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2020.03.31

How can a global society without leaders be stabilized? : To not turn a blind eye to others in need - The importance of fostering morals

The article was originally posted on JBpress on January 20, 2020

  • Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • Research Director
    Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • [Expertise]
    Chinese Economy and Relations among Japan/China and the United States

1. The destabilization of the world order and a search for new solutions

"WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED (...) FOR THESE ENDS (...) to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS"

This is an excerpt of the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations. All nations around the world joined the United Nations and have accepted this fundamental idea.

However, in reality, armed force is used in ways that are not in the common interest and clashes break out somewhere in the world every year.

In recent years, the United States, which used to take a lead in ensuring stability in the world order, has been advocating an "America First" policy and has engaged in armed force independently.

This stance is clearly against the principles stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations. In other words, circumstances, in which rules based on an agreement among nations, but which are now broken, have become normalized.

It is rather difficult for an intergovernmental organization like the United Nations, which is made up of many nations, to lay down rules common to all nations because levels of economic development, as well as social environments, vary widely among them.

For even a limited number of nations, such as the G20, which consists of 20 members, it is difficult to form a consensus. And the same holds true for the G7, which consists of only the major industrialized countries. It is getting more difficult to even shape a joint statement among them.

Since the Peace of Westphalia, a series of peace treaties signed in 1648, a major prerequisite to forming a world order has been based on the establishment of an international organization and framework by the arrangements made among nations, and the obedience to rules set by such an organization.

However, just as described above, it has been difficult to even formulate operative rules to solve the problems facing global society in recent years. What is worse, even the established rules are frequently ignored.

For this reason, it is obvious that it is difficult to maintain the stability of the world order.

These problems are not something new, and the United States, which wields enormous power on the diplomatic, security and economic front, used to exercise great leadership and play a crucial role in maintaining world order.

However, since the commencement of the Trump administration, the US has rapidly reduced its role as a leader that takes the initiative in formulating the world order under the slogan "America First."

Because other leading players in the global society, such as the EU, China and Japan, cannot really complement the role that the US has been assuming, if the current situation continues, the world order could become even more destabilized.

One way to confront this situation would be that non-state actors (corporations, non-governmental organizations and individuals) will assume some of the roles that sovereign nations have been assuming. In other words, the "private sector" will complement such roles, and at the same time, the rules-based framework that no longer functions effectively should be complemented by moral-based voluntary efforts.

However, since this method is not as legally binding as rules established among nations, we cannot expect to see immediate effectiveness to resolve pressing problems.

Nonetheless, if the long-term joint efforts concerning issues such as climate change, the environment, human rights, and economic discipline, most of which are difficult to find agreement on among nations, can be achieved, there is a good chance that certain results will be attained.


2. Requirements to expand moral-based voluntary efforts

An important premise is required when people of different and diverse views work together in the quest to stabilize the world order through voluntary efforts based on morals (or ethics).

That is to recognize each other's different views.

Unless we recognize each other as we make efforts based on different views to resolve diverse issues, we cannot work together to achieve common goals.

Normative consciousness, such as morals, is sometimes linked to religions, but there is no need to connect it to specific religions.

Rather, morals, when linked to specific thoughts or religions, have often led to the denial of diverse voluntary efforts based on different views.

However, human society cannot be stabilized without morals.

George Friedman points out in his book, "Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe" as follows:

"Science and enlightenment had reduced humans to their physical nature and appetites."

"If that is all they were, then what were their obligations to each other and themselves? What is moral and how do you know it?"

"The inability to answer this question made men dangerous. They were no different from animals."

A logical conclusion drawn from Friedman's statements is as follows:

In a global society, in order to complement the formation of order through the "private sector's" voluntary efforts, it is necessary for people with diverse views to recognize each other as they make efforts in various ways beyond thoughts and religions.

Morals do not rely on specific thoughts or religions, but they are the normative consciousness that coexists with diverse thoughts and religions in a global society.


3. Normative consciousness of Eastern thought beyond diverse thoughts and religions

We can understand the conclusion mentioned above, but there are many obstacles to realize it in real life.

Yuval Noah Harari states in his book "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" as follows:

"Since monotheists have usually believed that they are in possession of the entire message of the one and only God, they have been compelled to discredit all other religions."

"Over the last two millennia, monotheists repeatedly tried to strengthen their hand by violently exterminating all competition."

"(...) Today most people outside East Asia adhere to one monotheist religion or another, and the global political order is built on monotheistic foundations."

In East Asia, diverse thoughts and religions have been coexisting since ancient times. Prominent thoughts and religions such as Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen and Shintoism have contributed to the stabilization of the social order without denying one another.

