Critical thinking is much needed


In the wake of the allegedly manmade disaster in Fukushima in 2011, the reputation of Japan being an environmentally considerate country whose culture was built upon the cohabitation of man and nature seems to have sadly collapsed in the eyes of many. It was literally a tidal wave swept away a sand castle on a golden beach. The devastating destruction was caused not only by the earthquake and tsunami waves that ensued from it, but also toxic side effects such as contamination of neighbouring cities with radiation evaporated from the brown-up roofs of the nuclear power station. The way in which the government dealt with the aftermath that was not at all prompt and efficient which utterly betrayed the expectation of the general public in Japan who vaguely had the faith in the authorities. The government's indecisive and perplexed reaction exacerbated the situation and exposed the incompetence of the country's authorities on the whole. As a result, it has given rise to an urgent need for critical thinking amongst the nation. The manmade disaster was due to many reasons such as the poorly maintenanced systems, negligence of the board executives at TEPCO, but more importantly the nation themselves, who negligently allowed the culture of indulance to seep into their psyche. Pointing the finger at large corporations, the government and the social structure offers a convenient excuse to free the masses from the feaful act of confronting themselves. Mroeover, reflecting on our own behaviour and insularity is not something that we are used to, simply because it is painful.

Michel Foucault, one of the most prominent post-structural thinkers shows a fascinating insight into the way in which modern state-nations control people through various apparatuses and institutions. He terms such a control by the modern states as "biopolitics" and the places that bestow such power "institutions of confinement", quintessentially prisons, hospitals and schools. Those authorities build different kinds of partitions that circumscribe individuals' personal territory and the space in which one is allowed to exercise his liberty both physical and intellectual, hence the demarcated space becomes a specific millieu that facilitates a paradigm in a society, which is institutionally constructed. He points out that we are subject to the control of the government and juridical authorities on a molecule level. Manipulation of the massws nowadays is far more subtle, invisible and sophisticated than in the past. Needless to say, we can add mass media to the list in the 21st century when most people consume information distributed by the media without questioning the contents of what they are provide with. If one takes a moment to contemplate, it becomes apparent that every TV channel, newspaper, and broadcaster has their own political and ideological agenda that justify what they present as facts, perhaps quite erroneously. The difference between facts and representations of facts would become more discernible, only if all of us had an opportunity to work in the media world. Nonetheless, by the mere application of logic we can still arrive at a certain conclusion that what we see on the news, TV and the internet is essentially not the accurate representation of facts. In other words, they are tinged with ideological agendas of different institutions.

Therefore, critical thinking becomes crucial in pursuit of truths and establishing facts. Of course, we might not be abe to reach truths because of their enigmatic nature, howerver we can at least ward off obvious manipulation of information driven by unethical motives. Although critical thinking itself does not have an immediate impact on the way in which the world revolves, as it only makes us aware of certain things that are not obvious to us, exercising critical thinking possibly offers us alternative ways of seeing the world. This is to say that in establishing our vision of the world, we would prefer to do so based on how the world appears to us as opposed to how it is supposed to appear by someone else's statndard. This autonomous thinking affects our decision making process, which will have a long-term effect on the manifestation of what we conceive conversely. If we place this line of thinking in the context of Japan at the moment, especially concerning the issues around nuclear energy, it will be helpful for the country to find reference points from which the nation can start conceiving alternative ways of constructing the world and consequently bounce back from the disaster that they just experienced and still do. In the midst of the international criticism claiming that Japan has fallen from its economic apex, which the world had seen since the post-war period up to the early 90s. As the international market is increasingly saturated with consumable products, the industrial age has almost come to the end. What we need particularly in Asia is not the material properties, but immaterial, intellectual assets, discourse, philosophy, moreover further acts of enriching culture itself. The implication of the point made above regarding the mass media is that even though modern nation states are tactfully controlling their own citizens, democratisation of control, power and monopoly is taking place concurrently. It suggests a remarkable point that there are more chances for individual voices to be heard. Moreover, in light of the highly advanced global network of communication, even twittering voices of individuals could potentially have an impact on a global scale. The tension is built up. It is reaching its tipping point. We will certainly witness more critical discourse to emerge amongst Japanese intellectuals.

December 2011


Foucault, M. (2007). Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-78. Trans. G. Burchell. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan


Back to Essays Home