Life Studies Blog (Old)

September 26, 2005

Bill McKibben, Enough, genetic enhancement (by M)

Today I wrote another book review, a review of Bill McKibben's Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (Times Books, April 2003). The book review will be delivered by the Kyodo Tsushin press agency to many local newspapers around Japan. This book was very interesting. This is my first time to read Bill McKibben's book. A reviewer on writes as follows:

"Unlike McKibben, who seems to view human beings as a fixed endowment (perhaps from a Creator), I think we can view ourselves as ever changing, ever evolving beings, constantly in the process of becoming. I welcome the excitement and prospect of our accelerated evolution. Yes, there are dangers ahead, so it is important to proceed with caution and full deliberation."

This is a shallow idea about technology and humanity. Mckibben's aim is to criticize the philosophy that lies behind this kind of thinking. Of course it is not so easy to criticize this "mainstream" ideology of contemporary scientific civilization, but some of Mckibben's arguments ought to be persuasive even to those who firmly believe in the progress of science and technology.

The main theme of the book is the "enhancement" of humans by the manipulation of human genes in fertilized eggs. It is not possible to manipulate human genes at present, but many scientists believe that it will become possible in the near future. That is to say, in the future we will be able to enhance our own children's IQ, physical abilities, looks, and so on, by manipulating the genes of the fertilized eggs of our child. Mckibben quotes various words of scholars who are saying that genetic enhancement is considered not only morally acceptable but also the necessary outcome of the progress of science.

Mckibben thinks that the introduction of enhanced abilities into children's genes will deprive them of the possibility of attaining their own happiness. People's happiness and deep fulfilment can only be achieved by going through suffering and limitations they experience in the voyage of life. Genetic enhancement gradually deprives us of happiness and human dignity. I think this is what Mckibben tried to stress in his book.

I believe what he wants to say is completely right, because I said the same thing in my book
Painless Civilization in a different way. Both Mckibben's book and mine were published in 2003, the same year. I am very pleased to know we share the same perspective on contemporary society and civilization.

After reading his book, I start to think that I will have to write a paper on genetic enhancement from the perspective of painless civilization in English. What do you think of this idea?

(Topic to be continued...)

Photo: Trash cans.

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September 18, 2005

Donald Richie, Image Factory: Fads & Fashions in Japan (by M)

I read the book, Donald Richie, The Image Factory: Fads & Fashions in Japan. Reaktion Books (May 3, 2004), Photos by Roy Garner, in Japanese translation published last month. This is an interesting book not only for foreigners but Japanese readers who are interested in contemporary Japanese fads and fashions such as manga, pokemon, keitai, Hello Kitty, and others. I wrote a book review of this book for a certain newspaper, which will appear there in two or three weeks.

Of course this is a good book, but I was a little frustrated after reading it, because this book did not step outside the traditional paradigm of "Japanology," and was filled with cliches frequently found in the books on Japan that have been published to date.

For example, the author talks about "
pachinko" and concludes that a pachinko parlor is a shrine and it reminds us of Zen. One of the aims of Zen is to liberate one's self by annihilating it, and so is the same for pachinko. (See p.126, Japanese translation). This analysis is interesting. However, I detect a whiff of the desire of Japanologists to find "Zen" lurking behind things or phenomena unique to contemporary Japan. Many people have imagined that behind the mysterious Japanese culture lies the deep influence of "Zen." I don't know whether their hypotheses are true or not. Instead, what I strongly feel is their "desire" to re-discover "Zen" in every aspect of contemporary Japanese culture and society. Of course, Richie's analysis of pachinko might be a very sophisticated irony because he pointed out in the foreword of Japanese edition that this was a book of irony.

I was working for International Research Center for Japanese Studies for 8 years as a research associate. I heard a number of presentations on Japanese culture given by scholars visiting Japan. They were very interesting and stimulating, but at the same time, they seemed to share a similar perspective, and this perspective was also shared by Japanese scholars speializing Japanese culture. I don't know how I can say this, but anyway, I found the same one in Richie's book. I don't mean to offend Richie's work. This is the topic I have to tackle.

I would like to hear your comments on this topic.

Photo: Books in my office.

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September 13, 2005

Feeling of falling into death after ejaculation (by M)

Today, I uploaded the second part of Chapter 2 of The Insensitive man, "Men Who Turn Their Eyes Away from “Male Frigidity”." In this part I talked about the "emptiness after ejaculation" further, and emphasized that it is just like the "feeling of falling" into death.

