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Technological change and female labour
Throughout the world, as long as new technologies failed to generate the development of newer technologies or of new branches of industry, the effects were limited to the pre-existing branches of industry and few new jobs were created. However, the spread of new technologies raised productivity, developed new products, and, by means of lower prices, deepened and broadened the market, so that employment at least was not reduced. In cases where prices were not lowered or the market expanded, however, the spread of new technologies did generate reduced employment.
One characteristic of modern technology is its tendency toward skill saving. But, when an economy is in a stage of development and expansion, technological change does not exclude skilled labour. Instead, the saved skills are spread to new, previously unskilled labour. In general, even if modern technology causes a reduction in the number of skilled workers, specialized, high-level skills are still necessary; indeed, their importance is enhanced. Knowledge gained from experience, based on previously existing high levels of education and knowledge, varied skills, and expert judgement become critical assets. The skill-saving process involves a parallel reduction in time needed to acquire new skills and an increase in less-demanding work. This process coincides with the rise of female labour as a percentage of the total number of workers employed.
A simple way to demonstrate this process is to consider the changes in the proportion of labour employed directly in production with that employed in ancillary fields. In Japan in 1950, the ratio of men employed in the former was 1.26 times what it was in the latter; for women, the ratio was 3.1. Most women were employed in agriculture. By 1970, however, the ratios had changed to 1.53 for men and 1.06 for women; the 1980 figures were 1.15 and 0.61. Total employment for each year was 32,020,000 in 1950 (13,940,000 females), 52,110,000 in 1970 (20,390,000 females), and 55,650,000 in 1980 (21,070,000 females).95
The most distinctive change in these figures was the decline of female employment in production and its movement into ancillary fields. Where three women had once been employed in production for every one working elsewhere, by 1980 these three were matched by five in other fields (a ratio of 1 to 1.7).
As a result of technological change during this period, the skill saving of labour and the rise of the service sector in the economy brought on changes in the structure of female employment. Among men, in contrast, although skill-saving and the service sector's rise have affected the production branches of industry, most male workers remain engaged in productive labour. Women have moved from agricultural work to office work and the service sector (represented by an 80 per cent drop in agriculture and an increase of 3.6 times in the clerical and service sectors).
If we look at wage differentials between men and women, female wages amounted to 42.8 per cent of male wages in 1960, 47.8 percent in 1965, 50.9 percent in 1970, 55.8 percent in 1975, and 53.8 percent in 1980. The shortage of labour in the period of rapid economic growth caused wages to rise, and the continuing presence of females in production work also caused the gap to shrink between their wages and male wages during that period, but after the oil shock of the early 1970s, the economy entered a period of stable.
On this macro-economic scale, distinct differences are evident between male and female wages, but on a micro-economic level, where jobs require special skills, qualifications, length of service and training, the difference disappears. We must therefore look for wage differentials between men and women in non-skilled, non-specialized jobs. Also noteworthy is the phenomenon of frequent changes in place and type of work among women. Female labour is not abundant in the kind of permanent jobs that hold a central place in the labour market. Female labour is fluid and peripheral.
This last point is related to the proportion of women actually employed in the labour market relative to the total population of women at least 15 years old. In 1980, 47.6 per cent of all women were employed. This represented a slight increase over the post-war low, reached in 1975, when only 45.7 per cent were employed. The recession caused by the oil shock brought on a reduction in female employment. The proportion of women engaged in productive employment in 1975 dropped below the proportion of those in ancillary occupations. Also in 1975 the national unemployment figures topped I million for the first time in the post-war period, and, of this figure, 340,000 were women, who, with older men, were a buffer against depression.
The highest proportion of employed women is in the 20-24 year-old age group; the lowest is in the 25-35 year-old age group. After age 40, the proportion again rises (55 per cent of urban women in their 40s are employed; 70 per cent of rural women in the same age group). The M curve for Japan is the sharpest among all industrialized nations. It coincides with the withdrawal of female labour from the labour market during the period of early marriage, childbirth, and child rearing. Because the peak of employment is in the 20-24 year-old age group, the proportion of 15-20 year-old women in school is high.
