Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Drawing Lines

Some similarities indeed. This is an article I never imagined I would write:

At what age do we become adults? In Japan people legally come of age at 20 years old. There are coming of age ceremonies for new adults all over Japan each year.

Now in the U.K as this article explains, former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has proposed a similar coming of age ceremony for sixteen year olds.

After the tube and bus bombings in London in July 2005, there was a lot of talk about the lack of national identity and cohesion amongst the modern youth of Britain. This proposal is perhaps a predictable institutional reaction to such sentiment, but is it without merit?

Aside from the affirmation of national identity comes the question of legal responsibility. As this editorial explains, the legal age of adulthood in Japan is a current hot topic. Should the legal age be lowered to 18?

There is the possibility of big change in both countries. There is also the proposed introduction of a registration card for foreign residents in The U.K which would mirror the much maligned 'Gaijin Card' system in Japan. Another similarity that I never imagined commenting on.

Lines are being re-drawn, with both countries trying to cope with internal changes.


Damon said...

Why 16? Nothing is legal at 16 except having sex and most young people aim to start that earlier if they can. I mean how would you celebrate that new right officially anyway? Arrange a mass orgy at school?
As I remember the age of adulthood in the UK is 18 and we already have a tradition to celebrate that; it called “going to the pub”.
I remember too, even before the tube bombings, the debate on our lack of national identity, how we don’t have a July 4th or Paddy’s Day or how many people don’t know when St. George’s day is. I don’t, do you? But I am pleased we don’t have those things. The English are a mongrel race and our lack of identity is our identity, we don’t have a national costume like the Japanese at their coming of age; our national dish is Indian Curry; our flag is a mix of three nations, (the others not even liking us English) and our national anthem is dirge about an old woman of German blood most people can’t stand.
It is to the culture of feigned nonchalance and our ironic sense of humour that we turn when we want to understand what makes us who we are. And we are already proud of those things we don’t need to celebrate them, not that such things would make for much of an “event” anyhow.
The flag worshipping and national sense of superiority that comes from other “patriotic” counties well these are scary, unwelcome things. Just look how we are at international football matches, imagine that attitude as a government policy and the worrying slope we seem to be traversing at this moment will get all the steeper still.
No the sooner you can feel proud of your country without it having to be a false effort to overlook so much bad stuff, then you have real patriotism.

Nick Benwell said...

I read somewhere that to love your country means to love the land, the people that populate that land, and the practices they call society. To wish to preserve that is patriotism.

The political version of patriotism is a pale shaddow of that feeling of love, but it does have its place I think. There is a question though of it's relevance to both the problems it hopes to solve and the people it is intended to serve.

The legal age of adulthood is an especialy important issue now I feel. A rise in violent crime (or the reporting of?) by young people in this country and our own brings again the question of legal responsibility. At what age can we prosecute you? At what age are you still the responsibility of you parents? Who to blame? Again, the law should reflect the problems it hopes to solve and the people it intends to serve.

Civil rights lawyer Baroness Kennedy said in the article on coming of age in Britain, "I see this as an empty gesture. To ask 16-year-olds to troop into a hall and like Americans put their hands on their heart and take an oath of allegiance is risible."

Conversely, to not do anything may be irresponsible. I just hope that the British reaction to the feeling that "something must be done" is not meerly an empty gesture that will alienate some as much as it inspires others.

Damon said...

I agree Nick, something must be done but educated patriotism is brainwashing. Shinzo Abe’s disastrous example of “look the other way” policying proved that. People, although they may want to believe in their country; may want to be proud and feel love for all their country stands for and may even be prepared to over-look some of the negatives to achieve that feeling, will never, never ignore the mess completely. Nor will they easily forgive those that try to make them.

Love for your country does not fall on the nature side of the debate; that is the mistake Abe San made, he believed the Japanese people would always support him if he wrapped his ideas in the flag and almost dared people to be un-Japanese enough to disagree with him. No! National pride is firmly a nurtured experience: it comes from the experiences we have and if those experiences are bad we cannot grow the weepy-eyed sentimentality that prime-ministers, presidents and dictators want from us, whatever we are told about glorious histories or how good life is supposed to be now.

Making each person a part of the community is they way to have them care and protect that community. Make people feel they are part of something; that is what the UK is missing. Don’t get me wrong, I love individuality and have lived a very individual lifestyle for over 15 years but not everyone wants to be so individual and many are, as often as not, forced into a loneliness of spirit by the lack of opportunity to be with others. This is one of the reasons Japan has been spared the worst of social decline for so long until now: Japan has a lot of public spaces where people can meet each other and study, have fun or just be surrounded by life and hobbies and activities are available and affordable to all, not just the rich. Britain needs to do something like that, that is when people will feel love for it.

You see I feel that blind patriotism is like a religion and with any religion you always have the feeling that “others” are less (even just less lucky) than you. Whether hated or pitied the outsider is distanced and with distance you do not have community and without community you do not have a country and without a country you cannot have patriotism.

I am proud of Britain I love our secularism in religion and national earnestness; I love our humour: I love our ancient landscape and modern cities. I love that we do not need to have these things reaffirmed as an organized event.

The government is so scared now that it has lost control of the population, especially the young, that they will all become terrorists or criminals and is shepherding them into limitations. But like the Japanese with Shinzo Abe, they, we will not be fooled. Everyone loves a party and I’m sure kids will turn up in droves for such celebrations of maturity, but they will go away angry that no concrete reward for their attendance will be given. If you call someone an adult you should treat them as such, and sixteen is too young I’m sorry. At eighteen trust is offered and conversely the understanding that it is also earned is instilled by experiences now available to those that have reached that age. Sure mistakes are made but that is part of the learning process. A sixteen year old’s anger, at what must by all the laws of the land at this moment, be a totally empty gesture, does not yet understand enough about the quid-pro-quo of trust. And why should they, they’re selfish children which is what teenagers should be? But the grown-ups are calling them adults, the Queen herself has heard their vow of allegiance, they are part of the community and yet they are still so unwelcome to participate in it?

I feel that giving the young opportunities through education and social activities that bring them into contact with all kinds of people is what will make better adults. Adults that empathise and understand the greater world make a better country and a better country makes patriots. Britain has become a place of angry people looking for others to blame. Such acts of feverous self-congratulation just make “others” out of everyone different and such nationalism or racism is not very mature is it?

Sorry to lectern thump on your blog mate, but as I research England for my move (I’m afraid I feel a little bit of a tourist in my own country due to being so long on the road) I find that I don’t recognise the place anymore. It is becoming like Japan in some ways. The worst ways. Just as Japan is changing for the better me thinks.


Nick Benwell said...


I want to thank you for your time and energy in these replies.

Mindless obedience is unthinkable as a way of life. How and where lines are drawn are important and need to be payed careful attention.

I imagine that as you are preparing to move back to the U.K you are thinking more keenly about the differences and similarities between the U.K and Japan, and the realities of each are making themselves felt in your everyday life.

Good luck in all, don't be a stranger, and don't let the b*****ds get you down (-0-)v