‘Me, a Politician?’
I have a little daughter and together we have the typical daily ‘wars’ every parent experiences over what can and can’t be done in the house: ‘Put away your toys’ (that’s me); ‘I don’t want to’ (that’s her). ‘Don’t jump on the sofa’; ‘I can if I want to’. Now if things are like this with my daughter, my beautiful angel whom I love and adore and whom I would never disown, imagine what things must be like living with a total stranger, someone with a completely different background and perspective on life. As you can imagine, it would be a pretty big headache.
Roughly speaking, this is what political philosophers like myself do. We take on this headache. We twist our brains over questions about how people sharing a space ought to live together, about who gets to make decisions about what can and can’t be done, and to what extent and why (the who usually being the state). To get a better sense of some of the difficulties involved, let’s take the example of ‘hate speech’ – defamatory speech publicly made against certain groups – which became a top ten buzzword in Japan last year. Now let’s think about whether such speech ought to be tolerated and whether some kind of legislative measure ought to be devised against it in this country. If we say that hate speech should be tolerated and no legislation should be devised, then some will argue that this leaves the targeted group emotionally and psychologically harmed; they could even be living in constant fear. On the other hand, if we say that such speech should not be tolerated and insist on some kind of legislative solution, then others will argue that this is giving the government power to curb and gag free speech. As you can see, there isn’t an easy answer to this problem. And this is only one of our headaches.
Now, some of you may be thinking, ‘Thank heaven I’m not a politician or politics major who has to toil away on these messy questions’. Well, the thing is, it’s your headache too, even if you’re a student of science and technology. This is because you too will become a politician, using ‘politician’ here in its broadest sense. For one thing, there are many leaders in the world with a science as opposed to a humanities background. Think of former Prime Ministers Hatoyama and Kan in Japan, Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, or the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher in the UK. Who knows, maybe you will be next? Moreover, in today’s fast developing, technological world, the insights of scientists are increasingly demanded in making important political decisions, such as is the case with Japan’s energy policy. Now even if you aren’t involved in politics in any of the above ways, you will be no less involved as a citizen and a voter. So you can see, the headaches of the political philosophers are yours, too. Painful and onerous, yes, but this is what the world asks of you. Leaving aside the question of whether ‘Rike-jo’ (‘science women’) will become one of this year’s buzzwords, I wish to cast my vote with another phrase, ‘Rike-politicians’ (‘science politicians’), in the hope that thinking about ourselves in this way will lead us all to a brighter future.