Compared with other industrially advanced countries, Japan's lack of nursery and day-care facilities stands out dramatically (especially the scarcity of centres able to care for children the entire time parents are commuting to good-paying, full-time jobs). On the other hand, relative to the underdeveloped countries, the burden of housework is much less severe, and the nuclear family has become dominant.
If the extended family is characteristic of the Asian household, we can say that in the post - war period the Japanese household has rapidly become non-Asian - that is, nuclear - as a result of rapid industrialization and urbanization. In 1980, the total number of households was 34,080,000, with the average household comprised of 3.3 persons. Even in a country such as India, the extended family system is said to be maintained only in wealthier households. In 1946, in Japan, the average household size was 5.09 persons, though that figure reflects the special conditions and devastation resulting from the war. In 1920, the average was 4.85, which remained more or less unchanged for some 50 years.
The proportion of female labour in the entire work-force was 38.2 per cent in 1920. Considering that it was 37.9 per cent in 1980, the labour market has experienced long-term stability. The number of household heads has not risen, nor has the percentage of women workers. What has changed, though, is the pattern of work, with a shift of female labour from the primary to the tertiary sectors of the economy. Over the long term, this reflects technological progress and improved female education.
Focusing on the primary sector of the economy, no significant lightening of the work burden or spread of services is detectable. Instead, the mechanization of agriculture has increased the burden of female labour. To pay for new farm equipment, the head of the household must seek employment off the farm. This has become common practice among purely farming households, and most men must travel far from their farm homes for work. The work they find is the kind of menial drudgery or night work the urban dweller shuns. As one young farmer summed it up, "We must increase productivity to ease our work load, and we need money for that; to get that money, we must leave the farm. Something is wrong."
This is often referred to as the poverty of modernization. Since the machines needed for increasing output and productivity are so expensive, work must be sought far afield to pay for them. Consequently, all of the non - mechanical work in agriculture is becoming the province of female labour. To allow the farm wife to devote more time to farming, labour-saving household machinery has spread to the farm.
When scholars from underdeveloped countries visit the Japanese countryside, the usual reaction is an insistence that, with their radios, televisions, cars, Tokyo newspapers delivered at the house, Japanese farmers are not farmers - they want to see real farmers. What they fail to notice is the occurrence, in the women especially, who shoulder a huge burden in having primary responsibility for the farm and family, of the same kind of ailments that afflict factory labour.
Family labour was once the basis of Japanese agriculture, of its efficiency. Now the Japanese countryside is characterized by the same kind of "both-partners-working" situation that has long defined the lower-class urban couple.
In fishing villages, a different effect of mechanization has emerged. The spread of small motorized craft has destroyed the old way of life in which the wife processed and sold the fish brought in by the husband. Now what the fisherman needs, since he can go farther out for his catch, is a partner to help with the net spreading, hauling, and carrying. The wife's role in this is made possible by the lightening of her housework. Family income has risen, to be sure, but so have expenses and debt, which have necessitated harder work by the fisherman and his wife. The intensification of family labour in fishing mirrors the same process once characteristic of the economy's agricultural sector.
These changes are a result of the urbanization and factory-type proletarianization of labour. This "urbanization of life-style," for example, the spread of home appliances and the products of the factory - food and clothes - has aided in the lightening of the burden of housework.
Whether this structural change in the way of life represents a qualitative improvement is another matter. Nevertheless, the change is probably irreversible and it creates new problems of life-style and culture. Indeed, there are those who lament that, though people were poor before, they at least had "lots of good things to eat." Even given that taste is partly a matter of custom, universal standards remain; consider the widespread popularity of French or Chinese cuisine.