In China, while the socialist ideology, which forms the basis of the nation's guiding principles, originated from Western Marxist thought, it coexists with a variety of Eastern thought including Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

In Japan, since the Meiji Restoration, science based on Western thought, the idea of the enlightenment, and the political, economic and social system based on a Western-style social democratic idea have been widely established and have remained for many years.

And yet, a traditional spiritual culture based on Eastern thought has survived and coexisted to this today.

Considering a New Year's visit to a shrine, Christmas celebrations, various styles of wedding and funeral rites, and a temperament that values benevolence, courteousness and mercy, it is obvious that the Japanese have a mentality that embraces a diversity of thoughts and religions.

One clear example in Japan that the social order is kept stabilized through individual voluntary efforts based on morals rather than rules has been people's moral acts in chaos immediately after the massive damage caused by natural disasters.

In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, important lifelines were destroyed. After a while when a convenience store reopened, local residents waited in neat lines to obtain what they needed.

Living necessities were provided to the people without money, but most of them later returned to the store to pay for what they had obtained.

This scene is often compared with the widespread shop looting that occurred in Sumatra in Indonesia following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, and in New Orleans in the US following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The contrast helped highlight the social stability of Japan, which attracted worldwide attention.


4. The necessity of raising normative consciousness through moral education in Japan

The reason that social order has been stabilized through morals in Japanese society is simply because foreigners make up only small percentage of the total population of Japan. Some views are that society would become destabilized if Japan opens its doors to immigrants like North America and Europe.

In 2019, the percentage of immigrants in Japan reached 2 percent.

In order to deal with the aging population and the declining birthrate, as well as increasingly serious labor-shortage problems, Japan has no alternative but to increase the acceptance of a foreign workforce. Because of this, the ratio of immigrants in Japan is expected to rapidly increase and possibly exceed 5 percent in 2030s.

But in major Western countries, the ratio of immigrants has already reached 10 to 16 percent. Social destabilization has become prominent due to the sharp increases in the immigrant population, and some countries have seen the emergence of far-right parties.

Japan also should be prepared for the high potential of such risks.

With the increase in the immigrant population, thoughts and religions of constituent members of society will become more diverse, and therefore, it will become even more important for people to understand and recognize each other. If we try to eliminate those who think differently from us, social harmony will be lost.

Considering that Japanese society is expected to face such challenging situations in 10 years, it will be necessary to foster a normative consciousness beyond different thoughts and religions by expanding moral education as quickly as possible.

The spiritual base that survives only in East Asia currently, in which people recognize each other's different ideas based on diverse thoughts and religions, has been fostered through moral education centered around the Chinese classics.

In Japan, moral education had been taught widely to each social class at domain schools, temple schools and private schools since the Edo period. Through this education, a philosophy that places emphasis on professional ethics spread throughout Japan, and at the same time normative consciousness has matured into a traditional spiritual culture.

Normative consciousness is no longer taught at school, however, it has been passed down subconsciously in mostly business management and home education until today.

Nonetheless, since moral education has not been taught consciously since the Meiji Restoration as it was in the Edo period, a spiritual base that values a normative consciousness has been disappearing.

This is behind the spread of a tendency in people that there is nothing to feel remorse for as long as they obey the rules.

For example, priority seats in public railcars are designated for the elderly and pregnant women. However, I often witness young and middle-aged people, who are sitting in non-priority seats and using their smartphones, ignore elderly people standing in front of them, and do not offer them their seats.

I feel disconsolate every time I encounter such a scene. I often sense a lack of moral consciousness in China, but even so, everyone appears to have the common sense to give their seats to the elderly in railcars.

In relative comparison, I often sense the moral decline of Japanese society.

As it is inevitable that the foundation of Japan's social stability will be rapidly weakened and Japan will be subject to the risks that arise from destabilization, the issues to be addressed are clear now.

Japanese elementary and junior high schools should positively incorporate the essence of Eastern thought (Chinese classics), which built the foundation for normative consciousness in the Edo period, into their current moral education, and re-foster the traditional spiritual culture that serves as the backbone of Japanese virtue in a way that is attuned to a new era.

Through such efforts Japanese people of diverse ideas first need to redevelop a stance that recognizes each other's voluntary efforts beyond any thoughts and religions in Japan, and present it to the world.

If this effort can give the world a realization of the importance of morals beyond rules, it will be possible for Japan to have a significant role to play in helping partially reinforce the stabilization of the world order.

The time has come to begin to immediately launch an effort to enhance moral education at elementary and junior high schools to ensure the long-term stabilization of Japan's order as well as the order of the world.


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