Cult-of-personality politics have never been my style – but then I suppose it all depends on whether you like the personality in question or not. Lapdog behaviours always smack of an unappealing absence of individual criteria. Collectivism – or community politics; call it what you will – needs to be built on the foundation of individual freedoms. Never should it give up on them in order to reach collective goals more quickly. I’m pretty clear on that one.
Human beings should always be seen as sovereign bodies – never molecules to be forced into being, always atoms to liberally circulate.
There is however at least one other third way which might demonstrate that in some cases, certainly when attempting to construct new ways of running societies, molecular instincts are exactly what we need. Whilst we’re on the subject of collective societal behaviours, try this out for size:
Under Hime’s system, village employees earn about a third less pay than public servants elsewhere in Japan, though they work the same hours. This has allowed the village to create more jobs: it now directly or indirectly employs a fifth of all working islanders. Most of the rest are engaged in fishing, also government-subsidized. In fact, village officials say, there are few fully private-sector jobs on the island.
Islanders admit to the socialist parallels, even while proclaiming themselves political conservatives who vote for the governing right-wing Liberal Democratic Party. Some jokingly take the analogy a step further, comparing themselves to a much more repressive family-run regime in Japan’s geopolitical neighborhood.
“Hime Island is North Korea, just a livable version,” Naokazu Koiwa said with a laugh. Mr. Koiwa, 32, repairs fishing boats.
But there’s more to this than kneejerk prejudice would allow:
Unsurprisingly, the current mayor, Akio Fujimoto, flatly rejects the North Korean comparison. Rather, he and most other islanders call Hime a repository for traditional Japanese values, like economic egalitarianism and social harmony. They say the rest of the nation has lost these in an embrace of more competitive capitalism, especially under the prime ministership of Junichiro Koizumi from 2001-6.
“Our thinking is, ‘let’s all share the economic pie and get along, instead of giving all of it to the rich,’ ” said Mr. Fujimoto, whose father, Kumao Fujimoto, devised the work-sharing system in the 1960s. “Avoiding competition is the traditional Japanese way.”
Now, with the current crisis causing a national questioning of American-style laissez-faire economics, and business leaders and unions seeking alternatives to widespread job cuts, Hime’s work-sharing scheme is suddenly being held up as a new model. Islanders call it ironic that the current crisis has made traditional values appear progressive, even utopian.
This article from the New York Times a couple of days ago was brought to my attention via Tim O’Reilly’s Twitter feed.