The quality and content of the Japanese way of life are now being transformed by the overwhelming dominance of computers and the electronics industry in the national economy. Previously, the heavy and chemical industries had this effect. Whether we view these developments positively or negatively, the rapid changes taking place in the structure and content of family life cannot be denied.
These changes, whose effects have reached into the primary sector, have both broadened the scope of female labour and enlarged the problem of female unemployment. The new employment opportunities being offered are available only to those women with proper qualifications and sufficient education who are thus able to respond to the changes in technology. Labour that is unable to adjust to the changes is shunted aside. The results are lower wages and worse working conditions, a spread of part-time work (with less cost for the companies), and indirect hiring. There is thus the problem of women abandoning the search for work in the highly technological labour market-place. This problem is especially common among middle-aged and older women, creating an economic crisis for the "all-work-together" household and, indirectly, for the culture that has maintained the institution of the wife as household budget manager.
The particular structure of labour and the unemployment of middle-aged and older women in Japan are a result of the original decision Japan made to industrialize. The decision was not simply a matter of applying Japanese values; it was the result of the particular historical experience of the Japanese people. Modernization is not a problem whose solution can be postponed or drawn out, but one that requires a once-and-for-all solution. It is a question of national society and culture, and the problems each country faces cannot be blamed on others. The efficiency of Japan's farmers in response to the demands of modernization assumes new importance in this consideration. We must also recognize, however, that conditions prevailing when Japan began its modernization, both external and internal, were markedly different from those faced by underdeveloped countries today.
Although little attention has been given them, I contend the two aspects of complete family employment and the wife's domain, her role as the household budget manager, were important contributors to the favourable conditions prevailing when Japan undertook to modernize. These two features characterized the farm and small independent family-run businesses.
This position may be criticized for overstressing what is simply an ethos, a generalization of a particular life-style, the life-style of the independent producer, for whom it is natural for all family members to work and for the wife to assume great responsibilities within the household. The Douglas-Arisawa theory, which describes the later stage of Japanese industrialization, makes apparent that the social and economic characteristics of the independent farm household were transplanted to the urban setting, so that it can be seen that the above argument is not merely an after-the-fact characterization of capitalist society in its early stages. Economic history and the history of technology show that the current problem of female unemployment is a result of the present social and economic stage of industrialization, which is one characterized by the mass consumption and production of diverse products manufactured in small lots.
The term "wife's domain" is based on Yanagita Kunio's coinage shufuken. My own use of it is aimed at deepening the possibilities for discourse on the Japanese experience, with reference to the problem of underdevelopment. In Japan, 70 per cent of labour is externally employed (versus 90 per cent in the United States), leaving as much as 30 per cent that is self-employed or family labour. It would be an obvious exaggeration to say that only this 30 per cent of the population nourished and preserved the vitality of Japanese society, but without a doubt, the notions of communal work and the wife's domain are most appropriately applied to this sector of the working population. The ethos of a wife's special responsibilities regarding household finances permeates the other 70 per cent of the population, accounting in large measure for the willingness of housewives to work once their child-rearing responsibilities are reduced.
At this time, however, this pool of labour cannot be fully absorbed or employed, as reflected in the unemployment figures for women, which are significantly higher than for men (in 1980, 3.1 per cent female; 2.6 per cent male). Since the concept of unemployment varies from country to country, international comparisons are difficult. The Japanese concept includes no one until they have entered the labour market, which explains the lower figures than for other countries.
Nevertheless, there is a serious problem of structural unemployment in Japan, one neither easily grasped nor easily solved. High levels of female unemployment occurred both in 1970 and in 1980, with the latter being marked by a spread of unemployment among middle-aged and elderly women as a result of the automation of office work through the introduction of labour-saving devices. Japan thus exhibits a trend - which is opposite the experiences of other industrialized countries - towards a more youthful labour force.96
In this section I would like briefly to return to the early years of the Japanese spinning industry, highlighting a few of the leading figures and works of the period.