"There are two indications as to the frigidity of man. The first is that there is not an immense sense of physical ecstasy in the ejaculation. It is no more than the instant pleasure of bodily excretion. Secondly, after ejaculating, the excitement instantly dries up. My whole body is listless and there is a dark emptiness as if in a nightmare." (p.32)

I don't know how many of you agree with me, but this is my reality. However, not a few readers of the Japanese edition of this book have agreed with me on this ponit, hence, I presume there will be many men around the world who feel just like me. I wrote as follows:

"That is to say, the process from erection up until the ejaculation is like this: First there is an “I feel great” satisfaction, and a moment of excretory pleasure follows. Then, all of a sudden, like a big gap, the process of lethargy, emptiness and defeat come down upon me. Whenever I have sex, or perhaps, whenever I masturbate, there is this attack. After ejaculating, I have the feeling of wanting to divert my eyes from things sexual, but as time goes by, my sexual desires come back and the process continues all over again. In this way, through one’s whole life there are the repeated feelings of falling and this is the typical symptom for male frigidity." (p.34)

Of course when I have sex with a woman I love, things are so different, but in this case emptiness is just "mentally" compensated by my affection to the woman. If you are interested in this, please read the translated text.

I am continuing to examine the translation of the next part, so I hope it will be uploaded soon. If you have any comments please post them on the comment page below.

Photo: Namba Parks, Osaka

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September 12, 2005

Alternative to bioethics (by M)

In the latter half of the paper, "Cross-cultural Approaches to the Philosophy of Life in the Contemporary World, which was uploaded a week ago, I discussed the outline of "life studies." This was the first paper in which the concept of "life studies" was discussed. I talked about the reason why I coined the term "life studies" in the late 1980s. One of the big reasons was the frustration I felt toward the discipline, "bioethics." I started my academic career as a researcher in bioethics, but I felt strong frustration with bioethics from the beginning. (The subtitle of my first book that was published in 1988, was "Beyond Bioethics".)

"I would like to present “life studies” as a forum or project in which people who are frustrated with bioethics and other disciplines get together to discuss life, death, nature, scientific technology, and contemporary civilization, although life studies itself is still in an early stage of development." (p.192)

And concerning the aim of "life studies," I wrote as follows:

"The ultimate goals of life studies would be: 1) to live and die our limited life “without regret,” and 2) to create a society in which everyone can live and die his/her limited life “without regret.” In order to come closer to these goals, we have to think about the meaning of life and the essence of our civilization seriously, and we have to communicate with each other to learn different ideas." (p.194)

This paper was written based on the paper I uploaded to our website in 2000. Since then, I have published two major books on life studies in 2001 and 2003, and my thoughts on life studies have been expanded and deepened. In this sense, the description of "life studies" in this paper is a little outdated. A new verison of the definition of life studies can be found on the page
What is Life Studies, but I am afraid to say it is outdated as well. I plan to write a newest version within this year, and translate it next year and publish somewhere. This will become the most conprehensive and clear explanation of "life studies" I have ever written.

Life studies began as an alternative to bioethics, however, it is now growing into a more holistic & interdisciplinary study, in which bioethics plays an indispensable but not necessarily central roll among other disciplines and approaches.

Photo: Night at Kyoto

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September 06, 2005

East-West dichotomy and its criticism (by M)

Today I retyped the whole text of my paper "Cross-cultural Approaches to the Philosophy of Life in the Contemporary World" and uploaded to the website. This paper was written and presented at a conference at Leiden University, Netherland, 2002, and published in 2004. Because it was presented three years ago, I don't totally agree now with what I said in the paper, especially the second half of it, but anyway this might be helpful to those who are frustrated with current "bioethics" and philosophy.

In the first part of the paper, I discussed the East/West dichotomy frequently found in the litereture of bioethics, especially written by scholars in Japan, China, Korea and other Asian countries. They stress the importance of their own cultural and religious traditions, and sometimes even go on to say that their own tradition IS superior to the European/American one. Others say that they need special values different from Western values in bioethics. I heard the words "Asian values" many times in international conferences held in Japan.

I criticized their East/West dichotomy as follows.

"In the bioethics literature, there are many examples of the East/West dichotomy and its variations, but this is the trap we sometimes falls into when discussing the cultural dimensions of bioethics." (p.183)

"One of the biggest problems with this kind of dichotomy is that it ignores a variety of values, ideas, and movements inside a culture or an area." (p.184)

"As is evident here, there are a variety of values and ideas in a culture or an area, and in addition, it becomes clear that “Asia” and “the West” share lots of ideas and values on life and death. The East/West dichotomy oversimplifies this internal variation and neglects the common cultural heritage that many people share in various areas around the world."

If you want to know the detailed discussion please read the first half of
my paper. I thought what I said was a kind of common sense among scholars, hence my discussion contained nothing new, however this was not the case at least in Japan. I don't know whether similar discussions can be found in Europe or America.

Of course, in the recent post-colonial context, the "universal" approach, which looks contrary to the East/West dichotomy, is also considered to be dubious and arrogant because such "universality" itself has been historically created by Western colonialism. Here we come back to the starting point. Probably there are no static conclusions about this problem. Very difficult.

(To be continued...)

Photo: Night at Kyoto

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