When ‘patriotism’ is a liability

Tokyo

I don’t have an opinion about the legitimacy of NHK dismissing French employee Emmanuelle Bodin after she fled the country following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and subsequent nuclear plant disaster. (She is now suing the broadcaster over her dismissal.) But I do have an opinion about how the dismissal looks. And how it looks is typically Japanese.

But in his commentary on the matter “Deport the solo ‘flyjin’ of 3/11” (Jan. 20 letter), Shigure Tatsushige really shoots from the hip. He scatters his fire over such a wide field that I wonder if he knows what he is aiming at. Tatsushige advocates punishing all foreigners who fled the country and then later returned with “stupid” expectations. Well, maybe some are stupid. Everyone is stupid some of the time, and some of us more than that.

Tatsushige is manipulating a false idea of patriotism. Many people have strong feelings about nationality and citizenship, but the reality is that such things are mostly an administrative convenience. People do not, by nature, owe anything to such an artificial and despicable entity as a nation state.

It is commonly supposed that the benefits provided by the state override the right to critique it, but that is wrong. True patriotism demands that citizens challenge their country. The unquestioning patriot is a liability.

Our devotion to artificial political entities is best explained in terms of the social compact that operates between the polity and the people. If there is no compact, then the polity does not by rights deserve our loyalty. It uses law with the threat of punishment to enforce conformity, but laws and punishment cannot control the heart. They only appear to.

If Tatsushige wants to talk about stupidity, then we should first examine the gross, culturally informed stupidities that contributed to the nuclear plant disaster, the stupidities that exacerbated it and the stupidities that nearly spelled the end of us all. I think that the prime minister at the time, Naoto Kan, did a great job under the circumstances and that it is almost a miracle that we survived. But we survived more by dumb luck than by anything else.

As columnist Debito Arudou has demonstrated in this newspaper, the “flyjin” phenomenon was not nearly what alarmists painted it as. I think Tatsushige is dealing in an erroneous model of foreign reaction to the disaster. I did not flee Japan, but my family and I came close to it.

grant piper
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.