Upon leaving the government-owned Tomioka Spinning Mill, Wada Ei (18571929), along with her co-workers, was awarded the special title of "Women Spinners' Victory Battalion." The year was 1874; such magnanimity in a factory supervisor would not be possible only a few years later. This incident provides an expression of the spirit of early Meiji, the days of "a rich nation and a strong army," of government sponsorship of industrial development.
Later, in 1913, Wada wrote that "military men would doubtless have been furious at this act, but given the national effort that the government coordinated in building this factory, such an expression of feeling seems only natural." The year 1913 was also the year her husband, a professional soldier, died from wounds received in the Russo-Japanese War. Several years later, Wada began her famous Tomioka Diary, composed while she was living in the Furukawa Mine company house at Ashio Copper Mine. Although she most likely never met Tanaka Shozo (1841-1913), the famous leader of the struggles against the severe pollution from the Ashio mine, coincidentally, 1913 was also the year in which he died, in the nearby village of Yanaka.
Wada Ei's life - a spinner while still a young girl, officer's wife, and mother of a mining executive (she died during her second stay at Ashio, in 1929) - represents the course of modern Japanese history. Her Diary was written in 1927, but it was not published until 1931, after her death, by the Shinano Educational Association, in Nagano Prefecture.
Another work about the spinners, Jokõ aishi (The sad history of the girl spinners), written by Hosoi Wakizo, was published in 1925, one month after the author's death from acute peritonitis. These two records of factory life, one from early Taisho and the other from late Taisho, represent "extremely valuable material." This was the evaluation at least of Wada's book by the Nagano Prefecture supervisor of factories, Ikeda Nagayoshi. It is likely that Ikeda knew also of Hosoi's work.
In the summer of 1927, when Ikeda made this comment, a strike of unprecedented scale occurred in one of the largest factories in the Nagano spinning area, at Yamaichi Hayashi-gumi, in the city of Okaya. After the third week of the strike, the employers resorted to a lock-out, closing of the dormitory, termination of meals, and the use of hooligans and the police to suppress the strikers. The 1,300 strikers suffered a bitter defeat.
The first signs of recovery from the 1929 depression began to appear in 1931, and this was when Japan began its move towards a war-time economy. Also at this time, the Shinano Educational Association chose Tomioka Diary to be a school reader. What was the reaction to the Diary, and later to Jokõ aishi? Since the events of the strike were probably still fresh in the minds of many readers, their reactions must have been varied indeed.
The threat of financial ruin was a powerful force in the early years of the textile industry. The term seishigyo, which means 'spinning industry," could also, as a pun, be understood to mean something like "life-and-death industry." This word-play aptly symbolizes the life-and-death struggle constantly waged in the textiles market-place. As Nakamura (1985) has pointed out, the good times of 1919 quickly turned sour in 1920, forcing many establishments out of business. Managerial strategy to deal with the crisis took two forms: buying up of cocoons and wage cuts.
According to Yamamoto (1952), what would often happen was that wages would be reduced or recalculated, so that part was held over until the next season. If a spinner did not agree to work the next season, however, this portion "often would never be paid." So to be sure to be able to receive the deferred portion, the spinners would stay at their jobs, which was just what the deferments were intended to induce.
Around the turn of the century, a carpenter's wages were about 60 sen (1 yen was equivalent to 100 sen) per day in the rural areas and 66 in Tokyo; this was at a time when rice cost 119 sen for 10 kilograms.97 A high-ranking spinner was earning more than 100 yen per year, an ordinary spinner in the range of 40 to 50 yen (according to records from 1899). This was indeed, in the words of the popular phrase, the age of the "100-yen spinner." One acre of paddy around Hida, in northern Gifu Prefecture, cost between 100 and 150 yen at the time.
However, only a determined minority of skilled spinners were able to earn such wages: one in four was said to be in debt at the end of each year. But wages, which were stable between the late 1880s and the mid-1890s, began to rise rapidly towards the turn of the century.
