll climbed ever higher and people struggled to mentally and physically deal with the death and destruction all around them.
Roger Tatarian passed away in Fresno about six months later at age 78, but I don’t think Mr. T ever knew just how much his concern and phone call that day had meant to us.
The ensuing days, weeks and months here in Japan left me deeply impressed as well. I saw firsthand the heartbreaking effects that a force of nature can have on people’s lives. I reported a series of stories for my newspaper on the disaster, but it was always much more than just a “hot news” story like it was for my news editors in the bigger cities of Osaka or Tokyo. I always approached people respectfully and sympathetically as a fellow victim of the quake, not as just another reporter exploiting them for a story.
In the quake’s aftermath I saw many local Japanese residents extending a helpful hand to each other in gestures of kindness that I hadn’t seen before (or since). I was deeply impressed by the concern that emerged from people’s hearts for their fellow victims, and I too made sure to help out local people who lost much more in their lives than we had. Sometimes it just takes a disaster of such devastating proportions to bring out the best in people. That was certainly the case in the big Kobe quake of January 17, 1995, which ended up claiming more than 6,000 lives in a mere 20 seconds.
And so, this is in remembrance of all the people we knew personally from that time, 20 years ago: Some of them lived through the experience with us, and some died in the disaster. Those who survived it have grown up and grown older, including our six-month-old son, who today has reached adulthood. Those who were not lucky enough to make it out of the disaster alive are often in my thoughts and prayers, even after all these years.
May they all rest in peace, for they are not forgotten.
Reality & the Hopeless Romantic
And seeing as I’ll be reaching the mid-point of my 50s in the not-too-distant future, it seems like an opportune time at this moment to take a much-needed “reality check”. So here goes, as I draw on a variety of thoughts, beliefs and inspirations to guide me along....
Let’s start with a couple of The Big Ones: love and peace.
After all these years, I still believe in love (or rather, Love) as the highest moral power in the world and, indeed, the universe. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught me that, both through his words and deeds during his magnificent but brief lifetime. If there is a moral Higher Force in this world, then it is a force rooted in Love.
I believe in this world as One Family (as I always sign off on my Front Page essay on this website). All men are brothers and all women sisters, and all humans just one small part of life on this Earth. All is related. And families are meant to live in peace, not in a state of war or in a constant state of self-destruction, as the human family always seems to be in. We will have peace in this world — or peace will have us, on its own terms. But either way, that is the destiny of things: to live in peace as family.
I believe that the older we get, the more flexible we need to be in our thinking. To paraphrase what the Japanese philosopher/poet/artist Shozo Kajima (see my book review in this current website edition) once told me: “The older I get, the more I need to let old ideas go so that I can have some empty space in my mind for new ideas coming in.” So true! As we get older, it is time to let outdated ideas, grudges, judgments and needless thoughts themselves go so that we can embrace what is coming to us in the present moment and just around the corner in the future.
I believe more and more that it is important to understand things than to know things. We may never know fully know in our lifetimes all there is to know, but when we can simply understand people, places, societies, the world — as they are, accepting them without judgment — then our mind is in a much more stable place. We don’t have to know everyone and everything, and we certainly don’t have to like everyone and everything that is thrown at us in Life, but it would good for us simply to understand. And the best person to start understanding is one’s own self.
I believe more and more in giving something back to Life in some way. It seems sometimes that I’ve spent a lifetime taking and grabbing and trying to hold onto every little thing I could, like anybody else. Now that I’ve reached the peak and am now on the “downhill side” of Life, it is time to start giving back in some way to the society and the world that helped raise me up. The older I get, the more strongly I feel that way.
Which leads to another Big One: death. In many spiritual and/or religious traditions, death is nothing more than another phase of Life, and vice versa. Or, to humbly quote myself in a poem I jotted down a few years ago:
in the Circle of Life
where we get on
More and more I believe that how we came into this world and how we have lived each day of our lives determines how we will leave this world when the time comes. Is it not just as important to die a good death as to live a good life?
