Other Places, Other Lives

Outpost Nine :: Editorials :: I am a Japanese School Teacher (2010: Linkrot — archive.org version is here):

In August 2003 I moved to Kyoto, Japan as a part of the JET program. I am an assistant language teacher in three Jr. High schools. The experience has been…interesting to say the least.

One of the cool things about the Internet is the window it gives you into other lives–although one certainly could suggest here that the window is more into the life of the writer than into the life of the Japanese students he writes about.

I sometimes think that in the long run, one of the major things this medium will do for us is make new sorts of national and international connections more common. A few years ago, I suggested that,

The Blogosphere is young, but it shows some signs of potentially evolving into a miniature public sphere of its own, a sphere of shared interests rather than shared geography. Conceivably, the rise of a Blog culture, even one composed primarily of nonpolitical, wholly personal diaries, may enrich the public sphere. The impulse to read some Blogs may not be that different from the impulse that brings viewers to soap operas, but the experience of regularly encountering another person’s diary, of following along in a stranger’s life, might have value. If it encourages readers to identify with someone different from themselves, it encourages them to attempt “the intellectual exercise of viewing life from the perspective of others — to try to walk in each others’ shoes, to respect each other enough to engage in honest discourse, and to recognize in each other basic rights so as to create sufficient autonomy to make the discourse possible.” That encouragement is only part of what is needed for discourse ethics to flourish, but it is a start.

It’s an optimistic, perhaps unrealistic, hope, but it connects to some important theoretical commitments and aspirations,

If a social and legal system reproduces itself in a way that disables honest discourse among citizens, then it deserves to be criticized: it is not legitimate, and is potentially evil. A Hobbesian predator’s value system is more than just repulsive to outsiders — it is substantively invalid in terms of discourse ethics because by putting such heightened value on short-term selfish material gain and so little value on the needs or rights of anyone other than the individual, it prevents the victims of that worldview from engaging in the very discourse that might allow them to learn why they are making themselves so miserable. In contrast, a social system that encourages citizens to embark on the intellectual exercise of viewing life from the perspective of others — to try to walk in each others’ shoes, to respect each other enough to engage in honest discourse, and to recognize in each other basic rights so as to create sufficient autonomy to make dis-course possible — is on the path to legitimate lawmaking. Such a society enjoys at least a relative legitimacy, even if the rules in place today are not the ones that discourse theory would demand.

It may seem absurd to connect any of this to the author of Outpost Nine, an American guy dodging Japanese school children who he claims want to do unspeakable things to him in the hallways. He doesn’t quite seem up to bearing all this freight, or even much of it. But in the end, we’re all in it together.

[Original draft 5/10/2006. As part of my blog redesign, I’ve been going through draft blog posts that somehow never made it to publication. This is one of them.]

2010: The links in this piece all seem to be dead, at least as far as the teacher’s diary is concerned, and replaced with uninteresting ‘editorials’ about his love life. Which is sort of a shame, as the stuff about Japanese schoolchildren was, modulo unreliable narrator, a window into a very foreign world. I’m posting it anyway, (with a link to archive.org for those who care about (alleged) weirdness in Japanese schools) as the parts about the Internet reflect what I was thinking about in 2006, and still gnaw on today.

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3 Responses to Other Places, Other Lives

  1. Sadly, I’d say this idea has pretty definitively been refuted nowadays (again). I call it the “But you can CHAT!” argument of blog-evangelism. As in, “Look at all the little people chatting away. There’s wars, and “austerity” budgets, and massive inequality and powerlessness – but , look, look, look, they can CHAT! They can tell each other what they had for lunch. This is humans making connections – and it’s such great fodder for ads and data-mining businesses, isn’t that great?”.

    There’s nothing wrong with chatting – but there’s nothing much revolutionary in it either, _per se_.

    There’s a strain of well-meaning liberalism that gets sucked into this, because there are clever propagandists who make their living peddling it. But, especially these days, it seems a pretty classic selling of nonthreatening vague hopes against a devastating reality. This stuff all takes place in a political context, and there’s no evidence it drives the larger society much itself.

  2. David says:

    You may find http://imnopicasso.blogspot.com (which I found via http://askakorean.blogspot.com) of interest as well; the author’s a woman teaching English in Korea.

  3. Thank you for that recommendation. It’s actually a much better example of what I was talking about.

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