Not long before this, however, there were many cases in which spinners were "not paid anything that could be called a real wage," receiving instead used clothing or cloth as compensation. This was common among Hida girls working in Nagano; in nearby Hirano (present-day Okaya City), ordinary spinners were paid wages comparable to the very low wages of road-gang workers.
The spinning factory owners, motivated by a sort of Protestant work ethic, drove themselves and their employees - many of whom were mere children - mercilessly. Their sober enthusiasm for hard work, which they forced on their workers, was, at the same time, a manifestation of the cruelty of the capitalists. Holding wages to within 5 per cent of total production costs and buying from a wide variety of cocoon suppliers to provoke competition and thus keep supply costs down, were means to cope with the wide fluctuations in the silk market.
Because of the importance of a stable labour supply, and because differences in spinning skills made for great differences in product value, owners made great efforts - including attractive wage rates and a bonus system - to retain their more - skilled workers.
In both the silk-spinning and cotton-spinning industries, there was a need for skilled machine operators, and so, many highly skilled women spinners were able to use the chronic shortage of skilled labour to their advantage, travelling around the countryside and working at different factories and thus creating for themselves a relatively free existence. But others, as described in Jokõ aishi, underwent great trials, such as those who were permanently blacklisted for union activities. This happened to several friends of Hosoi, including his wife.
"Spinner for ten years, waitress for a year and a half, five years on the black market, twenty years as a day labourer, and twenty as housewife. . . no house, no pension. . . too old to work. . . " This was how Hosoi's wife rather modestly summed up her life. Though her life contrasted greatly with that of Wada Ei, their lives overlapped, forming a counterpoint in women's social history. The reflections of Hosoi's wife, published in 1980 as Watashi no jokõ aishi (My sad spinner's tale), read with Hosoi's book and alongside the Tomioka Diary, provide a unique glimpse of the spinners' lives and hardships. Another work of interest in this regard is Hayashi Fumiko's autobiographical work, Hõrõki (Diary of a vagabond).98
These and other works are not well known outside Japan, and it is hoped the brief mention of them here will stimulate interest for future dialogue.
19. Industrial technology and pollution
"Development" and the destruction
of the environment
The question of diagnosis
The prototype of the present-day pollution problem
"Development" and the destruction of the environment
When spring comes and there is no sound of birds singing, we are made to recognize the occurrence of drastic ecological changes that threaten the existence of all life forms, including the human race.
In her 1962 book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson provided an early warning of the danger posed to the delicate balance of life by the unrestricted use of agricultural chemicals. Hers was a splendid, if disturbing, critique of our civilization.
During the same period, the seas around Japan were threatened and the nation's quality of life also endangered. Writer Ishimure Michiko was living in Kumamoto Prefecture's Minamata, site of Japan's worst pollution case. Quoting one of the victims of Minamata disease, she writes, "The fish are a gift from heaven. They are something that we take, free of charge, when we need them, as naturally as life itself goes on. Now where can we turn? I would pray to heaven, but heaven itself is ill."99
Carson depicted the deformation of inland areas and Ishimure witnessed destruction along the sea-coast. One could add the words of an elderly resident of a coal-mining town: "We were all poor when I was a child, but we had good things to eat on the mountain. Nothing grows there now."
Here we have one result of industrialization, which, up to this point, we have counted as a positive thing, but, as is obvious, it has negative consequences too.
Even in developing countries - indeed, there especially - industrial pollution is a huge problem. The bitter experiences of the developed countries can serve to warn the developing countries.
Formerly, pollution and environmental destruction were produced by industry, and this is still largely true today. But now the primary sector of national economies has become either the source or the proximate cause of pollution, making the problem serious indeed. This is because "development" is first of all a response to the population explosion, and its first priority must be to increase the food supply. To this end agricultural chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers) have been developed and applied to raise food production. This results in what Carson calls the beginning of the destruction of the delicate balance in the chain of life.