I am also agreeing more and more with Indian philosopher/activist Satish Kumar (who was warmly welcomed during a recent speaking tour of Japan) that our lives are not our own — that we belong to something much bigger than ourselves — and that to talk about “my life this...” and “my life that...” is to claim something that does not totally belong to us in the first place. When we see the connection between the “I, me, my, mine” and that moral Higher Force I mentioned earlier, then we are seeing the totality of the picture instead of just one frame at a time.
I also believe more and more in the connection between us and the Earth. I recently used the phrase “Mother Earth” in an essay I wrote, and an editor got back to me and asked me if it was really a good idea for me to refer to the Earth in a human form. It seems that what he didn’t really understand was that all indigenous cultures on the planet — yes, even those in Europe too way, way back in ancient times — personally experienced the Earth as a sustaining, loving, nurturing entity that literally kept them alive from day to day. In every way, the Earth was a mother to them.
And it is still that way today, in many parts of the world. How can it be that so many different cultures and societies scattered around the planet and across the ages experienced Mother Nature in the same direct, life-sustaining ways? It’s about the spiritual connection between the Earth and all life upon it that we need to remember. We are all connected, and the Earth is the common mother to us all. Not much more complicated than that (except if you’re a logical-minded editor, of course).
I believe it is important also not to take yourself too seriously as you get older, which is something I’m still working on after all these years. In the wider scheme of things, each one of us is nothing more than “a speck of dust on the Big Screen” (to humbly quote another one of my poems from years back). In other words, to put it more bluntly: Don’t believe your own bullsh*t. A good motto to live by when I get to feeling too self-important and self-righteous about things.
Having listed all the things I believe in here, I also have to agree with Native American poet/activist John Trudell when he says that we should avoid using the word “believe” — after all, “belief” does contain the word “lie” within it. It’s better, he says, to use the word think instead. “To believe” is to passively receive an idea and often to have blind trust in it; “to think” is to use your mind in an active way instead. A very important distinction to remember.
But here is where the reality comes in: What about all the suffering going on in the world? What about all the war, misery, cruelty that we see all around us? Can that just be wished away with a few positive thoughts?
No, of course it can’t. I serve occasionally as a contributing writer/editor for the Tokyo-based photojournalism magazine Days Japan, which takes a hard-hitting look at the world we live in. The magazine features photos and photo essays that you will likely not find anywhere else in the mainstream media in Japan, the U.S. and other countries, shot by photographers from around the world who take incredible risks to show the reality of what is happening to someone, somewhere around the globe.
The point for Days Japan is not to shock readers with photos of war, poverty, death or genocide, but simply to say: This is the reality of the world we humans have made — do not turn your eyes away from this.
Looking at the various photos from around the world that are published in Days Japan magazine can often be depressing, dismaying, discouraging and disheartening. But it is reality. It is the reality of human-made suffering, brutal acts that are thought out and carried out by human beings. Seeing these scenes is like looking in a mirror and seeing the worst part of ourselves that we would prefer not to see. But again, it is reality. And reality can be hard to deal with sometimes; it is often much easier to believe instead in the fantasy of the human race as the most "intelligent" species on the planet.
Yet with all that, I still have some faith in the human spirit, in the human heart, in the human mind and in human hands to do good. I have seen too much good to believe that Life is all bad. It is wise to be idealistic in this world, yet realistic. And we need not choose between the two: Each one of us can be an “idealistic realist” or a “realistic idealist” if we want to be. A balance between the two is probably the best place to strive for, when all is said and done.
In the end, if holding on to the good in Life despite all the bad that exists around us makes me a hopeless romantic, then so be it. If the world had just a few more dreamers of peace and actors of love, I can’t see where that would be such a bad thing at all.
But know this: I am not alone, for if you believe (think) as I do, my friend, despite all the odds against us, then that makes you a hopeless romantic of sorts too. And that’s just fine because in these crazy, chaotic times, that’s exactly the way the world should be, if you ask me.
Reaching the Story’s Climax
This was brought home to me in stark fashion after watching a series of video-art pieces recently produced by an artist I had never heard of before, New York-based “shock photographer” Clayton Cubitt. “Hysterical Literature” features short video clips of women sitting alone at a table in front of a camera, reading passages from their favorite book.
