Up, down, straight

I was born in the midst of one of the largest industrial growths recorded in history: post-WWII Japan. From dawn to dusk, everybody was busy catching up with with the speed and changes that were delivered by technological innovations. Larger, faster, cheaper led to more stuffs, more consumption, more convenience, and vice versa.

Those self-fulfilling prophecies carried our life on an imaginary escalator. Sure, everybody was complaining how tired, crowded, and polluted life became, but nobody questioned that the automatic machine called progress was working. Up until the first decade of the 21st century, the make-believe model continued, at least in our head. If there weren’t enough progress, it was because something was wrong: Look at other countries—the system is still working!

Then, at the turn of the second decade in the new millennium, things started to…stop. Multiple incidents have shown that the previously invincible system has become…broken. When they tried to fix it, they found out a far more serious issue: the system has been broken for quite some time and there was no way they can bring it back to the previous state.

The 2008 economic crash showed that the world’s financial system wasn’t functioning any more, and the following four years merely reaffirmed that cruel fact. The economic disasters in Southern Europe, housing bubble in China, mounting national debt in Japan aren’t just too large to fail: they become larger as time goes by. Damn if we solve them, damn if we don’t.

Just when we try to compose ourselves and reassure that we have done the right things for a bulk of our lifetime and we can still turn the situation around, came the second wave of bad news. The ground that we stand upon, the earth we always come back to when in crisis, our first and last fortress for recovering humanity, might not be intact any more.

In the 20th century, our environmental concern was mostly limited to beautiful yet fragile ecological systems that existed inside the screen, presented by Discovery Channel and National Geographic. As we watched jungles and large mammals and exotic fish disappear, we became sad and raised our concerns, as if someone has hurt our precious pet. We weren’t feeling the pain ourselves, and the threat was occurring “somewhere.”

What about now? Inexpensive food is so genetically modified we won’t be even sure if we would be eating corn or meat. Most fresh water isn’t fresh anymore thanks to over-irrigation and frackling. The Fukushima nuclear accident is going on and strongly for two years, contaminating everything in the Pacific ocean permanently. It is no longer about the picturesque sceneries far, far away. It is about our daily life: food and water.

We are extremely confused: When we look up, we no longer see the ascending escalator that brought us to a better future. When we look down, we no longer see the mother earth that always brought us security and solace. No way out: that’s what many of us are feeling.

When we cannot look up or down, there is only one direction left: straight. When we cannot go forward for our future or move backward into our past, we can only stay in one place. What do we see when we stand still and look straight? Ourselves. I believe, for the first time in the post-WWII society, we are largely forced to face ourselves, the one thing we tried not to look at, either by habit or by choice.

I am not sure crying for solutions that worked in past is the answer: demanding more social securities, asking for solace in religions, or indulging in endless entertaining distractions, or starting a war. What each of us need now is a long and hard look at the reality that surrounds each of us. They say the solution is always within arm’s reach. I might say it exists one step outside our comfort zone, either in our thoughts or actions.

If I look at the current situation at large in a positive way, I wonder if someone has planned it all along to force us to get back to ourselves. I will always be agnostic, but I wonder if things do fit together in the end, as if the world forms a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. I don’t know. I just step out.