There is the added problem today of atmospheric discharges resulting in acid rain, which destroys forests in countries thousands of kilometres away from the source, kills the plant and animal life in their lakes, and pollutes their seas. Acid rain is thus an international problem, and not all of it stems from large factories.
Because of the increase in the sources of pollution, even though each source may meet emission control standards, their combined long-term effect mean an enormous and absolute increase in pollution build-up.
And thus it becomes difficult to identify the polluters. It becomes impossible to assign responsibility for the pollution that results from the total discharge, since each source may in fact be meeting established discharge limitations. There is no legal basis for assigning responsibility or guilt in these cases. In the mean time, environmental damage and the danger to human health are on the rise as a result of these discharges.
When the polluters also suffer the effects of pollution and when their numbers reach a certain level, the problem becomes unsolvable by legal means. The legal system operates on the presumption that the violators of the laws will be a minority and that the majority of the population will co-operate to maintain the system.
Thus, the environmental problem is becoming a political problem, requiring political initiative and a newly defined (broadened) legal conceptualization. The environmental problem has grown beyond the capacity of the present legal system. Despite the limitations, however, environmental disputes are being pursued along conventional legal lines, and, from this effort, a new concept of the issue in terms of human rights has arisen. However, because it has been difficult to assign a monetary value to the right to a clean environment, the legal system has not been able to deal adequately with the problem, and thus the inefficacy of the legal system becomes apparent and the environmental problem becomes politicized.
As mentioned, industrial pollution and environmental damage are not limited to the industrialized countries. They are also serious in the third world. The desertification of central Africa is due to the population explosion and the increase of livestock raising. The forests of Thailand have fallen below the level of 40 per cent of total national land area deemed necessary to preserve their reproductive capacity. Land erosion and flooding in north Thailand have resulted, spreading damage as far as Bangkok. The air in South American cities is so bad it makes travellers from Toyko ill. The year 1985 will go down in history as the year of the two great human disasters that befell Mexico and India.
Minamata disease, thought to be peculiar to Japan, has reportedly appeared in Iraq and in north-east China. There are also reports of its occurrence in Finland and Canada. There is a time lag between the occurrence of pollution, environmental damage, and society's recognition of the problem. How long that lag is depends on that society's view of human life and human rights.
The problem of acid rain has been discussed in Europe for a long time now. Its solution is difficult because of the great distance between the source of the discharges and the areas they damage, and this is compounded by the international nature of the problem. Yet damage is increasing without regard for particular political or economic systems.
For this reason, the pollution problem must be addressed from the viewpoint of the victim, in terms of the basic human right of survival.
Pollution and environmental damage are the by-products and the ill effects of development. Once there were cries of "Give us pollution!" from members of the élite in some third-world countries, showing the high priority development has had and continues to have in those countries. Since surveys are not carried out and even surveys by foreign experts prohibited by some governments, it is difficult to know just how serious the environmental problem is in these countries.
Arguing against development, however, is not the answer; those who oppose development are in effect telling millions of people to starve to death.
What is important - and feasible - is discussing how development is carried out. Development is a right of every nation the key to the formation of a modern nation. But no nation has the right to carry out development without regard to the threat it may pose to the basic human rights, basic human survival, of those in other nations. As a citizen of the nations of the earth, I must advise against over-emphasizing development to the detriment of the lives and welfare of every planetary citizen. One citizen may not threaten the life or property of another, and governments should not be permitted to do what citizens may not do.
Certainly pollution and environmental problems make the task of development more difficult, but they must not be ignored because they do. Instead, an international effort must be mounted, using fully the experience and wisdom of all nations.
In this sense, however directly applicable Japan's experience in other fields may be, the "Japanese experience" is most directly applicable to other nations on the environmental level.
Japan is advanced as both a polluter and a producer of antipollution devices. But the latter comes as no honour, since even the most advanced antipollution technology cannot erase the accumulated damages of the past.
The question of diagnosis
Even in medical diagnosis, where assessment is much easier than in environmental pollution, serious legal problems exist regarding assigning responsibility, tracing causes and linking effects.