The catcher, though, is what is you don’t see happening under the table: a photographic assistant manually stimulating each woman with a Japanese-made vibrator. Each subject attempts to keep her composure and her cool mentally, as she gets gradually turned on physically. By the end of the clip, she reaches the climax of the story (literally), with her every facial expression, raw emotion, tightened muscle and body twitch caught on camera.
Cubitt says in an interview that he was interested in exploring in these video pieces how “society draws a line between high and low art, between acceptable topics of discussion and taboo ones, between what can be worshiped and what must be hidden.”
On an individual level, he adds, “I’m interested in the battle the sitter experiences between mind and body, and how long one retains primacy over the other, and when they reach balance, and when they switch control.”
Speaking personally, as a poet who deals in the written word, I found the video scenes to be pure poetry in motion. “Orgasm as art,” indeed. I will admit to being a fan of erotic artwork and literature of various kinds from cultures around the world, especially from here in Japan, and these video-art scenes are something to be savored. As a viewer you can turn up your nose and look down on them, or you can appreciate them for what they are — but whatever you do, you will not be able to keep a straight face while watching these videos. Guaranteed.
But are the scenes genuine? After all, a quick check on the Internet reveals that at least two of these subjects (“Stoya” and “Stormy”) are professional entertainers. Are these video scenes true art or are they illicit pornography? And if art, are they high art or cheap, low art? Are the orgasms real or are they faked? Are the videotapings in and of themselves sexist, chauvinistic garbage or are they respectful of women? Highly sensual or morally/ethically insensitive? You will have to be the judge on all these counts.
Viewers who like the videos are bound to have their particular favorite among the subjects reading the book passages. My favorite happens to be Alicia and her reading of poetry from the collection Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855 by the American writer Walt Whitman. Who could ever remember Whitman’s writing as being that interesting and exciting? Certainly not me. Now it makes me want to go out and buy the book to see what I’ve been missing all these years.
Take a look at each one of the video clips, if you have a mind to, and be sure to have a look at the comments by viewers on the Criminal Wisdom video blog website, which cover a wide range of opinion of the video-art pieces as being everything from crap to creative genius. You are sure to find something there that offends you or pleases you — and that, in the end, is what art is all about.
And on that final sexual innuendo for this blog piece, I will check out and get back to work on lots more serious writing and editing work ahead of me. Or better yet, find someone to read to me....
ライフ・タイムズというタイトルから、いろいろな意味を読み取っていただけることでしょう。「times」 とは、私たちが生きている今日の「時代」を意味すると同時に、この地球上で短い期間存在している私たちの「lifetimes 人生」も意味します。もちろん、新聞や雑誌のタイトルによく使われる「Times」と共に、このウェブサイトの日本語の名称「命（＝『Life』）」（この漢字が私にとっては最も強いひらめきを与えます）にも関連しています。これでLifeTimes がおわかりでしょう。
Today marks the kick-off of the newest addition of this website, my blog on current events and timely topics. “LifeTimes” is the name of this blog, and the slogan of “news • opinion • thought • voice” will give you some idea of what I will be covering and why: news and opinion articles that encourage you and I to think over various issues and speak up about how we think and feel about them.
You can read various nuances into the title LifeTimes. It’s a blog on the “times” that we live in today, as well as the “lifetimes” that we all share during our short existence on the planet. Of course, it also has to do with the name of this website “Inochi”, the Japanese word for “life” (the Chinese character that most inspires me), along with the commonly seen “Times” title of a newspaper or magazine. So there you have it: LifeTimes.
This blog is created mostly for friends on Facebook and others in my close social network, and will be personally moderated by me. While the other pages of this website will be updated and changed at the start of every new season (four times a year), this blog page will be regularly updated and renewed in between those times — a continuous, running dialogue on the things happening all around us in this big beautiful world.
So, come join the conversation, share a few words of your own, and let me know what you like or don’t like about the topics that come up here in LifeTimes.