Modern medicine is capable of diagnosing a great variety of diseases, but it tends to consider only particular, individual symptoms, thereby missing the larger picture and failing to grasp the totality of new diseases resulting from pollution. By separating individual symptoms and analysing them as if they were not related, the totality of the problem is completely ignored, and symptoms resulting from combined effects are improperly understood.
In the conventional method of diagnosis, test results showing mercury in the hair and in the blood confirm mercury pollution. Yet even this recognition leads to the rather scattered diagnoses of pulmonary obstruction, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and kidney damage, without recognizing that the actual culprit is Minamata disease. This has happened in Finland, Canada' and China.
Minamata disease was defined by researchers at Kumamoto University as being caused by the presence in the body of certain levels of mercury: 200 ppb in the blood, 300 ng/1 in the urine, and 20 mg per 50 kg of body weight.
Harada Masazumi has pointed out (1985) that this definition is both vague and inadequate. It deals only with acute typical Minamata disease and does not cover non-acute, late, incomplete, or fetal exposure to the pollutant:. By thus defining the disease narrowly, the authorities were able in 1960 to declare that the disease had been eradicated.
The Kumamoto University research group looked at only the initial symptoms of Minamata disease, and of these, only the more acute ones.
Harada, in contrast, insists that an "epidemiological" method of diagnosis be employed in diagnosing Minamata. By this method, victims and non-victims "would be compared as groups, and their group health trends" closely examined.100
This methodology is a function of modern statistical analytical techniques. Factors that cannot be examined in an individual analysis of patients, such as environmental factors, can be placed in their proper context and defined over time, through space, and in terms that also include all other relevant factors.
It is this point - that diagnosis that is impossible in individual cases becomes possible on a group level - that is so important in regard to the methodology of diagnosing environmental destruction and its effects on human health.
The point, evident in the example of Minamata disease, is that, just as the problems of the environment and pollution cannot be properly understood in terms of preexisting theory, neither can the new diseases be diagnosed by means of conventional diagnostic practices.
An understanding of a disease involves an appreciation of a great many related factors, since the ultimate aim is to prevent initial damage and, if that cannot be accomplished, to aid the victims who have been harmed.
Even when the polluter and the source of the pollution can be identified, the polluter may not have the resources to compensate for the damages, further complicating the problem. In such cases, the government, although perhaps not directly involved, is compelled to step in and bear some responsibility for solving the problem. And as a result, it tends to minimize the problem in order to minimize its responsibility. This is what happened after the outbreak of Minamata disease; its definition by researchers at Kumamoto University effectively cut off from assistance everyone whose individual symptoms did not fit the narrow terms laid out.
Here again the problem becomes one of basic human rights. Everyone involved in working toward a solution to the pollution problem is involved because of a concern for basic human dignity. An unavoidable loss of that dignity occurs when specialists concerned with the problem of pollution focus narrowly on "professional interests" - be they those of the technician, the lawyer, the doctor, or the bureaucrat - to the exclusion of an overall solution.
The narrow view of duty to one's profession and unquestioning obedience to one's superiors that marked the handling of the Minamata disease case brings to mind the attitude of the man responsible for the deaths of so many at Auschwitz during World War II, Adolph Eichmann, who also had no inclination to disobey orders that violated the basic dignity of humans.
As for the victims and the protectors in the Minamata and other similar cases, people stood up for human dignity in a way that self-serving bureaucrats and professionals overly concerned with wealth and status would never do. The courage of the victims and their supporters brought renewed hope.
The prototype of the present-day pollution problem
Technology is necessary for development, and technology hastens that development. But that same technology, even when applied in the proper way according to existing standards, can lead to unexpected damage and victimization. It can also lead to a very severe worsening of natural disasters. In these cases, however, the responsibility of the polluter is all too often unclear.
Pollution in Japan first appeared in connection with mining. Mines create their own pollution but they also contribute to natural disasters and intensify the effects of environmental destruction for which they are not the direct cause.101
Because the pollution problem occurred in a strategic industry, the protests of the farmers whose fields were being polluted and the pleas to close the mine were ignored by the authorities, and when the protests grew, the army was brought in to suppress them.102
For its own sake and to meet the needs of the military, the Meiji state pursued development with little regard for human welfare; a concern for human rights and the environment was sorely lacking and all pleas and protests were suppressed. Indeed, in many cases production was accelerated, causing further environmental and health problems.
However, even if protest and resistance can be pushed aside, pollution problems and damage remain. In the end, even heavier costs must be borne. Such has been the case in Japan many times over the years.
Forced development to satisfy the needs of the state has also occurred in Canada, where members of its native population now suffer from Minamata disease.
As governments compete to lure corporate investment, that competition weakens concern for protection of the environment. Since corporations do not operate on the basis of societal needs, and since they will invest where there are profits to be made, even if environmental controls are strict, they will stay. They will leave, even if controls are lifted, when profits decline. If we rush to promote development at all costs, we risk underestimating the behaviour of technology owners, the corporations.
When national development needs and big business's interests match, environmental problems are extremely difficult to solve, considering the size and strength of state power. This is true also of nationalized industries. It is a myth that there are no pollution problems in the socialist countries.
Summarizing the Japanese experience, from the perspective of pollution, we can say that the post-war period of rapid economic growth was also the peak period of pollution, resulting in protests and campaigns to have the problem addressed. And it was addressed in the development of new antipollution technology, in the introduction of various controls: anti-smog controls are stricter in Japan than in any European country. The responsibility of polluters has also been clearly defined. Companies that pollute, it is safe to say, will not survive.
This does not mean, however, that Japan has eliminated all pollution. According to experts, the controls are effective, but there is still a slow, steady build-up of pollutants. Also, as anyone can recognize, the decline in the level of pollution is not unconnected with the slowing down of economic growth, with the depression of the manufacturing industries.
The economic downturn occasionally makes people nostalgic for the days when pollution was pouring into the environment. It is a dangerous illusion.
One elderly person in a ravaged, abandoned mining town had this to say: "We were all poor once. There was not much to eat, but what we had was good. Well water, mountain herbs, river fish: it was all there for the taking, and it was good. Perhaps those were the real luxuries."
Today's developing countries need to industrialize and to raise their food production to feed their growing populations, but we would not have them choose to destroy nature, which provides, free of charge, things so good but so precious they can be called luxuries. We would urge them to re-examine conventional technology, to substitute, where possible, alternative technologies.
In the development of new concepts of technology, it is desirable to minimize the use of chemical controls, and in planning this, the people of the areas affected should participate in decision-making for development. If not, it will not be possible either to use the accumulated wisdom and experience of the local populace or to carry out smoothly any plans developed.
The benefits from development are great. They come as surely as the damages resulting from it. Even a temporary dislocation can prove disastrous for people already on the margin of existence. Any assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of development should take into account the warning of the founder of the Club of Rome, Aurelio Peccei (1908 1984), who urged developers to ensure safe development not only during our lifetime but for the coming generations as well.
Hatada Masazumi, the Minamata researcher, in noting how the discovery of Minamata disease destroyed old medical myths (e.g. the foetus is in no danger so long as the mother is healthy. since it is supported by the nutrition of the placenta), points out that mercury poisoning "threatens the foetus even when it does not harm the mother." Eugene and Eileen Smith brought the plight of 40 foetal victims of Minamata disease in Japan to the attention of the world, but there are many others in Sweden, America, and Iraq.
This discussion of pollution has not covered all aspects of the problem of pollution in Japan; it merely touches on the cases so thoroughly documented by Ui Jun and his colleagues who participated in our project. One final point to be made concerns the presence of occupational diseases in companies that pollute, showing that there are intimate links between such diseases and pollution of the environment.103
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